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Open Letter Opposing Visa Waiver Reciprocity Exemption for Israel

Please join a diverse group of local and national organizations that have signed an open letter opposing Senate legislation that would allow Israel into the Visa Waiver Program, but allow for continued discrimination against and mistreatment of U.S. citizens. 

In the interest of equality, human rights, and respect for diversity, help us urge Congress to publicly oppose any legislation that would discriminate on the basis of race, religion, or the rightful exercise of free speech. 

In opposing this legislation, we agree with Rep. Keith Ellison that "American citizens deserve to travel without fear of being turned away based on their race, religion, of countries they have visited.  Denying law-abiding citizens does nothing to advance understanding between countries or the cause of peace."

Please fill out the form below by Wednesday, May 15th at 3pm to endorse this letter.  The letter will be delivered to Senate offices on Thursday, May 16th. 

May 2013

Dear Senators,

The following organizations are writing (to thank you for not cosponsoring / to urge you to withdraw your co-sponsorship) of S.462, the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013. While there are numerous problematic provisions in this bill, we are particularly concerned about Sec. 9, which would designate Israel as a country included in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, allowing Israeli citizens to enter the United States for up to 90 days without a visa.

Currently, all 37 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program must grant reciprocity to U.S. citizens and allow them to enter their countries without a visa. However, S.462, would exempt Israel from this requirement, holding it to a lower standard than all other countries. Instead of granting U.S. citizens a reciprocal visa waiver, the bill would allow Israel to enter the program after the United States has certified that it “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.”

As is well documented by the attached articles, Israel systematically discriminates against Palestinian-Americans, Arab-Americans, Muslim-Americans and additional U.S. citizens from all ethnic and faith backgrounds who support Palestinian human and national rights by frequently denying them visas to travel to Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territory. When denying these U.S. citizens entry, Israel often subjects them to humiliating searches, intensive interrogations, and outrageous invasions of personal privacy, including demanding access to private email accounts.

Rather than hold Israel accountable for its ethnic, religious, and political profiling of U.S. citizens, S.462 would codify into law U.S. acceptance of Israel’s discrimination and allow it to continue to deny visas to U.S. citizens through its unique catch-all “reasonable effort” and “security” loopholes.
In his April 17 testimony to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on the FY2014 foreign affairs budget, Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the prevailing standards for a country joining the Visa Waiver Program include, among others, “reciprocal visa waivers,” and that it “maintain less than 2 percent rejection for travel for non-immigrant applicants.” Secretary of State Kerry then stated that he was “not in favor of waiving that” current standard for Israel or any other country.  

In opposing this bill, we agree with Rep. Keith Ellison that “American citizens deserve to travel without fear of being turned away based on their race, religion, or countries they have visited. Denying law-abiding citizens does nothing to advance understanding between countries or the cause of peace.”
Even Sen. Barbara Boxer, the sponsor of the bill, admits that “Israel rejects so many people” from entering. However, far from fixing this problem, S.Res.462 would only exacerbate it by allowing Israel to continue its discrimination against U.S. citizens.

Rather than carving out yet another exemption in the law for Israel to attain special treatment afforded to no other country by passing S.Res.462, we instead urge the Senate to hold Israel accountable for consistently violating the terms of the 1951 U.S.-Israel Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation. Article II of this treaty states: “Nationals of either Party shall be permitted to enter the territories of the other Party and to remain therein,” and “Nationals of either Party, within the territories of the other Party, shall be permitted: (a) to travel therein freely, and to reside at places of their choice.”

Consequently, we (thank you for not cosponsoring / urge you to withdraw your co-sponsorship) of S.462.   

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