US states should act against Israel’s denial of entry to Americans

30 April 2014

On 13 September 2012, an Israeli soldier pointed his gun at an American college student and ordered her to board a bus back to Jordan.

The student, Yara Karmalawy, was attempting to travel to the occupied West Bank and present-day Israel as part of a university-sponsored trip with other students from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Instead of being admitted like the other thirty students, Yara was disparaged, threatened and denied entry because of her ethnicity.

Unfortunately, this type of treatment by Israel is all too common for Americans of Arab and Muslim heritage, as well as those critical of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians. Those affected by Israel’s policies include college students, world-renowned university professors, teachers, architects, clergy, people visiting sick relatives, married couples giving birth, humanitarian workers and human rights monitors.

Even those who can trace their ancestry to signers of the US constitution have not been spared from Israel’s discriminatory policies. George Bisharat, a law professor and descendant of William Samuel Johnson, has been routinely mistreated by Israeli officials, an experience he shared in a powerful 28 April piece for The Los Angeles Times.

Scrutiny

In the last year, Israel’s discriminatory policies have come under increased scrutiny as it attempts to join the US Visa Waiver Program. This program allows citizens from participating countries to visit the US for up to ninety days without a visa and requires that the same privileges be afforded to American citizens visiting countries in the program.

The program has a number of requirements for participating countries, and Israel’s inability to meet at least two of the requirements has thus far thwarted its inclusion.

The main obstacle has been Israel’s violation of the reciprocity requirement, which requires Israel to admit Americans, regardless of their religion or ethnicity.

In recent weeks, the State Department has reiterated that Israel is in violation of the reciprocity requirement, and its spokesperson stated at an 18 April press briefing that “the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State both remain concerned with reciprocal travel privileges for US citizens due to the unequal treatment that Palestinian Americans and other Arab Americans receive at Israel’s borders and checkpoints.”

Last year, a number of lawmakers introduced legislation, backed by the major Israel lobby group AIPAC, known as the United States Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013.

It called for Israel’s entry in the Visa Waiver Program but exempted it from the reciprocity requirement, prompting journalist Glenn Greenwald to observe in The Guardian that the bill’s sponsors, including California Senator Barbara Boxer, were seeking to “codify Israel’s discrimination against Palestinian-, Muslim- and Arab-Americans into US law.”

Drafts of the legislation included a reciprocity exemption in both the House and Senate versions, but after wrangling among lawmakers, the reciprocity exemption was removed from the House version.

Over the last year Israeli officials have proffered a multitude of explanations for Israel’s discrimination against and mistreatment of US citizens. At various times the Israeli government has claimed that its discriminatory policies are for security purposes; are necessitated by the 1993 Oslo accords; only occur at Ben Gurion airport; and can be eased if Israel is allowed into the Visa Waiver Program.

Substantial discrimination

Although exact figures are hard to come by, the scale of Israel’s discrimination is by all accounts substantial. According to the Arab American Institute (AAI), an organization that has been challenging Israel’s discriminatory policies for decades, the number of US citizens denied entry could be as high as 120,000. AAI has been collecting testimonies from US citizens who have been mistreated and has been following up with members of Congress and the State Department. A number of the testimonies AAI has collected are also listed on their website.

In New York, lawmakers like Senator Charles Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand have done nothing to challenge Israel’s appalling mistreatment of constituents like Najwa Doughman and Sasha Al-Sarabi.

Instead, many lawmakers have demanded a review of how US tourist visa applications from Israelis are processed, and have pressured the State Department to show more flexibility on the requirement that Israel treat all Americans equally.

While various federal agencies have expressed their concern over Israel’s possible entry into the Visa Waiver Program, state lawmakers should also be concerned that Israel’s treatment of their residents violates local civil rights laws and the terms of economic cooperation agreements that at least 33 US states have signed with Israel.

Israel’s treatment of Missouri resident Sandra Tamari — who was denied entry and deported — would appear to be in direct contravention of that state’s pact with Israel, known as the Missouri-Israel Cooperative Agreement.

Part of that agreement’s purpose is to improve tourism between Missouri and Israel. Given Israel’s systemic discrimination against US citizens, providing Israel with beneficial treatment under the terms of this agreement directly contravenes state lawmakers’ duty to uphold residents’ rights under the Missouri Human Rights Act.

Article five of a similar agreement between Massachusetts and Israel specifically states, “each party shall accord fair and equitable treatment to the individuals, government agencies, and other Entities of the other party engaged in the pursuit of activities under this Agreement.”

Other state officials, including California Governor Jerry Brown, have also enabled Israel’s policies by signing tourism and economic cooperation agreements without first ensuring that the civil rights of California residents are being upheld by Israel.

As US citizens like Yara Karmalawy, Sandra Tamari and George Bisharat continue to face discrimination, Israel should not only be barred from entering the Visa Waiver Program, but state lawmakers should also consider suspending agreements with Israel until its policies comport with local and federal civil rights laws.

Mike Coogan is the legislative coordinator with the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.

Comments

Israel decides who can and can't enter Israel, not the US.

Then Israeli's canexpect to be denied access to the US under the reciprocity agreement, for not meeting the schemes minimal requirements!

Yes, the US can deny entry to Israelis and has done it many times. It's the US that decides who enters the US. If the US and Israel reach an agreement, then there should be reciprocity, but Israel can't let enter everybody, people who is a threat to national security.

I doubt it is even "Israel" doing the deciding but merely a bunch of fascists that are employed by BGA. 9.7% rejection at the airport... and that is Americans, you can be sure that the 'entry denied' rate is higher for other countries. What's Russia scoring?

What gives Israel the right to decide who can be in Palestine? The lucky dip at BGA?

What's the difference between a sexual assault and an unnecessary cavity search when the BGA have already decided to deny entry? It's sexual assault as part of humiliation, seriously outrageous stuff.

Exactly, why does Israel decide who enters Palestine? After bombing their only airport, they control visitors to Palestine or the return of family members. It is an absolute outrage.
The attempt to spotlight this was made by peaceful people in the 2010 'Welcome to Palestine'. Over 650 people from European counties tried to fly in on the same day and enter Palestine. Their only 'activism' was to state at the airport that they were invited by Palestinians. They were denounced beforehand as hooligans. The majority were prevented from flying by airlines on Israeli orders, over a hundred were arrested on arrival and detained, and approx. a hundred managed to enter and partake in the 'welcome' organized by Palestinian peace groups.
Questions were raised at that time about whether airlines should refuse to carry passengers whom Israel falsely denounce or why European governments do not stand up for their citizens and allow them to be treated in such a fashion, detained and badly treated.

Being with 650 people or being on your own you cannot mention Palestine in an interview and expect to enter "Israel". You cannot say "I'm going to Bethlehem".

This is Israel's economic boycott of Palestine, "let no one in that will spend money in Palestine!" This is most obvious in Bethlehem. Tourists are bussed in, follow a person with a flag and bussed out at pace so they don't spend any money. As I sat at 'Stars & Bucks' looking over the road to a ~60 room motel, 2 weeks before Christmas, at 8PM, a mere 2 room lights were on.

If you are going to Palestine, you need to have a good plan in place that proves you are going to Israel and have no intention of being in the West Bank. Close any Facebook accounts, clear you computer of all email, email addresses, cookies, history etc. Hell put a copy of the Diary of Ann Frank under your arm. You can be on an official program working for the UN , you won't be treated any better and you will need to have a clear "plan" about your intentions to support the "Jewish" state.

It's fascism, nothing short of it. Taking a set of values, 'being Jewish' and pandering to, creating paranoia about being an always threatened "race" and mixing it into a murky swill of vile justifications for abusive behaviors. You are entering a fascist Jewish state, everyone that wants to get in has a story mapped out that has no connections to Palestine.

Before I traveled to Palestine I contacted the Federal Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs in Australia and made it very clear that if I had any issues I was expecting him to ask questions in Parliament. Had I been forced to open my laptop that is the only email that wasn't deleted.

All this seemed extreme at the time but the events that followed proved how valuable being prepared was. If you are intending to actually get in and not waste an airfare you need to be prepared to prove your visit is all about Israel.

I agree 100% with the writer. I'm a US citizen with palestinian decent and I was denied a visa to Israel because of that. My husband and my two kids were denied from entering israel as well. Not only that but my 66- year- old Irish American friend was treated badly and was held for three-hour intirragation simply because of she is pro-palestinian and yet was denied a visa. So why in hell would our government reward israeli citizens and give them visas while American citizens are treated awfully?

U.S. decides who can and can't enter the U.S., not AIPAC or the senators in their pocket.

It seems Israel is the one asking for exemption.

Why does Israel want special privilege? Why does Israel deserve special treatment?

Not many of us can follow the intricacies of visa exemptions and for this we are all
in debt to Mike Coogan and EI.

I would suggest that the misread, misunderstood tradition of THE EXODUS in its
abruptly censored version is at the heart of this willingness to exempt in the Judeo-Christian tradition. For a correction see the work of Michael Prior, eg
in "The Right to Expel...", an essay in N. Aruri's (ed) THE PALESTINIANS: THE RIGHT
OF RETURN (pp 9-35).

----Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

What are some examples of the "intricacies of visa exemptions"? What is the "tradition of the exodus"? Where do you get "this willingness to exempt in Judeo-Christian tradition"? And what needs "correction"?

This reeks of sophism.

Are you hypothesizing a religious tradition of unfair exemption, and projecting that to international exchange? Are you saying that the U.S. would have a religious purpose in granting Israel favor?

OK, THEN MAYBE YOU SHOULD just say it simply, "the Christian majority in the U.S. favors Israel".

And this is news, you say?

So-called Fundamental Christians and those that interpret the Bible literally certainly favor Israel as "the chosen", but many more who follow the spirit of Christ's teaching see Israel's actions as evil.

I thank whatever god there is for the Constitution of the United States, which separates religion from law, and prevents Israel from playing this particular "exemption card".

This shows that US Congress, as usual, is more loyal to a foreign regime than it is to its own citizens -- let alone a racist regime that is discriminating against its own citizens.

If this kind of visa waiver agreement is signed, I am hoping it will be grounds for an anti-discrimination lawsuit. I know that the US government has its faults, but grassroots organizing for anti-discrimination laws has been powerful in the past, and has often been used in our favor. I would hope that the spectacle of the SCOTUS striking down such an agreement would not only be a fairly significant blow to the Zionist lobby, but also to Israel's PR in the United States.

The visa waiver program requires a nation to reject less that 3% of Americans that enter a country. Israel rejects 9.7% up from 6% in previous years.

Rejecting is one thing. The cavity searches and 'insultings' are another. And when they report people to Homeland Security and Interpol for fallacious reason, that really is something else. There is a legal case in the hands of lawyers in both Israel and the US that I'm let's say 'in knowledge of' that prevents me from being specific. However, the people involved have every intention of starting a class action to put what is going on into the media if this particular case isn't resolved.

In a separate case a US citizen, living in Jordan teaching English to Jordanian airforce pilots was refused entry, he was asked to spy on movements of the Jordanian airforce during his attempt to visit Palestine in order to renew his visa.

The statistics of people being refused entry should not be seen as some indicator of consistence in treatment. Nor should it be assumed that only Arab Americans, the politically minded, youth or any other subgroup are in receipt of objectionable treatment.

...that this discrimination does not apply only to US citizens, but Palestinians and people of Palestinian or Arab descent AND non-Palestinians from other countries. It applies to all sorts of people, from Europe and elsewhere, not only when they are involved in some form of Israeli-critical activities which could easily be proven to be peaceful.
I know a number of people who were invited to Israel for seminars or cultural events who were so badly treated, either on entering or exiting at Ben-Gurion, that they swear they will never travel to Israel again.
Israelis seem not unduly worried that their government creates antipathy toward their country every day.

Even expanding this to people who are friends of Palestinians still fails. In detention with my friend at BGA were 2 elderly Russian women whose 'crime' was going to visit their sister and a young Australian you said in an interview that he would like to join the IDF for a few weeks to get a better understanding of the situation.

There is an Australia girl who was given the "full" search in Rome before getting on the plane only to then discover all her and luggage was to be taken away and she wasn't allowed to go to the toilet on the plane on her own.

It seems like it is just Palestinians to Palestinians, that it included their supporter to their supporters... but it goes way beyond that to people that are simply not Zionists or even Jewish enough.

The flight I took from Barcelona was the last flight the Spanish airline was ever going to run into BGA. On the plane 10 Israelis fought over seats and the plane was 50 minutes late taking off. That was such a regular occurrence that it was why the airline was ceasing all flights to BGA.

It's just not worth flying into BGA, the airport in Jordan is such a pleasure and the people infinitely more friendly. You feel you have arrived at an international destination and on into a fascist Jewish state. If you are rejected at the boarder crossing you haven't blown your holiday.

It's up to Israel to get their rejection rate below 3%, which even then is high, not to Congress to make yet another exemption to the fascist Israeli state.