Democrats Urge US to Exclude Israel from Visa Waiver Program

Twenty members of Congress called on the Biden administration to demand Israel end “discriminatory” travel restrictions against Palestinian Americans visiting their families in the occupied territories and US citizens critical of Israeli government policies. 

The letter comes as Israel is attempting to negotiate entry to the U.S. visa waiver program, which would allow its citizens to join those of 40 other countries in traveling to the US with only online approval and without requiring an interview.

But politicians said Israel should not be admitted to the Visa Waiver Program until the country stops targeting Arab and Muslim U.S. citizens “based on their ethnicity.” 

The letter, initiated by congressman Don Beyer, a Virginia Democrat, said that new regulations imposed by Israel’s defense ministry department overseeing occupied Palestinian land, which came into effect in October, “codify onerous and discriminatory restrictions”.

The lawmakers cited “ethnic-based discrimination” and racial profiling in the letter. It said that Israel does not meet the criteria to enter the program and called on the U.S. to stand against the Israeli army’s “discriminatory restrictions” for entry into the West Bank.

Israel’s new regulations came in a 90-page ordinance. It further complicates the lives of Palestinian families with dual nationalities, including U.S. citizenship. Palestinians already face a complex travel permit system. 

Among other things, Israeli regulations bar people born in Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain and South Sudan from traveling to the occupied West Bank other than under exceptional circumstances, even if they are using U.S. or other foreign passports. 

The letter also noted that Palestinian Americans who wish to visit the areas under Israeli military governance “may be forced to provide the names and ID numbers of family and friends”, a requirement that can open them to intrusive Israeli scrutiny.

The regulations also subject Americans to arbitrary and restrictive screening processes which would deny entry to those with political positions that the Israeli authorities disagree with. 

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