The United States decision to accept Israel into its Visa Waiver Program (VWP) has been criticized by rights groups, American citizens, and lawmakers who have expressed concerns over the Israeli authority’s unfair treatment of Palestinian Americans at its borders.
US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken and the Secretary for the Department of Homeland security Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday announced that starting November 30, Israeli citizens will be allowed visa-free travel into the US for up to 90 days, making Israel the 41st country to join the VWP.
The same privilege will be granted to Americans when traveling to Israel, according to the joint statement.
US citizens and Palestinian Americans swiftly responded to the announcement with outrage, saying that Israel continues to “discriminate” against Palestinian Americans.
“The US lets Israel into the Visa Waiver Program despite the fact that it discriminates against Palestinian Americans, making a mockery of the requirement to treat all US citizens equally,” Josh Ruebner, a professor at Georgetown University in Washington, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Outrageous! The US lets Israel into the Visa Waiver Program despite the fact that it discriminates against Palestinian Americans, making a mockery of the requirement to treat all US citizens equally. Yet another way in which the US singles out Israel for special treatment. pic.twitter.com/Ctgpb6GPJS— Josh Ruebner (@joshruebner) September 27, 2023
Israel’s entry into the VWP represents “a critical step forward” in the US-Israel partnership, including people-to-people engagement and economic and security co-operation, Blinken said in a statement.
Jehad Abusalim, the executive director of the Washington-based Jerusalem Fund, said on X: “Today, the Biden administration granted Israel’s most right-wing government admission into a visa waiver program that appears to discriminate against US citizens based on their identity and background.”
Today, the Biden administration granted Israel’s most right-wing government admission into a visa waiver program that appears to discriminate against US citizens based on their identity and background. https://t.co/iQFV7C53KU— Jehad Abusalim جهاد أبو سليم (@JehadAbusalim) September 27, 2023
Under the rules of the visa waiver program, countries must give equal treatment to all US travellers, regardless of where they are born, where they live, or what other passports they hold.
Critics of Israel’s admission to the VWP highlight the lack of reciprocity in the program – equal treatment to all US citizens in Israel– saying that Israel continues to discriminate against Palestinian Americans.
Palestinian Americans living in Gaza will still require a permit to enter Israel via the Erez crossing and those living in West Bank will need a “US tourist approval” to enter and exit the Ben Gurion Airport, according to the US Office of Palestinian Affairs’ official website.
“Palestinian Americans living in Gaza will still have to apply to Israel for a permit to exit. Reciprocal, visa free travel doesn't mean that some Americans should be forced to apply for a permit,” Reubner wrote on X.
In July, the US and Israel signed an agreement that outlined the conditions for Israel’s entry into the program and announced a trial period during which Palestinian Americans would be allowed entry through its international airport.
However, multiple media reports cited Arab-Americans experiencing poor treatment during the trial period.
On Tuesday, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said it had filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, saying their investigations have shown that Israel failed to meet all the legal requirements for admission to the program.
BREAKING: ADC files federal lawsuit against DHS & State Dept. over Israel's Visa Waiver Program inclusion concerns. Credible reports and ADC’s own investigations have shown that Israel failed to meet all of the legal requirements for admission. pic.twitter.com/MhDCAcaLHR— ADC National (@adc) September 26, 2023
Earlier this month, a group of 15 Democratic senators penned a letter to secretary Blinken in a last-ditch effort urging him to not admit Israel into the VWP program.
Israel’s entry into the program is being regarded as a major win for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government which earlier was experiencing a strain with the US over its push for a judicial overhaul in the country and harsher measures on Palestinians in the West Bank.