Letter from Rep. Jackson to Secretaries Blinken and Mayorkas

The Honorable Antony Blinken
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

The Honorable Alejandro Mayorkas
Secretary of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
2707 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave, SE
Washington, D.C. 20528

Dear Secretary Blinken and Secretary Mayorkas,

We write to you to raise a number of concerns regarding Israel’s bid to join the Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Visa Waiver Program (VWP). This program allows the citizens and nationals of participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business up to 90 days with no visa, while allowing Americans reciprocal privileges when travelling to countries in the VWP.

While advocates for Israel’s entry into the VWP have correctly emphasized the economic benefits if Israel were to join the other forty countries in the program, that conversation is premature as Israel’s treatment of certain American citizens at its borders raises serious questions about its ability to meet the most basic program requirement, reciprocity.

The Visa Waiver Program statutorily requires “reciprocal privileges to citizens and nationals of the United States.” [1] The reciprocity requirement cannot be met until equal treatment and freedom of travel is guaranteed for all U.S. citizens regardless of national origin, ethnicity, or religion. Israel’s continuous discrimination and mistreatment of Arab Americans, including Palestinian Americans, and others espousing support for Palestinian human rights, seeking to enter the country precludes their participation.

Before Israel is permitted to join the VWP, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State must
ensure the following.

1. Full reciprocity for American citizens traveling to and from Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).

Arab Americans, particularly Palestinian Americans, and those that have advocated on behalf of the Palestinian people routinely face discrimination, harassment, and denial when traveling to and from Israel and the OPT. This ongoing mistreatment has been acknowledged by the State Department[2] and collected by Arab American civil rights organizations.[3] Americans citizens are frequently detained and questioned for hours, subjected to invasive searches of their personal electronic devices, and arbitrarily denied entry. This same harassment often occurs as these same American citizens are departing from Israel on their return to the U.S.

In order to ensure that the reciprocity requirement will be fulfilled despite the history of discrimination against Arab Americans at Israel’s borders, we recommend a period of monitoring by DHS which looks directly at instances of discrimination and harassment. There is currently no reporting mechanism within either DHS or the Department of State for Americans that experience harassment and denial at Israel’s border. It is our belief that such monitoring must be done and assessed to ensure all U.S. citizens are treated equally by Israel—before admitting Israel into the VWP. To do otherwise would be to tacitly accept Israel’s treatment of certain Americans as second-class citizens.

2. Full access to Israel and the OPT for all Americans.

In addition to the more obvious instances of discrimination described above, the 2022 implementation of the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) procedures by the Israeli Ministry of Defense has formally implemented restrictions on movement for U.S. citizens entering Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.[4] Beyond severe restrictions on the ability of U.S. citizens to live in the OPT, COGAT creates an additional restrictive, short-term visa process for Americans looking to enter the West Bank.[5] The creation of this secondary visa system undermines the VWP and restricts freedom of movement for Americans.

Under COGAT, visitors to the West Bank must apply for a visa for stays of three months or less.[6] Only “Spouses . . . first-degree relatives . . . [and] Children, up to 16 years of age, of Palestinians registered as residents [of the West Bank],” “Businesspeople and investors,” and “a journalist or other media employee” will be considered for the short-term visas under COGAT.[7] These restrictions create a de facto barrier to the freedom of movement of Americans in the Israeli- controlled Occupied Palestinian Territory.

3. Guaranteed freedom of expression for Americans advocating for Palestinian human rights.

We are concerned about the denial of entry for Americans expressing their First Amendment rights. Frequently, American citizens who have expressed solidarity for Palestinian human rights through advocacy work, or even social media posts, have been denied entry into Israel.[8] This problematic policy of denial for First Amendment protected activities has been acknowledged by the Department of State in its travel advisory to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, yet there is no existing mechanism for tracking bases of denial.[9] We urge your agencies to provide explanation of how these treatments, restrictions, and denials are being tracked and accounted for when determining the viability of Israel’s entry into the VWP.

Indeed, this exclusionary policy has extended to our own colleagues. Both Representative Rashida Tlaib and Representative Ilan Omar have previously been barred by Israel from entering for a planned visit to Israel and the OPT. The extraordinary decision by Israel to prevent democratically elected representatives from entering the country makes plain Israel’s enforcement of discrimination against political views at the border and rejection of the democratic value of freedom of speech. When First Amendment protected activities are used as a basis of denial of entry, there can be no equal treatment at Israel’s border.

Based on the concerns we have highlighted here, it is clear Israel’s border policies upon entry and exist fail to meet the standards of reciprocity as required by the VWP. The State Department and DHS must provide monitoring of the treatment of Americans at the border and the bases of denial of entry to ensure no discriminatory policy or practice remains before Israel can be accepted into the Visa Waiver Program.

We respectfully request an update on the status of Israel’s admittance into the Visa Waiver Program and a response addressing how your Departments are approaching the concerns we have raised. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.


Rep. Jonathan Jackson




[1] 8 U.S. Code § 1187.
[2] Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza International Travel Information, U.S. DEPT. OF STATE, BUREAU OF CONSULAR AFFS.,
IsraeltheWestBankandGaza.html (last visited May 11, 2023).
[3] Share Your Story of Discrimination at Israeli Ports of Entry, ARAB AM. INST. (Sept. 27, 2021), https://www.aaiusa.org/library/share-your-story-of-discrimination-at-israeli-ports-of-entry.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] Supra note 2.
[9] Id. (“The Israeli Ministry of Interior has continued to deny entry into the country of some foreign nationals (including U.S. citizens) affiliated with certain political and non-governmental organizations that the Government of Israel views as anti-Israel. Participation in Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)-related activities is one of the considerations Israeli authorities at ports of entry take into account when deciding whether to refuse entry to individuals into Israel and the West Bank. U.S. citizens have been denied entry to Israel and the West Bank for involvement in and/or expressing support on social media for the BDS movement.”)