The US State Department is denying visas to senior members of Israeli security forces whose work is connected to Israeli control of the West Bank, Israel’s Channel 10 reported Tuesday night, citing “pro-Israel sources” on Capitol Hill.
The State Department effort to identify officers and commanders from the IDF, Shin Bet, Mossad, and other organizations with a West Bank role stems from a fear that these individuals may have played a part in violating Palestinians’ human rights, the report said.
The US administration did not confirm the report. The State Department did say last week that Israel’s discrimination against visiting Arab Americans is the primary reason it is not eligible for a program allowing Israeli tourists in to the United States without visas.
“The Department of Homeland Security and State remain concerned with the unequal treatment that Palestinian Americans and other Americans of Middle Eastern origin experience at Israel’s border and checkpoints, and reciprocity is the most basic condition of the Visa Waiver Program,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said March 21 in her daily briefing with reporters.
The State Department warns Americans of Arab descent that they may be delayed or even turned back when arriving at Israeli points of entry.
Israel says its rate of refusal of entry for Arab Americans is not disproportionate and notes that under the Oslo agreements with the Palestinians, foreigners of Palestinian descent undergo a different entry protocol.
There have been a number of efforts in Congress over the years to exempt Israel from visa waiver rules; the most recent is currently stalled in the Senate.
Psaki’s remarks came after several weeks in which a number of lawmakers, led by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), have criticized US consular services for their rate of refusal of young Israelis.
The required maximum rate of refusal of entry for entering the US visa waiver program is 3 percent; last year, Israel’s was at 9.7 percent, up from 5.4 percent the year before.
Israel’s rate of refusal for visas is low relative to many other countries, and rates of refusal for other US allies also spiked last year, but there is evidence that Israel’s number is climbing because consular officials are wary of young Israeli travelers illegally peddling Dead Sea wares on US trips.
In addition to Schumer, other lawmakers who have pressed the State Department to explain the spike in the rate of refusal include Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Reps. Grace Meng (D-NY), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.
On Friday, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, told reporters she had spoken with Dan Shapiro, the US ambassador to Israel, about the issue.
Psaki in her briefing said the rate of refusal for young Israelis was not disproportionate.
“Over 90 percent of Israeli applicants for tourist visas to the United States are approved. For young Israelis, over 80 percent of visa applicants are approved for a visa,” she said.