US Refuses to Include Israel in 'Visa Waiver Program'

Travelers Ben Gurion International Airport (Reuters)
Travelers Ben Gurion International Airport (Reuters)
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US Refuses to Include Israel in 'Visa Waiver Program'

Travelers Ben Gurion International Airport (Reuters)
Travelers Ben Gurion International Airport (Reuters)

The US Department of Homeland Security informed Israel that it has failed to meet the requirements to enter the visa waiver program.

Earlier, the Israeli government informed its citizens that it had reached the final arrangements to obtain an official US decision to cancel the entry visa.

On Wednesday, Haaretz reported that the matter remained confidential until the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Land Security, Alice Lugo, announced it in a letter sent last month to the Democratic Representative, Don Beyer.

In the letter to Beyer, Lugo stressed that "Israel does not currently meet all [visa waiver program] designation requirements, including extending reciprocal visa-free travel privileges to all US citizens and nationals."

In response, Beyer sent a letter to members of the US House of Representatives, calling on them to support pressuring Israel to withdraw the new "discriminatory restrictions" imposed by the Israeli military for entry into the West Bank to assure reciprocity for all US citizens.

Beyer prepared a petition for which he collects signatures from other US representatives, which will be directed to the several US and Israeli agencies.

In the petition, the representatives put forward a request to open a hotline to publish monthly reports for future visa waiver program evaluations.

He sent a letter to the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, saying that it is clear that "Israel cannot and should not be admitted into the visa waiver program under the status quo."

"It is incumbent upon Israel as a key US ally and beneficiary of significant aid to treat US citizens with dignity and respect regardless of race, religion, and ethnicity, and it is especially pertinent at this time because Israel is currently being evaluated for entry into the United States Visa Waiver Program," said Beyer.

He highlighted the "onerous and discriminatory" new restrictions issued by the Israeli army's Coordinating Office for Government Affairs in the Territories.

The Representative added that Israel "consistently refused to extend fair treatment to US visitors attempting to travel through Israeli controlled entry points," despite the visa waiver program's prerequisite of reciprocity.

"The State Department itself acknowledges in its travel advisory that US citizens traveling to Israel have been unfairly denied entry."

It is known that Israel has been in deliberations with the US authorities for several years to include it in the visa waiver program, which would allow Israelis to stay in the United States for 90 days for tourism or business, and would be a catalyst for economic cooperation.

Diplomatic sources in Tel Aviv noted that the only clause restricting the exemption is the "reciprocity" clause that obligates Israel to treat all US citizens equally upon their entry to Israel.

They indicated that travelers who are not white and Jewish have long complained about racial profiling at Ben Gurion Airport. Palestinians with US citizenship, meanwhile, travel via the Allenby Bridge crossing with Jordan.

In response to Israeli journalists, the US embassy spokesman said Israel "must extend reciprocal privileges to all US citizens and nationals, including Palestinian-Americans, as those the United States would extend to Israeli citizens."

"We seek equal treatment and freedom to travel for all such US travelers to Israel regardless of national origin or ethnicity."



Biden Battles COVID and Democrats as Crisis Grows

President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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Biden Battles COVID and Democrats as Crisis Grows

President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Joe Biden holed up at his beach house Thursday, battling both a bout of COVID and calls by senior allies for him to abandon his 2024 reelection bid.

While rival Donald Trump prepared for his star turn at the Republican National Convention, the 81-year-old US president found himself in both personal and political isolation.

The top Democrats in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, both reportedly met with Biden in recent days to warn that his candidacy threatens his party's prospects in November's election.

Influential former House speaker Nancy Pelosi added to his woes by privately telling Biden he cannot win and could harm Democrats' chances of recapturing the lower chamber, CNN reported.

Several party figures were meanwhile quoted anonymously by the Axios news outlet as saying that they believed the pressure would persuade Biden to drop out as soon as this weekend.

Biden has insisted he is not backing down, adamant that he is the candidate who beat Trump before and will do it again this year. Pressed about reports that Biden might be softening to the idea of leaving the race, his deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks said Thursday: “He is not wavering on anything.”

"He's staying in the race," Fulks told a press conference on the sidelines of the Republican convention in Milwaukee.

"Our campaign is not working through any scenarios where President Biden is not the top of the ticket -- he is and will be the Democratic nominee."

California Senator Alex Padilla said Biden was "not skipping a beat."

"I know having spoken to him personally he's committed to the campaign," he added.

Using mountains of data showing Biden’s standing could wipe out the ranks of Democrats in Congress, frank conversations in public and private, and now, the president’s own time off the campaign trail after testing positive for COVID-19, many Democrats see an opportunity to encourage a reassessment.

Biden told reporters on Wednesday that he was "doing well."

His COVID diagnosis however came at the worst possible time for his campaign, forcing him to cut short a trip to Las Vegas and isolate at his holiday home in Rehoboth, Delaware.

The split-screen with Trump could not have been more stark, with Trump set to formally accept the Republican nomination in Milwaukee.

US networks showed images of frail looking Biden gingerly descending the steps of Air Force One in Delaware, in a week when Trump is lauded by supporters each night at a packed party convention.

Former president Trump, who at 78 is just three years younger than Biden, is riding a wave of support from his party after surviving an assassination attempt on Saturday that left him with a bandaged ear.

The United States could now be approaching the climax of an extraordinary three weeks in politics, which started when Biden gave a disastrous performance during a televised debate with Trump.

Biden blamed jet lag and a cold, but the fact that America's commander-in-chief has now fallen ill for a second time just as fears grow about his fitness for the job has merely intensified the panic in Democratic ranks.