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Israel discrimination of Palestinian Americans triggers opposition to visa waiver

US Ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides [Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Concordia Summit]
US Ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides [Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Concordia Summit]

Israel's discrimination of Palestinian Americans has been flagged up by the Arab American Institute (AAI) in a new petition which calls on US President Joe Biden to block the Occupation State's membership to the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

With Biden set to visit Israel next month, AAI has called on the US President to demand an end to the Apartheid State's racist practice of treating Palestinian Americans differently to Jewish and non-Arab Americans, before granting membership to the VWP.

AAI has argued that Israel's violation of the principle of reciprocity disqualifies it from being a member of the Program. "For any country to join the VWP, it must guarantee reciprocity," AAI said. "That is, it must ensure that it will treat all visiting Americans without discrimination just as the US must agree to do the same."

"There is clear evidence that Israel fails to meet this standard since they engage in disgraceful, degrading and discriminatory treatment of US citizens of Arab descent at border entry points."

AAI pointed out that Israel's multi-tier citizenship has been redirected against American citizens. In contrast to Israel, which privileges Jews over non-Jews, the US makes no racial and religious distinctions between its American citizens. For example, the US is a country of all its citizens, whereas Israel is the nation of the Jewish people only as stated in the so-called Nation State Law.

"Israel has, in effect, declared that they recognise three distinct classes of American citizens," said AAI. "American Jews with special privileges, other Americans whose rights are respected and Arab Americans, whom Israel does not recognise as full Americans".

AAI stressed that allowing Israel into the VWP "would rubber stamp discriminatory entry policies".

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Earlier this week, the US Ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, was slammed for apparently putting the interests of Israel over American citizens where he said, "put them first!" in a tweet referring to the visa waiver programme.

"I've been working around the clock since I arrived to help Israel meet all the requirements to join the #VisaWaiverProgram. Don't lose momentum now. This will help Israeli citizens travel to the US – put them first!" said Nides on twitter.

The tweet sparked outrage. "OMG" said James J Zogby, founder of AAI. "How insulting! You put Israeli citizens' rights before the rights of Arab Americans. Israel harasses, detains, & denies entry to even US-born Palestinian Americans. Because Israel refuses to treat us w/out discrimination, they don't qualify for visa waivers."

AAI's petition highlighted the ways in which Palestinian Americans suffer discrimination when they travel to occupied West Bank and other parts of historic Palestine. Changes introduced by the Israeli military unit administering the apartheid system in the occupied territories, Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), will mean Palestinian Americans will face even harsher discrimination and be denied the ability to visit their relatives in the West Bank.

On top of the discrimination faced by Palestinian Americans, several have also been killed in recent years, the most high profile of which is the journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh. Investigations carried out by the UN, PA and several major human rights groups and news agencies have concluded that an Israeli sniper assassinated the Al Jazeera journalist.

So far, their findings have had very little effect on the US administration. President Joe Biden has been reluctant to authorise an independent investigation of Abu Akleh's killing, even though she is an American citizen. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, appeared to wipe his hands off the matter and foreclose having to deal with the prospect of holding Israel accountable for the killing of an American citizen.

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