For the past several months much of our focus has been on the political and social unrest in Israel arising from the judicial reform and settlement-related legislation in the Knesset and mounting unrest in Palestinian territories. We have been worried about the spill-over impact on the Israel-Diaspora relationship. We watched as both historic critics and several longstanding political friends of Israel expressed concern. And we paid close attention as the Biden administration moved from quiet, diplomatic comments to a series of very public pronouncements of U.S. government views on the proposals being advanced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing governing coalition.
There was speculation that the U.S. would use Israel’s pending application for acceptance into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program as leverage to encourage more flexibility on some of the issues. And that still may be the case. But, at least for now, it’s not. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides announced last week that approval of Israel’s application could come as soon as this summer. He made that comment just after the Knesset passed a data-sharing bill that is a prerequisite to enter the program.
The Visa Waiver Program would offer 90-day visa-free tourist and business visits to Israelis who now must wait at least six months for an initial visa interview at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Israel wants to join some 40 other countries that skip the short-term visa step. We look forward to the formal acceptance announcement, and hope it doesn’t get sidetracked by political maneuverings.
There was another positive development last week, this one relating to the aging, dwindling yet remarkably resilient Holocaust survivor community. A bipartisan group of 111 member of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to leaders of the House Appropriations Committee’s Labor, Health and Human Services subcommittee calling for a $1.5 million increase (from $8.5 million in 2023 to $10 million in 2024) in government funding for the Holocaust Survivor Assistance Program. The letter, organized by Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Troy Balderson (R-Ohio), seeks to expand support for a Holocaust survivor program, run in cooperation with the Jewish Federations of North America, to help assure that aging and increasingly dependent Holocaust survivors in the U.S. have the resources and support they need to live in peace and comfort. We encourage strong support for the effort.
Finally, we are intrigued by the announcement by Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots and founder of the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism, of the launch of a $25 million campaign to “#StandUpToJewishHate,” aimed at stopping hateful acts against Jews. The campaign highlights the blue square emoji — which is already on all smartphones — as a “simple, but powerful symbol of solidarity and support for the Jewish community.” Kraft’s plan is to place the emoji on up to 2.4% of TV and digital screens, billboards and social media feeds in recognition that Jews make up 2.4% of the U.S. population but are the targets of 55% of religious-based hate crimes. While we wonder how this approach will affect the trajectory of Jew hate, we welcome the effort. We desperately need new ways to fight antisemitism.