Congress leaves town without passing lobby priority: visa-waiver bill for Israelis

AIPAC
Image via RepublicReport.org

The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) suffered a defeat Friday when Congressional members went on winter recess without passing a bill that would have codified discrimination against Arab- and Muslim-American travelers to Israel/Palestine.

AIPAC had been pushing the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act since their last policy conference in March.  The bill, sponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA),  had come under withering attack from a coalition of groups.  Now, the Arab-American Institute and Jewish Voice for Peace are celebrating the defeat of the bill, though it could come back up on the floor next year.

“Your efforts to hold Congress accountable to protect the rights of all U.S. citizens have paid,” the AAI said in an e-mail to supporters.  The bill is “dead in the water.”

The act, backed by dozens of U.S. officials, would waive the need for Israeli travelers to possess a visa to enter the U.S.  The countries that have this arrangement with the U.S. usually extend those same privileges to American travelers to their countries.  But AIPAC had been pushing for language that would exempt Israel from reciprocity.  Under the current version of the legislation, Israel would be allowed to deny American visitors entry if Israel said they posed a “security” risk to the state.  The majority of those denied entry into the territories Israel controls–which includes occupied Palestine–are Arab- and Muslim-American travelers, as well as activists who work on Palestine.

The most prominent case in recent months has been the denial of entry to Nour Joudah, a Palestinian-American teacher barred from entry by Israel on her way to her place of employment, the Friends School in Ramallah.  Israeli officials denied Joudah on the basis of security, though they never specified how Joudah posed a threat.

The defeat of the bill–at least for now–represents the latest setback for the Israel lobby on the Hill.  As LobeLog’s Mitchell Plitnick notes, AIPAC failed to kill the Iran deal; failed to muster support for attacking Syria; and now have failed to ensure the passage of the visa-waiver bill.

“These bills represent strong evidence that AIPAC is becoming a victim of its own hubris, pushing hard on an issue they never had much chance of winning,” Plitnick wrote. 

Still, as Plitnick points out, Congress did manage to include $284 million dollars for Israeli defense systems like Iron Dome in the annual defense bill passed last week.  That amount was triple the request of the Obama administration.

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is an assistant editor for Mondoweiss and the World editor for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.
Posted in Activism, Israel Lobby, Israel/Palestine, US Politics | Tagged

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

  1. Citizen says:

    This is good news. JVP says they had sent a lot of people to congressional offices to stop this bill being passed. Kudos to JVP and like-minded organizations, and to all who signed, e.g., JVP’s petition online!

    Meanwhile, Lawrebce Summers says the academic boycott of Israel “is anti-semitism in effect.” link to legalinsurrection.com
    He trots out the boilerplate hasbara as to BDS, e.g., why is no other country who abuses selected groups domestically being boycotted?

    • Citizen says:

      And Congress just passed the 2014 Defense budget, tripling the millions Obama asked for on top of the usual $3B per year that goes to Israel’s Defense. Other items in the appropriation increase funding and systematic enmeshment with Israel, including the habitual ME conventional race enabled by USA’s long-standing agreement to assure Israel always has the most cutting edge weapons. link to stljewishlight.com

    • Debbie Menon says:

      The fight against diplomacy was won – the tactic was different, not the outcome.

      The visa – a good thing, though I am sure they are happy to have had triple the amount of funds requested! Not to mention Fischer at Fed. Reserve. These are far more important as far as I can tell than the visa deal.

  2. Walid says:

    Whatever became of the old song about how much the Israel lobby’s got the Congress around its little finger?

    After the failed bombing of Syria, the bringing of Iran in from the cold, and now this “I love Israel” visa-exemption BS bill being put aside, we can say that the lobby has registered 3 losses in a row. Or is someone here still doubting this obvious fact?

    • just says:

      Walid– all that being true, I still don’t trust our Congress nor AIPAC. The relationship is insidious and well established.

      I can keep hoping, though.

      • W.Jones says:

        Yeah, with the Lobby things come and go. They did not get their wish under Bush to attack Syria in 5 years as Wesley Clark was told. And every few years they push for bombing Iran. But then in 2012 we came close to attacking Syria for the sake of the al-K8a rebels, et. al.

        I don’t see what changed in basic material terms of its power, except that the attacks can be put at bay or postponed. With a stronger pro-invasion president, who is to say it would not happen?

    • American says:

      Dont underestimate the Lobby—-they will keep trying.
      It appears to me they are ‘taking cover’ and trying to be the ‘nightflower” again because they have been too exposed.
      I dont think the Lobby’s defeat on Syria and (maybe) Iran has anything to do with it losing power in congress—it has more to do with the fact that US public mounted a huge outcry against any more involvement in the ME which the politicians werent expecting and really shocked them—–the public reaction was a ‘first’ in the masses actually taking action on an issue in a long, long time.
      The Lobby still has power over congress—-the only thing that defeats it is when the public takes notice of something and exercise their power over the politicians.
      The Lobby will try to be sneakier and less overt but they wont quit.

      • lobewyper says:

        Agree that The Lobby still has power over congress. The Lobby is in very dangerous waters just because of its opposition to the Iran deal. If Obama had the guts (as did GHW Bush and Eisenhower) to take this again to the American people and suggest that congress take a referendum on whether to accept the Iran deal without further conditions, I think that the people would speak out again in support of the peace-makers.

        PS:I lOVE the editing function of this website!

  3. just says:

    Good news. I hope that bill never sees the light of day– EVER. There is no need for it– especially in view of Israel’s horrendous, apartheid policies with regard to who gets to come and go.

    “Congress did manage to include $284 million dollars for Israeli defense systems like Iron Dome in the annual defense bill passed last week. That amount was triple the request of the Obama administration.”

    What insanity. Giving more matches to the pyromaniac.

  4. doug says:

    It’s odd that Israel has long had a visa waiver program in effect with Russia. Apparently the relationship between Israel and Russia is much better than is generally believed in the States.

  5. Ellen says:

    From Plitnick’s comment: “. The acts appear likely to disappear when Congress reconvenes, although they could still be revived in 2014 before new elections.”

    If this act and others like it re-appear in upcoming elections, a new opportunity is presented to call out and shed light onto treasonous members of Congress and the Senate. That could be a good thing.

  6. Shuki says:

    Under the current version of the legislation, Israel would be allowed to deny American visitors entry if Israel said they posed a “security” risk to the state. The majority of those denied entry into the territories Israel controls–which includes occupied Palestine–are Arab- and Muslim-American travelers, as well as activists who work on Palestine.
    ***
    Wow, imagine that… The Muslim travelers pose the greatest security risk. It strains my memory to think of a time that a Muslim group has perpetrated or attempted to perpetrate terrorism. Clearly, this must be the result of bot, zio, hasbara racism!

    • MarkF says:

      “Wow, imagine that… The Muslim travelers pose the greatest security risk. It strains my memory to think of a time that a Muslim group has perpetrated or attempted to perpetrate terrorism. Clearly, this must be the result of bot, zio, hasbara racism!”

      Funny, you’re willing to accept the welfare check that comes fro these “Muslim (American) travelers” just the same as you acept the welfare check from us Jewish Americans. Maybe stop sticking your hands in their pockets and taking their money and they might not care as much. Yeah, that won’t happen. Don’t take away a country’s welfare check that they rely on for survival. That would make them very unhappy.

    • eljay says:

      >> Wow, imagine that… The Muslim travelers pose the greatest security risk.

      Of course. Everyone knows that Muslims are a security risk, that Jews control the world and that homosexuals want to corrupt children.

    • Citizen says:

      @ Shuki
      Israel’s security is the hole card to get anything Israel wants; all US funding of Israel and diplomacy is tied to this hole card, which AIPAC-Israel can claim and wield at whim–works like grease lightening to fleece Americans and put their property and lives at jeopardy anywhere in the world.

  7. marc b. says:

    brilliant move.

    Former Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer is President Barack Obama’s leading candidate to become vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, people familiar with the selection process said.

    link to bloomberg.com

  8. Citizen says:

    Why did Phil/Adam remove the function where we could click on a commenter’s name and see their entire past history of comments? Anybody know?