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US lets Israel into Visa Waiver Program, easing travel for Israeli citizens

WASHINGTON (JTA) — As of November, Israelis will be able to enter the United States without a visa, a major change that Israel has long sought and that will ease travel for hundreds of thousands of its citizens.

Israel’s entry into the Visa Waiver Program, which now includes 41 countries, means that Israelis traveling to the United States will no longer have to go through a months-long visa application process that carried the threat of denial. It also means that Palestinian-Americans living in the West Bank and Gaza will be able to enter Israel after completing a form and a short waiting period. Israel’s restrictions on Palestinian travel were one barrier to its joining the Visa Waiver Program earlier.

Alejandro Mayorkas, the U.S. homeland security secretary, announced on Wednesday morning that that Israel had successfully passed a three-month test of its commitment to treat Palestinian-Americans equally. As part of the program’s reciprocity requirement, The United States mandates that countries in the program allow U.S. citizens to enter without restrictions.

“In advance of this designation, Israel made updates to its entry policies to meet the VWP requirement to extend reciprocal privileges to all U.S. citizens without regard to national origin, religion, or ethnicity,” Mayorkas said.

Israeli ambassador Michael Herzog thanked Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony Blinken for facilitating Israel’s entry into the program.

“Our people-to-people ties, which are the backbone of our special relationship, will only grow stronger,” Herzog said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “Israelis and Americans will be able to more freely travel between our two countries, interacting and connecting on a personal and professional level.”

Under the program, citizens of member countries simply have to check via U.S. Customs and Border Protection whether they are eligible to travel visa free. Once they get the OK, they may travel to the United States for up to 90 days at a time over a period of two years.

“I fundamentally believe it’s like a win-win-win,” said Scott Laesneky, a former U.S. diplomat who now teaches U.S.-Israel relations at the University of Maryland, and who lobbied for years for Israel’s entry.

“Israelis from all walks of life, who see the United States as a comfortable welcoming place for whom it’s very difficult to travel to the U.S., it’s a huge win for them,” he said. “It’s a it’s a big win for Arab Americans. I don’t expect them to celebrate within the broader context of occupation and very, very, very difficult and stagnant peace process. But it’s a concrete win, in day-to-day terms, for large populations of Arab, Palestinian, Muslim Americans who have challenges traveling to and through Israel.”

Israel’s membership in the program will take effect at the end of November, but its remaining in the program is not guaranteed. Mayorkas indicated in his statement that the United States will continue to monitor Israel’s compliance with its requirements, including equal treatment of Palestinian Americans.

“As is the process with all VWP countries, the U.S. Government will continue to engage with the Government of Israel while monitoring its continued implementation of all program requirements, including the reciprocity commitments it made to the United States on July 19, 2023,” Mayorkas said. Two decades ago, the United States removed Argentina and Uruguay from the program because their faltering economies led to a surge of their citizens overstaying U.S. visas.

How the United States judges Israel’s meeting of the reciprocity requirement is not clear; the memorandum of understanding the sides signed in July has not been made public, although versions have been leaked.

Another requirement for entry into the program is a visa refusal rate of no more than 3%, a threshold Israel met recently. Lower rates of travel during the pandemic may have enabled Israel to meet that requirement. A third requirement for entry into the program is intelligence-sharing standards, which Israel has in recent years made accommodations to meet.

Arab-American groups tracking the program say Israel continues to discriminate against Arab Americans entering the country. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee on Tuesday filed a lawsuit to stop Israel’s entry into the program. In a press release, the group listed “the continued discrimination against Palestinian Americans from Gaza, the restrictions on how Palestinian Americans can cross checkpoints into the Occupied West Bank, the inability of Palestinian Americans to rent cars, and the invasive and inhumane treatment of Palestinian Americans when they try to return to the U.S.”

The agreement reportedly carves out an exception for U.S. citizens living in the Gaza Strip, only slightly easing the cumbersome requirements they must meet to travel through Israel to Ben Gurion Airport.

Pro-Palestinian groups say it will be difficult to dislodge Israel from the program once it is in, considering the vast amount of support that pro-Israel groups have garnered to get the country into the program. In June, 65  senators across both parties urged the Biden administration to bring Israel into the program. A small minority of Democrats have urged the Biden administration to toughen the reciprocity requirements before allowing Israel in.

The post US lets Israel into Visa Waiver Program, easing travel for Israeli citizens appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Jewish man dies after being struck by pro-Palestinian protester, LA Jewish federation says

This is a developing story.

(JTA) — A Jewish man has died after a pro-Palestinian protester struck him in the head with a megaphone on Sunday, according to the local Jewish federation.

The altercation occurred at a pro-Palestinian protest on Sunday in Westlake Village in the Los Angeles area. According to a statement by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the man was struck in the head with a megaphone held by one of the protesters and died of his wounds on Monday. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency has confirmed that the man’s name is Paul Kessler. A Jewish security official confirmed the account of how he died.

A brief video circulating on social media shows an elderly man in a blue-and-white striped shirt and jeans lying on a sidewalk and clutching his head in a pool of blood. A woman wearing pro-Palestinian symbols crouches down to tend to him, as does another man. An Israeli flag is leaning against a nearby wall.

JTA calls to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office and Misaskim, a local group that assists with Jewish burial, were not immediately returned. The federation said in its statement that it is awaiting more information from law enforcement.

“We are devastated to learn of the tragic death of an elderly Jewish man who was struck in the head by a megaphone wielded by a pro-Palestinian protestor in Westlake Village,” the federation statement says. “Our hearts are with the family of the victim.”

The man’s death occurred a month into a war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, which began after the terror group invaded Israel on Oct. 7, killing and wounding thousands. Mass pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrations have occurred nationwide and globally, and officials have warned of rising antisemitism and islamophobia in the weeks since Oct. 7. While other physical altercations and assaults have taken place surrounding protests or the hanging of posters, this is the first death reported due to a protest connected to the war.

The federation’s statement also referenced previous antisemitic incidents in the area this year, including the arrest of a man in February who shot two men outside their synagogues. On Oct. 26, a man was arrested after breaking into a Jewish family’s home and saying he wanted to kill Jews. The suspect in that case did not injure anyone.

“We remind you that this is the fourth major antisemitic crime committed in Los Angeles this year alone,” the statement said. “Violence against our people has no place in civilized society. We demand safety. We will not tolerate violence against our community. We will do everything in our power to prevent it.”

The post Jewish man dies after being struck by pro-Palestinian protester, LA Jewish federation says appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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National Jewish groups put out the call for a massive ‘March for Israel’ in DC on Nov. 14

WASHINGTON (JTA) — National Jewish organizations are calling on Jews from around the country to travel to Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14 for a mass pro-Israel rally they hope will rival major Jewish demonstrations in 2002 and 1987 in size and impact.

The March for Israel has three goals, according to Eric Fingerhut, CEO of Jewish Federations of North America, which is organizing the rally jointly with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Participants will be demanding for the return of the estimated 240 hostages Hamas terrorists abducted during its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Fingerhut said. They will also be calling for efforts to combat antisemitism, which has spiked worldwide since the attack. And they will be demonstrating their support for the unabashed backing Israel has so far received from both parties in Congress and the Biden administration.

“All three elements are important to all of our communities,” Fingerhut said. “We’re proud of what our government has done” to support Israel “but we want them to know how much support there is not only for what they’ve done, but also for the continued efforts that are going to be needed as this long conflict continues.”

The rally, which will take place just over five weeks after Hamas’ deadly assault on Israel, was formally announced on Monday night. But efforts to fill buses and planes were already breaking into public view over the weekend.

“All classes for Yeshiva University undergraduate schools and high schools for Tuesday November 14 are canceled,” Rabbi Ari Berman posted on social media on Sunday. “We are going to Washington to stand with Israel.”

It’s the kind of move that Fingerhut and William Daroff of the Conference of Presidents said in a joint interview they were asking of affiliated groups, including Jewish community centers, day schools and other Jewish organizations. So far, they said, the response has been enthusiastic.

Daroff said the hope was that the rally would have the impact of a 2002 pro-Israel rally during the Second Intifada and a 1987 mass rally to support Soviet Jewry, each of which drew more than 100,000 Jewish demonstrators to the National Mall.

“Just as the American Jewish community and our allies spoke out with mass events in 1987 in support of Soviet Jewry and in 2002 in support of Israel during the Second Intifada, we are now in a similar moment where the American Jewish community and the American people are speaking out loudly and clearly in support off the people of Israel and demanding the unconditional return of the hostages,” he said.

The Biden Administration has so far backed Israel in its refusal to consider a ceasefire until the hostages are returned and Hamas is disabled. There have been calls from some on the progressive left for a ceasefire. Biden has asked Congress for $14 billion in emergency assistance for Israel, including $10 billion in defense assistance.

Reports of antisemitic expression and assault have spiked since Oct. 7 on campuses and in cities across the world. Biden wants Congress to appropriate hundreds of millions of dollars to help secure vulnerable institutions; on Monday Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Jewish Democrat who is the majority leader, announced plans to up the annual funding for security grants to $1 billion, from $250 million.

Hamas terrorists killed 1,400 people, most of them civilians, wounded thousands and abducted more than 200 in their Oct. 7 raid. Since then, Israel has launched counterstrikes and more than 10,000 Gaza residents have been killed, according to the Hamas-controlled Gaza health ministry, among them 3,000 children. It is not known what portion of that number are civilians, and what portion have been killed by rockets launched by Palestinian militants that have fallen short of Gaza’s border with Israel.

The rally follows mass pro-Palestinian demonstrations in cities around the world, including in Washington on Saturday, and aims to show that Israel enjoys just as much support.

“We’ve all heard voices of hatred and antisemitism around the globe glorifying the October 7 attacks,” a flyer for the event says. “But these voices will never drown out this of Americans who stand against terror and with Israel.”

Daroff and Fingerhut said there were no confirmed speakers yet, although they had invited lawmakers and officials from the Biden administration at the highest level. They said that although their organizations were leading the effort, they were asking groups to put out the word in their own name about the rally, which will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. near the U.S. Capitol. (Hundreds of protesters affiliated with Jewish Voice for Peace, an anti-Zionist group, were arrested there last month while calling for a ceasefire.) Some groups, including the Conservative movement, had already done so as of Monday.

Fingerhut and Daroff said they were encouraging Jewish community centers and Jewish day schools to shut down for the day and send their students to Washington. Some had already taken up the call: North Shore Hebrew Academy on Long Island, for example, said it would bus students to D.C. for the day, and the Detroit Jewish federation on Monday invited locals to reserve spots on a chartered flight.

Ronald Halber, the director of the Greater Washington D.C. Jewish Community relations Council, said he expected all 10 campuses in the D.C. area to empty their buildings on the day.

“We have an obligation with a 300,000-strong Jewish community to bring a substantial number of people,” Halber said.

The post National Jewish groups put out the call for a massive ‘March for Israel’ in DC on Nov. 14 appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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How New Yorker writer Ariel Levy adapted Philip Roth’s filthiest book for the stage

Collaborating with John Turturro, who played another Roth character in HBO’s ‘The Plot Against America,’ the play ‘Sabbath’s Theater’ is about sex and is a ‘meditation on mourning’

The post How New Yorker writer Ariel Levy adapted Philip Roth’s filthiest book for the stage appeared first on The Times of Israel.

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