• Pro-Zionist media outlets accuse State Department of discriminatory practices.
By Richard Walker —
In the wake of visa bans on Russian officials following the crisis in Ukraine, Israeli media outlets have accused the United States State Department of enforcing a secret visa ban on Israeli military and intelligence personnel. While no one in the U.S. State Department has admitted publicly that there is a ban in place, the timing of the claims raises important issues about the way Israelis have abused the U.S. visa system and their long-term objective of gaining unfettered access to the U.S.
For years, Israeli lobbyists on Capitol Hill have conducted a private campaign to have the U.S. federal government waive the issuance of visas to Israelis. That would permit Israelis to enter the U.S. for 90 days at a stretch for business or pleasure without having to apply for B visas like almost every other foreign citizen.
It is a sore point with Israel that so far Washington has refused to allow it to join 38 other nations, many of them European, in the visa waiver program (VWP). The reasons for Washington’s reluctance to give Israel what it desperately wants may lie in a confluence of factors, beginning with the way Israelis have entered the U.S. on false pretenses with visas that were either faked or acquired through fraud networks.
Israeli visa fraud was exposed when the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks released secret cables from the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv. The cable outlined high levels of fraud within the visa system and its subject line was “In Depth: Dead Sea Cosmetics And Skincare Industry Fraud.”
The cable focused on an Israeli-owned cosmetics industry based in 37 U.S. states. By 2010, it had expanded by selling many other products and was employing large numbers of Israelis who had entered the country claiming they were visiting relatives or attending funerals. State Department investigators suspected organized crime had a role in the “Dead Sea” scheme and that workers were laundering money by returning to Israel with large amounts of cash. There were also allegations that Israeli intelligence exploited these fraud networks, as well.
The cable also pointed out that Israelis leaving the country’s military felt it was “culturally acceptable” to work illegally in the U.S.
A 2011 State Department Inspector General’s report into the visa section of the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, which is one of the largest in the world with 197 State Department employees and 567 local Israeli staff, warned there was a need for vetting Israeli military personnel chosen for training with U.S. forces. In 2010, the cost of running the embassy was $44.2 million, which was in addition to the $2.2 billion in aid given to Israel in that financial year.
An interesting element of the report was a paragraph stating it was the duty of the embassy to vet Israeli military personnel seeking visas to ensure they had not been involved in human rights abuses. There is no evidence any such vetting took place. The report insisted vetting of Israeli visa applicants was required by the 1997 Foreign Assistance Act, especially an amendment to the Act called the Leahy Law, named after Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). The Israeli lobby had reportedly tried to kill the amendment but failed.
The failure of the U.S. to deny visas to Israeli military personnel guilty of the widespread abuse and unlawful killing of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians stands in stark contrast to President Barack Obama’s readiness to hand over convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in return for Israel agreeing to a peace deal with the Palestinians. Pollard was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for handing the Israelis every secret the U.S. had at the time.
It may well be the case Israel fears the onset of international pressure for visa bans on its military and is moving to offset that from happening. By stoking criticism of the State Department, it may be confident Washington will buckle under pressure and permit Israel to join the VWP before calls are made to punish Israelis who are guilty of war crimes.
Richard Walker is the pen name of a former N.Y. news producer.