Opinion

The Obama administration’s visa double standard

Paul Miller President, Haym Solomon Center

Syrian cleric Sheikh Mohammad Rateb al-Nabulsi – radical proponent of terrorism seeking to spew his venom against gays, Jews and Westerners: Visa granted. Israeli tourists, students, professionals and business leaders on trade missions from the only democracy in the Middle East and the U.S.’s only ally in the region with whom we share common values: Visa denied. So why is the Obama administration welcoming an agent of hate while denying entry to Israelis?

According to data release from the State Department, 2013 saw an 80 percent increase in the number of visa request rejections of Israeli applicants. 9.7 percent of all tourist applications from the Jewish State were rejected last year, up from 5.4 percent in 2012. Since 2007, when the denial rate was 2.5 percent, there has been an increase of approximately 400 percent. This phenomenon has not gone unnoticed. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), one of President Obama’s staunchest allies, recently issued a statement condemning the “arbitrary practice of denying young Israelis tourist visas” because a few “bad apples” overstayed their welcome.

The Schumer release further noted, “This unofficial policy has been in place for 2-3 years, and has been extended to include not just Israelis who are seeking to travel after completing their compulsory military service, but also to include all Israeli nationals who are of student age.”

While the administration has concluded that many Israelis are somehow now a risk to society, Sheikh al-Nabulsi arrived in the United States on New Year’s Day with the blessing of the State Department – embarking on a 17-city tour of U.S. mosques to raise money for Syrian rebels. If current U.S. policy were being enforced, the radical cleric would never have been permitted off the plane.

According to the Washington, D.C. based Investigative Project on Terrorism, “Under current policy, a foreign national applying for a U.S. visa who is known to have promoted jihad and suicide bombings would be ordinarily deemed ‘undesirable’ and denied a visa.” Sheikh al-Nabulsi easily falls into this category.

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), translated and reported on an April 28, 2011 broadcast aired on al Aqsa TV, the official network of State Department-designated terrorist group Hamas, in which Sheikh al-Nabulsi explains, “Homosexuality involves a filthy place and does not generate offspring. Homosexuality leads to the destruction of the homosexual. That is why, brothers, homosexuality carries the death penalty.”

Considering President Obama’s support for gay rights, including same-sex marriage, his denunciation of the Russian government for its treatment of gays, and his leading the charge against Arizona for considering segregation-era anti-gay legislation, wouldn’t you think that a vile, unabashed bigot such as the sheikh would have his visa request rejected in a heartbeat?

No.

Far from reserving all his vitriol for gays, the radical cleric also promotes jihad against Jews and Western culture in general.  Declaring that “all the Jewish people are combatants,” Sheikh al-Nabulsi endorses suicide bombings, or as he calls them, “martyrdom operations,” against Israel.

Is this administration experiencing a visa identity crisis?

Where is the media condemnation and outcry from the LGBT community?

Imagine the reaction if the administration of President George Bush had violated the rules governing visa applications and permitted a foreign national like Sheikh al-Nabulsi on U.S. soil.

Denying visa applications to Israelis appears to have been extended to the Jewish State’s security services and business community.

Members of Mossad and Shin Bet, as well as Israeli defense industry personnel have been notified that they will not be admitted into the U.S.  First reported by Maariv, one senior security expert remarked, “I’ve been in the U.S. dozens of times as part of my job, and I never had any problem getting a visa.” The U.S. “has quietly instituted a policy of denying visa requests from members of Israel’s security services,” noted Maariv.

There are also economic consequences for both nations. Israelis looking to import American products into the Jewish State have been unable to attend previously scheduled meetings due to their visas being rejected, warning that the current policy is jeopardizing “potentially lucrative deals.”

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki defended the administration policies at a recent briefing.

As reported by the Associated Press, she said that Israelis are still overwhelmingly granted entry. But staying true to this administration obsession for taking well-timed jabs at the Jewish State, Psaki added that the United States “remain concerned with the unequal treatment that Palestinian Americans and other Americans of Middle Eastern origin experience at Israel’s border and checkpoints.

Sheikh al-Nabulsi and President Obama may share a common goal of supporting the Syrian rebels.  Does that excuse the betrayal of every value this country stands for? Should U.S. policy be disregarded to allow a purveyor of terror to raise a few bucks here?

Mistreating Israeli citizens – whose friendship and ingenuity you will need if Sheikh al-Nabulsi and his ilk are successful? Insanity!

Paul Miller is an op-ed contributor to the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. He serves as principal of Pauliegroup LLC, a Chicago-based new media and political consulting firm. Follow him on Twitter @pauliespoint.