Matthew Lee is the Associated Press reporter who regularly stands up for Palestinian human rights in State Department briefings, and today he and a colleague have published an important story describing Congress’s efforts to push AIPAC-sponsored legislation that would put Israel in an enhanced category all its own — “Major Strategic Partner” — and give an American seal-of-approval to the country’s entry policies that discriminate against Arab-Americans.
The story features the disgraceful case of Nour Joudah, the Palestinian-American schoolteacher who was prevented by Israel from returning to her job in Ramallah this year due to Jim Crow-style “discrimination”– and because she refused to give border authorities the names and phone numbers of friends in Palestine.
The AP says that the Obama administration and some 16 lonely members of Congress are against the enhanced status for Israel because of the treatment of Joudah and others, but the opposition is soft-spoken out of fear of the Israel lobby.
The AP reports that two bills in the House and Senate would:
create a new category of U.S. ally – ‘major strategic partner’ – designating Israel as the only such nation. And they would call for the inclusion of Israel on a list of countries whose citizens can visit the United States for up to 90 days without a visa, granted they register electronically before boarding a flight.
The administration and some lawmakers are concerned the legislation doesn’t do enough to eliminate Israeli discrimination against Palestinians and Arab-Americans seeking to enter its borders.
Matt Lee and colleague Bradley Klapper go out of their way to state that AIPAC is supporting the bills, and that dissenters in high places are keeping their mouths shut.
Some critics are sensitive about expressing their reservations in public, wishing to avoid getting in a public argument with a close ally, with the bills’ supporters or with the powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, which is pushing for the legislation’s passage.
But AP says there is major pushback, and cites the case of Nour Joudah:
Last month, 15 Democratic members of Congress and one Republican wrote a letter to Israel’s ambassador in Washington expressing concern that Israeli border officials were “disproportionately singling out, detaining and denying entry to Arab and Muslim Americans.” They demanded equal treatment, according to the letter obtained by the AP.
One case they detailed was that of Nour Joudah, a teacher at a U.S.-funded school in the West Bank who was twice denied entry into Israel despite holding a valid multiple-entry visa. They also complained about Israel providing some Americans with restrictive visas that only allow them into Palestinian-controlled territory but not into Israel, forcing them to travel overland from Jordan instead of arriving at Tel Aviv’s international airport.
Other problems cited included instances of Israeli border officials blocking Americans at the border because of their political views and cases of U.S. citizens being forced to provide authorities with access to their personal email accounts at the risk of deportation.
Joudah wrote to Obama earlier this year, calling on him to speak out against the Jim Crow rules:
The Arab American Institute has documented hundreds of these cases, including Americans being asked humiliating questions, detained for hours, denied entry or strip-searched. Israeli authorities even mistreated an African-American U.S. Congresswoman before they realized who she was.