Though I’d previously been a fan of Senator Barbara Boxer (mainly for her record of advocacy for equality and protection of minorities), her recent push for the passage of Senate Bill 462, the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013, has lost her my support.
The legislation seeks to add Israel to the list of 37 other countries whose citizens do not require visas in order to enter the United States. In turn, American citizens do not require visas to enter these 37 countries.
However, under Boxer’s proposed legislation, this would not be the case with Israel. Though Israel’s citizens would be exempt from visa requirements, Americans would not receive the same courtesy, meaning that Israel would still be allowed to refuse admittance of American citizens at their own discretion. This gives Israel the go-ahead to deny American citizens the right to deny entry or exit from Israel *without explanation* on the basis of “being of Arab, Middle Eastern or Muslim origin”.
In an open letter to Boxer and her 20 senatorial cosponsors, the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation and other organizations spoke against the act. An excerpt from the letter is below:
If this legislation passes, it would essentially codify Israel’s well-known discrimination against those of Arab or Muslim origin from visiting the country. One recent and notable example is that of Sandra Tamari, an American Quaker of Palestinian descent who was detained in the Tel Aviv airport. After being interrogated about her family background and being jailed overnight, she was put on the first flight back to the U.S. in the morning.
Another incident similar to this is that of Nour Joudah, a 25-year-old Palestinian-American student at Georgetown who previously taught English to Palestinian children at the Friends School in Ramallah, an American-owned Quaker school that receives millions in U.S. funding.
Joudah attempted to return to her students in Ramallah in January after a holiday break. However, she was denied entry despite assurance from Congressional staffers in the Israeli Embassy in Washington D.C. Though Joudah was officially denied entry because she “refused to answer questions”, Joudah said nothing could be further from the truth.
As an American citizen of Palestinian descent who hopes to visit Israel and the West Bank in the future, the fact that representatives who I voted for are trying to make this impossible is incredibly infuriating. Palestinian-Americans are not naive — we know that entering Israel is already a long shot, even with an American passport. But to have our own government support the blatant discrimination of its own citizens is a whole new low. No Arab American has ever committed a crime against the State of Israel to warrant this type of blatant double standard. Last time I checked, English teachers and tourists are the least of Israel’s worries.
Representatives like Boxer should be fighting for a reciprocal visa waiver program in which citizens of both countries enjoy the same liberty and freedom of travel. Boxer’s office says the main purpose of this legislation is “increasing visits between our two countries, boosting tourism and strengthening the economies of both countries.” But if that were true, reciprocity would not be an issue and we certainly wouldn’t be having this discussion.
I’d expect this double standard from any other country, but never my own. Shame on you, Senator Boxer. See you in 2014.