Senator Barbara Boxer needs to take a seat—just not the one she's currently abusing on Capitol Hill. The senator from California completely lost the plot when she introduced a new bill, Senate Bill 462, the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013, which would codify Israel's ability to discriminate against Palestinian Americans and those who love them. I’m constantly hearing that Congress can’t accomplish anything because of bipartisan bickering. Well, Barbara found something they could agree on: bigotry. She got nine Republicans to cosponsor the bill with her Democrat self.
Members of Congress rarely read the bills they vote on, so I don’t expect you to. Let me give you the skinny on Sen. Bill 462, introduced by Boxer and friends. The U.S. has a deal with several countries that allows their citizens and ours to enter into each other’s territories without having to go through the hassle of obtaining a pesky visa. Thirty-seven countries enjoy this privilege, and Israel is itching to be lucky number thirty-eight. There's a teeny problem though: the Israeli government is not fond of American citizens of certain faiths, ethnicities, and political ideologies. Israel would like to enjoy the luxury of having its citizens come to America willy-nilly, while maintaining the ability to reject American tourists based on which fairy tale they choose to follow.
Enter Senator Boxer. Her bill seeks to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act by adding the following: “has made 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.” That’s government-speak for: everyone but Israel has to let all of our citizens in, but Israel can do as it pleases, in the name of “security.” Remember, the United States would not receive the same privilege. If a crazy armed settler wanted to visit Disney World, he would be welcome to do so under the Visa Waiver Program, as long as he left his M-16 at home.
What makes Sen. Boxer's quest to legalize Israeli discrimination against an entire group of Americans even more astonishing is her solid record of voting for equality and protection of minorities. She cosponsored the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded the legal definition of a hate crime to include violence targeting victims due to their gender, sexual orientation, or disability. She is an outspoken advocate of marriage equality and an opponent of her home state's Prop. 8. She gave Republicans a verbal lashing for turning their backs on Bob Dole and blocking ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Senator prides herself on empowering women and girls. She has fought for equal pay and an end to human trafficking. Boxer, who is passionate about reproductive rights and equal access to affordable healthcare, is rumored to have thrown everything pink she owns in the garbage to protest the Komen Foundation cutting funding to Planned Parenthood.
Her democratic cosponsors have similar records on civil rights and their support for this clearly biased bill is equally mindboggling. Why would an elected official even suggest such a thing? Have these senators ever perused the pages of a U.S. passport? Smack dab on page one, it reads:
The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen/national of the United States, named herein, to pass without delay or hindrance, and in case of need, to give all lawful aid and protection.
It says “all,” Barbara, not “whomever you please.” So, whom does Israel consider a security threat? Who could be so dangerous and such a menace, that she should be allowed this special exemption? I’ll tell you who—folks like me. I am the poster child for this bill. Read this gem from the State Department's official travel advisory page: “Some U.S. citizens holding Israeli nationality, possessing a Palestinian identity card or of Arab or of Muslim origin have experienced significant difficulties in entering or exiting Israel or the West Bank.” By “Arab” they mean Christian, and by “significant difficulties” they mean that those not deported on arrival are treated like they're being booked for a DUI. I have often been subjected to Israel’s torturous racial profiling. Every time I land in Tel Aviv, I am wracked with fear that this will be the time they deny me entry.
I was born and raised in New Jersey and hold no other allegiance. I also have a home in Palestine. Fun fact: It is impossible to travel to the West Bank and Jerusalem without passing through Israeli border control. Thankfully, I have never been denied entry yet, but several of my fellow Americans have not been as lucky. The idea of never being able to go back and visit my friends and family, the orphanage I have volunteered at for over a decade and plan to adopt from, or my father’s grave, is beyond nightmarish. I've spent an entire twelve-hour flight from Newark to Tel Aviv filled with dread at the thought that I might get sent back on the plane I arrived on. The reality is this: Israel does not harass or deny entry in the name of security alone. A simple Google search shows that I’m basically a disabled clown who couldn’t harm a ferret, and that I am in no way an existential threat to Israel. Yet once I land, the interrogation begins. I find this entertaining because I have been there over one hundred and fifty times in the past three decades, so I am pretty sure they know my bra size by now. They’ve certainly felt me up enough while searching me. The airport security is full of surprises. I’ve spent anywhere from fifteen minutes to five hours waiting to see if I’ll get an almighty visa.
Sen. Boxer is fine with Israel discriminating against U.S. citizens like me based on our faith. But riddle me this, Barbara: How would the Israelis know which religion an American citizen subscribes to? I always refuse to answer that question when asked. Is the Senator advocating racial profiling, where they guess whether we are good witches or bad witches based on our surnames or skin tones? Or will part of Israel’s special treatment require U.S. citizens to now have their religion embossed on their passports, the same way Palestinians are forced to carry IDs stating theirs? By the way, Israel does not let Palestinians choose which religion their ID states. Will Sen. Boxer at least give us the luxury of choosing our own labels?
If I were Sen. Boxer or any of her twenty Senate cohorts cosponsoring this bill, I’d also be worried that, if we do this for Israel, other countries are going to get jealous and want exemptions too. What if Belgium decided to ban African-Americans, or if Japan said no to gingers? What if Canada chose to deny entry to Americans who supported marriage equality, the way Israel does to Americans who support Palestinian equality? Would the Senate be okay with that too?
Sen. Boxer has shamed the office by introducing this bill. She needs to remember whom she represents and work to protect all Americans’ right to equality, not just those she feels deserve it. I'd like to direct her to another quote, printed on the pages of our U.S. passports: “The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect or a party or a class—it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.”
It would serve the Senator and her country well if she respected our birthright and withdrew this discriminatory bill.