House committee advances bill to make Israel ‘major strategic partner’–and waive visas for Israelis

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When Congress headed home for the holidays last year, activists celebrated because a bill that effectively gave American blessing to discrimination against travelers to Israel wasn’t voted on. A month later, the bill is back–though the version that passed a House committee does not include much criticized exemptions for Israel’s participation in the visa-waiver program.

Today, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted unanimously for the bill that designates Israel as a “major strategic partner” and waives visa requirements for Israelis who visit the U.S.  ”During this volatile time across the Middle East, this bill signals that the U.S. Congress continues to support the people of Israel and reaffirms our commitment to seek new paths to improve our bilateral relationship,” Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the hawkish Republican chair of the committee, said in a statement.  The legislation is a major priority for the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, and has an overwhelming majority of politicians backing it.

The Senate version of the bill created an uproar last year because it would induct Israel into the visa program–giving both Americans and Israelis visa-free travel to each others’ countries–with an exception for travelers “jeopardizing the security of the State of Israel.”  Given that Arab-Americans face harassment and have been denied entry for “security reasons” without evidence by Israel, groups like the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, the Arab-American Institute and more fought hard against the language.  A Congressional letter signed by 16 officials expressed concern that Israel was “disproportionately singling out, detaining and denying entry to Arab and Muslim Americans,” and the Obama administration shared those concerns, according to the Associated Press.

But the House version does not contain the Senate’s language.  Still, the measure, which has widespread support, seems likely to pass with other provisions that activists for Palestinian rights see as deeply problematic.

The backdrop to today’s House hearing was continued assertions that the Senate bill, authored by Barbara Boxer, would codify discrimination against Arab- and Palestinian-American travelers, as well as activists on their way to the West Bank, who also face denials of entry.  Ros-Lehtinen, sensitive to that criticism, called those claims “misinformation.”  And during the hearing, Brad Sherman, a Democrat from California, also pushed back against the discrimination charge–despite ample evidence that people like Palestinian-Americans Nour Joudah and Sandra Tamari have been turned away from Israel for no reason.

“Israel does not discriminate against Arab-Americans.  There has been this effort by anti-Israel extremists to accuse Israel of that,” Sherman said.  ”We have a no-fly list, they have a no-enter list, and those associated with Islamic extremism tend to find their name on both.” The California Democrat added: “My hope is that in conference this bill will be amended to help Israel achieve full participation in the visa waiver program…When they [Israelis] want to see Mickey Mouse, they should see the real one.” Watch the full House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on this bill here, starting at 52:27:

Mike Coogan, the legislative coordinator for the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, told me that he remains concerned about denials of entry–even if the House language prevails in the final version that both legislative bodies pass.  ”I am concerned that Congress will shield Israel from accountability when it comes to enforcing the standards and requirements of Israel’s participation in the Visa Waiver Program.  Unfortunately, members of Congress have a pattern of singling out Israel for impunity, even when Israel consistently and flagrantly violates U.S. laws and treaty obligations,” Coogan said.

The U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, along with other groups, also sought to convince officials to insert these amendments: that Israel provide “U.S. citizens with reciprocal visa waivers” and that Congress document “incidents of Israel denying entry to U.S. citizens, especially when such denial of entry appears to be motivated by the race, ethnicity, religion, or political opinion of U.S. citizens.” The amendments were not included in the legislation that passed today.

Coogan also criticized the designation of Israel as a “major strategic partner”–a one of a kind term that applies to no other country.  The bill’s language does not specify what exactly it means to be a “major strategic partner.”

“Many see this as an attempt by Israel to secure a mutual defense treaty without the debate about what the implications of that would mean,” said Coogan, who also pointed out that the legislation calls for providing Israel with advanced combat aircraft and military tanker transports–equipment that would be of use in a potential war with Iran.

Beyond this bill, the issue of Israel’s denial of entries continues to make waves. The Christian Peacemakers Team, a group that monitors Israeli soldiers in occupied Hebron, recently filed a brief with the Israeli High Court charging that Israel denies entry to its members. And the Modern Language Association’s delegates passed a resolution at their latest conference criticizing Israel’s denial of entries to academics invited to Palestinian universities.

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 Policy in the Middle East, US Politics | Tagged

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

  1. Blownaway says:

    Im so jealous. I wish our legislators were as efficient advocating for Americans as they are for Israel. They should attach a benefit for Israel to every bill to get anything done.

  2. Citizen says:

    Another house democrat signed on to bill in the last couple of days, when those supporting it with their signatures was 350 out of a total of 435 last time I looked. This bill, in its lack of mutual reciprocity, reminds me of America’s very first FTA, which was with (who else?) Israel, in 1985. The US negotiation team back in 1985 was sabotaged by American Jewish spies who turned over all the data the US negotiation team had from its impacted business to the Israeli negotiation team. US lost out big time, and has American politicians have never corrected this lop-sided bill, and I fear it will be the same for subject bill here. Everytime one looks into any deal with Israel, it’s always the USA which comes out the one screwed in the tukas, and nobody ever does anything about it. This time will be no different.

  3. The hounding of Congress by AIPAC looking for over-the-top special considerations and privileges for Israel is a typical Jewish thing. It appears to be based on financial control of Jewish contributions to Congress. Or am I wrong ? Do other organizations do the same for other foreign countries with the same successes? I think that it is an ugly and disturbing sight that putrefies our democracy. If Israel wants to be treated like a civilized Western European country then they need to start acting like one.

    • looking for over-the-top special considerations and privileges is a typical thing for lots of people. only i’ve usually encountered it primarily in toddlers and children whose parents have weak parenting skills. most people grow out of it.

      • seafoid says:

        It’s something you see in insecure parents but they don’t tend to demand that the teacher tells everyone else that the bond with their child is unbreakable and eternal and that if it is not forthcoming there’ll be a meltdown and the school will be destroyed.

    • jon s says:

      Unverified..,
      “…a typical Jewish thing. .. based on financial control of Jewish contributions …”

      Nice.

      • jon s says:

        Unverified, I wonder how you would react to a negative reference to “a typical Irish thing”.

        • amigo says:

          “Unverified, I wonder how you would react to a negative reference to “a typical Irish thing”.” jons.

          No reaction unless you are telling lies.

          Question, how many Irish Americans have been chair of the Fed.

          How is the other AIPAC (American Irish Political Action Committee) coming along.

          How many American Pols line up to fellate the Irish donkey.

          Or how many American pols travel to Ireland compliments of the Other AIPAC.

          The “Jewish Thing” comment might be a tad naughty but it,s hard to argue with facts.

      • bilal a says:

        yup, these characterizations are becoming way too mainstream:

        A few weeks ago, when French Jewish actor Elie Semoun was a prime-time guest on one of the main French television channels, Canal Plus, the words of Sebastian Thoen, a standup comedian who introduced him may have been meant to be to be laudatory, but took quite a different turn: “You never plunged into communitarianism [Jewish activism] … You could have posted yourself in the street selling jeans and diamonds from the back of a minivan, saying ‘Israel is always right, f*** Palestine, wallala.’ You show that it is possible to be of the Jewish faith without being completely disgusting

        France: Anti-Semitism Now Mainstream by Guy Millière
        link to gatestoneinstitute.org

  4. seafoid says:

    It’s way beyond lipstick on the pig
    It’s botox injections

  5. Citizen says:

    What the hell makes Israel the sole “major strategic partner” of America? Israel’s not even an American strategic asset compared to England, France, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, to name just a few. And none of those countries come with horrible baggage in the form of apartheid and occupation. When’s the last time, the IDF was in the foxhole with America? Never! When’s the last time Israel was not a drain on US resources? Never! When’s the last time Israel helped America’s good reputation in the world? Never! Is there no limit to what American politicians won’t do against the best of the American people just to gain AIPAC’s favor? Seems the skies the limit, that sky that sees no space between enlightened America and religion-ethnic Israel.

    link to idsa.in

    Even backward Saudi Arabia and the backward Arab oil statelets have a better claim on being a USA key strategic asset–solely because they at least have oil and gas to offer. When Bush’s coalition attacked Iraq, the US had to expend extra power and money to protect Israel, and that country gave nothing to the coalition cause. Dick and Jane, awake! The only real beneficiary of US war on Iraq was Israel. It sure was not Dick and Jane.

  6. ToivoS says:

    ugh, this edit function is haywire or did I make a mistake. I just lost a longer post.

  7. seafoid says:

    Why is Israel foreign relations?
    Isn’t it insider dealing?

    • Citizen says:

      @ seafoid
      It’s been known since Truman’s days before his election that foreign relations, when it comes to Israel, is domestic relations, that is, insider dealing. Truman himself made that perfectly clear on record. That’s what happens when you have a foreign state that claims it’s the state for Jews everywhere in the world. What do you expect when about half the Jews in the world live in USA?

      On a related note re the “strategic partner bill,” which now has 350 house cosponsors, the latest on the Iran Sanction bill in the senate, is this–only needing 8 more senators to pass, looks like a few of the Democrats are having second thoughts:

      link to thinkprogress.org

  8. Mahboob Khan says:

    Israel and her American Zionist lobby will be happy only if Benjamin Netanyahu is made the President of the United States and the IDF is entrusted with the global duty of the world’s peace via total destruction of the enemies of the Zionist State.

    “The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.”-H. L. Mencken

    Peace.

  9. K Renner says:

    Brad Sherman really is the worst, have to say. I wasn’t aware that Palestinian-Americans or Arab-Americans in general are somehow tied into Islamic extremism because Israel loves to whisper lies like “Palestinians are pro-Al Qaeda” and so on to American ears when they get the chance.

    And it’s not at all plausible, to any sane mind. Maybe if it was packs of people from the American branch or “Hizb-ut-Tahrir” (very ironic name) or otherwise say a swarm of obviously extreme fundamentalist-types, with “takfiri-style” beards and niqabs much in evidence.

    But no, just see-through, delusional garbage. Pathetic.

    • bilal a says:

      Why is Al Qaeda attacking Syrian Christians, but never Israel which is just next door ?

      • Walid says:

        Birds of a feather, they are on a common journey. They also share in their cowardice by going only against civilians; the IDF is brave only against women and children. It’s likewise for al qaeda attacking Syrian Christians that are mostly pacifists.

      • talknic says:

        @ bilal I have often wondered…

      • K Renner says:

        Because they’re pathetic takfiri cowards with a disgusting ideology.

        They could never actually go after the “IDF” or do anything that they say about Palestine because they’d be too busy killing Palestinian Sunnis and Palestinian Christians for being “infidels” or “not being like us takfiris”, respectively.

        Realistically, they’re more interested in killing all the Palestinians who aren’t “at least” Salafis– so technically Al Qaeda is genocidal, because they’d be killing a hell of a lot of people in Palestine.

        EDIT– they are genocidal in general, I have to say. Maybe genocidal isn’t the best word, but they are all about killing a hell of a lot of people anywhere, as their actions in Iraq and Syria obviously show.

  10. talknic says:

    Arab/non-Jewish Palestinian Israelis are to be exempted too?

    • Woody Tanaka says:

      “Arab/non-Jewish Palestinian Israelis are to be exempted too?”

      I’m sure that someone like Brad Sherman, who denies the realities that the zios discriminate against non-Jews, is probably delusional to the point that he denies that there are any non-Jews in israel.

    • jon s says:

      talknic,
      Yes, all Israeli passport -holders.

      • talknic says:

        @ jon s “Yes, all Israeli passport -holders”

        Uh huh. You blew your credibility here a long long time ago pal.

        I’m prepared to wait for the evidence

        • jon s says:

          talknic,
          I don’t see any legal way to make such a distinction between Jews and non-Jews.
          As to my alleged lack of credibility, I’d be interested in an example: on factual matters, I’ve never deliberately lied on this forum (a little promise I made to myself). As to opinions , well, those are my views.

    • amigo says:

      “Arab/non-Jewish Palestinian Israelis are to be exempted too?”talknic

      I wondered about the mechanics of that.

  11. talknic says:

    “When they [Israelis] want to see Mickey Mouse, they should see the real one”

    By the famous Antisemite Walt Disney? Man these people have really lost the plot. What ziocaine does to the brain is a miracle to behold!

    • Woody Tanaka says:

      “When they [Israelis] want to see Mickey Mouse, they should see the real one”

      Yeah, typical zio, all the concern for Jews who are inconvenienced in seeing a cartoon character, but can’t spare a thought for the millions of non-Jews under the Jewish boot heel of oppression.

  12. American says:

    The privileging of Israel, Jews, over Others by the Others Governments is absolutely going to be their downfall.
    It cannot last–pay attention please— there is already visible and active resentment against this in European countries and elsewhere and growing awareness in the US.
    But I see no one stopping the Zios Politicians so I’m going to quit wasting my time harping on this and pointing out the inevitable blowback.
    My head is already bloody enough from banging on this brick wall.