Posted on October 03, 2014 in Countdown
We haven’t even finished with the 2014 elections and candidates are already posturing on foreign policy as Middle East issues take the spotlight. You’ve probably heard of Ted Cruz’s controversial comments to Middle East Christians last month. Well, we are surprised to see Rick Santorum’s lengthy and strong statement against Ted Cruz’s actions at the summit. Talk about posturing – Santorum told Business Insider over the weekend that “We have a responsibility to stand by people who are being persecuted. This shouldn't be an ideological test…Period.” Santorum continued, “I find it hard to suggest that we're not going to stand with people who are being religiously persecuted and slaughtered because they don't share the same point of view we do with respect to Israel being the best friend of Christians in the world…I'm going to stand with them whether they see Israel as their best friend or not. And I think a lot of Israelis will stand with them even if they don't see Israel as their best friend.” Of course, Santorum didn’t finish his statement without the traditional “you won't find anybody who's stronger on the state of Israel than I am,” but still, we found his comments in sharp contrast to Cruz worthy of note. And we are slightly uncomfortable with the fact that we agree with him.
Foreign policy is also having an impact on the upcoming elections, as Congressional leaders grapple with whether or not to have a vote on authorizing force against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. While some are downplaying the vote, fearful of it getting in the way of election politics, other members of Congress are advocating for an immediate decision. Of course, some candidates are using it to bash President Obama’s approach to Syria, but others not facing reelection, like Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, have been vocal about the need for discussion, deliberation and a decision on authorizing force. Kaine said on "Face the Nation" Sunday that authorization to carry out airstrikes against ISIS must be voted on by Congress, given their constitutional authority. Speaker Boehner has said he is “happy” to have a vote if the President calls back Congress (while also expressing his thoughts that boots on the ground might prove necessary) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is calling for a vote after November. Other members of Congress from both sides of the aisle are also pressing for a vote. We think this can’t wait. Send a letter to your representatives and the White House asking Congress to return for a discussion and vote on authorizing force against ISIS. Regardless of views on Syria and Iraq, we need serious deliberation over this contentious and important issue.
Because repression, discriminatory laws, grabbing land, and demolishing homes are not enough, the Israeli establishment has taken another laugh-out-loud approach to their institutionalized racism, albeit in a more subtle form. Instead of just undermining the Israeli Arab population through government policies or the media, some Israelis decided to quietly smudge the entries bearing Arabic names from a list of “this year’s most popular names of newborns” in Israel. This didn’t turn out very well for the Israeli Population, Immigration and Border Authority, perhaps because the name “Mohammad” was the most popular name for newborns in Israel last year. The agency released the real list (the agency spokesman used the word “whole” instead of “real”) only when reporters asked for it, and tried to clarify that it was meant to be a list of “Hebrew names” to “coincide with the Hebrew New Year.” If this is not another attempt to embed an idea in the collective Israeli mind that Arabs within Israel do not exist, we don’t really know what it is. It’s no secret that, as the New York Times notes, Israel’s Arab population compromises 21 percent of what the Israeli government likes to call the Jewish State.
The tech sector is hard at work trying to show you they mean business when it comes to protecting your privacy. According to Politico, the recent NSA revelations and Edward Snowden’s leaks have led numerous companies to start promoting their efforts to protect privacy through big PR campaigns. Yahoo is continuing to highlight its 2008 fight with the NSA to protect user data, Microsoft has been vocally pushing back against U.S. warrants seeking data, and social media sites like Facebook and Reddit have also been posting frequent blog posts on their efforts. These tech giants have even been pushing for the FISA Court to release and declassify documents in an attempt to start the discussion on how privacy and intelligence gathering are being handled by our government and elected officials. Of course, you may have heard that the latest iPhone will “no longer have the technical capability to help law enforcement access data”. Even a new social network, Ello, is trying to position itself as the anti-Facebook by not requiring users to use their real name and claiming to protect user metadata from Google. It’s definitely likely these companies are cashing in as a result of selling their “more secure” products and as Hanni Fakhoury from the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes, “let’s not give them the Nobel Peace Prize” just yet. But still, it’s welcome news, as we seek greater transparency and try to hold our government accountable on privacy and surveillance issues.
Facing the United Nations General Assembly this week, with empty seats and some positive reinforcement in the form of continuous applause, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave an awkward and impassioned defense to try and convey (with the help of some illustrative figures of course) that the IDF was the most moral military organization that roamed the Earth. Apparently, “war crimes” and “Israel” shouldn’t be in the same sentence. It’s a tough sell, given that Israel’s recent assault on Gaza killed more than 1900 Palestinians and completely decimated villages and towns. Bibi also visited the White House and met with President Obama. The two continued their tradition of expressing their different takes on the many problems of the Middle East. Obama said that “the violence engulfing the region today has made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace. And that's something worthy of reflection within Israel.” The United States also took a welcome step in questioning the intention of Israel’s new settlements in East Jerusalem, which they said could isolate Israel from “even its closest allies.” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the development would cause many to “question Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement” and White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest doubled down on Psaki’s statements. The Netanyahu-Obama meeting was described as “not long and bitter” at best and “another awkward one” at worst. Fine by us.