The State Department yesterday called in the acting head of the Israeli Embassy here and gave him a formal new U.S. complaint about 75 incidents so far this summer in which Arab Americans and black Americans allegedly were subjected to "discriminatory treatment" while trying to visit Israel.
Oded Eran, charge d'affaires at the embassy pending arrival of a new ambassador, said he was told by department officials that the United States believes that Israel has not acted on earlier U.S. complaints and taken steps to rectify the situation.
Eran said he replied that Israel does not discriminate against anyone as a group but that, as a sovereign nation, it reserves the right to refuse entry to anyone it believes might "abuse the rules of hospitality" by staying beyond the time allotted for tourist purposes or by engaging in acts that could be harmful to the security of the Jewish state.
Of 75 incidents reported this summer, State Department spokesman Charles E. Redman said, 40 involved Arab Americans and 35 were cases involving American blacks. One incident that attracted special attention in the Washington area involved Nawal Hamad of Fairfax City. She and her four children flew to Israel late last month to visit her parents on the West Bank but were turned away after a verbal altercation with Israeli officials and put on a flight to Paris.
Despite Israel's denials, U.S. sources revealed Wednesday that Israel has been warned that if the alleged discrimination continues, the department will issue a travel advisory informing Americans of Arab and African descent that they might have difficulty gaining entry.
Travel advisories normally are used to warn Americans about situations such as potential danger from political violence or unsafe health conditions in other countries. But they sometimes also are used as an indirect means of signaling U.S. displeasure at the policies of a foreign government.
Many Arab Americans seeking to visit Israel or the Israeli-occupied West Bank have complained over the years about being turned away or being subjected to rude and abusive treatment by Israeli immigration and security officials. More recently, Israel has been charged with discriminating against American blacks, allegedly because it fears they are connected to the Black Hebrews, a sect whose members entered the Jewish state years ago and since have resisted efforts to make them leave.
Before Eran's meeting with department officials, Redman said, "It's not our practice to raise issues that don't exist . . . . This is a subject that we've been working on for some time. There have been a number of demarches to the Israeli government over time, and we're going to keep working on it."
"We have discussed the case with Mrs. Hamad and with the government of Israel," Redman said. "We have informed Mrs. Hamad that in response to our inquiries that Israeli officials have said that she and her family would be permitted to enter."
Eran said Israel does not follow the U.S. practice of making foreign visitors apply for an entry visa in advance of their travel and deciding at that point whether to grant the application. Instead, a decision on whether to allow visitors into Israel is made at the time and point of entry, Eran noted, adding that the great majority, including tourists from Arab countries, normally get in without incident.