Posted on August 13, 2013 in Countdown

Arab Americans Meet with White House on Israel, Palestine

No doubt you’re aware that ongoing US-brokered negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians are underway this week. Secretary of State John Kerry has made it his job to get both sides to the table. In addition to Israelis and Palestinians, Secretary Kerry and the White House are bringing Arab Americans into the conversation. Last Friday, Secretary Kerry and White House National Security adviser Susan Rice met with Arab American leaders at the White House to discuss the negotiations. Martin Indynk, the former US ambassador to Israel, and the man in charge of heading up peace negotiations was also there. AAI was represented by chairman George Salem and board member, Eddie Ayoob who raised concerns about the continued occupation and the stark reality on the ground in Palestine which results. In addition to raising concerns about the ongoing occupation, AAI’s representatives brought up controversial pieces of legislation that would grant visa waivers to Israel. It’s great that Secretary Kerry and Amb. Rice are trying to establish a constituency for peace here at home (they also met with American Jewish organizations), and we’ll be a part of any discussion that helps to move the process forward. After Friday’s positive meeting, though, one can’t help but revert back to state of wariness about the peace process. Believe us, we’re still not cynical, but up to this point, Israel has at best sent mixed signals about its commitment and willingness to participate in this process. Just today, a day ahead of talks, Israel approved 900 new housing units on occupied land in East Jerusalem. Today’s announcement comes on the heels of a decision by Israel to expand a subsidy program for settlements in the West Bank. Yes, the Israelis are to release Palestinian prisoners as a show of good faith, but at the same time it’s essentially gobbling up land that it’s supposed to be negotiating over. At this rate, yesterday’s article for The Onion, “Israel Builds New Settlement To Host Palestinian Peace Talks,” will come true.

Egyptians Give Obama His Worst Grade Ever

We know the conditions which led to Mohamed Morsi’s ousting about a month and a half ago – we polled over 5,000 Egyptians to understand their attitudes toward Egypt’s first democratically elected president. What we found was that after only a year in office, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood managed to alienate over two-thirds of Egyptians. By the time the popular-backed military coup took place, Mohamed Morsi maintained only the support of members of the Muslim Brotherhood. He had lost credibility and legitimacy among the overwhelming majority of Egyptians and only 36% of Egyptians were hopeful about what they saw as Egypt’s ongoing revolution. Today, unrest continues across Egypt with supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi still out in the streets. But after polling in July again post-Morsi and post-Tamarrud, we have found that belief in Egypt’s revolution has jumped to 68%. That’s an incredible boost in revolutionary morale, wouldn’t you say? It’s also positive for the military, which is still technically in charge of the country and which still retains strong support from most Egyptians at 93%. But regardless of the strong support it currently retains, the military establishment must deliver on its promise to restore order and to help to create a more inclusive political order with a new constitution and elections. With almost two-thirds of all Egyptians are in a "wait-and-see" mode, this is what is what the public expects and should serve as a cautionary note to the military on overreaching in its grasp on power. Failure to deliver could have negative consequences. Now, want to know how Egyptians view the US and President Obama? Get ready for this: Obama’s approval ratings have dropped to a 3% positive rating. At the same time, confidence in the US is at 1%. Yikes! Here’s why: Two-thirds of all Egyptians feel that the US was too supportive of President Morsi. And more than 8 in 10 feel that "Egypt was harmed by the US policy of support for Morsi". Could 3/100 be the worst grade this President has ever received on anything, ever? Double headlines on this one.

Yalla Vote Time

Yalla Vote was busy last week. We’ve been on the ground in three states, New York, Michigan, and New Jersey, hosting Yalla Vote registration drives, educating members of the community on voting, meeting with Arab American candidates and coordinating with community leaders. The Yalla Vote August initiative will continue to focus increased attention to local elections in 2013 – elections where Arab Americans can have a significant impact on the outcome of races. We’re already thinks ahead to the 2014 midterm elections. Oh yeah, we know it’s early but  we’re getting a jump start this year and replacing “Arab time” with “Yalla Vote time.” Here’s a quick rundown of our three-state trip: On August 3, Yalla Vote was in New York City, where we ran into Zead Ramadan, a local Harlem community leader and business leader who could become the first Arab American to be elected to City Council. In Harlem they call him “Z.” It’s better name recognition than “the Arab guy.” Zead’s success up to this point, establishing himself as a front runner in New York’s district 7, should motivate Arab Americans to believe that they can make a difference in politics, set standards, and remove barriers for generations of future Arab Americans looking to serve in public office. Yalla, Z! In Michigan, Yalla Vote volunteers were on the ground during Eid celebrations (August 8th and 9th), registering voters and expanding community exposure to the Yalla Vote campaign. With a record number of Arab American candidates running for various offices in Dearborn and the metro Detroit area, our work in Michigan this year is especially important and timely. Working with our local partners, Yalla Vote has the opportunity to increase Arab American voter registration and mobilization in areas were the Arab American vote will have a double effect during local elections this November. To conclude our trip, Yalla Vote was on the ground this weekend in Clifton, New Jersey registering new voters. Yalla Vote registered and engaged with an incredible amount of young Arab Americans, many of whom have just turned 18 and were eager to get politically involved. What we witnessed, especially among the young, first-time voters was a palpable awareness of upcoming elections and understanding that being involved in the electoral process is important. You know you can host your own Yalla Vote registration drive. Hit us up for the details.

TSA Screenings Coming to a Rodeo Near You

We were pretty frustrated when the TSA’s controversial Screening Passengers by Observation (SPOT) program received increased funding earlier this summer. The program, which utilizes dubious “screening” techniques, has come under scrutiny for not only the lack of quantitative results, but also raises serious questions about equal protection under the law and profiling. While, this program has been in airports it’s now making its way out via the TSA’s newly expanded “Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response” teams—nicknamed VIPR squads. Funding for these teams has increased and allowed an almost 400% increase in recent years. These teams are designed to sporadically deploy to mass transit centers and demonstrate a strong show-of-presence as a deterrent to terror; however, there is no evidence that their activities—which overlap with local law enforcement responsibilities—actually provide increased security. To make matters worse, these squads are being trained with SPOT tactics to stop and question “suspicious” individuals: a policy as open to abuses of power as SPOT itself. What’s worse: the TSA wants to protect you “in transit” in new places, too. Not only are they outside the airport in mass transit hubs like metro stations, but now they’ll be there to keep you safe as you transit from your seat to the concession stand at your local stadium or rodeo or music festival. So, you might think twice about ordering that falafel or shawerma sandwich lest it be deemed a “suspicious” choice of food. Better stick to the corndogs and burgers. If you ask us, the TSA needs to step back and re-evaluate their charter and avoid this horridly expensive “mission creep” and invasion of our civil liberties.

Stop-and-Frisked

On Monday, a federal court judge in New York issued a major ruling on the New York City Police Department’s controversial “stop-and-frisk” program.  We already know the program doesn’t work (only 6% of people stopped by the NYPD end up actually being arrested for crimes), but this week the court identified another problem: it violates the U.S. Constitution. We could have told you that!  The blistering, lengthy opinion by Judge Shira Scheindlin explains the two reasons the program is unconstitutional: it creates pervasive illegal searches and seizures; and constitutes illegal racial profiling. Judge Scheindlin ordered the NYPD to change its practices and appointed a monitor to make sure the city respects New Yorkers’ constitutional rights. Stopping and frisking people, in general, can be constitutional; stop-and-frisk NYPD-style is not. This decision makes important strides in the pushback against the culture of overreach in New York law enforcement in recent years. As with the NYPD’s surveillance of American Muslims and Arab American communities in and around New York, stop-and-frisk has proven to be at least as invasive as it is ineffective. After 10 years of operation, the NYPD’s surveillance of these communities didn’t produce a single criminal investigation. Not one. In the introduction to her decision, Judge Scheindlin wrote that the values of liberty and safety, though they “may be in tension,” must co-exist. It wasn’t surprising to see Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly up in arms about the decision. Some of Raymond Kelly’s assertions were priceless: “What I find most disturbing and offensive about this decision is the notion that the NYPD engages in racial profiling." Hello! But beyond that, Commissioner Kelly said "The fact that they [stop-and-frisking] often do not lead to arrests or summonses misses the point.” Well, Commissioner Kelly, the point that a federal judge made was that this practice is unconstitutional. You might do well to fight crime without defending yet another ineffective and harmful law enforcement tactic.

Arab Americans Move Forward in Michigan Primaries

Arab Americans are engaging politically across Southeast Michigan in record numbers. Last Tuesday, primaries were held for a number of local races across the state, including in Dearborn and Hamtramck City. In Dearborn, there were three Arab American candidates for mayor on the ballot, though none will advance to the general election. In the race for Dearborn City Clerk, Khalil Dakhlallah garnered 20% of the vote against incumbent Kathleen Buda. The race for Dearborn City Council had the greatest number of Arab Americans on the ballot ever. Four candidates, Bob Abraham, Tarek Beydoun, Susan Dabaja, and Mike Sareini, will advance to the general election in November. In a close race in Hamtramck City, Arab American Abdul Algazali came in first in the primary election for mayor. Currently serving on Hamtramck City Council, Algazali garnered 61 votes more than the incumbent, Mayor Karen Majewski. In addition, in a race for a two-year term on Hamtramck City Council, candidate Abu Musa came in first with just over 42% of the vote. The successes of these candidates are encouraging, and we hope it’s a sign of more good things to come in November and beyond. Arab Americans have formed a crucial part of the makeup of southeastern Michigan for generations, making contributions to all aspects of community life there. We’re excited to see that increasingly reflected on the ballot and in political offices this fall. The important thing now is for the Arab American community is to mobilize and come out during the elections. For a list of Arab American candidates on the ballot nationwide, click here.

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