Don’t Let Israel Turn Some Americans Into Second Class Citizens

A new law may legalize discrimination against Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, and activist Americans hoping to study abroad. As a surprise to no one, the bill’s biggest backers are AIPAC, or the United States’ biggest pro-Israel lobbying group. Welcome to the new Jim Crow.

The US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013, on its surface, seems harmless, if even a progressive policy. It would allow Israeli citizens to visit without having to obtain a visa. Similar bills are reciprocal—they also allow US citizens to visit the corresponding country with the same privileges. The US currently has 37 similar programs, all without discrimination.

However, under Section 9 of the legislation, Israel can deny entrance for any applicant. There is no similar program with such strict restrictions. The purpose for this provision falls under one of the best known liberty-denying excuses: national security. Israel does not want to admit potential terrorists into its state. Israel’s most effective way of identifying a terrorist? One’s skin color or religious beliefs.

In the past 12 months, Israel’s policy toward American tourists has highlighted the tensions between Israel and Muslim-Americans and Arab-Americans. For example, St. Louis native Sandra Tamari, a Quaker and mother of two, was denied entry to Israel in May 2012. Upon arriving to Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport, she was interrogated for eight hours and forced to log in to her email so that Israeli security could check for suspicious activity. When she called the US Embassy for aid, they demanded to know if she was Jewish. When she replied she was a Quaker, the embassy did nothing to help her. She was swiftly sent home. Her crime? Being of Palestinian descent.

More shockingly, a father missed witnessing the birth of his son because of his involvement with a Palestinian human rights organization. Adam Shapiro and his wife, Huwaida Arraf,  both US citizens, wanted to have their child in Israel. Huwaida wanted to ensure that her child would have the same privileges that she had as a dual US-Israeli citizen. Shapiro, a man raised Jewish but who proclaims he doesn’t “identify” as such, was deported and informed that he could no longer re-enter the country for 10 years.

Under current provisions, SB 462 is discriminatory against Americans of Arab heritage, Palestinian heritage, and/or Islamic faith. In addition, anyone who has been viewed to be critical of the Israeli government or openly supportive of Palestinian rights, could be denied entry for little other than xenophobia and hyper-inflated security concerns. Meanwhile, Israel would fully enjoy benefits from the program for its own people. This legislation does little for personal liberty and continues Israel’s terrible history of discrimination.

The US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013 deems some American citizens as part of a second class, restricted from travel and at jeopardy for being labeled as “no-fly” because of their heritage and political beliefs. Israel already discriminates against these minorities within their own country. Let’s not allow them to extend this abhorrent practice to our home.