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Thursday April 03, 2014

Countdown Vol. 12, No. 10

Pandering Season Rears its Ugly Head in the ‘Sheldon Primary’

Sheldon Adelson, the staunchly right-wing pro-Israel billionaire Casino magnate, may actually be trying to buy the White House (again). In 2012, Adelson donated a total of $93 million dollars to Republican super PACs to influence the presidential elections. Now, in what’s being dubbed the “Sheldon Primary” a number of high-profile GOP candidates, including potential presidential candidates like New Jersey governor Chris Christie, are looking to court Adelson’s support for their political aspirations. Pandering season has begun, and as long as Sheldon Adelson, who is painfully one-side and downright bigoted when it comes to Israel and Palestine, is the man candidates are pandering to, things are likely to get ugly. Good thing the Supreme Court decided yesterday that there should be no legal limit on campaign contributions. Now individuals like Adelson will be able to directly contribute millions of dollars to candidates who say and do what they like. What a great day for Democracy! The “Sheldon Primary” made news just a few days before, on Saturday at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting in Las Vegas. With Adelson among other wealthy donors in attendance, Chris Christie, Ohio Governor John Kasich, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker went out of their way to court financial support from Adelson and other unabashedly pro-Israel donors. Chris Christie got most of the attention when he discussed his recent trip to Israel and mentioned his helicopter ride from “the occupied territories.” Calling Palestinian land “occupied” apparently shocked some attendees of the event and Chris Christie later apologized to Sheldon Adelson for his choice of words. Christie, who prides himself on telling it like it is, chose money over truth. For shame! As the “Sheldon Primary” continues, we certainly will update you, but to be honest, we don’t look forward bringing you news of continued pandering. 

Pollard or Peace?

Speaking of Adelson, remember when Mitt Romney rebuffed his calls to release Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard from prison during the last election? Need we say more about Adelson and his losing bets… anyway, the Obama administration floated the idea this week of releasing Pollard in an apparent last-ditch effort to salvage ongoing peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. You heard right – the U.S. is seemingly ready to release a convicted U.S. spy to keep Israeli negotiators where they are supposed to be in the first place. The idea is telling – peace talks are in a free fall, so much so that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas decided to join 15 international agencies yesterday to gain statehood benefits outside of the peace process. Instead of this being in the headlines, or the fact that Abbas’s move was a response to  Netanyahu reneging on a prearranged agreement made last year to release Palestinian prisoners, everyone is talking about Pollard. The proposition has so far been heavily criticized from both sides in Congress and the U.S. intelligence community. Netanyahu is known for creating new hoops  for negotiators to jump through, so why is anyone surprised? Even if framework talks are breaking down, negotiations should not come down to a decision between Pollard and peace. Let’s skip the invented distractions and get back to the real issues.

Nahla Kayali Named “Champion of Change” By the White House

Countdown is not exactly known for its coverage of uplifting and inspiring stories. Politics, especially in our line of work, is rather messy. But once in a while we get to deliver you amazing news, and today we’re happy to tell you that an Arab American, who has been serving not only our community, but countless others, was recognized by the White House as a Cesar E. Chavez “Champion of Change” for her extraordinary work to improve the lives of others. Nahla Kayali has an incredible story. A first generation Palestinian immigrant from Syria, Nahla, who came to the U.S. at age 16, has devoted her life to providing services for immigrant and refugee populations. As an immigrant herself, Nahla recognized the importance of helping those who came after her have access to resources that improve quality of life for displaced and newly-arrived people to the U.S.. Today, Nahla is the Founder and Executive Director of Access California Services (AccessCal) in Anaheim, California. Under her leadership, AccessCal now provides programs in 15 languages, employing AmeriCorps members among her staff of 30. Programs include: health access in government programs including ObamaCare, employment services, citizenship and immigration services, mental health services, refugee support services, English as a Second Language and client advocacy. Nahla’s humble spirit, but unshakable commitment to helping others makes her one of our heroes and an inspiration for our community.

Influential Arab American Vote in Paterson, NJ Looks to Lift Mayoral Candidate Sayegh

To the delight of Paterson, New Jersey mayoral candidate, community organizer and current City Council President Andre Sayegh, Paterson’s influential Arab American vote is pushing in his favor. Just two years after Sayegh played a major role in organizing the historic get-out-the-vote effort, which mobilized the Paterson Arab American community in support of Bill Pascrell’s successful campaign to represent New Jersey’s 9th Congressional District in 2012, Sayegh is now on the receiving end of key community endorsements and contributions. His fundraiser last weekend raised $80,000 and was topped off with endorsements from local Arab American community leader Al Abdelaziz, Democratic State Party (and Passaic County Dems) Chairman John Currie; and Bill Pascrell III, the son of U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell . Analysts say the race has come down to a head-to-head race between Sayegh and former Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres, although recent polls show Sayegh with a slight edge in favorable rankings. Get your popcorn folks, this one will be good one to watch! 

Sisi: Two Wheels and a Tracksuit

On the eve of announcing his run for presidency last week, Egypt’s former defense minister and military chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was already busy hitting the campaign trail atop an iron-steed of two wheels, dressed in the latest 80’s fashion. In case you missed it, the pictures of Egypt’s frontrunner for the vacated executive position strolling through Cairo on a bike and donning a tracksuit went viral over the weekend, igniting a wave of anti-Sisi hashtags, and prompting questions on whether the Egyptian government should ban the use of Twitter. Could it be? The first ever Draconian usurpation of rights sparked by some less than flattering track pants? It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary, considering Turkey recently made headlines for becoming the latest nation to ban the social media outlet. However, if any Twitter ban were to come into effect in Egypt, it would surely face much resistance from the growing amount of young internet users in the state. Revolution a lá tracksuit? We sure hope not. 

Finally Some NYPD Oversight

New York City has its first-ever Inspector General (IG) in charge of NYPD oversight. Philip Eure has the unenviable job of monitoring the largest police force in the country – a police force that’s up to its neck in controversy (and rightfully so) over civil rights abuses like stop-and-frisk and the surveillance of Muslim communities and Arab American businesses in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. Most recently, Eure served as the executive director of the District of Columbia’s Office of Police Complaints and previously served ten years in the Civil Rights division of the Department of Justice. Here’s what Eure said about the task ahead of him: “Providing oversight that enriches police work and fosters greater understanding between law enforcement and the public has been the focus of my career. I will ensure that we conduct thorough investigations to effect reforms that strengthen this city’s law enforcement efforts and the public’s confidence in its police force.” We sure hope so. Wither should be the days where law enforcement officers decide people are likely guilty of a crime just because of their religion, ethnicity, race or national origin. This appointment is indeed a positive step. Now let’s see if we can get the Department of Justice to act too.

 

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