Posted on May 04, 2017 in Countdown

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Hope You Didn’t Miss Our #GibranGala

If you were one of the hundreds there, thanks for being with us to honor the amazing work of such great awardees. If you weren’t, we’ll do our best to recount what you missed. The event was MC’ed by none other than NBC News' Ayman Mohyeldin. Not being new to the Gibran Gala, it was like having Ayman home again. The award for… hang on a second. We actually have a page that tells you all about what you missed at our 19th Annual Kahlil Gibran Gala. But if reading about it doesn’t get you close enough, and you’d rather see and hear it, this highlights video from the evening is for you. Did you catch the “19th annual” bit? Yup, next year’s will be extra special, and you REALLY don’t want to miss it, so stay tuned.

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Palestine Will Definitely Be Free. Probably. Maybe. Well, We’ll See...

If you’re not still cringing from Wednesday afternoon, you probably missed the press conference marking Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s visit with President Donald Trump. Trump committed to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while offering exactly ZERO specifics on how he planned to do so. But what was more remarkable was his diminishing confidence over the course of the few minutes he spent at the podium.  How confident was Trump on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? “We will get it done.”  Good, seems ambitious. Care to take a small step back? “We will be working so hard to get it done”. Ok, more realistic. But, like, what are the chances? “Very, very good chance”.  Well, that’s less imminent than it was just a couple of lines ago, but still pretty promising!  “I’ve always heard that [this is] perhaps the toughest deal to make...Let’s see if we can prove them wrong.” Yeah, “let’s see”.  If we went from “we will get it done” to “let’s see” in a couple of minutes, we’re not sure what a couple of weeks will do. And with the Middle East team you’ve assembled, Mr. President, we’ll also pass on holding our breath. PS: We like to be right at Countdown, but if our cynicism is proven wrong here, we’ll be first to celebrate.

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Any Country But Israel

Completing his last term on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), AAI President Jim Zogby has gone public with his frustration with the work of the commission. In a dissent he wrote to the 2017 international religious freedom report issued by the commission, Jim noted that religious freedom has gotten worse all around the world, bringing into question the effectiveness of the commission’s work. “Instead of using our limited resources to produce opinion pieces, press releases, and a lengthy and duplicative annual report,” he wrote, “USCIRF should consider new and constructive approaches to its work in order to more effectively promote international religious freedom.” Jim also had another major problem, namely the commission’s insistent refusal to look at Israel’s discriminatory treatment of Christians, Muslims and non-orthodox Jews, both in the country and in the occupied Palestinian territories. Accused of seeking to single Israel out for criticism, Jim responded by saying: “I wasn't singling Israel out for criticism, I simply could not accept that Israel be singled out as the one country that could not be criticized.” Want to learn more about this? Check out this video.

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Community Voices Matter -- *Exceptions May Apply

Did you hear about the Senate Judiciary committee hearing this week to respond to religious hate crimes? It was a timely hearing given the rise in religious-based hate crimes in the current political climate. In addition to civil rights powerhouse Vanita Gupta (most recently head of the Civil Rights Division at DOJ and incoming Leadership Conference President), witnesses included representatives from the American Jewish and Sikh communities. American Muslims were excluded from the witness list, but that’s totally understandable, because it’s not like there was a massive increase in hate crimes against American Muslims or anything. Oh, wait, we’re told there was a hike. What is it, 3-5% or something? A 67% JUMP IN 2015?? Well, an American Muslim may have not been included, but Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) had an interesting observation about what’s going on with anti-Muslim hate crimes: “It's no accident that there is a rise in hate crimes because we're in an environment where the president targets Muslims with his language.” Who would’ve thought these things could be related!

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The Nutty Professors

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, sometimes, a picture includes a thousand words. In the foreground, famous Rabbi Shmuley Boteach posed for a photo with famous Trump advisor Steve Bannon at the White House celebration of Israeli Independence Day (the Nakba didn’t make it into any of the branding). In the background, there was a classroom board that makes Glenn Beck’s conspiracy chalkboards seem adorable by comparison. The charming and totally sensible duo stood in front what appeared to be Bannon’s to-do list, which included a wide range of pleasant policies, like banning Syrian refugees from the US. The tweeted photo elicited an avalanche of criticism and ridicule, but what really caught our eye is the check mark next to the items thought “completed”. These included the Syrian refugee ban and the suspension of immigration from some Arab or Muslim-majority countries. Those executive orders were both blocked by the courts, but if this is what Bannon considers “mission accomplished,” that’s totally fine with us.