Sen. Boxer is on the defensive over legislation OK-ing Israeli discrimination against Arab-Americans

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This is good news about the growing pressure inside the U.S. mainstream against the special relationship from Americans who insist on discussing Israel’s racist policies. In this case, the LA Times ran a piece (a week back) by George Bisharat calling out California Senator Barbara Boxer for sponsoring a law that would give Israelis visa-free entry to the U.S. at a time when Israel discriminates against Arab-Americans who arrive at its ports.


Sen. Barbara Boxer introduced legislation last month that would allow Israel to continue racially profiling Americans of Arab and Muslim heritage who travel to Israel, even as it confers new privileges on Israelis traveling to the United States.

I wonder whether she understands what it’s like for her Arab American constituents to enter Israel…

Why such blatant racial profiling of American citizens from a country our political leaders regularly call our best friend and ally? No Arab American has ever committed crimes in Israel to warrant harassment of us all — unless criticism of Israeli policies is such a crime. For while we all experience lengthy detention and interrogation, those of us who bear public witness to Israel’s oppression of Palestinians are the most likely to be denied entry.

Palestinian Americans expect it from Israel. It merely treats us as it does other Arabs, including its own 1.4 million Palestinian citizens: with distrust and hostility, and as if our blood determined our character.

That piece is straight out of the American tradition of opposing Jim Crow and apartheid.

Well then of course, the Balancing Act kicked in. The LA Times ran several letters supportive of Israel (and one critical).

But Boxer herself was on the defensive. She also wrote a letter to the LA Times defending her legislation and saying that Israel is one of our “strongest allies”– notice, she doesn’t say it’s our best friend– and it has the right to deny entry “based on national security concerns.” But watch her wiggle:

In fact, it gives us important leverage to ensure Israel welcomes Americans by requiring a certification from our secretaries of Homeland Security and State that Israel has made “every” reasonable effort to grant reciprocal travel privileges to “all” Americans.

Of course the real question is, When does Palestine get to decide who is allowed to visit Palestine? Like, never. 

But Bisharat’s intervention demonstrates what M.J. Rosenberg has long said: As soon as these pols start getting asked about Israel at press conferences and the like, they’re going to start to hedge.

The irony is that when the Ottoman Empire controlled Palestine, their discrimination against Jewish visitors was a source of political action by Theodor Herzl and the head of the Zionist Federation in the U.S., Richard Gottheil.

Haaretz has reprinted a 1900 letter to Gottheil from Herzl, founder of political Zionism, calling on the U.S. to prevent discrimination against its Jewish citizens in Palestine.

In November 1900, the Ottoman authorities published an order prohibiting Jewish visitors to the Land of Israel from remaining there for more than three months at a time. Subsequently, on February 25, 1901, Theodor Herzl sent a letter to American Zionists… in an attempt to enlist their help by lobbying the United States to take action

“I am asking you, therefore, to initiate with the greatest speed a discussion in the Congress or the Senate on the question as to whether it is permissible to deny American citizens – be they Jews or Christians – to tread on Palestinian ground, or to make distinctions between the various American citizens,” he added.

The letter urged Gottheil to get an answer from the U.S. president:
It will be difficult for him to refuse, since it is not a case of taking a position on Zionism but a matter of equal rights for all American citizens…
It will be up to you to obtain the president’s remarks in the form of an interview, or in any other manner deemed suitable by you, to make sure they are spread among as much of the public at large as possible … Do not make do with a debate in the Congress and Senate or with a declaration by the president, but make an effort to obtain everything: representatives, government and public opinion.
Notice that Haaretz uses this letter under the headline, “When the Jewish lobby was young.” Remember when Chuck Hagel was denounced as an anti-Semite for describing the Israel lobby as the Jewish lobby? Double standard. His mistake was speaking while being non-Jewish.

Thanks to Alex Kane and Annie Robbins.

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