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US progressive lawmakers push against Israeli inclusion in visa waiver programme

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib leads letter urging Biden administration against including Israel in the scheme, citing the country's restrictions on American citizens
The letter is spearheaded by Palestinian-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib.
Palestinian-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib spearheaded the letter (AFP/File photo)
By MEE staff in Washington

US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib has urged the Biden administration against including Israel in a visa waiver programme over its restrictions on Palestinian Americans, Arab Americans, and Muslim Americans who try to enter the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

In a letter addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, the Palestinian-American lawmaker argued that Israel's "discriminatory policies make it ineligible for inclusion" in the scheme, which allows foreign citizens to enter the US for 90 days without needing to apply for a visa.

According to the State Department, US citizens or residents have been prohibited from entering Israel, or the Palestinian territories Israel controls, if the individual is registered in the Palestinian Authority's registry or if they are believed to have a claim to a Palestinian identification card.

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Other US citizens of Muslim or Arab heritage have also experienced hostile treatment at Israeli checkpoints and points of entry, according to the State Department.

"This is clearly ethnically-based discrimination," the letter read.

"Unless the Israeli government ends all ethnically, racially, religiously, and politically based discrimination against American citizens at its borders, it is ineligible for the Visa Waiver Program," the letter said.

The congressional effort has been co-signed by fellow progressives Betty McCollum and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, according to Jewish Insider, and the letter is open for additional signatures until the close of business on Monday.

Middle East Eye reached out to Tlaib's office for comment but did not receive a comment by the time of publication.

Israel tightens entry to Palestinian areas

Despite enjoying a close strategic partnership and bilateral relationship with the US, Israel has long sought entry into the United States Visa Waiver Program (VWP) with limited success.

Earlier this year, the Israeli government published a 97-page document introducing a number of severe restrictions on travelling to the occupied West Bank, including being required to go through a rigorous questioning procedure.

The new restrictions were met with stiff opposition from American officials, Channel 12 news network reported last month, with officials telling the network that a failure to reevaluate the restrictions could lead to a punitive postponement or even suspend Israel's inclusion in the visa waiver programme.

The letter says the new Israeli procedures "represent a clear Israeli intention to restrict the entry of certain American travelers seeking entry to the occupied West Bank".

It also highlights how Israel restricted Tlaib, who is Palestinian American, and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s attempt to visit Israel in 2019.

"Israel's policies denying entry even to Congress members on official business make it more difficult, if not practically impossible, for Congress to provide effective oversight of its appropriations," the letter said.

In the letter, Tlaib and the two other cosponsors list numerous questions to the two Biden officials regarding the discussions over Israel's eligibility, including: Does Israel meet the requirements for inclusion in the programme? Has the US addressed to Israel its discriminatory entry policies towards American citizens? Does Israel provide the US with information on the number of Americans it denied visas each year?

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