Israel’s Entry To US Visa Waiver Programme Under Threat
Recent reports from the Arab American Institute have claimed that the bill which would have seen Israel become part of the Visa Waiver Programme has been abandoned. The non-profit organisation has alleged that the bill, also known as the US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, is ‘dead in the water’.
Despite strong opposition by the Arab American Institute, the bill was supported by many pro-Israel groups, such as AIPAC. If enacted, the bill would have allowed Israelis to enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Programme, thus making it easier for Israelis to travel to the country. Supporters of the bill also claimed that it would boost Israeli tourism in the US and, therefore, have a beneficial effect on the country.
However, since the bill was proposed in March 2013 it has faced strong criticism. Whilst the bill would have ensured that all Israelis could travel under the Visa Waiver Programme, subject to the general exceptions and limitations of the programme itself, some critics alleged that the bill allowed Israelis to ‘maintain discriminatory practices against the US.’
The Arab American Institute alleged that the wording of the bill would have allowed Israelis to refuse entry to some Americans, which would result in American Arabs, Muslims or pro-Palestinian activists being turned away at the border.
Yousef Munayyer of the Palestine Center also opposed the bill and highlighted the cases of Nour Joudah and Sandra Tamari. Mr Munayyer argues that the fact that both Palestinian-American women were denied entry to Israel in 2012 is indicative of the discriminatory practices which would be allowed under the new bill.
Whilst acceptance into the Visa Waiver Programme would undoubtedly make it easier for Israelis wanting to travel to the United States, it appears that the current bill will not be enacted and Israelis will, therefore, still be required to obtain a visa before entering the country.
However, much of the criticism levelled at the US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act is concerned with the wording of the bill and the implication it has on discriminatory practices in Israel, rather than the acceptance of Israel into the Visa Waiver Programme itself.
It’s possible, therefore, that a new bill will be put forward in early 2014. Providing a new bill could overcome the criticism levelled at the current US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, it’s possible that Israel could become part of the Visa Waiver Programme and Israeli citizens could find it far easier to enter the US. However, unless legislators ensure that the wording of the bill does not allow for the discrimination of American citizens, it is likely that Israel will not be able to participate in the Visa Waiver Programme due to the on-going criticism and opposition from a variety of groups.