Daily Israel Report

US Limiting Visas for IDF Officers

Hundreds of Israeli officers and others connected to security branches were reportedly denied visas last year.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 3/26/2014, 8:18 AM

US Passport Visa
US Passport Visa
Thinkstock

The US has been limiting the issuing of visas to IDF officers, people who work for Mossad or the Israel Security Agency (ISA or Shin Bet), and Israelis connected to other security-related bodies that are connected with the Israeli presence in the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria, writes Globes.

According to pro-Israeli sources on Capitol Hill, the limitations are part of an effort to make sure that visas are not granted to people who violate human rights in Judea and Samaria.

State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Friday that Israel will not be included in the list of countries whose citizens can enter the US without a visa, because of the way the Jewish state treats Palestinian Americans at its border crossings. “The Department of Homeland Security and State remain concerned with the unequal treatment that Palestinian Americans and other Americans of Middle Eastern origin experience at Israel’s border and checkpoints, and reciprocity is the most basic condition of the Visa Waiver Program,” Psaki said in her daily briefing with reporters.

However, congressional sources told Globes that in recent months, several lawmakers have been looking into information about alleged efforts to screen IDF officers and other security personnel who may have contributed to “violating the human rights of Palestinian Arabs.”

Maariv reported earlier this month that hundreds of Israelis with connections to the security establishment were denied visas into the US in the past year – or were given a single entry visa for three months, as opposed to the multiple entry visas for periods of up to 10 years that were usually given Israelis until now.

According to ultra-leftist site Mondoweiss, “the most compelling explanation” for this development “is that the State Department has begun implementing recommendations contained in a 2011 Inspector General report examining operations at the US embassy in Tel Aviv. A crucial finding of the Inspector General’s report was the need for the State Department to provide the U.S. embassy with 'updated guidance on vetting Israeli military personnel under the Leahy Amendment.'”

The Leahy Amendment requires the US to withhold assistance from foreign military units or officials who are known to be involved in human rights violations.

Mondoweiss added that in response to a request for information about the denial of visas to Israeli military officials, a State Department spokesperson said visa requests were “adjudicated individually” and in accordance with the law, noting, “When any individual makes a U.S. visa application anywhere in the world, a consular officer reviews the facts of the case and makes a determination of eligibility based on US Law.”

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said that there is a sharp increase in the number of young Israelis who have been denied visas by the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. In a March 6 letter ot Secretary of State John Kerry, Schumer said that the reason for the change in policy was the concern that the youths would work illegally in the US

One of the principal obstacles to joining the visa waiver program has been Israel’s inability to consistently score below 3 percent on the visa refusals rate, a requirement for countries seeking to join the program, according to JTA. For years, Israel had hovered around the 6% mark; in 2012, its rate of refusal was near 5%. In 2013, it was up to almost 10%.

“After receiving inquiries from several constituents, my staff contacted your legislative affairs staff and learned that our consulates apparently have a policy to presumptively deny all tourist visa applications for young Israeli nationals who wish to visit the United States during the period in between the completion of their military service and the resumption of their university education,” Schumer wrote.

“When my staff asked your staff why this arbitrary policy toward Israel was in place, we were informed that the State Department is concerned that these young Israeli nationals were going to violate the terms of their visas by, for example, selling Dead Sea cosmetics at shopping malls across the United States.”

U.S. officials say consular officials are simply following the law, which presumes that applicants for tourist visas are be potential violators of visa terms until they can prove otherwise. “When any individual makes a U.S. visa application anywhere in the world, a consular officer reviews the facts of the case and makes a determination of eligibility based on U.S. law,” a State Department official, told The Hill on March 12.