Posted on May 15, 2014 in Countdown

Watch Out: “Al Qaeda’s Best Friend” is in Congress

We’ve long covered Arab-baiting in U.S. politics and campaigns and we will continue to do so as long as members of Congress keep finding ways to inject racism against Arab Americans into political discourse. This time, we bring you an attack from Rep. Devin Nunes (CA 22), who called Arab American Congressman and fellow Republican Justin Amash (MI 3) “Al Qaeda’s best friend in Congress” this week after an intra-party disagreement over U.S. surveillance programs and other legislation backed by Nunes. Amash defended his record, saying that Nunes’ slur was another example of his opponents “operating in the dark.” There’s definitely room for debate on these big political issues, especially reforming the NSA’s pervasive surveillance program, but arguing that Mr. Amash is aiding terrorist activities is just plain wrong. Hate speech directed at Arab and Muslim Americans deserves condemnation, and while we can hope, we’re almost certain this won’t be the last example of Arab-baiting. We’re not going to stop calling them out either.

NYPD or Mukhabarat?

Arresting people for petty crimes and using fear, intimidation and reduced charges to gain informants. Sounds like the Mukhabarat right? Not exactly. This week, the New York Times added another example of the NYPD’s systematic profiling of Arabs Americans and American Muslims. In a revealing report, the Times detailed how NYPD detectives identified potential American Muslim informants and recruited them to spy on their own communities, often by offering reduced charges for petty crimes. In one case, a 19-year-old son of Egyptian immigrants was arrested for stealing a fountain pen and then “debriefed” by the NYPD team responsible for counter intelligence operations. These debriefing sessions, according to NYPD detectives, were apparently “conversations as opposed to interrogations,” but as the article notes, “as Muslim immigrants in a post-9/11 world, they felt they had little choice but to cooperate.” Although the article says this program has been disbanded, these practices add to our long list of criticisms against the NYPD. Not only is it another case of religious and ethnic profiling, but it serves as a sad example of how law enforcement has undermined the vibrancy of Arab American and American Muslim communities by injecting fear and distrust within families and social groups. A group of Congressional Democrats made moves this week to make sure the Department of Justice imposes a strict ban on profiling based on race, religion, ethnicity and national origin. We can only hope that this is followed by a DOJ investigation into this NYPD program.

Syrian Opposition Council in DC: Ready for Primetime?

The Syrian opposition’s losses on the ground were partially offset by political gains, albeit far away, in Washington, DC. A delegation from the Syrian Opposition Coalition arrived in DC last week and met with Congressional leaders, Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and President Obama in an attempt to increase U.S. military assistance to opposition forces. During the visit, the Obama administration granted “foreign mission status” to the SOC and announced a package of $27 million in additional non-lethal aid. Coupled with the White House’s previous decision to close the Syrian Embassy and promises of fresh sanctions against supporters of the Assad regime, the U.S. is at least finding some ways to bolster the opposition. But there’s still a ways to go: U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power recently expressed concerns over U.S. policy in Syria and Tom Malinowski, who was sworn in Tuesday as the new assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, drew parallels between Syria and the United States’ regrettable inaction during the Rwandan genocide. There’s also more work to be done on U.S. policy toward Syrian refugees. As Assad prepares for his “sham” elections next month, the window seems to be closing for any resolution to the Syrian crisis that seriously considers the demands of Syria’s moderate opposition leaders. So while the United States finally showed some tangible movement on Syria this week, let’s just hope efforts continue so we don’t face another wasted year

Golda Meir Makes Case for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (Sort Of)

President and CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce Tom Donohue raised some eyebrows at the “2014 Infrastructure Week” in DC this week, saying, “if Republicans don’t [pass comprehensive immigration reform] then they shouldn’t bother to run a candidate in 2016.” Bold. And that’s not all. Donohue also said, “we are a nation of people without jobs and jobs without people.” Sound familiar? At least in this case, the phrase accurately described the current realities American businesses face. According to Donohue, the business community is united on comprehensive immigration reform and Congress must pass find a way to pass legislation that helps attract and retain skilled workers and entrepreneurs. Not unnoticed, Speaker of the House John Boehner at least recognized that “the vast majority of our members do want to deal with [immigration reform]” and prominent conservatives recently pushed for Congressional action. Did Donahue’s message get through? It appears that way for some. Let the countdown until the next Congressional recess begin.

Capitol Hill Hearing: Still Not Listening

In a disappointing show of out-of touch Congressional discourse, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs hosted a Subcommittee hearing last week titled, “The Palestinian Authority, Israel and the Peace Process: What’s Next?” Coming on the heels of the suspension of peace talks and the announcement of Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, we smelt trouble from the beginning. So “what’s next,” according to the briefing? Well, there definitely wasn’t a rousing appeal or hope for sustained U.S. leadership in the peace talks. Instead, we got a splendid display of how uninformed Congressional leaders remain on the basic facts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and saw first-hand their willingness to ignore reality in order to hit typical talking points. This week’s chatter: praise for the many concessions Israel made in the latest round of negotiations and threats to end aid to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas is included in the Palestinian government. The hearing underscored the gross imbalance in American debate on Israel and Palestine, especially in Congress. Dr. Jonathan Schanzer from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (more on that organization here) was on hand, mainly to congratulate the astute observations of our Congressional leaders. We’re thankful that former Congressman Robert Wexler was there to passionately point out a few of the many errors. Among his corrections: that the PA has in fact recognized Israel’s right to exist; that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state is a new precondition imposed by Israelis within the last year; and that it is too soon for the United States to judge the reconciliation deal. Sure, many Americans are pessimistic about peace negotiations and continue to sympathize more with Israel. We might feel the same way if all we heard was what these Congressional members had to say. As the peace process comes to a screeching halt, it looks like Congress could use some sort of “educational process” on these issues.

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