Senator Boxer’s far-fetched defense of the visa waiver exemption for Israel

boxer
Sen. Barbara Boxer

Senator Barbara Boxer’s recent letter in the Los Angeles Times defending legislation that would allow Israel in the Visa Waiver Program while giving it a pass on key requirements was a disingenuous and poorly reasoned attempt to mollify critics of the provision. Recent critics of the legislation include George Bisharat, a law professor of Palestinian heritage and a “descendant of William Samuel Johnson, a signer of the U.S. Constitution.” Late last month, the LA Times published an op-ed from Bisharat calling out Senator Boxer for proposing legislation that would sanction ‘Israel’s racially discriminatory treatment of American citizens.’

In her letter, Senator Boxer perplexingly argued that removing standards would allow Congress to hold Israel to the highest possible standard, and provide much needed leverage for Congress to protect U.S. travelers. But supporters of the visa waiver exemption know full well that this exemption would allow Israel to continue its discrimination against U.S. citizens under the rubric of national security.

It simply defies reason to expect that lowering or eliminating the eligibility standards for the Visa Waiver Program, specifically the ones Israel has consistently violated, would somehow give the U.S. more leverage. The obvious result of allowing Israel to couch its systemic discrimination in security terms to circumvent the reciprocity requirement would be diminished U.S. leverage for demanding that all its citizens are treated equally.

In any case, how is it possible that the U.S. needs more leverage to hold Israel accountable? Perhaps the Senator can explain to her constituents how $30 billion in military aid over a decade, unconditional diplomatic support, loan guarantees, and pre-existing treaty obligations are insufficient leverage for Congress to demand better treatment for U.S. travelers.

Although Senator Boxer deliberately obfuscates the implications of this provision, two things are clear. First, the legislation proposes that Israel be held to a different and lower standard than every other nation in the Visa Waiver Program. Second, Israel’s refusal to provide reciprocity to U.S. citizens is reflective of a broader system of apartheid laws that systematically deprive Palestinians of their human and civil rights.

This year’s annual State Department country report again listed Israel’s “institutional and societal discrimination against Arab citizens” as a significant human rights issue. As evidenced by State Department warnings to U.S. travelers, Israel has consistently extended those discriminatory policies to include U.S. citizens of Arab and Muslim heritage, or those critical of its policies. In late April, the Israeli Attorney General reaffirmed the legality of demanding access to travelers email accounts, a practice already used against numerous U.S. citizens who have faced interrogation and were then deported.

In truth, Congress has rarely sought to use the leverage already available to hold Israel accountable for violations of U.S. laws relating to human rights. As James Zogby, the Founder and President of the Arab American Institute recently noted for an article in The Hill, Congress is already failing to hold Israel accountable for “violating its treaty obligations to the U.S.” as part of the ‘1951 U.S.-Israel Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation.’ How many U.S. laws does Israel need to be in violation of before its benefactor can exert pressure?

In reality, the Senator has used U.S. leverage and her authority for the opposite purpose, to bestow impunity upon Israel in spite of its human rights violations and mistreatment of U.S. citizens. Senator Boxer neglected to use any such leverage when her own constituent, Tristan Anderson, was shot in the face and critically injured by a U.S.-supplied high velocity tear gas canister fired by the Israeli military.

Considering the Senator’s poor record of holding Israel accountable for its preexisting obligations under other laws and treaties, it is absurd to expect that easing Israel’s compliance requirements will somehow result in better treatment for U.S. citizens. In fact, Senator Boxer’s proposal to lower the standards for Israel would have the opposite effect, bestowing legitimacy on Israel’s routine discrimination against U.S. citizens under the guise of making Israel more secure.

If Senator Boxer really wants leverage to assist U.S. travelers, she should propose an amendment specifying that unless and until Israel ends its practice of systemic discrimination based on race, religion and ethnicity, it will not be granted entry into the visa waiver program. Instead, Senator Boxer’s legislation is meant to deny U.S. travelers protection under the pretext of security, an all-too-familiar refrain used by Israel to justify discrimination, illegal occupation, destruction of Palestinian homes, and the repeated misuse of U.S.-supplied weapons against civilians.

About Mike Coogan

Mike Coogan is the Legislative Coordinator for the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.
Posted in Israel Lobby, Israel/Palestine, Israeli Government, US Policy in the Middle East, US Politics

{ 7 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. pabelmont says:

    She’s a shill for Israel. Nuff said. Other than to oppose the pro-Israel VISA legislation in every way.

  2. Henry Norr says:

    Mike Coogan concluded: “If Senator Boxer really wants leverage to assist U.S. travelers, she should propose an amendment specifying that unless and until Israel ends its practice of systemic discrimination based on race, religion and ethnicity, it will not be granted entry into the visa waiver program.”

    Good idea, but make it “unless and until Israel ends its practice of systemic discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, and political opinion.” Why give them a pass for hassling and excluding non-Arab, non-Muslim Americans (including Jews as well as non-Jews) simply for being critical of Israel?

    Otherwise, excellent work on this, Mike Coogan.

  3. Re: United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013

    Dear Senator _____:

    I greatly appreciate your service to our nation. It is not easy to undertake a large-scale election campaign or to commit oneself to meeting the unique demands on a member of the upper house of the legislature of the United States.

    I am saddened that you and your colleagues would even review a proposed law as lopsided against and costly to the United States as the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013 (“USISPA”). From a cursory review, USISPA appears to have been authored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. USISPA amounts to a giveaway of huge amounts of our nation’s prerogatives and assets for the benefit of a foreign nation that provides a small return to us. As a moderate American, I ask you to reject USISPA as unfavorable for the United States.

    As one example of the lopsidedness of USISPA, Section 9 of USISPA provides a visa waiver to citizens of Israel without requiring Israel to provide reciprocity on visa waiver to citizens and nationals of the United States. Section 9 reads that Israel must provide reciprocity unless Israel determines that certain citizens and nationals of the United States jeopardize the security of the State of Israel. Israel has discretion to impose visa requirements/obligations on any American citizen or national at any time on account of an arbitrary determination by Israel that such American jeopardizes the “security of the State of Israel.”

    While Section 2 of USISPA hyperbolically states that “the people and the Government of the United States and Israel share a deep and unbreakable bond, forged by over 60 years of shared interests and shares values,” Section 9 of USISPA implicitly assumes that Israel will deem that Americans jeopardize the security of the State of Israel.

    USISPA fails to specify any definition of the “security of the State of Israel” or to reasonably limit Israel’s power over Americans. How might Americans be so anticipated to jeopardize the security of the State of Israel that such likelihood is actually written into law? Why would the United States Senate provide this substantial benefit of visa-free entry to citizens of Israel when Israel may deny such benefit to citizens of the United States on arbitrary grounds? I ask you to reject USISPA as poorly conceived and poorly drafted.

  4. Keith says:

    “In her letter, Senator Boxer perplexingly argued that removing standards would allow Congress to hold Israel to the highest possible standard….”

    It is a sign of the times. Public opinion held in such low esteem that Boxer couldn’t be bothered concocting a believable lie, instead insulting our intelligence with a flimsy excuse almost designed to let us know that she doesn’t care what we think, but feels compelled to go through the motions.

    In a slightly off topic but similar vein, Assata Shakur is a former Black Panther who fled to Cuba in 1979, was granted political asylum and has lived there uneventfully ever since. “Seemingly out of nowhere the FBI announced that fugitive Black activist Assata Shakur was now declared a “terrorist” on their Most Wanted list. In addition, a bounty for her capture was raised from $1 million to $2 million.”, Bill Fletcher writes. Why now? Perhaps as a counter to efforts to normalize US-Cuban relations? Can’t deal with countries which shelter “terrorists” can we? More to the point, perhaps we need to “get tough” with Cuba? And Venezuela, Syria, Iran and anyone else who isn’t “with us.” People like Julian Assange and Bradley Manning too! Seems to me that Uncle Sam is on a take-no-prisoners rampage.
    link to zcommunications.org

  5. Kathleen says:

    “In any case, how is it possible that the U.S. needs more leverage to hold Israel accountable? Perhaps the Senator can explain to her constituents how $30 billion in military aid over a decade, unconditional diplomatic support, loan guarantees, and pre-existing treaty obligations are insufficient leverage for Congress to demand better treatment for U.S. travelers.”

    Clearly Israel and the I lobby all ready have way too much “leverage.” Boxer is so disappointing on this issue. She has shown signs of being reasonable…can’t remember when she has done so on the I/P issue. Oh I know she voted no on the Iraq war resolution..thumbs up for that vote…

  6. MK_Ultra says:

    Gotta wonder how much she received in “donations” from AIPAC for that letter. This brings to mind (a parody) of the song “How Much Is That Doggie in The Window?”
    ♫ ♪ ♫ ♪ How much is that letter in the LA Time? ♫ ♪ ♫ ♪

  7. homingpigeon says:

    On the one hand, this shows once again how Congresspeople take their orders from Israel. But on the other hand I hope lots of Israelis move to the US quickly and easily and stay there and never serve in the IDF or displace any more Palestinians. I welcome them every chance I get. Then again, there’s the matter of a new pipeline into the country for the Russian mafia.