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The Maldives is reviewing its decision to ban Israeli citizens, citing concerns over a blanket law keeping out Palestinians.

By Jacob Frankel, Algemeiner

The Maldives is reviewing its decision to ban Israeli citizens from entering the country due to concerns that the controversial proposal as currently written could keep out Palestinians, according to Ahmed Usham, the island nation’s attorney general.

“The biggest concern is that there are many Palestinians with Israeli passports, millions of them. What happens when we impose a blanket ban?” Usham told reporters at a press conference last week

According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), more than two million Arabs live in the Jewish state, comprising over 21 percent of the total population.

According to recent polling, however, most Arab citizens of Israel do not identity as Palestinians.

Still, Usham emphasized that while the government’s position on barring Israelis remains unchanged, the prospect of a blanket ban also affecting those with Israeli passports who are Arab Muslim or Palestinian presents challenges warranting further review.

“These are matters that need careful consideration,” he told reporters.

Earlier this month, the office of Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu announced that the archipelago nation in South Asia in the Indian Ocean would block all Israeli passport holders from entering the country.

A week later, the Maldives parliament moved ahead with a bill to amend the immigration law to bar entry to both Israeli passport holders and Israelis with dual citizenship — even if the latter enter the country using a different passport.

It was accepted and sent to a committee for review.

However, the government has decided to amend the bill to address the concerns outlined by Usham.

Although Muizzu’s party holds a supermajority in the Maldives’ legislature, there was a minority of dissenting voices to the legislation, such as businessman and lawmaker Qasim Ibrahim, who accused the bill of singling out Jews.

“When we decide that a person with Israeli nationality can’t come to the Maldives, that means we’re talking about deciding that Jews can’t come,” Ibrahim reportedly told fellow members of parliament. “Therefore, as they are people who have believed in prophets of a religion revealed by Allah, we need to think very deeply about the chance of us doing such a thing, from that perspective. We need to think about that very carefully.”

The government’s apparent decision to create some sort of exception to the ban for Arab Israelis, who are largely Muslim, may lend credence to Ibrahim’s concerns. Jews comprise about 73 percent of Israel’s population.

In response to the Maldives’ planned passport ban, the US Congress is preparing to take action. US Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), a strong supporter of Israel, has proposed legislation that would sanction the Maldives and any other nation that sought to ban Jewish entry.

The bill would condition American aid to the Maldives on allowing Israeli citizens to enter the country.

“Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be sent to a foreign nation that has barred all Israeli citizens from traveling to their country,” Gottheimer said in a statement earlier this month. “The Maldives’ unprecedented travel ban is nothing but a blatant act of Jew hatred.”

In addition to concerns over the bill’s allegedly antisemitic intent, many Maldivians fear the bill’s fallout for its tourism industry. According to the World Bank, tourism accounts for nearly one-third of the Maldives’ economy.

The Maldives, known for its pristine beaches, has attracted Israeli tourists, primarily surfers. In 2023, over 11,000 Israelis visited the country.

In light of the travel ban, Israel’s foreign ministry has recommended Israelis avoid the Maldives. “For citizens already in the country, it is recommended to consider leaving, because if they find themselves in distress for any reason, it will be difficult for us to assist,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Israel has not had diplomatic relations with the Maldives — a chain of islands that require its citizens and politicians to strictly adhere to Sunni Islam — since 1974. In the early 1990s, Israel allowed tourists to visit the islands.

Even as Israeli tourism boomed, however, the Maldives prohibited direct flights between Malé, its capital, and Tel Aviv.

An article published in Israel Hayom in 2021 sparked a frenzy on social media after announcing a direct airlink between the two countries operated by the travel company Caminos.

The Maldives Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation quickly refuted the claim.

The Maldives is not the only country to ban Israeli tourists.

Israeli passport holders have also not been allowed to enter Algeria, Bangladesh, Brunei, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen.

In response to the Maldives’ ban, the Israeli Embassy in India encouraged Israeli tourists to instead visit Indian beaches, tweeting, “Since the Maldives is no longer accepting Israelis, here are some beautiful and amazing Indian beaches where Israeli tourists are warmly welcomed and treated with utmost hospitality.”


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