Posted on July 09, 2014 in Countdown

In Gaza, A Flashback None of Us Want

Israeli-Palestinian relations could not be worse. This week, the region erupted into another episode of Hamas-IDF retaliations shortly after the murders of three Israeli teens and the revenge murder of a Palestinian teenager. After blaming Hamas last week for the kidnapping and killing of the Israeli teens, the IDF was quick to strike Gaza and bring troops to the border. Hamas has fired dozens on rocket onto Southern Israel and some have even reached Tel Aviv. With a ground invasion now possible, Israel’s collective punishment measures in Gaza are likely to escalate, echoing previous violence in 2009 and 2012. It is a flashback none of us want. In an awkwardly timed op-ed to our “awkward ally,” President Obama urged both sides to make peace while pledging a one billion dollar increase in military aid to Israel (because two wasn’t enough). Still, we did see some hope in White House Middle East Special Assistant Philip Gordon, who called out Israel in his remarks at Ha’aretz’s ill-timed “Israel Conference on Peace” in Tel Aviv. Speaking the minds of many, Gordon asked in his address: “How can Israel have peace if it’s unwilling to delineate a border, end the occupation, and allow for Palestinian sovereignty, security and dignity?” He went on: “The sight of grieving families, Israeli and Palestinian alike, reminds us that the cost of this conflict remains unbearably high.” We agree. Tell the White House and Congress to speak out on Gaza. It’s time for all parties, including the United States, to muster the courage to end this vicious cycle of violence that has plagued Palestinians and Israelis for decades – otherwise, get the U.N. involved.

Let Freedom Ring (Hollow)

We told you last week to expect some big news from Glenn Greenwald, who broke many of the Edward Snowden stories. Here we are, just after celebrating the 4th of July, with some new revelations from Greenwald that show major infringements of our civil liberties and basic rights. In the most specific claim yet of the federal government’s domestic surveillance program, Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain detail how the NSA and FBI have been monitoring email communications of around 200 “U.S. Persons,” including the five American Muslims highlighted in the report by The Intercept. AAI has met countless times with government officials who insisted that no one is targeted without cause and never based solely on his or her ethnicity or faith. Well, those assurances now ring hollow. And speaking of the 4th of July, apparently we weren’t the only ones who missed a few news stories while indulging in apple pie, sparklers and our freedom (maybe not from privacy, but you know what we mean). Senator Lindsey Graham and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein missed out on this weekend’s Washington Post piece that also detailed the extent of NSA spying on the normal day-to-day lives of American citizens. One might think that our policymakers who oversee these agencies would be aware of the reveal, but Senator Graham stated, “I really don’t know the details about what they’re saying in the paper. I know [NSA intelligence-gathering] is necessary. We’re at war with radical Islam.” You got it, Senator Graham – blame it on “radical Islam.” That’s definitely a good strategy! Looks like it’s time to give our representatives a ring on the phone…

Does Tariq’s Case Signal U.S. Shift on Challenging Israel’s Discrimination?

On July 3rd, two Israeli police officers were captured on film brutally beating and stomping 15-year-old American Tariq Abu Khdeir in an incident that has drawn condemnation from the United States. Tariq, who is currently on house arrest despite no charges against him, told one newspaper, “I thought I was dead.” Tariq is the cousin of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 17, who was abducted just a day earlier as he was on his way to prayer in his East Jerusalem neighborhood. Mohammed was severely beaten and burned alive, his charred body found late that night in the Jerusalem forest. While the extraordinary brutality of Mohammed’s killing is rare, the violence faced by countless Palestinian children living under occupation is not. It is clear from the coverage of these recent tragedies that the world increasingly understands this. And as AAI President Jim Zogby writes this week in Ha'aretz, Tariq’s case shows the U.S. may at last be challenging Israel’s discrimination against Arab Americans, but Israel itself has a ways to go.

U.S. Diplomat Tom Malinowski Gets Booted from Bahrain

Despite plans to meet with the Crown Prince of Bahrain and several prominent government officials in Bahrain over the weekend, Tom Malinowski, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, was ordered to leave the country promptly after he met with leaders of the Shia political bloc, al-Wifaq. According to a Bahraini state news, Malinowski “contravened diplomatic norms and flouted normal interstate relations” when he met with members of al-Wifaq, “to the detriment of other interlocutors.” Water down the excessively verbose rhetoric of government spokesmen and consider Bahrain’s current political climate, and the underlying reason for Malinowski’s expulsion is abundantly clear. The Sunni monarchy is struggling to curb the frequent protests of the Shia majority in Bahrain who demand greater political rights, and just as Malinowski asserts on Twitter, his treatment signaled an attempt to undermine constructive dialogue between groups. The State Department condemned Bahrain’s actions as “not consistent with the strong partnership” between the two nations. Malinowski didn’t leave Bahrain and doubled down by announcing that those committed to reconciliation between the Sunni monarchy and Shia majority in Bahrain should not be deterred. 

The “Slippery Slope” of Using Drones

We were glad to see the New York Times use their Monday editorial to talk about the ineffectiveness of and questions over using armed drones for targeted killings. It’s not just the Times – a bipartisan task force that includes several former senior intelligence and military officials put out a report that chides the U.S. government for not conducting a formal and thorough analysis of the effectiveness and costs of using drones. If you think we don’t have transparency over the NSA (see above), we definitely don’t have transparency when it comes to these targeted killings and the guidelines for drone strikes. Over a year after President Obama’s speech promising new information, the report criticizes the “secret rationales” used for targeted killings and encourages greater oversight and publicizing information about drone victims and the government’s rationale. And if events in the Middle East are any indication, drones aren’t a panacea for U.S. national security threats. In fact, the report concludes that there is no indication drone strikes advance the long term security interests of the United States. We hope the Obama administration takes some time to review recommendations made in the report and adopt them.

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