AIPAC bill to permit Israeli discrimination at airports gets to Senate
Articles from New York Times and Daily Beast.
US citizen Sandra Tamari, R., a Quaker, mother of two, and member of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee, was detained at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport last week and aggressively questioned for over eight hours before being taken to a detention center and deported back to the United States. During questioning, Israeli security demanded she open her personal email account and accused her of being a terrorist. Requesting help from her US Embassy, Tamari was immediately asked if she is Jewish. When told that she was Palestinian, Tamari was advised they could do nothing for her. From St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee
By Yousef Munayyer, NY Times
October 28, 2013
It is said that naturalized United States citizens often have a greater appreciation of their adopted country than those born on American soil.
As a naturalized U.S. citizen who has traveled extensively, particularly across borders where the very notion of citizenship can be a contentious political idea, I have a deep appreciation for my navy blue passport.
After a recent trip, as I made my way from the plane through passport control in Newark’s Liberty Airport, I found myself awestruck.
“Welcome back,” said the immigration official, after scanning my passport, briefly glancing at a computer screen and letting me pass — a process that took about 30 seconds.
“That’s it?” I found myself thinking. I had only been gone three weeks and had already managed to forget what it felt like to have my rights as a citizen respected.
I’d just come back from traveling through Israel and the Palestinian territory it occupies. In that part of the world, one approaches immigration kiosks prepared for a lengthy wait, inspections and harassing questions (this is true even with Israeli citizenship, which I also hold). The very choice of which travel document to present is considered a political act. The languages I spoke (or didn’t speak), my religion and line of work were all variables that could extend the time I spent at the border crossing.
But back in the States, it didn’t matter to the man at the kiosk that I had a funny-sounding name. It didn’t matter what my religion or ethnicity was. It didn’t matter what my political opinions were. In a nation where citizenship is valued and discrimination is shunned, the re-entry process took only seconds. I was reminded of the tremendous value of my U.S. citizenship and the navy blue booklet I held in my hand.
I just wish Barbara Boxer would appreciate the value of U.S. citizenship as well. The senator is spearheading legislation that would dangerously devalue it.
The U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, backed by the pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, was introduced by Ms. Boxer and has 53 co-sponsors in the Senate. It legislates, for the first time, the inclusion of Israel in the U.S. visa-waiver program. This means that Israelis can enter the United States without a visa.
Israel has long sought this prized designation but has always faced resistance from the State Department because the program requires reciprocity. Israel has been known to routinely deny entry to American citizens, often Arabs or Muslims or others sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, under the usually bogus pretext of “security concerns.”
This discriminatory treatment of U.S. citizens prompted several members of Congress to write to Israel’s ambassador expressing concern that Israeli border officials were “disproportionately singling out, detaining and denying entry to Arab and Muslim Americans,” and requesting all Americans be “treated equally at Israeli ports of entry.”
Sandra Tamari’s case is one example. The 42-year-old U.S. citizen of Palestinian descent traveled to Israel in May of 2012 for an interfaith conference. Upon entry, she was required to provide her Gmail password to Israeli interrogators, who insisted on searching her personal account. After refusing to comply with this and other intrusive requests, she was denied entry and deported.
Numerous similar cases of U.S. citizens being asked for their e-mail and Facebook passwords prior to deportation have been reported. The case of Nour Joudah is another example. She was teaching English in a West Bank high school on a valid, multiple-entry work visa issued by Israel. When she attempted to re-enter Israel after traveling to Jordan for Christmas break, she was denied entry and deported.
Senator Boxer’s legislation, versions of which might pass in both the House and Senate, would allow Israel an exemption to reciprocity. In other words, Israel would get to determine which American citizens it permits to enter.
As an Israeli citizen who is also a Palestinian, I know this problem all too well. I’ve witnessed firsthand the way Israel discriminates against its own non-Jewish citizens. I am routinely held up for questioning and inspection while watching Jewish Israelis zip by.
As an American citizen, I’m outraged that Senator Boxer and her colleagues are trying to pass a law that allows Israel to discriminate against U.S. citizens. All elected officials took an oath to defend the Constitution. By legalizing discrimination against U.S. citizens they will violate that oath in both word and spirit.
Even if the problematic language giving Israel an exception is removed from the bill, including Israel in the visa-waiver program at all means that Arab-and Muslim-Americans will have to rely on ill-equipped government agencies like the State Department to enforce reciprocity. And unfortunately, the State Department has been able to offer little assistance to U.S. citizens of Arab or Muslim origin who are denied entry to Israel, despite what our passports say about allowing Americans to “pass without delay or hindrance.” Instead, the U.S. government has regularly yielded to Israeli demands when it comes to the discriminatory treatment of Americans.
This is likely to continue. That means American citizens will continue to get turned away by Israel because of their ethnic background while the United States opens its doors to all Israelis.
This unequal treatment should not be permitted. Under no circumstances should the United States extend visa-waiver privileges to Israel, or any other state, unless it is willing to guarantee and demand equal treatment of its citizens and their protection from discrimination based on religion, ethnicity or national origin.
Yousef Munayyer is executive director of the Jerusalem Fund for Education and Community Development, a Palestinian advocacy group in Washington.
Barbara Boxer: Withdraw Your Biased Bill
By Maysoon Zayid, Daily Beast
April 29, 2013
Senator Barbara Boxer needs to take a seat—just not the one she’s currently abusing on Capitol Hill. The senator from California completely lost the plot when she introduced a new bill, Senate Bill 462, the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013, which would codify Israel’s ability to discriminate against Palestinian Americans and those who love them. I’m constantly hearing that Congress can’t accomplish anything because of bipartisan bickering. Well, Barbara found something they could agree on: bigotry. She got nine Republicans to cosponsor the bill with her Democrat self.
Members of Congress rarely read the bills they vote on, so I don’t expect you to. Let me give you the skinny on Sen. Bill 462, introduced by Boxer and friends. The U.S. has a deal with several countries that allows their citizens and ours to enter into each other’s territories without having to go through the hassle of obtaining a pesky visa. Thirty-seven countries enjoy this privilege, and Israel is itching to be lucky number thirty-eight. There’s a teeny problem though: the Israeli government is not fond of American citizens of certain faiths, ethnicities, and political ideologies. Israel would like to enjoy the luxury of having its citizens come to America willy-nilly, while maintaining the ability to reject American tourists based on which fairy tale they choose to follow.
Enter Senator Boxer. Her bill seeks to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act by adding the following: “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.” That’s government-speak for: everyone but Israel has to let all of our citizens in, but Israel can do as it pleases, in the name of “security.” Remember, the United States would not receive the same privilege. If a crazy armed settler wanted to visit Disney World, he would be welcome to do so under the Visa Waiver Program, as long as he left his M-16 at home.
What makes Sen. Boxer’s quest to legalize Israeli discrimination against an entire group of Americans even more astonishing is her solid record of voting for equality and protection of minorities. She cosponsored the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded the legal definition of a hate crime to include violence targeting victims due to their gender, sexual orientation, or disability. She is an outspoken advocate of marriage equality and an opponent of her home state’s Prop. 8. She gave Republicans a verbal lashing for turning their backs on Bob Dole and blocking ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Senator prides herself on empowering women and girls. She has fought for equal pay and an end to human trafficking. Boxer, who is passionate about reproductive rights and equal access to affordable healthcare, is rumored to have thrown everything pink she owns in the garbage to protest the Komen Foundation cutting funding to Planned Parenthood.
Her democratic cosponsors have similar records on civil rights and their support for this clearly biased bill is equally mindboggling. Why would an elected official even suggest such a thing? Have these senators ever perused the pages of a U.S. passport? Smack dab on page one, it reads:
The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen/national of the United States, named herein, to pass without delay or hindrance, and in case of need, to give all lawful aid and protection.
It says “all,” Barbara, not “whomever you please.” So, whom does Israel consider a security threat? Who could be so dangerous and such a menace, that she should be allowed this special exemption? I’ll tell you who—folks like me. I am the poster child for this bill. Read this gem from the State Department’s official travel advisory page: “Some U.S. citizens holding Israeli nationality, possessing a Palestinian identity card or of Arab or of Muslim origin have experienced significant difficulties in entering or exiting Israel or the West Bank.” By “Arab” they mean Christian, and by “significant difficulties” they mean that those not deported on arrival are treated like they’re being booked for a DUI. I have often been subjected to Israel’s torturous racial profiling. Every time I land in Tel Aviv, I am racked with fear that this will be the time they deny me entry.
I was born and raised in New Jersey and hold no other allegiance. I also have a home in Palestine. Fun fact: It is impossible to travel to the West Bank and Jerusalem without passing through Israeli border control. Thankfully, I have never been denied entry yet, but several of my fellow Americans have not been as lucky. The idea of never being able to go back and visit my friends and family, the orphanage I have volunteered at for over a decade and plan to adopt from, or my father’s grave, is beyond nightmarish. I’ve spent an entire twelve-hour flight from Newark to Tel Aviv filled with dread at the thought that I might get sent back on the plane I arrived on. The reality is this: Israel does not harass or deny entry in the name of security alone. A simple Google search shows that I’m basically a disabled clown who couldn’t harm a ferret, and that I am in no way an existential threat to Israel. Yet once I land, the interrogation begins. I find this entertaining because I have been there over one hundred and fifty times in the past three decades, so I am pretty sure they know my bra size by now. They’ve certainly felt me up enough while searching me. The airport security is full of surprises. I’ve spent anywhere from fifteen minutes to five hours waiting to see if I’ll get an almighty visa.
Sen. Boxer is fine with Israel discriminating against U.S. citizens like me based on our faith. But riddle me this, Barbara: How would the Israelis know which religion an American citizen subscribes to? I always refuse to answer that question when asked. Is the Senator advocating racial profiling, where they guess whether we are good witches or bad witches based on our surnames or skin tones? Or will part of Israel’s special treatment require U.S. citizens to now have their religion embossed on their passports, the same way Palestinians are forced to carry IDs stating theirs? By the way, Israel does not let Palestinians choose which religion their ID states. Will Sen. Boxer at least give us the luxury of choosing our own labels?
If I were Sen. Boxer or any of her twenty Senate cohorts cosponsoring this bill, I’d also be worried that, if we do this for Israel, other countries are going to get jealous and want exemptions too. What if Belgium decided to ban African-Americans, or if Japan said no to gingers? What if Canada chose to deny entry to Americans who supported marriage equality, the way Israel does to Americans who support Palestinian equality? Would the Senate be okay with that too?
Sen. Boxer has shamed the office by introducing this bill. She needs to remember whom she represents and work to protect all Americans’ right to equality, not just those she feels deserve it. I’d like to direct her to another quote, printed on the pages of our U.S. passports: “The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect or a party or a class—it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.”
It would serve the Senator and her country well if she respected our birthright and withdrew this discriminatory bill.
Maysoon Zayid is a comedian, actress, and writer. She is the Co-executive producer of the New York Arab American Comedy Festival and founder of Maysoon’s Kids. Follow her on twitter @MaysoonZayid and see her work at www.Maysoon.com
The United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013 (H.R. 938 and S. 462)
The United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013 seeks to dramatically strengthen the
relationship between the two allies as they work to confront new threats and challenges in the Middle
The legislation—co-sponsored by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL) in the
House and by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) in the Senate—declares that Israel is a
“major strategic partner” of the United States. This designation lays the foundation for expanded U.S.-
Israel cooperation in a wide variety of spheres, including defense, intelligence, homeland security, energy,
science and trade.
AIPAC Introduction, March 2013. pdf file