US government sued over lack of transparency in Israel visa waiver agreement

Oakland, California - Several groups sued the US government on Friday over lack of transparency in a visa waiver agreement with Israel, citing discrimination against Palestinian Americans.

Activists gather en masse to rally for a ceasefire in Gaza and Palestinian liberation near the Washington Monument.
Activists gather en masse to rally for a ceasefire in Gaza and Palestinian liberation near the Washington Monument.  © REUTERS

Van Der Hout LLP, the National Immigration Project, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and Muslim Advocates filed a complaint with the US District Court in Northern California on Friday morning urging it to compel the US Departments of State and Homeland Security to respond to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests sent by Van Der Hout LLP on October 27, 2023.

The FOIA requests demanded information on a July 23 Memorandum of Understanding which allowed Israel to join the US' Visa Waiver Program. The initiative permits nationals of certain countries to enter the US without a visa as long as those countries guarantee the same provisions for US citizens in return.

But Palestinian rights advocates say Israel does not meet its obligations when it comes to Palestinian Americans, who often face intense discrimination once they enter the Middle Eastern country. This has only been amplified by Israel's ongoing assault on Gaza as well as its ramped-up attacks on the West Bank.

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Johnny Sinodis, a partner at Van Der Hout LLP, said in a press release, "Countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program are obligated to treat all US citizens equally regardless of their background, and the US government is responsible for ensuring compliance with the Visa Waiver Program's conditions."

"In 2023, the US government shirked its duty by entering into an undisclosed Memorandum of Understanding permitting Israel to create and impose a two-tiered discriminatory system: one for Palestinian Americans, and another for everyone else," he continued.

"Our community members and the American public have an unequivocal right to know the terms of that Memorandum of Understanding, and this lawsuit will ensure that their right is fulfilled."

Palestinian rights groups deplore "carte blanche" approach to Israel

The groups behind the lawsuit said that despite their request, they have not heard from the Biden administration since November.

"This administration entered into an MoU with the Government of Israel that discriminates against Palestinian Americans. It is yet another example of the Biden administration’s carte blanche approach to Israel’s flagrant violations of the law that long predated Israel’s assault on Gaza," said Diala Shamas, a Palestinian-American senior attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Also on Friday, the Center for Constitutional Rights announced it is appealing a US court decision to drop a historic lawsuit accusing President Joe Biden and other top officials of complicity in genocide. The case was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, even as the federal judge deplored the Biden administration's "unflagging support" for a plausible case of Israeli genocide in Gaza.

Cover photo: REUTERS

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