[IMRA: Please note March 2003 article that follows this item.]
U.S. to Israel: Ease up on Arab-Americans
WASHINGTON (CNN) October 19, 2006
-- The State Department has complained to the Israeli government about its
discriminatory treatment of Arab-Americans traveling to the Palestinian
territories, senior State Department officials said Thursday.
Officials said that despite a longstanding policy of issuing visas to
Americans traveling to the West Bank and Gaza, the Israeli government has
recently denied Palestinian-Americans and certain other Americans entry.
During her recent trip to Israel, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
raised the issue with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and U.S. diplomats have
also recently complained to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, officials
"They are being treated as Arabs and not Americans," one senior official
said. "They basically treat them as second-class citizens."
In a speech October 11 before the American Task Force on Palestine, Rice
acknowledged "continuing problems of security" faced by
Palestinian-Americans living and working in Gaza and the West Bank and
pledged "to ensure that all American travelers receive fair and equal
David Siegel, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, told CNN in
a phone interview, "We are aware of the issue and it is being treated at
senior levels, but we are waiting for more details from the administration
on specific cases they have raised."
The Arab American Institute issued a statement Thursday thanking Rice for
her efforts to defend the rights of Palestinian-Americans.
"Arab-Americans have been regularly traveling to their ancestral homelands
for generations and they have a significant role to play in the
reconstruction of the economic and social life in the Occupied Territories,"
Arab American Institute President James Zogby wrote. "It is important that
their right and ability to continue to do so be reaffirmed."
Popular Israeli singer Rita denied entry to U.S. due to her Iranian
By Debbie Berman March 25, 2003
[Note: visa ultimately issued]
Popular Israeli singer Rita was forced this week to cancel a sold-out
twelve-day concert tour in New York, Miami and Los Angeles when her request
for a U.S. visa was rejected. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, also a native of
Iran, had similar problems in the past.
As a result of a cautious post September 11th American immigration policy,
many Israelis have had their requests for U.S. visas rejected because they
were born in Muslim countries. Israeli diplomats are working to change what
they claim is an unfair U.S. policy.
"An Israeli artist, like any artist that wants to appear in the U.S., must
receive a work permit. The leniency that existed in the past with
immigration authorities, customs officials and club owners has completely
disappeared," said immigration specialist, Attorney Tzvi Ken-Tor.
Rita, who was born in Iran in 1962 and immigrated to Israel with her family
as a young child, was due to travel to the United States with her husband,
singer Rami Kleinstein; and their two young children. "All the tickets to
her concerts have been sold out," said one of Rita's managers. "If she is
not allowed to fly there, it will be a great disappointment for her and for
her fans in America."
Appearing on a Channel Two television variety show Monday night, Rita said
she had been to the United States many times in the past, but this time she
had requested a work permit and visa as required by law.
Foreign Ministry officials stated that Rita applied for her visa too late,
without allowing sufficient time for FBI background checks that can take up
to three months.
Mofaz denied entry until diplomats intervened
The first incident of an Israeli denied entry to the United States that
gained public attention occurred last year, when Mofaz was originally denied
entry into the U.S. at New York's Kennedy airport due to the fact that he
also held an Iranian passport. Only after high-level diplomatic intervention
was Mofaz allowed to enter the United States.
"The incident of Shaul Mofaz, which was the first that we all heard about,
was an embarrassment for the U.S.," said attorney Liam Schwartz, a U.S.
citizen who immigrated to Israel in 1986 and specializes in U.S.
immigration. "That incident sparked a trend. In my opinion there are
hundreds of cases like his."
Schwartz related the frustration experienced by many Israelis whose visa
requests have been rejected. "The most difficult cases are ones where people
who have to get the U.S. for sensitive reasons and whose visa requests were
rejected. Like a grandmother, who was born in Iran, whose request to attend
her granddaughter's wedding was rejected; or a widower whose Israeli
daughter lives in the U.S. and had his request to attend her wedding
rejected as well," he said.
"Since last December the American authorities have maintained a list of
countries whose citizens are forced to undergo a strict security check
before their entrance into the U.S. is allowed," Ken-Tor explained.
"Included on the list are countries that are not at all relevant to Israel,
like Korea, but there also many Muslim countries whose natives could find
themselves in big trouble."
Foreign Ministry officials have been attempting to change the strict U.S.
policy. "Many Israeli citizens were born in Arab countries, but they don't
have to be punished for that, especially since Israel is an American ally,"
one of them commented, according to Yediot Aharonot.
"In principle, everyone that is entitled to receive a visa, gets one," a
U.S. embassy official in Tel Aviv said in response. "Sometimes people do not
receive visas for reasons that cannot be revealed. Of course the current
situation contributes to delays, and we cannot set a timetable for receipt
of visas. We are trying to provide the best service possible."