State Dept.: Due to discrimination, Israel ineligible for visa waiver deal

Discrimination against visiting Arab Americans is the primary reason Israel is not eligible for a program allowing Israeli tourists into the United States without visas, the Obama administration said.

“The Department of Homeland Secur-ity and State remain concerned with the unequal treatment that Palestinian Americans and other Americans of Middle Eastern origin experience at Israel’s border and checkpoints, and reciprocity is the most basic condition of the visa waiver program,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said March 21 in her daily briefing with reporters.

The State Department warns Americans of Arab descent that they may be delayed or even turned back when arriving at Israeli points of entry.

Israel says its rate of refusal of entry for Arab Americans is not disproportionate and notes that under the Oslo agreements with the Palestinians, foreigners of Palestinian descent undergo a different entry protocol.

There have been a number of efforts in Congress over the years to exempt Israel from visa waiver rules; the most recent is stalled in the Senate.

Psaki’s remarks came after several weeks in which a number of lawmakers, led by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), have criticized U.S. consular services for their rate of refusal of young Israelis.

Israel’s rate of refusal for visas is low relative to many other countries, but there is evidence that it is climbing because consular officials are wary of young Israeli travelers illegally peddling Dead Sea wares on U.S. trips.

Psaki said the rate of refusal for young Israelis was not disproportionate. “Over 90 percent of Israeli applicants for tourist visas to the United States are approved,” she said. “For young Israelis, over 80 percent of visa applicants are approved.” — jta