US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib has strongly criticized the Biden administration’s decision to admit Israel into the US visa waiver program (VWP), saying it enables Israel’s “discriminatory practices” towards Americans requesting entry, especially those of Palestinian, Arab or Muslim descent.
“The Biden Administration’s decision to admit Israel into the Visa Waiver Program explicitly condones and enables the Israeli government’s discriminatory practices towards Americans requesting entry, including hours of detainment and interrogation,” Tlaib said in a statement posted to her website on Thursday.
The VWP allows citizens of participating countries to travel to the US for up to 90 days without a visa, and vice versa. Israel will become the 41st country to join the program, and is expected to be able to enter the US visa-free by November 30, according to an administration official.
The official said that the decision was based on “key national security goals”, including enhanced cooperation between the US and Israel on counterterrorism, law enforcement, immigration enforcement, document security and border management.
However, Tlaib argued that Israel does not meet the requirement of reciprocity, which means that both countries should treat each other’s citizens equally and without discrimination during entry and exit protocols.
She cited her own experience and that of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who were both denied entry to Israel in 2019 because of their support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.
The Death of Shireen Abu Akleh
She also mentioned the case of Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian American woman who was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint in the West Bank in 2002.
“The far-right Israeli government routinely discriminates against Americans seeking to enter the country, even denying myself and Congresswoman Omar entry in 2019. This decision enables further racist practices and violence towards Americans including the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh. The United States has yet to hold the Israeli government accountable,” Tlaib said.
Tlaib is not alone in her opposition to Israel’s inclusion in the VWP. Earlier this month, a group of 15 Democratic senators wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urging him not to nominate Israel to the program based on its treatment of Palestinian Americans.
The senators said that they had received “numerous reports” of Palestinian Americans being subjected to “excessive questioning, denial of entry, strip searches, and arbitrary detention” by Israeli authorities.
They also said that Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and its refusal to recognize Palestinian American passports as valid travel documents violated the principle of reciprocity.
“It is clear that Israel is not in compliance with the statutory requirements for designation into the Visa Waiver Program,” the senators wrote.
The Biden administration, however, said that it had reached a different conclusion after an extensive observation period, during which it found that Palestinian Americans were able to travel visa-free on equivalent terms to other US citizens.
The administration also said that it would continue to monitor Israel’s compliance with the VWP requirements and address any issues that may arise.