by Mitchell Plitnick
In an article published in The Hill, Mike Coogan reports that some of the key legislation that emerged from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) 2013 annual policy conference is running into significant difficulties in Congress. The bills, which Lara Friedman only half-jokingly called the “Israel Best Ally With Benefits” bills, have not gained close to the overwhelming support that AIPAC has come to expect from Congress.
Indeed, more than five weeks after the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013 was introduced in the Senate, it has gathered only 18 co-sponsors. That’s a shockingly low total for a focal point of AIPAC lobbying. It has done better in the House of Representatives, with 171 co-sponsors, but given the more hawkish nature of the House, even that’s not a success by AIPAC’s standards.
While one shouldn’t make too much of this, it certainly seems like AIPAC reached a little too far with this bill. The main issue is a portion of the bill which, in the Senate version, would grant a US visa exemption for Israeli citizens without requiring a reciprocal arrangement from Israel. The US has visa exemption arrangements with 37 other countries, but all of them reciprocate.
Ron Kampeas quotes a staffer from a leading pro-Israel lawmaker in the US House of Representatives as saying that “It’s stunning that you would give a green light to another country to violate the civil liberties of Americans traveling abroad.”
The US concern is particularly profound after a Palestinian-American, who taught English at the Friends’ School in Ramallah, was barred by Israel in January from returning to her West Bank job after a trip to Jordan, despite having a visa that allowed her to leave and re-enter Israeli-controlled territory. Israel, undoubtedly, is concerned that a reciprocal agreement would compromise its ability to bar not only Palestinian-Americans, but also pro-Palestinian activists, from entering the country.