The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has expressed concern at reports in the Israeli press that the Obama Administration is increasingly rejecting requests from Israeli citizens for visas to visit the United States. According to U.S. State Department records consulted by these reports, during 2013, 9.7% of Israelis who requested visas –– some 12,000 people –– were denied. This is a sharp rise on the figures for 2012, in which 5.4% of Israelis requesting visas had their applications rejected, itself a steep rise on the figure for just a few years ago, 2007, when only 2.5% of Israelis were rejected for visas. This is more than a three-fold rise in visa rejections in a mere seven years.
A report in Haaretz quotes an unnamed Israeli official saying that the rise in visa rejections probably stems from U.S. reluctance to allow Israel entry into the Visa Waiver Program. That policy allows travelers from 37 countries to enter the U.S. for business or leisure as visitors for up to 90 days without a visa. The U.S. has a ‘white list’ of countries whose citizens can come to the U.S. without a visa, but only countries with a visa rejection rate of less than 3% are put on this list. The recent growth in U.S. visa request rejections for Israelis forced Israel off that list.
The official said, “We have for years been waiting to drop below the 3 percent mark in order to obtain visa exemptions, but they keep raising the bar … In our view, this is being done artificially, with requests being denied for no good reason. In all other respects, we qualify for the program.”
Israel’s entry into the waiver program was included in a pair of broader U.S.-Israel bills last year that called for Israel to be granted a waiver if it, “has made every reasonable effort, without jeopardizing the security of the State of Israel, to ensure that reciprocal travel privileges are extended to all United States citizens” (‘More Israelis being denied U.S. tourist visas, report says,’ Haaretz, February 24, 2014).
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “We are deeply concerned to learn that Israelis, in contrast to the situation in past years, are being rejected in record numbers to visit the United States for no apparent, justifiable reason. The absence of reasonable ground for these rejections leads only to the conclusion that the rejections are political in nature. In particular, as has already been suggested by Israeli officials, an effort has been made to prevent Israel from joining 37 favored nations whose citizens can travel to the U.S. for up to three months without visa.
“This is disconcerting, especially when coupled with other events that have occurred during the course of the Obama Administration ––
- The failure of the U.S. to exert any pressure on allies and the U.N. to prevent the Palestinian Authority (PA) winning non-member statehood last year, resulting in an overwhelming vote for the PA (contrary to the George H.W. Bush’s Administration’s derailing a similar initiative in the 1990s, when it threatened upfront to defund any UN agency that took this step);
- The Obama Administration departing from past U.S. policy by seeking to have Jewish communities in Judea/Samaria condemned in the UN Security Council as ‘illegitimate’ (only vetoing when the Arab states insisted on a resolution calling these communities ‘illegal’);
- President Obama in 2010 (unlike Bill Clinton in 2000 and George W. Bush in 2005) permitting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference statement singling out Israel and insisting it joint the NPT;
- President Obama agreeing to a UN June 2010 Security Council statement he could have easily vetoed which ‘condemned’ the ‘acts’ that led to loss of life on the Gaza flotilla, or when he called on CNN’s Larry King show for an investigation into the deaths of ‘innocent’ victims –– actually, Hamas supporters who premeditatedly assaulted the Israeli boarding party enforcing the lawful inspection of ships bound for Gaza;
- President Obama offering PA president Mahmoud Abbas in October 2010 that, if the PA would only remain in talks with Israel after the expiry of Israel’s unilateral 10-month freeze on Jewish construction in the Judea/Samaria, he would endorse the Palestinian/Arab Peace Initiative demand that Israel withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines and establish a Palestinian state –– something which he did anyway in May 2011 despite the PA breaking off negotiations, when President Obama called for precisely such an Israeli withdrawal with ‘agreed swaps’ –– a caveat that actually gives the Palestinians an automatic veto over Israel retaining anything beyond the 1949 lines, and also called for something never publicly supported by any previous president –– Israeli relinquishment of the Jordan Valley.
“This record –– to which much could be added, not least Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent veiled threat to Israel of boycotts and isolation if Israel does not accede to his peace proposals –– suggests that the Obama Administration is working overtime to fundamentally transform the U.S/Israeli relationship into one that is more distant, less deep, more confrontational and less special.
“The ZOA urges all pro-Israel organizations to demand an explanation from the Administration for the large and worrying upsurge of what appears to be politically-motivated rejections of Israeli visitor visa applications.
“Americans have the right to know why the citizens of one of America’s closest and oldest friends are being denied visas in record rates and numbers.”