Both the House and the Senate in the U.S. are promoting legislation that would allow Israelis to visit the United States without requiring a visa. Israel has been kept out of the 37-nation U.S. Visa Waiver Program until now for a variety of reasons, with the current chief objection by the administration of President Barack H. Obama that Israel does not allow “free entry” into Israel for Muslims from the U.S. Both the House and Senate bills would not require Israel to change its policies.
In the House, the legislation is being promoted by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is hoping to get the House Foreign Affairs Committee to approve the bill before the August recess. The Senate version, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, has strong support among senators. Under both bills, Israelis, like citizens of most European countries, would be able to visit the U.S. for up to 90 days without applying for a visa in advance.
But President Obama may not sign a bill on the matter if it reaches his desk, say pundits, because he is demanding that Israel pass legislation to ensure free entry into the country for Arabs and Muslims with U.S. citizenship. Israeli security officials say that many of those Arabs and Muslims are naturalized American citizens, immigrants from the Arab world, and allowing them into the country without a thorough background check would be a major security problem – something that would not be an issue for Israelis entering the U.S.
The House bill has over 300 co-sponsors, from both parties. The Senate's bill has 45 co-sponsors, and is set to be approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September, analysts said.