American lawmakers in Washington are hesitant to ease visa restrictions for Israelis wishing to enter the United States for fear that it would increase the risk of Israeli espionage, Roll Call is reporting on Saturday.
Earlier in the week, JTA reported that the US and Israel are creating a working group to help Israel advance toward joining the visa waiver program.
“This is a goal of both the United States and Israel, and it would make travel easier for citizens of both countries,” Julia Frifield, the assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, said in a letter sent Thursday to Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.).
Permitting Israel into the visa waiver program would exempt Israeli nationals from having to produce a tourist visa, allowing them to stay in the country for a period of up to 90 days.
Until now, the widespread perception has been that two major obstacles have kept Israel from joining the program - allegations by US officials that Israel has discriminated against Arab- and Muslim-Americans seeking entry, and a proliferation of young Israelis traveling to the United States as tourists and then working illegally.
According to Roll Call, however, intelligence officials in Washington have expressed their reservations to Congress regarding the potential harm that could be done to US national security by Israeli spies who could exploit the waiver.
This sentiment is shared by some in the Homeland Security Department as well as the State Department, Roll Call reported. Officials have communicated these concerns to lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee, which is the Congressional panel with jurisdiction on the issue of visas.
Pro-Israel lobbyists in Washington are urging Congress to approve the US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, which includes a clause that would trigger Israel’s entry into the waiver program, according to Roll Call.
The issue of Israeli espionage against the United States is a particularly sensitive one, especially since the arrest of Jonathan Pollard and the fallout over his case. Pollard's release has been discussed recently as part of Washington's efforts to move the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks forward.