Posted by on December 16, 2013 in Blog

Update: Israel Visa Waiver

We have important and inspiring news to share with you: Your efforts to hold Congress accountable to protect the rights of all U.S. citizens have paid off.

The House of Representatives left for the year last week and they didn’t act on a key pro-Israel ask. That’s right, the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, which includes a provision to admit Israel into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, is dead in the water! 

As you are well aware, Arab Americans have been systematically targeted and subjected to unjust screening, harassment, detention, and deportation when attempting to enter Israel and Palestine. Over the past three decades, we have continually raised this issue with the State Department and other U.S. authorities. So when at its annual policy conference in March, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) announced as one of its main lobbying goals for 2013 that it would push for Israel’s admission into the United States’ Visa Waiver Program, we decided to fight back. We decided we would not allow Congress to reward Israel with Visa Waivers when it consistently violates the rights of American citizens.

With your help, we opposed several bills supporting the AIPAC initiative, including one in the Senate from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), S. 462, and in one in the House from Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), H.R. 300, both of which contained troubling language that would exempt Israel from the general requirements to enter The Visa Waiver Program, and announced a separate set of rules that would apply only to Israel. Even more disturbing, the bills proposed that Israel would be admitted into The Visa Waiver Program when it made a “reasonable effort, without jeopardizing [its security], to ensure that reciprocal travel privileges are extended to all United States citizens.” But Israel doesn’t do that: it doesn’t treat American travelers equally. And as any Arab American or American Muslim or pro-Palestinian activists can attest, we get very special, discriminatory treatment at Israel’s borders.    

As you know, AIPAC is one of the most powerful organizations in Washington, D.C. and almost always gets what it wants. But you helped us stand up to them. We all called attention to the proposed legislation, wrote about it, and you spoke up about your experiences going to Israel. You sent us dozens of stories (take a look here) and you delivered your message, loud and clear: this wasn’t about Israel; it was about the United States standing up for the rights of its citizens – all its citizens – in the face of bigotry. It worked. Powerful op-eds, like one submitted to The New York Times by Yousef Munayyer of The Jerusalem Fund for Education and Community Development helped shift the public discourse. The media attention to stories of Arab Americans Sandra Tamari and Nour Joudeh who were both unjustly denied entry and deported at the border helped spread the word that codifying discrimination of American citizens into law was unacceptable.

The bills never even came to the floor of the House or Senate for a vote. AIPAC and its allies may come back in March with the same ask, but now they know that when it comes to codifying discrimination against our community, they’re overreaching.



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