Posted on July 16, 2013 in Countdown

Because Arabs Don't Lack the "Mental Ingredients"

As uprisings continue across the Arab world, policymakers here in Washington are wrestling with tough decisions on how to measure a response. We know that Arab Americans have a unique role to play in these ongoing policy debates, and that’s why AAI is responding to calls from the community to convene national Arab American conversations on Egypt, Syria, and Palestine. We cannot let Arab American perspectives on the events unfolding in the Arab world go unheard. Unlike David Brooks’ assertion, we understand that there is more to the story than a lack of “mental ingredients.” Starting on Tuesday next week we will be facilitating consecutive weekly national conversations on these issues. We need you to join us for this important and essential conversation. Sign up for emails to receive updates and participate in these important conversations. The first conversation on Egypt starts this Tuesday at 1 pm on Twitter. Starting at 1pm, we’ll tweet out a bunch of questions about policy on Egypt. You can participate by using the hashtag #AAIChat.

Use this Hashtag: #NoWaiver4Israel

Here’s why: Next Tuesday, we’re hosting the hearing Congress won't on granting visa waivers to Israel. We are convening a mock hearing at the National Press Club featuring Arab American organizations and private citizens to raise awareness about how two bills, one in the House and one in the Senate that would admit Israel into the US’s Visa Waiver Program will effectively trample on the rights of US citizens entering Israel and Palestine. We’ve written to you about this before, but now with H.R. 938 and S. 462 gaining momentum in Congress, we need to push back. The House bill, H.R. 938 has 325 cosponsors as of today and could be brought to the floor for a vote in as little as two weeks. That’s why we’re devoting a special countdown item to tell you why this important, and what you can do to help.

The opening page of the United States passport reads, “The Secretary of State of the United States hereby requests to all whom it may concern to permit the citizen/national of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection.” Over the years, we have collected countless stories of the discrimination Americans have faced at the Israeli border based on their ethnicity, religion or political views. After decades of discrimination, this mistreatment is so commonplace that it is even addressed by the US State Department in a travel advisory: “…U.S. citizens whom Israeli authorities suspect of being of Arab, Middle Eastern, or Muslim origin may also face additional questioning by immigration and border authorities.” Let us reiterate that point: the same State Department which is supposed to advocate for us and protect our rights when we travel overseas, says “we know,” and simply shrugs its shoulders and pleads helplessness when American citizens are harassed, detained without reason, and denied entry by Israel. As if that wasn’t bad enough, now Congress is moving forward with two bills that would grant visa waivers to Israel. They are rewarding Israel despite its decades-long practice of discriminating against people on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, and political beliefs.  This isn’t about Israel; this is about US elected officials and government agencies defending the equal protection of American citizens under the law when traveling – protection which is afforded to all American citizens. Insult to injury: Congress may vote on these bills under “suspensions,” a procedure that does not allow for amendments and limits debate--one more generally reserved for less-controversial bits of legislation like naming post offices. Are attacks on our civil rights as uncontroversial as naming post offices? Since Congress seems unwilling to have a conversation about these problematic bills, we’re going to host one for them. We need your help in the public pushback, though. Here’s what you can do:

Arab Americans Have the Right to Be Professional Football Players

Why is New York Jets rookie offensive lineman, Oday Aboushi so "controversial"? Answer: he's not. But that didn't stop “Front Page Magazine,” the bigoted “news site” founded by known Islamophobe and anti-Arab activist, David Horowitz, from conjuring up slanderous accusations of anti-Semitism and “radical behavior” in an effort to get Aboushi kicked out of the NFL. What make this story so troubling in many ways isn’t that Horowitz’s hate magazine targeted Aboushi, a symbol of community pride, it’s that legitimate news outlets picked up Horowitz’s slander and amplified his voice. We know Horowitz is trouble. He makes a living out of spreading hate, and that’s why the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated his magazine and publishing organization a hate group. But that his vitriol was perpetuated by a writer for a legitimate news outlet like Yahoo! News and by a social media employee for Major League Baseball is very problematic. In a piece which has since been taken down, Yahoo News! Sports writer Adam Waksman alleges that Aboushi’s “anti-Semitic activism” could perhaps get him tossed out of the NFL. His piece was strikingly similar to that of Joe Kauffman’s, a writer for Front Page Magazine who targeted Aboushi because of his stature and engagement with the Arab American community. In another ridiculous instance of slander, new Media Coordinator, Jonathan Mael compared Aboushi to former Patriots tight end, Aaron Hernandez who is facing murder charges. Mael tweeted: "The @nyjets are a disgrace of an organization. The Patriots have Aaron Hernandez, the Jets have Oday Aboushi." Mael apologized, later stating that his tweet was "beyond inappropriate." Yes, it was. Luckily, there was push-back, and the general public didn’t buy the hate speech. One of our favorite articles comes from, Dave Zirin, sports Editor at The Nation who blasted Yahoo! for publishing Adam Waksman’s piece. The slanderous attacks hurled at Arab American professional football player, New York Jet offensive lineman, Oday Aboushi were appalling. We’re sorry Aboushi had to deal with this, but he should know that the community is behind him and the efforts to slander him failed.

Dermer Appointment Shows no Signs of “Real Progress”

Believe us, even though we work on Middle East issues daily, we’re still not cynical about peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Seriously.  But more and more we’re seeing increasingly troubling evidence that conditions for renewed negotiations are dwindling, despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement on his trip to the Middle East that “real progress” has been. Until Secretary Kerry actually gives us evidence of that “real progress” we can only look to its signs. The latest sign: the appointment of former American turned avid Israeli loyalist Ron Dermer as Israel’s ambassador to the United States. Dermer’s appointment represents a huge setback for peace, not that outgoing Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren (also a former American turned avid Israeli loyalist) was a huge proponent for it either. Dermer, also known as Bibi's brain  is a problematic choice for a number of reasons, but we only have a few lines of space, so we’ll give you two. One, he seems to hate Palestinians and thinks that a two-state solution is a “stupid and childish solution to a very complex problem.” Here’s some extremely bigoted things he said about Palestinians and Arabs:  They have “a cultural tendency towards belligerency” that is “deeply imbedded in the culture of the Arab world and its foremost religion.” Wow! That’s hate speech. As if that wasn’t reason enough to explain why his appointment is troubling, consider the fact that he was instrumental in backing Romney’s bid for the presidency and Bibi just appointed Dermer to represent him before the guy that beat Romney. His appointment seems to be a concerted effort by Netanyahu’s increasingly hardline government to signal to President Obama that any potential plans Secretary Kerry may have for peace talks will go through a prime minister and an ambassador that don't like the two-state solution much.

Uncertainty in Egypt and the American Response

Clashes continue in Egypt between opponents and supporters of the recently-deposed Mohamed Morsi. Meanwhile, many aspects of daily life have returned to normal, at a rate that is causing many to raise their eyebrows. Power cuts have reportedly stopped entirely, and lines for gas have decreased dramatically, and police are back on the streets in full force. Speculation continues about all the factors that are contributing to this dramatic turnaround, but deep pockets and old ties appear to be at least part of the answer. The New York Times reports that, “working behind the scenes, members of the old establishment…helped finance, advise and organize those determined to topple the Islamist leadership….” Meanwhile, interim leadership is gradually being put into place in Egypt as Nabil Fahmy, former Ambassador from Egypt to the United States, accepted a new position as Egypt’s Foreign Minister last Sunday. As debate continues over what the Obama Administration response ought to be to ongoing events in Egypt, our forthcoming polling asks Americans what they think. Look for release of a new poll next week that examines American attitudes toward Egypt following Morsi’s ouster. The poll will be released at a congressional briefing we are hosting and will be contrasted and analyzed within the context of polling we’ve done over the last several months on Egyptian attitudes toward Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and polling we’ve conducted earlier this year on US Attitudes toward Egypt. We certainly don’t have answers to all of the questions facing both Egyptians and American policy makers, but we figure it can’t hurt to remind Congress in particular that cutting aid reactively is not a policy.

The Profiling of Trayvon Martin

Oblige us for a second. We want you to “Name That Country.” In what country can you: profile someone who doesn’t “belong” in your neighborhood because of the color of their skin and what they’re wearing, follow them, end up in a physical altercation, and then shoot and kill them if you feel they have become a threat to you and then get away with it? If you heard the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case delivered over the weekend, you answered “America,” and well, probably a few terrible places around the world plagued by racism and violence. America is not supposed to be one of those places. The acquittal of Zimmerman represents a troubling reality of a deep divide in this country. A jury of six, all female, reportedly deliberated for over 16 hours before reaching a decision. News of the verdict has sparked large protests in cities across the country; many see the varying reactions to the outcome as evidence of a country that remains deeply polarized about issues of race. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has already filed a petition with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to pursue federal civil rights crimes against Zimmerman, which as of today had already garnered more than a million signatures. Earlier this year, the DOJ opened an investigation into the Zimmerman case to determine whether any violations of federal law occurred; they have been working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and officials in Florida. Their investigation is ongoing, and now will include evidence and testimony from the trial in Florida. Justice Department officials say it is unlikely that Zimmerman will face federal charges, though, because they say it will be hard to prove Zimmerman’s shooting was essentially a hate crime. Well, it’s quite clear to us that Zimmerman did in fact profile Trayvon Martin. Though Zimmerman’s defense team didn’t invoke Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law, it remains a controversial issue with which Floridians, others in the 21 states with similar self-defense laws, and the nation will continue to grapple.

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