Two Arab writers opining on Middle East issues address:
– the complex issue of the long-awaited USA visa waiver for Israelis
– an anniversary reflection for Egyptians on the thankful “liberation” from their political landscape of the Muslim Brotherhood
(*Translation from the Arabic by Asaf Zilberfarb)
ISRAEL AND THE VISA WAIVER PROGRAM
By James Zogby
Al-Ittihad, UAE, June 29
It is perplexing and offensive that some Biden Administration officials are hurrying to admit Israel into the US Visa Waiver Program, which enables a quick, visa-upon-arrival entry into the United States. It is difficult to comprehend since both the State Department and the Homeland Security Department are aware that Israel does not meet a fundamental prerequisite for participation in the program, which is to guarantee full equivalence; that is, “equal treatment and freedom of movement for all citizens of the United States regardless of national origin, religion, or race.” Israel has consistently failed to uphold the standard of equal treatment, which is tantamount to discrimination against Arab Americans at its borders. Civil rights advocacy organizations have amassed numerous accounts from Arab Americans, especially Palestinian Americans, who have been forced to endure hourslong interrogations at the Israeli border or were flatly refused entrance and forced to return to the United States. The US State Department has issued travel advisories indicating that American citizens with Arab or Muslim heritage, including Palestinian Americans, often face unequal treatment and significant difficulties when entering Israel. In 2014, due to this discriminatory treatment, Israel’s application to the Visa Waiver Program was denied. In addition, new regulations from Israel specifically targeting Palestinian Americans have made entry into the country even more restricted. However, the Biden Administration seems to have reversed its attitude and is reportedly helping Israel join the Visa Waiver Program. In July, a 30-day trial will begin to assess Israel’s entry screening process. Given the history of discriminatory treatment against citizens of Arab or Muslim descent, including Palestinian Americans, it is confounding that the Biden Administration has decided to backtrack on its stance and attempt to facilitate Israel’s entry into the Visa Waiver Program. Palestinian Americans will be permitted to apply for a 90-day travel authorization through an online portal, a move that the United States is demanding Israel demonstrate by successfully granting such requests to a “critical mass.” While this change offers some benefits, it leaves much to be desired. This policy also narrows the scope of those who are able to use it: that is, only those who possess Palestinian identity cards, estimates suggest this is around 70,000 people.
This is in addition to the hundreds of thousands of other Arab Americans and Muslim Americans who are excluded from this process due to their prior travel to other Arab or Muslim countries, and who have been subjected to unjust discrimination. The trial underway in Israel does not address the discriminatory treatment of Arab Americans who experience harassment at checkpoints and when departing the country. The Visa Waiver Program should allow both Americans and Israelis equal entry without mandatory prior application or authorization. If accepted, Israelis ought to be given the same access to the United States as all Americans, including those of Arab descent, without requiring a visa. Israel’s purported “alternative solution” to allow limited entry to Palestinians instead of meeting the requirements for the Visa Waiver Program not only fails to address the unjust discrimination faced by Arab Americans, but it also belittles the program’s conditions of reciprocity and thereby insults the citizenship rights of Arab Americans. Israel has long claimed that its policies at the border are driven by security considerations. However, its refusal to accept US passports held by Palestinian Americans and its mistreatment of Arab-American travelers to Lebanon or Egypt paints a different picture of harassment rather than security. If the Israeli government continues in this vein, the US should take steps to withhold the Visa Waiver Program concession. For the last three decades, I have consulted with foreign ministers while in possession of numerous affidavits detailing the experiences of those subjected to harassment or denied entry into Israel. These accounts make it clear that Israel’s conduct is unacceptable. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice echoed this sentiment when she made it clear to her Israeli counterparts that “an American is an American.” We must stand by our citizens, and granting Israel special authority to relegate Arab Americans to second-class status is unthinkable. We cannot allow the Arab American community to be sacrificed so that the Biden Administration can curry favor with Israeli voters. Furthermore, a coalition of 16 senators, 19 representatives, and six prominent liberal American-Jewish organizations have demanded that the Biden Administration suspend the Visa Waiver Program until Israel can demonstrate its reciprocal commitment to honoring the rights of American citizens.
JUNE 30 IS THE BEGINNING, NOT THE END
By Amina Khairy
Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, June 28
The date of June 30 – marking the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government – will always remain etched in Egypt’s history as one of the country’s greatest feats. This wasn’t a traditional overthrow characterized by tanks and armed soldiers, but a determined battle waged by civilians who realized, in a brief period of two years, that they had been subject to religious exploitation.
On June 30, the people and army of Egypt united to make history: they rid the land of the corrupt politics of a criminal group that had poisoned it since 1928. This group injected its poisonous ideology into many countries in an effort to control them. But thanks to the brave action of the people and military, Egypt stands liberated today, with its sight toward the future. This is an achievement unmatched in its significance and one that even Brotherhood supporters cannot tarnish.
Ten years ago, Egyptians wrote a chapter in history with their brave and passionate protests. As I recall, I still see the image of women standing at their buildings’ entrances, flags waving, and chants of “down with the rule of the supreme leader!” ringing out. I also remember mothers apprehensively sending their children into the streets to demand the removal of the Brotherhood mafia. June 30th is an iconic date that is remembered for the powerful and moving display of courage by average Egyptian mothers, fathers, and children. It was revealed on June 30 that Egyptians still possess the capacity to discern between right and wrong, and between lost and acquired identity. Additionally, it became obvious that a broad spectrum of citizens – though not all – understand that ridiculing one another undermines the foundation of the nation and blurs the role of religion in everyday life. The journey to modernize Egypt, free it from the poisonous grip of political Islam and save it from the deleterious consequences of faith mingled with politics had begun and will continue from that day forward. Yet, this mission still continues. It is something that requires effort from all of us: citizens, as well as political leaders, state institutions, and the government. It is no exaggeration to say that on June 30, the Egyptian “patient” was discharged from intensive care. Now what that patient needed is follow-up, recuperation, and the bolstering of its strength. My sincerest gratitude goes out to all those that took part in these monumental events, on June 30, 2013, regardless of their motives.
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