Posted on July 28, 2013 by the State Executive Committee
The Peace and Freedom Party opposes S 462, a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Barbara Boxer, that would include Israel in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program without the assurances of reciprocity that are required of other participating countries. The following letter (to download as a PDF click here) was faxed to members of the United States Senate on June 20.
June 20, 2013
Members of the United State Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Subject: S 462 - United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act - OPPOSE
This letter is intended to express the concerns of the Peace and Freedom Party about S 462, in particular with the ninth section of that bill. The bill was introduced by Senator Boxer, and has numerous co-sponsors. I have learned that some of the co-sponsors themselves are not clear on the contents of the bill, particularly of its ninth section, and the sharp contrast with the text of the ninth section of the corresponding House bill.
The Peace and Freedom Party (with 65,000 members in California right now, and a growing membership in a number of other states) is concerned about the failure of our government to make aid to the Israeli government conditional on steps toward peace, away from the Occupation, and toward recognition of the rights of Palestinians as well as Israelis in Israel and Palestine. We know that there are Senators and Representatives who share these concerns, including some who have voted, at least at times, in favor of specific bills that aid the Israeli government.
We oppose all of S 462 because it rewards the current Israeli government despite its defiance of international norms and international law in imposing a continuing occupation regime in much of the Palestinian territories; increasing the settlement activity that has been condemned by most countries, including the United States; and its sabotage of any step toward a reasonable peace settlement. But aside from this, I would like to focus on one specific section of S 462, the ninth, that eases pressure on Israel to conform to international norms in reciprocity toward visitors.
The corresponding House bill, HR 938, does not weaken the principle of reciprocity. This is the ninth section of that bill:
SEC. 9. REPORT ON ELIGIBILITY OF ISRAEL FOR VISA WAIVER PROGRAM.This requires that the Congress be informed about the actual facts of Israeli eligibility for the Visa Waiver Program, facts which many Senators and Representatives do not appear to have available to them at this time. This is the one section of HR 938 that we have no reason to oppose.
(a) Statement of Policy.--It shall be the policy of the United States to include Israel in the list of countries that participate in the visa waiver program under section 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1187) when Israel satisfies the requirements for inclusion in such program specified in such section.
(b) Report.--Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall submit to the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives and the Committee on the Judiciary of the Senate a report on the extent to which Israel satisfies the requirements specified in section 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act for inclusion in the visa waiver program under such section and what additional steps, if any, are required in order for Israel to qualify for inclusion in such.
The Senate bill, however, carves out an exception for the Israeli government on the question of reciprocity. Here is the ninth section of S 462:
SEC. 9. DESIGNATION OF ISRAEL AS VISA WAIVER PROGRAM COUNTRY.
Section 217(c)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1187(c)(2)) is amended--
(1) in the matter preceding subparagraph (A), by inserting “subparagraph (G) and” after “Except as provided in”; and
(2) by adding at the end the following:
“G) Israel.--The State of Israel shall be designated as a program country on the date on which the Secretary of Homeland Security, after consultation with the Secretary of State, certifies that the Government of Israel--
“(i) has complied with all of the requirements set forth in subparagraphs (B) through (F); and
“(ii) has made every reasonable effort, without jeopardizing the security of the State of Israel, to ensure that reciprocal travel privileges are extended to all United States citizens.”
We all share many years of experience of cabinet officials of one or another administration certifying "facts" that everyone knows to be highly doubtful or outright untrue, out of political or diplomatic expedience. Having the Secretary of Homeland Security (after consultation with the Secretary of State) certify that the Israeli government has made "every reasonable effort" to ensure reciprocity is a big retreat from the principle of reciprocity, and from the standards set forth in the present text of the law on the Visa Waiver Program. Most people who have looked at this proposed law and commented on it believe that it basically gives the Israeli authorities a free pass, so that they may continue their present practices that so far have excluded them from the Visa Waiver Program.
What are those practices? No firm data is available, as the Israeli government (unlike almost all other governments) treats tourist entry refusal statistics as state secrets. However, I would note that the U.S. State Department advises travelers that "Some U.S. citizens holding Israeli nationality, possessing a Palestinian identity card, or of Arab or Muslim origin have experienced significant difficulties in entering or exiting Israel or the West Bank."
Others have been much more forceful in expressing concerns about Israeli treatment of some U.S. citizens.
To sum up, while we generally oppose S 462, we particularly wish to draw to the attention of Senators the wording of its ninth section, and advise that the wording of the ninth section of corresponding House bill 938 would be a big improvement over the language currently in the Senate bill.
Thank you for your consideration of our opinions on this matter. If you have any questions, please contact me.