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Friction expected on Israel-US visa measure

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration and Congress could soon clash over a bill that would let Israelis visit the United States without visas but not demand full reciprocal treatment for all Americans wishing to travel to the Jewish state.

Israel's entry into the 37-nation US Visa Waiver Program is the most controversial element in a pair of broader US-Israel bills dealing with everything from improving cybersecurity to enhancing economic cooperation. Both House and Senate bills would create a new category of US ally — ''major strategic partner'' — designating Israel as the only such nation. And they would call for the inclusion of Israel on a list of countries whose citizens can visit the United States for up to 90 days without a visa, if they register electronically before boarding a flight.


The administration and some lawmakers worry the legislation does not do enough to eliminate Israeli discrimination against Palestinians and Arab-Americans seeking to enter Israel.

The Senate bill would demand only that Israel make ''every reasonable effort, without jeopardizing the security of the state of Israel, to ensure that reciprocal travel privileges are extended to all United States citizens.''

Some critics are sensitive about expressing reservations in public, wishing to avoid a public argument with a close ally.

Backers say the measure would benefit US citizens by requiring the secretaries of state and homeland security to certify that Israel is doing all it can to facilitate travel for Americans. Critics believe they see a loophole.

before it can enter the visa waiver program. ''This bipartisan bill would give the United States leverage to ensure that Israel welcomes Americans into the country,'' she said.

Last month, 15 Democratic members of Congress and one Republican wrote to Israel's ambassador, expressing concern that Israeli border officials were ''disproportionately singling out, detaining and denying entry to Arab and Muslim Americans.''


Other problems cited included instances of Israeli border officials blocking Americans because of their political views and cases of US citizens being forced to provide authorities with access to their personal e-mail accounts at the risk of deportation.