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Mic Check: One, Two

Friday July 25, 2014

Countdown Vol. 12, No. 21

John Kerry, Secretary of Awkward Statements

It’s been a rough week for Secretary of State John Kerry. Not only did he have to go through a metal detector in Egypt before visiting President Sisi – an unusual procedure for senior U.S. diplomats – but Kerry has given us a few questionable statements on U.S. foreign policy in the region this week. We’re sure you’ve heard about the “hot mic” incident on Sunday, where Kerry chastised Israeli actions in Gaza as “one hell of a pinpoint operation” and expressed some frustration before turning around and defending Israel’s right to defend itself in his next interview on “Fox News Sunday.” Kerry then traveled to Egypt to work on a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, only to provide some other troubling comments. “We’re deeply concerned about the consequences of Israel’s appropriate and legitimate effort to defend itself.” Figure that one out, people. Or what about this: “I want to thank the people of Egypt for their hard work in transitioning to a democracy…” C’mon Secretary Kerry! It’s shameful that on both Egypt and Gaza, what’s said and known behind the scenes is totally different than what the administration is stating in public. Hot mic incidents and doublespeak won’t be enough to convince us the United States is doing enough to press Israel and Egypt on their needed actions and reforms.

Elsewhere in the Middle East...

Where do we start on what’s taking place in the Middle East? Not only are we focused on the tragedy in Gaza, but over the weekend, troubling news emerged out of Iraq about the persecution and expulsion of the last remaining Christians in Mosul. Other reports are showing that the “Islamic State” destroyed the mosque and Shrine of Prophet Jonah and have already been storming monasteries and burning churches. No one is safe – even shopkeepers are apparently being forced to cover up their mannequins. In some hopeful signs, Iraqis are standing behind Mosul’s Christians in solidarity. Meanwhile, in Syria, over 1,700 people have been killed in one of the deadliest weeks of the conflict. Tensions in Libya are also on the rise. As the world’s attention turns to Gaza, it is important to remember these ongoing struggles and crises in the region. This week, AAI held a briefing on the resettling of Iraqis who assisted the U.S. forces during the war, AAI President Jim Zogby spoke to Chris Matthews about the persecution of Iraqi Christians, and we held a virtual discussion on Egypt’s difficult transition after 2011, in an attempt to give time to all of these important issues and events taking place in the region we all have ties to and care deeply about.

She's Bach! And This Time, Taking on Egypt

Secretary Kerry isn’t the only one praising Egypt’s President and the country’s “transition to democracy.” Late last week, we heard that a new Congressional Egypt Caucus made up of four Republicans and a Democrat was created in an attempt to push back against efforts to cut aid to Egypt. Who’s leading the pack? One of Countdown favorites, Rep. Michele Bachmann (who may give 2016 a go) said, “We need this caucus more than ever. What President al-Sisi is trying to do, quite frankly, is to set Egypt on a positive path toward prosperity and growth and peace in the Middle East.” Apparently, these members of Congress are putting stability and security over democracy. California Democrat Loretta Sanchez is taking a lot of heat for her decision to co-chair the caucus, but she insists her participation is aimed at steering the group in a way that sheds light on many dimensions of Egypt’s ongoing struggle – human rights concerns, military aid, and the economy. We wish Sanchez luck…we’re sure it won’t be easy with some of her Islamophobic caucus colleagues.

More Bad News for American Muslims

American Muslims have not only been spied on, but lied to. After the bombshell report detailing the NSA’s surveillance of prominent American Muslims we’ve been telling you about, now reports have emerged on more of the Mukhabarat’s – we mean FBI’s – practices against Muslims. Human Rights Watch detailed in a report this week that the FBI encouraged, and sometimes even paid, Muslims to commit terrorist acts. You heard right: instead of finding and investigating terrorists, our law enforcement agency was busy trying to create their own through sting operations, discriminating based on religious and ethnic identity while doing it, and then patting itself on the back when arrests happened on these manufactured cases. As the HRW report states, “The U.S. government should stop treating American Muslims as terrorists-in-waiting.” 27 cases from investigation through trial were studied in the report, which provides evidence against everything senior government officials, including President Obama, have stated on counterterrorism practices. We have enough issues going on our country – law enforcement agencies should not be creating their own demons and criminals out of law-abiding Americans.

Fine Line Journalism on Gaza

The conflict in Gaza has become a conflict on journalistic integrity and reporting methods. Not only have journalists been warned that they could become targets in Israel’s attacks on Gaza, but some are losing their jobs (and regaining them) after their reports. Arab American journalist for NBC, Ayman Mohyeldin, was removed from Gaza after witnessing the death of four Palestinian children last week, but was reinstated four days later without explanation. Some say it was media bias, while others claim infighting and bureaucracy as the causes. On CNN, reporter Diana Magnay was reassigned to Moscow after chastising Israelis who were threatening and criticizing her over her reporting while cheering on as rockets landed in Gaza. And just yesterday, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer nagged CNN for not reading out the U.N. statement on Hamas putting weapons in schools during reports of Israel’s bombing of a Gaza school, only to have Anderson Cooper adopt the Ambassador’s narrative during his show the following hour. Off the air, the New York Times summed up the recent “deluge” of comments it’s received over its coverage of the recent conflict, and after much complaining, they rightfully changed their title on an article about the death of innocent Palestinians gathered to watch a Word Cup match. As the Gaza crisis continues, we are witnessing a media war as outlets contend with the tragic realities faced by Palestinians every day and attempt to reconcile the facts with a pro-Israeli narrative. The result? Fine line journalism and tons of cognitive dissonance. 

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