WASHINGTON – A legislative effort led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to enable Israelis to enter the United States without visas may be stymied by the government – Israel’s government.
The hitch is Israel’s inability or unwillingness to fully reciprocate, something required for visa-free travel to the United States. Israel, citing security concerns, insists on the right to refuse entry to some US citizens.
AIPAC is pushing for an exemption for Israel from this rule. But congressional staffers say Israel is unlikely to get such an exemption, which US lawmakers view as an attempt to bar Arab Americans from freely entering Israel.
The exemption AIPAC is pushing for appears in the Senate version of the US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, one of the key issues for which AIPAC urged supporters to lobby after its policy conference last month.
The language in that bill, proposed by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), requires that the Homeland Security secretary grant Israel visa waiver status after certifying with the secretary of state that Israel “has made every reasonable effort, without jeopardizing the security of the State of Israel, to ensure that reciprocal travel privileges are extended to all United States citizens.”
House staffers say that lawmakers, pro-Israel leaders among them, have raised objections to the clause, “without jeopardizing the security of the State of Israel,” because it appears to validate what they see as Israel’s tendency to turn away Arab Americans without giving a reason.
Israel’s government has made clear that it likely would not join the visa waiver program without such language in the law, JTA has learned.