Civil rights group sues DHS over Israel visa waiver – Mondoweiss


The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) is suing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over Israel’s entry into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP allows nationals or citizens from participating countries to travel to the United States for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa.

“The requirements of the Visa Waiver Program are clear and unambiguous. The U.S. government is obligated to ensure that all Americans are treated equally,” said ADC National Executive Director Abed Ayoub in a statement. “It is our intent to hold the US government accountable for any actions that create separate classes of US citizens. Admitting Israel into the Visa Waiver Program would be an endorsement of discrimination against Palestinian and Arab Americans.”

On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced that Israel had been accepted into the program. “The designation of Israel into the Visa Waiver Program is an important recognition of our shared security interests and the close cooperation between our two countries,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. “This designation, which represents over a decade of work and coordination between the United States and Israel, will enhance our two nations’ collaboration on counterterrorism, law enforcement, and our other common priorities. Israel’s entry into the Visa Waiver Program, and the stringent requirements it entails, will make both of our nations more secure.”  

The move has been widely criticized over Israel’s longstanding travel restrictions on Palestinians. In July, Israel launched a pilot program that loosened some of the rules for Palestinian Americans. However, groups like the ADC point out that, even with the modifications, the country still fails to clear the threshold needed for VWP entry.

For instance, even though the program is ostensibly based on the principle of reciprocity, Palestinian Americans living in Gaza will still need to obtain a permit to leave.

“Israel is clearly not abiding by the reciprocity requirement of the VWP, and nowhere is this clearer than in the treatment of Gaza and Palestinian Americans from Gaza,” Virginia-based Palestinian American community leader Hani Almadhoun told Mondoweiss. “The guidelines recently issued by Israel on Gaza are filled with inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and conflicting directives. They intentionally create confusion among Palestinian Americans with ties to Gaza in an attempt to discourage them from pursuing their travel plans. As a Palestinian American from Gaza, I am treated as an inherent ‘security risk’ under these new Israeli entry procedures – and by accepting these terms, the U.S. is giving credence to this discriminatory designation.”

Almadhoun also points to the 45-day timeline for visa or permit approvals by Israeli authorities as another example of a discriminatory double standard.

Last month, 15 Democratic Senators sent Secretary of State Antony Blinken a letter expressing lingering concerns over Israel’s qualifications.

Earlier this month, 15 Democratic Senators, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Senate’s Judiciary Committee head Dick Durbin, also expressed skepticism over the pilot program. “Mr. Secretary, the State Department has documented the history of disparate treatment that U.S. citizen travelers to Israel have experienced based on their ethnicity, religion, and national origin,” it read. “That is why it is absolutely critical that you be able to verify and certify Israel’s compliance with the reciprocity and equal treatment requirements prior to admission into the Visa Waiver Program – not at some point in time after the program has been initiated.”

The ADC’s federal lawsuit, which was filed in a Michigan court, alleges that Israel has, “established discriminatory rules and procedures against United States citizens to participate in the program when traveling to Israel and thus violate the VWP rule of reciprocity and constitutional guarantees of equality.”

“It is incredibly disappointing that we had to take this step, but we aren’t going to sit idly while the rights of Americans are comprised in the name of politics,” tweeted ADC National Government Affairs and Advocacy Director Chris Habiby.

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