Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (Likud) on Monday announced that his office received the US data on visa refusals to Israelis in 2022, based on which it appears that Israel can join the American visa exemption program, and in a few months, Israeli citizens will visit the United States without the need for a visa.
According to the data the Americans provided the foreign ministry, less than 3% of Israeli citizens who applied for a visa to the United States in 2022 were refused. This figure is a significant step on the way to Israel’s joining the US entry permit exemption program.
But there’s a catch: one of the conditions of the visa waiver is reciprocity. As the US embassy announcement reads: “Reciprocity in travel is a basic requirement to enter this program. We ask for equal treatment and freedom of travel for all citizens of the United States regardless of national origin, religion, or ethnicity, including Palestinian-Americans who wish to enter or pass through Israel.”
This is sure to trouble Israel’s security apparatus because it means that any person with American citizenship who holds an American passport will be able to fly to Israel for short-term visits of less than 90 days, including trips to and from Judea and Samaria.
The foreign ministry expects the visa waiver to go into effect this year, although Israel still has to complete the necessary legislative procedure and establish the needed computer systems to allow Israel to enter the program.
The Americans have expressed their own concerns about accepting Israel into the visa exemption program, chief among them the fear that the program could offer a loophole allowing Israelis who recently made Aliya from Russia to enter the US. According to Ynet, senior American officials raised this concern with senior Israeli officials at the foreign ministry and the Jewish Agency and asked for clarification on how Russian citizens receive Israeli citizenship.
Tens of thousands of Russians made aliya to Israel in the wake of the war in Ukraine, and immediately received an Israeli ID card and a passport upon their arrival. Many of them have since left Israel and are roaming the world with their prestigious, dark blue passport. Theoretically, like every Israeli citizen, they will be entitled to a US visa exemption, whether or not they are KGB agents.
Perhaps in the name of reciprocity and security concerns, both sides should make some exceptions to the rule.