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Circular logic: Israel agrees not to discriminate against Palestinian-American travelers — not that it ever did

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin at a Likud party meeting in the Knesset, July 2013. (Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin at a Likud party meeting in the Knesset, July 2013. (Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has made a partial admission of discrimination against Palestinian-Americans at Israeli borders, a key issue in its negotiations to join the U.S. visa waiver program.

“All of the changes that the U.S. asked for with regards to not discriminating against Palestinian-Americans, Israel agreed to them,” an official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Mondoweiss.

When asked about what specific changes will be made to reduce discrimination, the official then amended: Israel does not practice discrimination—“no, no of course not.” But it was prepared to meet U.S. demands to curtail discriminatory practices.

The official then added, “if there is anybody who comes in from outside of the country, if Israel thinks they are dangerous, it can do whatever it wants.”

Indeed Israel does do whatever it wants when determining who can and cannot access the country, refusing visas to 10 percent of travelers (including many who express the intention to travel on to the West Bank and Gaza). And last year Israel deported around 100 Arab-Americans. Seeking to soften the requirements for a visa waiver, Senator Barbara Boxer has introduced legislation to create a sliding scale for deportation to accommodate Israel’s hefty refusals– allowing visa-free admittance for countries with between three and 10-percent rates.

Yet in order to be considered for the program now, Israel will have to stop airlifting out Palestinian-Americans, which the State Department has labeled “discrimination” and now Israel has too—sort of.

Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, a pro-West Bank annexation “proud settler” who was embroiled in scandal after confessing he turned over Israeli Defense Force movements to a group of settler youth who attacked army bases, and does not speak English well enough to conduct an interview, said in March that the discrimination against Palestinian-Americans stemmed from in the Oslo Accords. Elkin said the peace agreement allowed Israel to deport those with Palestinian identification cards for the purpose of re-routing them to the West Bank crossing with Jordan. Haaretz’s Barak Ravid noted Elkin was prepared to lower the refusal rate, but the foreign minister had yet to acknowledge the discrimination levied at U.S. citizens of Palestinian heritage who are not registered as residents of the West Bank.

Mondoweiss has reported extensively on Israel denying visas to Arab-Americans. In 2012 our account from Najwa Doughman and Sasha Al-Sarabi highlighted how two young Arab-American professionals were detained and then deported from Ben Gurion airport. What made this case stand out is that the women who were flown back to the U.S. were not politically engaged; they were not activists and had purchased tickets for a benign middle class vacation in the Middle East.

Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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27 Responses

  1. traintosiberia on May 11, 2014, 1:36 pm

    Looking at the adjectives and missing the verve has been the hallmark of Israeli system for a long time . The pattern is also copied with same gusto of indifference to verve – the real actions of Israel – by the American companion . The result will be the acceptance of the Israeli promises to be enough robust of a reason to allow unrestricted travel to Istaeli military ,intelligence,settler movement activist to US without visa.

  2. Ellen on May 11, 2014, 2:25 pm

    Just a thought. Do you think the close examination of the proposed Israeli Visa Waiver program is also a result of not only Israel’s harassment and ill treatment of ordinary Americans, but also more prominent Americans such as Donna Shalala, former U.S. Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and current president of U. of Miami? An American who was held in detention, apparently humiliated by her interrogators and then searched over a period of hours in Israel. All this because of her name?

    There are no accounts of her complaining (after all she was there to meet with Israeli VIPS on expanding an Israeli medical school.) But if this stuff goes on with a woman like that, imagine what happens to the rest of us born with the “wrong” name.

    How can Israel keep all those A R A B S out??

  3. AlGhorear on May 11, 2014, 2:31 pm

    For Israel to join the visa waiver program, it should be required to reciprocate and waive visas for Americans. But even if it offers reciprocity to Americans, I’m sure Israel will continue to deny entry to anyone even suspected of being sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. Anyone not buying into Israel’s racist practices is automatically deemed to be dangerous.

  4. Citizen on May 11, 2014, 2:38 pm

    As usual what Israel promises comes with disclaimer, or very vague “easy out clause:” … if Israel thinks they are dangerous, it can do whatever it wants.”

    That they are promising anything at all to ostensibly comply with US demands or conditions (for reciprocity) indicates they see a net benefit in terms of reciprocity. A few Palestinian Americans will not get deported, maybe treated a little better by airport security; and we will be left with a swarm of Israelis here with carte blanche to penetrate everything and spy for Israel under guise of, say, being on vacation, or visiting a relative–with no initial visa scrutiny. Everything the US agrees to with Israel benefits Israel far more than the USA.

    The Lobby will be working with the congress folks who have to date mildly objected
    to Israel joining the visa-waiver program will soon be on board, saying now Israel is acting very sensibly, given Israel’s “unique” or “complicated” security situation.

  5. Henry Norr on May 11, 2014, 2:51 pm

    Allison and others: does anyone know of any data about how many Americans who are not of Palestinian or other Arab descent have been denied entry into Israel or into the occupied Palestinian territories through Israeli border controls? I’m thinking about people denied either because they’re known critics of Israel (such as Chomsky) or simply because they admitted planning to go to the OPT (like the flytilla people)?

    • HarryLaw on May 11, 2014, 3:41 pm

      As far as I am aware in the UK, airlines are legally required to provide advance passenger information departing from UK to the appropriate immigration authorities.
      As a result in 2012 just 12 Scots Palestinian Solidarity supporters were allowed to travel to Israel, 70 others demonstrated at Manchester airport about the ban. On the bright side Professor Norman Finkelstein’s 10 year ban is due up in 2018, I’m sure he is counting the days.

    • pabelmont on May 11, 2014, 7:20 pm

      Henry– good point. We should demand that the USA either refuse to grant the visa waiver (best choice; too many Israeli criminals and spies) or else require that Israel call in the USA’s official whenever it delays any American upon entry by more than one hour. And the official shall count these delays (and of course count the ultimate delay times), and shall ask Israel to explain EACH instance of delay above one hour and to explain what was learned during that one hour that resulted in a refusal to admit entry (in such cases). Refusal to admit an American shall be counted “discrimination” unless a satisfactory answer is immediately given. Visiting OPT and such-like shall not be allowed (by the USA) as a legitimate (that is, a non-discriminatory) reason for refusal.

      • Eva Smagacz on May 12, 2014, 10:43 am

        From my experience, if someone does not want to do something, no amount of extra bureaucratic steps will lift them from their sullen passive-aggressivity.

  6. seafoid on May 11, 2014, 2:59 pm

    Israel has always had a problem explaining convincingly to the outside world what it does so passionately to Palestinians inside Greater Israel. It’s the same grubby crap as apartheid but they are Jews so they are supposedly above that.

  7. Kate on May 11, 2014, 3:39 pm

    The ISM probably has data. I haven’t seen any figures. From

    “Though the Israeli authorities deny having a policy of denial of entry to all people associated with ISM, visitors who identify themselves as ISM volunteers to Israeli border staff are almost uniformly denied entry by Israeli authorities. Israeli authorities also often deny entry to other human rights activists, NGO staff, and individuals expressing an interest in visiting Palestinians and the Occupied Territories or expressing sympathy for the Palestinian plight.

    Visitors coming in solidarity with the Palestinian people and/or to support Palestinian non-violent resistance therefore face a difficult situation. If they admit the goals of their visit to Israeli border staff, and admit any association with ISM, they will most likely be denied entry. If they state other reasons for their visit, they can also be accused of lying to Israeli authorities and denied entry for this reason….”

  8. amigo on May 11, 2014, 3:53 pm

    Israel,s promises are worthless.Not worth the oxygen they use up making them.

    I must contact Guinness to find out if they have a contest going for the most lies told by a sitting leader.

    Niet and yahoo would walk away with the prize.Practice makes perfect they say.

    This promise is no different.Hopefully the US will see through his BS.

  9. sandhillexit on May 11, 2014, 7:14 pm

    What about the Christian Peacemaker Teams? Individuals are routinely harassed and some are not permitted to return to their work in Hebron and elsewhere. It’s hard to make much of a case that they are a security risk. And it is, after all, Christian Holy Land too. Young people, some with a family connection, want to help the situation and believe that goodwill can make a difference.

  10. pabelmont on May 11, 2014, 7:42 pm

    The advantage of VISA is that Israel could ask people if they were going to visit OPT, if they were members of this and that. and refuse the VISA. Granted, today they DO require visas and ALSO turn people away to whom they had already granted a visa. Does the USA ask why a visa was granted but entry denied? SHOULD!

    Without visas, they can say, “Oh, this is the first opportunity we had to inquire.” Better, in my view, to require visas in BOTH countries. We’ve got a lot of reasons not to admit Israelis.

  11. a blah chick on May 11, 2014, 8:33 pm

    This is almost a replay of that organ trafficking scandal of a few years ago. That was when the Israeli military was accused of shooting Palestinians so they could harvest their organs at autopsy. And the Israeli government was all “blood libel! blood libel!” how DARE you accuse us of such acts! Then, later, Dr Hiss, chief pathologist at Abu Kabir, admitted that yes they were taking organs from people without permission, but they were taking them from everyone: soldiers, civilians, Palestinians. So it was okay.

    It’s always deny deny deny, right up until they admit that “yeah, we were doing that bad thing, but we’re not doing it anymore!”

    • Kay24 on May 12, 2014, 7:52 am

      They are notorious for lying, exaggerating, and even doctoring tapes, so that they can justify their crimes. It should not be a surprise – Bibi has been called a liar by a world leader, and is known to lie and then apologize, so it seems his people do the same.

  12. Palikari on May 11, 2014, 9:13 pm

    Israel has right to refuse anyone at its borders. It’s Israel that decides who can and can’t enter Israel.

    • annie on May 11, 2014, 9:40 pm

      can you link to an official gov website describing those borders?

      i didn’t think so.

      • Palikari on May 12, 2014, 7:18 am

        When I said “borders” I meant points of entry (airport, land crossings, etc.) Israel, just like all states, has right to control its borders in order to defend its territory. Israel simply can’t let everyone in!

    • talknic on May 11, 2014, 10:12 pm

      Palikari “Israel has right to refuse anyone at its borders. It’s Israel that decides who can and can’t enter Israel”

      Correct … “borders” being a critical factor … Israel was recognized as the Israeli Government asked for it to be recognized “as an independent republic within frontiers approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations in its Resolution of November 29, 1947 before its unsuccessful claims to territories the Israeli Government claimed were “outside the State of Israel” … “in Palestine”. No further territories have ever been recognized or legally acquired by the Jewish state

      Being one of the most important documents in the 66 year history of the state one might be forgiven for assuming the Israeli plea for recognition would be widely known in Israel ……

      • Palikari on May 12, 2014, 7:21 am

        When I said “borders” I meant points of entry (airport, land crossings, etc.). All countries have right to decide who can and can’t enter its territory. In addition, all countries refuse people.

      • annie on May 12, 2014, 9:10 am

        All countries have right to decide who can and can’t enter its territory.

        can you link to an official gov website defining its territory?

        i didn’t think so.

        all countries refuse people.

        all countries do not claim the authority refuse people into their neighbors territory. i don’t get to approve who visits my neighbors house either, and prevent guests from visiting them because my neighbors guests do not agree with my politics.

        your being disingenuous palikari and evading the issue.

      • talknic on May 12, 2014, 10:06 am

        @ Palikari “When I said “borders” I meant points of entry (airport, land crossings, etc.). All countries have right to decide who can and can’t enter its territory. In addition, all countries refuse people. “

        It still has the vapours of Red Heifer poop

        A) Israel prevents people from entering Gaza, including from Egypt under the Egypt/Israel Peace Treaty and the 2005 agreement. Final word rests with the Occupying Power.

        Israel prevents people from entering Palestinian territorial waters which in turn prevents them from entering Gaza via Palestinian territorial waters.

        Israel prevents people from entering Palestine via air.

        Israel prevents people from entering the West Bank at the Allenby bridge.

        Only an occupying power has those rights. However “Israel, the Occupying Power” over Arab territories DOES NOT have the right to illegally acquire, illegally annex, illegally settle occupied territories, illegally selling illegal settlers non-Israeli territory as Israel has been doing for the last 66 years in territories the Israeli Government itself claimed were“outside the State of Israel” … “in Palestine”

        B) “All countries have right to decide who can and can’t enter its territory” …. Uh huh … via anywhere along their borders, not just the official entry points.

        C) Say …. do many countries prevent people from entering OTHER folks territory?

    • pjdude on May 11, 2014, 10:44 pm

      Do you really lack the ability to see what the issue is?

    • Sumud on May 12, 2014, 3:37 am

      Israel has right to refuse anyone at its borders. It’s Israel that decides who can and can’t enter Israel.

      Sound reasonable but of course you’re omitting half the story.

      You claim for Israel the right to refuse anyone “at it’s borders” – please explain why Israel refuses Palestinians the same right? Including the right of refusing entry of Israeli troops, illegal Israeli settlers and all other Israelis.

      Just what is it that makes Israelis so special they get to control another countries borders…?

  13. Kay24 on May 11, 2014, 10:30 pm

    If there was one group of Americans who would be fooled by this move, it would be the US Congress. Barbara Boxer and Bob Menendez is pushing hard for Israel to have this open visa status, and it seems they are not convinced, even by the briefing given by our intelligence officials, that Israel is one of the most dangerous nations when it comes to spying, and that it’s citizens should NOT be able to come in to the US so easily. Throughout the years we have had spies stealing our secrets, and even terrorists like the JDL come in and kill an Arab American human rights activists in California, then these criminals were able to flee the US back into Israel, where Israel gives them safe harbor even today. We should not be impressed by what Israel is agreeing to. To treat any American or for that matter, any other citizen from any other nation, like dirt, and be abused by their immigration officers at their airport, is not acceptable, and it is typical of Israel to agree to do the right thing, and expect something in return. What a devious move.

  14. pjdude on May 11, 2014, 10:47 pm

    First time an American is turned away the us should deny all Israelis entry and say it’s for security concerns

  15. piotr on May 12, 2014, 8:09 am

    Israel has the right or at the very least, the ability, to treat folks as shabbily as they want on the territory they control. This is not the question. The question is what USA does about it, with particular attention to the treatment of the citizens, residents and allies.

    The simplest tool in correcting the behavior of another state is to apply reciprocity. If Israeli politicians, officials and businesspeople are fine with arbitrary airport detentions and deportations, plus searches of their computer accounts and body cavities, as their little contributions to their national security, so be it.

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