Posted on June 23, 2017 in Countdown

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One Son-in-Law, Two Messes

Jared Kushner just returned from a visit to Israel and Palestine, where he attempted to promote a new peace process for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kushner’s passion for peace precedes the Trump administration, back when his family foundation was donating money to illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land (oh, what a pick for peace envoy!). As Kushner was flying in, Netanyahu saw fit to announce the construction of a new illegal settlement in the West Bank, in defiance to Donald Trump’s tepid call to “hold back on settlements for a little bit”, and in a clear signal to Palestinians that they shouldn’t feel too optimistic about being free from occupation anytime soon. Can’t you feel the hope in the air? And as Jared returns to Washington, he finds himself in another mess, with Democrats calling for his security clearance to be suspended, due to his failure to disclose his contacts with Russian officials.

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No Winners in ‘Most Expensive House Race in History’

Remember Jon Ossoff, the young Democratic congressional candidate who was smeared for allowing an Arab media organization use documentary footage of his? He made a lot of noise because he was said to be all set to take the very solidly red 6th district of Georgia away from the Republicans. It was supposed to be the mother of all victories for the Democrats, proving popular disillusionment with President Trump. Cool story bro, but Ossoff just lost that race, and not before spending the tens of millions of dollars he surprisingly raised. When Republican committees and Super PACs saw the kind of money Ossoff was raising, they poured more than $18 million to support Republican Karen Handel, who barely edged out a win, keeping the red district safe. So, is the lesson that the president is so popular that even a Democratic superstar with tens of millions cannot unseat a Republican? Or is the lesson that the president is so unpopular that the Republicans had to spend tens of millions to hold on to a red district? The only lesson we’re taking away is that $55 million is an obscene amount of money to spend on a house race.

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Not That Kind of Extremists

It’s become a pattern: When politicians talk about “terrorism”, they don’t really mean all terrorism, but a specific subset of it. When the Senate holds a hearing on violent extremism, they also mean a very specific kind of violent extremism. Well, now it’s coming down to money as well. Earlier this year, news broke that President Trump wants to focus the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program solely on Muslims, and while the office has not been renamed the “Countering Islamic Extremism”, money does speak louder than words! He just dropped ‘Life After Hate,’ a group dedicated to de-radicalizing neo-Nazis and White supremacists, from CVE funding. The group was set to get $400,000 under President Obama’s proposal. Maybe White supremacists aren’t much of a threat anymore, you guess? Guess again: Politico reports Life After Hate “has seen a twenty-fold increase in requests for help since Election Day ‘from people looking to disengage or bystanders/family members looking for help from someone they know.’” But maybe potential victims of White supremacists will be relieved to know their attackers weren’t Muslim. There are other noteworthy changes to the list of fundees (not cutesy for “fundamentalists”, just recipients of funds), so check out the original list from January and the new one from today.

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The Israel Project’s Smear Campaign

For anyone active on the issue of Palestine for a while, false accusations of anti-Semitism as a means of silencing critics of Israel are all too familiar. What makes these smears predictable is the glaring injustice of Israel’s occupation -- how else can one “defend” the indefensible? Well, the Israel Project just took another swing at it, this time going after a Hill briefing about the abuse of Palestinian children under Israeli occupation. Not only was the event misrepresented as “hate speech”, but the Congressman whose office reserved a room for the event, Representative Mark Pocan, was also targeted, in a clear attempt to intimidate members of Congress from allowing voices that humanize Palestinians from being heard in Washington. We just exposed this smear campaign with this fun little video on our website. Or if you want to share it with friends on social media, it’s also on Facebook and Twitter. 

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Free Speech on College Campus

From disruptions of offensive speakers to walkouts on commencement addresses, the debate about free speech and the exchange of ideas on college campuses has been a hot topic lately. Coming down on the side of free speech, even when it’s offensive speech, is absolutely the right call (yes, even hate speech is protected speech). But even those who take the correct position can sometimes frame them terribly, like when CNN’s Fareed Zakaria recently suggested that opposition to provocateurs like Ann Coulter demonstrated “anti-intellectualism on the left” (yes, her argument that Muslims should travel by camels instead of planes is so intellectual and serious!). Thankfully, the senate hearing on free speech was more thoughtful, acknowledging that threats to free speech came from across the entire political spectrum. Former Brandeis University president was a witness at the hearing, and discussed how Palestine solidarity activists were within their right, despite complaints, to distribute mock eviction notices to raise awareness about Israeli military demolitions of Palestinian homes. The hearing’s rough consensus was that, except in extreme circumstances of imminent violence, colleges and universities had an obligation to protect free speech on campus. As for hateful and offensive speech, the right response is to challenge it with more speech and condemn it.