Posted on November 09, 2017 in Countdown

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Another Serving of Hate? No Thanks.

We just had an election this week and boy what a night it was! The forces of hate and division were emboldened by the 2016 election, but they were just knocked down, and it couldn’t be more satisfying. Sikh American candidate Ravi Bhalla was targeted with posters tying him to terrorism, but he won the race for mayor in Hoboken, NJ.  Virginia delegate, self-described “chief homophobe” and sharia fear-mongerer Robert Marshall was defeated by the first openly transgender woman to win a legislative seat, Danica Roem. Asian American school board candidates Jerry Shi and Falguni Patel were targeted by racist posters calling for their deportation, but they both won their elections. And we haven’t even told you about all the Arab Americans who ran and won their elections (you can read all about them here). This should be a wakeup call to those who see bigotry as a way to win elections to know that a counter force has awakened. Choosing decency and unity is no longer just a matter of moral principles, it’s actually a matter of electoral success too.

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What’s Going On in Saudi Arabia?

You must’ve heard the news by now: The New Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has arrested 11 princes and dozens of high-ranking officials and businessmen in the country, all in the name of an “anti-corruption crackdown”; a narrative accepted by countless media outlets covering these shocking events. Shortly after, Prince Mansour bin Muqrin was killed when his helicopter crashed under mysterious circumstances. Contradictory reports on the fate of Prince Abdul-Aziz bin Fahd continue to circulate, after widespread rumors that he was killed in a shootout while resisting his arrest. International philanthropist and business tycoon Alwaleed bin Talal, as well as head of the Binladin Group and the owner of the television network, MBC were among those arrested in Saudi Arabia. Beside the major impact of the kingdom moving away from its foundational principal of governing by royal family consensus, the moves against such senior and internationally well-known leaders have raised some fears about the fate of global investments. One economist said “The government is unlikely to come down too hard on companies... for fear of scaring away local and foreign investors.” Whatever the ultimate economic outcome of these extraordinary political moves, the mere fragility demonstrated by these events may dissuade many from entering into business partnerships with people from the region in the future. There is much to worry about.

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Not Another Proxy Confrontation in Lebanon

The upheaval in Saudi Arabia is quickly raising tensions in another arena: Lebanon. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was summoned to Saudi Arabia in recent days, where he unexpectedly read a resignation statement accusing Iran and Hezbollah of plotting to assassinate him. Speculation that Hariri was coerced into resigning by the Saudis triggered the half-joking/half-serious hashtag #FreeSaadHariri, as Hariri’s own party calls for his return to Lebanon. Meanwhile, Saudi, Kuwait, Bahrain, and the UAE have ordered their citizens to leave Lebanon, raising fears of an impending military confrontation. Of course, we’ve seen political posturing between Saudis and Qataris for some time now, so a military confrontation is far from imminent. But what’s truly surprising is what one journalist described as the “stunning absence [of] US diplomacy”, noting Secretary of State Tillerson hasn’t called Lebanon or Saudi to discuss the crisis. The US doesn’t need to play policeman of the world, but when we see such a dangerous escalation involving our allies in the region, it’s mad to sit this one out. Lebanon cannot be reduced to Hezbollah, and the country has had enough proxy battles unfold on its ground and at the expense of its citizens. Someone better step up and deescalate before we have a far bigger problem on our hands.

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When Supporting Israel Gets in Way of Combatting Anti-Semitism

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing titled “Examining Anti-Semitism on College Campuses,” but which effectively ended up being a 3 hour debate on the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which conflates the very real problem of anti-Semitism with criticism of the state of Israel, with the objective of stifling debate and advocacy of Palestinian justice. The legislation seeks to have the Department of Education adopt the deeply problematic State Department definition of anti-Semitism, which includes negative attitudes towards Israel, when making decisions about possible violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on college campuses. There was a lot of nonsense during the hearing. But among the many voices of reason was none other than the lead author of the State Department definition of anti-Semitism himself, Ken Stern. Stern explained that the definition should not be used beyond what it was intended for (read foreign consumption) and should not be adopted by the Department of Education because it was not drafted to chill speech around Israel on campus. Stern went as far as stating that it would be an “atrocity” against free expression on campus if it were adopted. It was disappointing to hear things like, “all the major Jewish organizations” support adopting the State Department definition repeated throughout the hearing, including from the Anti-Defamation League’s Jonathon Greenblatt. This is especially troubling since some of these organization work under the mantle of civil rights and combatting real anti-Semitism, but have chosen here instead to advocate for stifling free speech for the sake of pro-Israel advocacy. We’ll have more to say about that later, but it was nice to see Congressman Jerrold Nadler point out that the alleged Jewish American consensus around this law wasn’t actually accurate, as J Street U and other major Jewish organizations prefer a real definition of anti-Semitism; you know, like the one used by, say, the ADL as opposed to the one they want to impose on college campuses.

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The Good, The Late, and the Hilarious

The tragic musical that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is full of strange melodies. On a good note, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California tweeted urging Israel not to demolish the Palestinian village of Susiya. On a late note, John Kerry was recently recorded saying Israel’s leadership doesn’t want peace, and warning of the possibility of violence because of it. Maybe this candor would’ve been useful if said out loud at the beginning of his term as Secretary of State? Ok, we’ll take midway of his term too. And on a hilarious note, the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security held a circus (or is it spelled ‘hearing’?) about whether the US should move its Israel embassy to Jerusalem. It was a circus because some of the clowns (or is it spelled ‘witnesses’?) testifying, including some pretty extreme pro-Israel voices, from Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America to AEI’s Yosemite Sam (or is it spelled ‘John Bolton’?).  Florida’s Ron DeSantis kicked off the hearing with references to “The Arab Occupation” of Jerusalem and Israel’s “liberation” of it in 1967. And you thought Twitter was the only place politicians troll.