WASHINGTON: A dozen members of the US Congress have asked the Biden administration to look into recently introduced Israeli rules that limit the numbers of American academics and students who can teach or study at Palestinian universities in the Occupied Territories.
Jamaal Bowman, a representative from New York, sent a letter, co-signed by 11 of his Democratic colleagues, to the secretaries of state, homeland security, and education calling for an inquiry into the restrictive new rules. They were announced by the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, which functions as the de-facto Israeli military government in the Occupied Territories.
The Congress members said in their letter: “According to the recent COGAT announcement, a limit of only 100 foreign academics and 150 foreign students will be allowed to teach or study at Palestinian universities.”
They said the new rules will “severely restrict the ability of American academics and students to teach and study at Palestinian universities” in the Occupied Territories, “while no similar restrictions apply to American academics and students seeking to teach and study at Israeli universities, nor to Israeli academics and students seeking to teach and study in the United States.”
In addition, they noted that the Israeli government “will only grant visas to professors and students for approved fields of teaching and study and limit the amount of time professors and students can spend at Palestinian universities.”
They said: “We find the policies outlined by the COGAT to formalize discriminatory treatment of Palestinian Americans and other citizens.”
These new rules are due to take effect in July, the members of congress noted, and they asked Biden administration officials to reveal how many Americans seeking to study or teach at Palestinian universities have been denied entry to Israel and on what basis?
They also asked the State Department to clarify its position on the new procedures, which “would have the effect of limiting academic freedom of American citizens seeking to study and/or teach at Palestinian universities.” They set a deadline of June 10 for a response.
The other members of Congress who co-signed the letter include Rep. Betty McCollum and Rep. Ilhan Omar, both from Minnesota, Rep. Marie Newman, a progressive from Illinois who has been a vocal advocate for the rights of Palestinians, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian American from Michigan.
Chris Habiby, the legislative and policy coordinator for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told the Arab News that the new COGAT rules “simply formalize the practices that Arab Americans, and in particular Palestinian Americans, have been experiencing for decades.”
He added: “The ADC appreciates the courage of shown by Congressman Bowman and 11 other House Democrats in calling out Israeli discrimination against Palestinians.”
Israel has asked the Department of Homeland Security, which polices entry into the US, to include Israeli citizens visiting America in the US Visa Waiver Program. Objections to this center on allegations of Israeli discrimination against American citizens of Palestinian or Arab descent who are subjected to intrusive searches and often denied entry to the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The Visa Waiver Program includes statutory requirements that must be met before any country is considered for inclusion. One key requirement is “reciprocity,” which means that American citizens visiting a country that is a member of the program must be treated the same way as a citizen of that country who is visiting the US.
The letter from the members of Congress points out that according to the US State Department: “Some US citizens of Arab or Muslim heritage (including Palestinian Americans) have experienced significant difficulties and unequal and occasionally hostile treatment at Israel’s borders and checkpoints.”
Habiby urged US authorities to put pressure on Israel to prevent the new rules taking effect.
“The Biden administration must take concrete steps to ensure that the Israeli government does not implement this ordinance,” he said.