US senators wrote a letter to the Secretary of State Antoni Blinken this Sunday, criticizing Israel for not abiding by its commitments to grant equal treatment to Palestinian Americans, and urging the Biden administration to react.
In a letter to the US Secretary of State Antoni Blinken this Sunday, a group of 15 Democratic senators rebuked Israel for not abiding by its commitments to grant equal treatment to Palestinian Americans who wish to enter Israel, and urged the Biden administration to react by not accepting Israel into the US visa waiver program.
In the letter, the senators wrote that “contrary to its previous commitments, Israel is not allowing Palestinians with American citizenship to enter its territory by car or to rent a car there”. They demanded an urgent meeting with Blinken so as to dissuade him not to add Israel to the US visa wavier program that is expected to be finalized at the end of this month.
The senators highlighted the memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by Israel and the US in July, which outlines Israel’s commitment to ensure “equal treatment and freedom of travel for all US citizens regardless of national origin, religion, or ethnicity.”
Asserting that Israel has a long history of discriminatory treatment against Arab and Muslim Americans, the senators further noted in the letter that “Israel continues to discriminate against Palestinians holding U.S. citizenship at its entry ports, thereby violating the commitments it made as a condition for joining the visa waiver program,” the letter wrote. During the last August, more than 12,000 Palestinian Americans had entered Israel from the West Bank.
The senators also explained in the letter that “Palestinian Americans living in the West Bank have to enter Israel on foot, since they are prohibited from driving into the country. Other American citizens are allowed to drive freely from the West Bank into Israel and back. Israel has also made it difficult for Americans of Palestinian descent to rent a car at Ben-Gurion International Airport for their stay in Israel”.
Suggesting a quick tit-for-tat move, the Democratic senators wrote Blinken that the Biden administration should not allow Israel to join the visa waiver program. They compared Israel’s move to a theoretical situation in which the US would deny some Israelis visiting the country the right to drive or rent a car during their visit.
Among the famous senators who signed the letter were Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and the head of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, Dick Durbin. The letter was initiated by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, one of the main critics of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu among the Democrats.
US State Department reacted to the letter
In response to the letter sent to Blinken, a spokesperson from the State Department said this Sunday evening that “Israel’s entry into the program depends on it meeting all requirements, including the requirement to extend reciprocal privileges to all U.S. citizens without regard to national origin, religion, or ethnicity.”
The State Department spokesperson also noted that even regardless of the letter, the Biden administration will continue to “analyze aggregate data provided by Israel, and U.S. Embassy Jerusalem has established a portal accessible via its website where U.S. citizens may report their travel experiences. We encourage all U.S. citizens to share their experiences”.
“At the same time, the United States has and will continue to engage with the Palestinian-American, Arab-American, and Muslim-American communities, as we review Israel’s implementation of the necessary requirements, including reciprocity, ” the spokesperson also explained.