It is unfortunate that the authors of the recent commentary, "Don't let Israel discriminate," (April 30), distort the purpose and the effect of the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act. This bill merely states that the State of Israel is designated as a country that is eligible for the Visa Waiver Program.
This Visa Waiver Program waives the necessity of obtaining a visa for certain foreign visitors that meet certain requirements. These requirements include that the country of origin is friendly to the U.S., that it has in place high-levels of security so that adequate information on the visiting persons helps assure that they are not threats, that the visitors enter the U.S. for a limited time and for valid business purposes and that the visitors have plans to return to their country of origin. The purpose of the program is to make it easier for Israeli business people to enter the U.S. and for U.S. business people to enter Israel. As a trusted ally with some of the most strident security in the world, Israel clearly would qualify.
Each year, nearly 325,000 Israelis visit the United States. Likewise, thousands of Americans of all ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds travel to Israel every year for business, tourism and cultural reasons. Israel's participation in the Visa Waiver Program would expand those ties and make it easier for all Americans to travel to Israel.
The claim that S. 462 "would allow … Israel to discriminate against select groups of American citizens" is just simply wrong. Just like every other sovereign nation, Israel — and the U.S. — are properly permitted the right to deny an individual entry on legitimate security grounds.
Moreover, the authors state that the bill "contains discriminatory provisions that allow Israel to bar entry to Americans of Arab heritage or Islamic faith, anyone who is viewed to be critical of the actions of the Israeli government, or even anyone who is supportive of Palestinian rights." That is, once again, completely untrue. And the assertion that "no other waiver program nations are granted similar exemptions" is just patently false.
Let's stick to what is really in this bill and not create problems that do not exist. It is tragic that some people would rather pervert this measure than laud this tool to promote economic growth. The U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act is meant to help Americans and American businesses to facilitate their travel and keep our homeland safe. If the Unites States can't certify that Israel is making every reasonable effort to protect all American travelers from discrimination, then, under the law, Israel will not be able to continue to participate in the program.
We should applaud the good intentions of U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin and the other sponsors and we should appreciate the positive effect that this legislation promises to have on economic development and the U.S. economy.
Abba Poliakoff, Baltimore
The writer is chairman of the Maryland/Israel Development Center.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun