Washington, D.C. | www.adc.org | August 27, 2021 – The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) is calling on President Joe Biden and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to reject Israel Envoy to the U.S. Gilad Erdan’s request for a U.S. Visa Waiver Program deal without explicit guarantees that Arab and Muslim Americans would be provided reciprocal travel privileges.
Following a meeting with Secretary Mayorkas, Erdan posted on August 16 on Facebook that he expects to see “significant progress” on a U.S. visa waiver deal. Additionally, during Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s visit to the White House on August 27, President Biden mentioned that he would discuss with the Prime Minister how to bring Israel into the program. The lack of transparency regarding this potential deal concerns ADC and could lead to a unique exemption for Israel.
If a deal is made without an explicit guarantee of equal treatment, Israel would become the only country participating in the Visa Waiver Program that would be allowed to discriminate against Americans due to their ethnicity or faith. None of the other 39 nations that participate in the program have been granted a similar exemption.
The Visa Waiver Program enables most citizens or nationals of participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. To join the Visa Waiver Program, the entering country must allow Americans to enter without a visa as well.
Israel routinely refuses to allow Americans of Arab ethnicity or Muslim backgrounds to enter their country or the occupied territories it controls. According to the U.S. State Department’s website, “some U.S. citizens of Arab or Muslim heritage (including Palestinian-Americans) have experienced significant difficulties and unequal and occasionally hostile treatment at Israel’s borders and checkpoints.” Additionally, “U.S. citizens have been denied entry to Israel and the West Bank for involvement in and/or expressing support on social media for the BDS movement.” Such a discriminatory practice falls well short of the intent of Visa Waiver Program participation and provides clear ground for rejection.
In 2013, ADC and other American Arab and Muslim rights organizations defeated an attempt in the U.S. Senate that would have permitted Israel to join the Visa Waiver Program while keeping its discriminatory and restrictive immigration policies.