‘Strategic Partner Act of 2013’ would give US seal of approval to Israeli discrimination against Arab-Americans

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sandra tamari
Sandra Tamari

It was a big story last year when the US Embassy told Palestinian-American Sandra Tamari  ‘You’re not Jewish? Then we can’t do anything to help you’– and the Israelis deported her.  

Sasha Al-Sarabi and Najwa Doughman

So was the story last year by Najwa Doughman and Sasha Al-Sarabi about being detained and interrogated at Ben Gurion– “Do you feel more Arab or more American?” That story got over 20,000 shares, and along with Tamari’s account went viral.

But it wasn’t till two months ago, when Nour Joudah, a Palestinian-American teacher at the Friends School in Ramallah, was denied re-entry by Israel, that I heard of a bill to end the visa requirement for Israelis to visit the U.S.

Since then, the opposition to this bill has grown by immense proportions– and rightly so.

Nour Joudah
Nour Joudah

This sweeping legislation with the Orwellian title “The U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013”, otherwise known as the Boxer/Aipac bill or the United States-Israel Strategic Subservience Act of 2013, includes a visa waiver agreement with Israel that no other country in the world has. S.B. 462  threatens to “codify Israel’s discrimination against Palestinian-, Muslim-, and Arab-Americans into US law,” by giving Israelis the right to enter the US without a visa, while preserving Israel’s “right” to deny entry to anyone.

“Anyone” means Sandra, Sasha, Najwa, and Nour. Inevitably, it could include any guests of Palestinians, including peace activists; for Israel holds the keys and it alone decides who is allowed to visit Palestine.

Here’s some of that opposition, from The Baltimore Sun. “Don’t let Israel discriminate against Americans based on religion,” by Zainab Choudry and Saqib Ali:

A bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate that would allow a foreign country, Israel, to discriminate against select groups of American citizens — including Americans who have expressed criticism of its policies. Disappointingly, the bill, S.B. 462 (also known as the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013), is co-sponsored by Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin. Those who stand to be most affected by this piece of legislation are Arab Americans and Muslim Americans. However, it may also apply to individuals who wish to visit or work in Israel and/or the Palestinian territories that Israel has occupied since 1967. It would enshrine into U.S. law a provision allowing another country to discriminate against Americans based on their ethnicity or religion.

The purported intent of the bill, originally introduced by Sens. Barbara Boxer (a California Democrat) and Roy Blount (a Missouri Republican) at the behest of American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC), is to provide Israel entry into the United States’ visa waiver program, but with special allowances not afforded any other country. Normally, the visa waiver program permits, under certain conditions, foreign individuals to enter the United States without a visa. A key aspect of the program is reciprocity, meaning that countries admitted into this program must also permit Americans to enter their country without a visa. Currently, 37 countries participate in this mutually beneficial arrangement with the United States. All reciprocate by allowing American citizens to cross their borders without obtaining visas.

However, S.B. 462 contains discriminatory provisions that allow Israel to bar entry to Americans of Arab heritage or Islamic faith, anyone who is viewed to be critical of the actions of the Israeli government, or even anyone who is supportive of Palestinian rights — this, while Israel would enjoy the full benefit of the program for its own people. Rather than requiring reciprocity, the bill, as drafted, requires only that Israel make “every reasonable effort” to ensure that reciprocal travel privileges are extended to all U.S. citizens. No other waiver program nations are granted similar exemptions.

Earlier this year, Nour Joudah, a 25-year-old Palestinian-American woman, was denied entry to Israel at Ben Gurion International Airport despite holding a valid one-year multiple-entrance visa. Ms. Joudah was a full-time English teacher at the Quaker Friends School in Ramallah who had traveled to Amman for the Christmas holidays. However, when she tried to return through Israel, she was denied entry. Numerous efforts by USAID representatives and congressional staffers to secure Ms. Joudah’s re-entry were in vain. Ultimately, Ms. Nour had to inform her students via Skype that she could not return to Ramallah.

The issue of entry denial has been contentious for decades. Israel is widely recognized for especially discriminating against Arab-Americans and Muslims by preventing or making difficult their entry to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. When Americans of these two groups arrive in one of Israel’s ports of entry, they are often put through intense interrogations and strip searches, and in many cases are denied entry without any explanation.

The State Department’s website advises U.S. citizens “that all persons applying for entry to Israel, the West Bank, or Gaza are subject to security and police record checks by the Government of Israel, and may be denied entry or exit without explanation.” In 2006, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Arab-Americans, “I will continue to do everything in my power to support your good work, and to ensure that all American travelers receive fair and equal treatment.” Unfortunately, almost one decade later, its increasingly obvious that much work remains to be done on this front.

As for the Maryland co-sponsor, readers may recall that Senator Cardin was the topic of Bruce Wolman’s Sen. Cardin tells how he and Hillary Clinton muscled foreign ambassadors to block ‘anti-American’ Palestinian statehood. You can listen to him bragging and singing the praises of The American Jewish International Relations Institute (AJIRI) in these videos of the event: “Israel Under Siege”at Maryland’s Ohr Kodesh synagogue.

Sen. Cardin’s affirmation of civil rights seems farcical when you consider what he’s willing to grant Israel: 

Every individual must have an equal opportunity to live his or her life and fulfill the American Dream. This is only possible when the government protects the civil rights and civil liberties of every citizen. No one is above the law. We must strive to find a balance that allows us to uphold the U.S. Constitution and protect our civil liberties while simultaneously fulfilling our solemn obligation to protect the American people.

Civil rights and civil liberties are the building blocks of the rule of law in our country.

Sandra Tamari is organizing against the racial profiling. From an email I received from her today:

If we don’t act now, this de facto US sponsorship of Israeli racial profiling could become the law of the land.

This bill is an affront to basic principles of equality and dignity.  And it’s further evidence of the overwhelmingly biased US approach to Israel – a policy that harms all Americans.
As Senator Boxer’s constituent, you can change this bill.  

Please call Senator Boxer TODAY:

Identify yourself and tell her office that you are very disappointed with her sponsorship of the US-Israeli Strategic Partnership Act of 2013.

Tell her the Visa Waiver that sanctions Israel’s blatant discrimination against US citizens, particularly Arab-Americans, is especially disturbing.

Urge her to take the Visa Waiver out of the Senate bill.

Finally, ask her to issue a strong statement that condemns Israel’s discriminatory practice of refusing entrance to some U.S. citizens.

Her office numbers are:

202-224-3553: DC Office
510-286-8537: Oakland Office
213-894-5000: LA Office

After you’ve made your call, please email us at [email protected] to let us know you’ve called and any response you get.

This is an opportunity to make a difference!  

Thank you,

Sandra Tamari

Besides Boxer, the bill has 23 co-sponsors, senators who seem to care more about serving the Israeli government than ours. So if you live in any of these states you might want to give these sponsors a piece of your mind.

Cosponsors by U.S. State or Territory

Arkansas [2]
Kansas [2]
Missouri [2]
Alaska [1]
Connecticut [1]
Georgia [1]
Hawaii [1]
Idaho [1]
Maine [1]
Maryland [1]
Michigan [1]
Minnesota [1]
Montana [1]
Nebraska [1]
Nevada [1]
New Mexico [1]
North Dakota [1]
Oregon [1]
Pennsylvania [1]
Texas [1]
West Virginia [1]


(Hat tip Shelley Fudge)

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