Israeli embassy, lawmakers wrangle over Muslim- and Arab-Americans’ entry to Israel

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israel’s embassy in Washington exchanged letters with a group of U.S. congressmen who sought answers about the treatment of Arab and Muslim Americans at Israel’s borders.

The June 4 congressional letter obtained Tuesday by JTA presses for answers on what the 15 signatories consider unfair treatment. It was initiated by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim to be elected to Congress.

The letter notes reports that Israel profiles Muslim and Arab Americans; that this year Israel turned away an American who taught at a school in the West Bank; that some Americans receive “Palestinian Authority Only” visas allowing them to stay only within the West Bank; and that Israel requires some U.S. citizens to turn on their computers or other devices and show them their email accounts.

“We ask that you work with us to ensure that all American citizens are treated equally at Israeli ports of entry,” the letter said.

In a June 12 reply, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, said that since 2002, in the midst of the barrage of terrorist attacks of the second intifada, Israel has restricted access to Israel for some Palestinian-Americans, requiring them to stay within the West Bank.

Oren also said in his letter that the 1993 Oslo Accords require Palestinians with U.S. citizenship to enter via Jordan’s Allenby Bridge. The requirement was a nod to Palestinian sovereignty, but the Palestinian Authority has not sought its enforcement for years.

Oren also likens the requirement to show authorities emails to inspections of electronic devices in other countries, including the United States, although he does not show instances of U.S. authorities requiring actual examination of emails.

“American citizens are accorded all the rights to which they are entitled at their entry to the State of Israel,” Oren wrote. “Given the security challenges we face, every effort is extended in this regard.”

The embassy and Ellison’s office refused requests for comment on the letters, which were first revealed last week in an Associated Press story.

The backdrop to the exchange is a bid in Congress to add Israel to the visa waiver program that allows for travel between countries without visas.

While the proposed bills have strong backing, some lawmakers have insisted that Israel first clear up the matter of perceived discrimination at its borders.

Ellison and another signatory to the letter, Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) are Muslims; one, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), is Jewish. Another signatory, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), the sole Republican, is of Palestinian descent.

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