Wednesday, July 19, 2023

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) released the following statement regarding the U.S. Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Israel around Israel’s entry into the Visa Waiver Program:

“As longtime supporters of the U.S.-Israel relationship, we support Israel’s candidacy to join the Visa Waiver Program once it meets all of the requirements laid out in law. However, Secretary Blinken cannot and should not nominate Israel until he verifies it is in full compliance with these requirements – including equal treatment and freedom of travel for all U.S. citizens regardless of national origin, religion, or ethnicity. This was reaffirmed with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s passage of an amendment last week prohibiting the Secretary from nominating any country that subjects any citizen of the United States to separate entry rules or visa regulations, or otherwise discriminates against a citizen of the United States, on the basis of such United States citizen’s race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, or membership in any other protected class recognized by United States law. Furthermore, as the State Department confirmed to us last week, ‘Israel does not currently meet all the statutory and policy requirements for designation as a VWP country.’

“While we welcome Israel’s efforts to make policy changes that move towards reciprocal treatment of all U.S. citizens, concerns remain about whether this will meet the ‘blue is blue’ requirement. We’ll be reviewing the proposed changes in more detail and seeking answers to any outstanding questions around this determination. Additionally, the State Department must monitor the proposed changes in Israel’s policies and practices closely to determine whether or not they fully meet these requirements. The United States must ensure that these changes have been implemented and their compliance verified in practice before moving forward with Israel’s candidacy. What’s more, we continue to urge the State Department to adopt mechanisms to monitor this compliance and ensure sufficient time for their review. All U.S. citizens deserve equal treatment under the Visa Waiver Program – and we cannot move forward with Israel’s candidacy until that is guaranteed.”