WASHINGTON (JTA) – Citing the Gaza war as a catalyst, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) re-introduced with broad bipartisan support a bill that would enhance U.S.-Israel strategic ties.
“While we work toward a just peace in the Middle East and an end to the tragedy of war, it is critical that we reaffirm our enduring commitment to Israel’s security and the historic ties between our two nations,” Boxer said in a statement Monday reintroducing the bill with its lead GOP co-sponsor, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). “This legislation sends a clear message that America’s bond with Israel remains unbreakable, and I am proud that it has the support of more than three-quarters of the Senate.”
The House version of the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act passed by 410 to 1 in March, but the Senate bill had been held up since its initial introduction in March 2013, at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy conference, for numerous reasons. With 79 co-sponsors in its latest iteration, it appears guaranteed to pass. AIPAC has made passage of the bill a priority.
In addition to its original provisions requiring more frequent assessments of Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region and advancing cooperation in a number of areas, including energy and cyber security, the new version modifies controversial language concerning a visa-waiver program.
Earlier versions of the bill had faced opposition from the State Department because the language enabled Israel to bypass some requirements of a program allowing visa-free travel between the United States and its partners.
One such exemption would have permitted Israel to discriminate against certain U.S. citizens seeking entry. A number of Arab-American groups have complained of discriminatory treatment for Arab and Muslim Americans seeking to enter Israel, and the State Department has said in its advisories that such discrimination exists, although Israel denies it.
In the bill’s updated language, Israel must extend reciprocal privileges “without regard to race, religion, national origin, or ethnicity” in order to enter the program.