Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Visa Waivers and Anti-Semitism

In a recent article in The Times of Israel (Apr 25) Abraham Foxman, the outspoken National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, criticized the policy of the United States for continuing to deny Israel admission to a list of countries for which the United States has waived tourist visa requirements.  "The current visa refusal rate for Israelis is at 9.7%.  To be admitted to the visa waiver program, a 3% rate or lower is required.  Data for Israelis aged 21 to 26 shows a rejection rate as high as 32%." (US Dept of State Spokesperson Julia Frifield, as quoted by the Times of Israel, Apr 25)

Foxman accuses the State Department of refusing to add Israel to the waiver list because of American concern for Israeli spying following the Jonathan Pollard affair.  The State Department explained that  reasons for visa refusals are primarily related to an increase in the number of young Israelis entering as "tourists" but then working illegally, and Israel's refusal to treat Palestinian-Americans wishing to enter Israel as it treats other Americans.  Other reasons are said to be the absence of US statutory requirements concerning certain data-sharing agreements and the issuance of e-passports.  (I am not, however, denying that espionage might be included as an additional reason.)

The U.S. State Department lists only 38 countries where tourist visas are not required. The only country in the Western Hemisphere (recently added, by the way) on the list is Chile - even Canada is not included.  No African country is included, and only five Asian countries make the list.

Foxman, however, asserting that these visa issues are primarily related to espionage, concludes that the State Department seems to "draw on false stereotypes that Jews are disloyal citizens and cannot be trusted."  Fear of Israeli spying, says Foxman "taps into prejudice."  In other words, the government of the United States, in its tourist visa-waiver policy, is anti-Semitic - strong words making strong allegations.

Anti-semitism should not be the first thought when evaluating an attitude, or a nation's policies towards Israel.  Even singling out Israel for criticism when there are other countries even more deserving of admonition, should not automatically be construed as anti-Semitism. (After all, even  Israelis themselves often attack their government's policies!) Such statements may be unfair, but are not necessarily anti-Semitic.  I am not contesting that some Israel-directed criticism may be anti-Semitic,  only that one should not attach this label without further scrutiny.  Criticizing a "wrong" is always "right" even if other "wrongs" are not included in that critique. However, refusal to include those other "wrongs" when challenged, indicates true prejudice.

Israel is a state, not a people.  Criticism of a state is limited to its policy and is not a criticism of its people.  Criticizing Vatican policy should not be thought anti-Catholic, criticizing Russian policy should not be considered anti-Russian, criticizing North Korean policy should not be be considered "anti-Korean."

Israel is the "Jewish State," but it is not the Jewish Nation and it is not the Jewish People.  All Jews - in Israel and elsewhere - comprise its peoplehood and its nationhood.  Unsubstantiated and stereotypical criticism of Jews, prejudicial restrictions or untoward treatment of Jews, or just plain prejudicial hatred of Jews - that's anti-Semitism.

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