Posted on February 19, 2014 in Countdown
Abbas Goes over Bibi’s Head, Speaks Directly to Israeli Youth
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivered a speech directly to 300 Israeli students and youth leaders in Ramallah to discuss the peace process. Taking a page from the Obama playbook, Abbas went over Netanyahu’s head and spoke directly to the Israeli public to outline the Palestinian position on peace negotiations. One Israeli newspaper described the talk as the largest gathering of Israelis in Ramallah since a 2002 military operation. Israelis are barred by their own government from entering Palestine. Abbas’ talk covered wide-ranging issues including refugees, reconciliation attempts between Fatah and Hamas and incitement from both sides. By most accounts, it was well-received by the youthful Israeli audience. One Palestinian journalist noted that Abbas’ entire speech and his answers to questions were broadcast on Palestine TV, indicating the talk was meant to both demonstrate the seriousness of ongoing negotiations and increase pressure on Israel’s right-wing ruling party. So where was Israel’s Prime Minister during all of this? On Tuesday, Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, where he called those who founded the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement “classical anti-Semites in modern garb” and said the boycotts were intended to lead to “the end of the Jewish state.” Hilik Bar, the Knesset member who helped organize the Abbas event, called on Netanyahu to reciprocate Abbas’ event by hosting 300 Palestinian students in Jerusalem. We think a gesture of this magnitude should be met with a similar one – that is if we’re serious about peace, of course.
Known Islamophobe Invited to Host Training for Virginia Law Enforcement
It was over two years ago that a Wired Magazine article revealed that the FBI and Department of Defense were using Islamophobic and anti-Arab training materials to teach law enforcement and senior military officers about our community. Remember the documents we told you about that as part of its “Establishing Relationships” section told agents “Never attempt to shake hands with an Asian. Never stare at an Asian.”? Oh, and let’s not forget, this one, “while the ‘Western Mind’ is able to control emotion, in the ‘Arab World’ people are prone to ‘frequent Jekyll & Hyde temper tantrums’.” So why are we bringing this up again a couple years later? Well, apparently the national rebuke of these federal law enforcement programs hasn’t prevented the Culpeper Country Sheriff’s office from contracting a known Islamophobe to train its officers about Islam. John Guandolo, the trainer in question, is identified by a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “notorious Muslim-basher and conspiracy theorist.” Guandolo is quoted saying Muslims "do not have a First Amendment right to do anything" and alleges that none other than John Brennan, the head of the CIA, is part of a Muslim Brotherhood plot to infiltrate the U.S. government. Sound familiar? Guandolo is up there with the likes of Frank Gaffney, Nonie Darwish, Pamela Geller, and Robert Spencer on the hate spectrum, yet he’s still training our law enforcement officers. His role as a trainer is unacceptable.
The GOP Goes Global
The Republican divide goes beyond debt ceilings and healthcare. Over the weekend, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor gave a foreign policy speech attacking what he described as the growing “isolationist sentiment” in the United States. His remarks provide us with insight into what is likely to be the GOP’s messaging on foreign policy heading into 2016. But while Rep. Cantor’s speech was mainly aimed at what he identified as President Obama’s failed foreign policy- particularly the administration’s engagement with Iran, Russia and Syria- there’s no doubt that his message will be met with rebuke by some fellow Republicans pushing a more libertarian foreign policy agenda, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), who have both supported reduced defense spending. Cantor said, “American foreign policy…should be driven by clear principles: Protect the homeland, defend our allies and advance freedom, democracy and human rights abroad, while maintaining a military superiority that cannot be matched.” For all of President Obama’s faults on U.S. foreign policy, we can’t help but notice that Cantor’s message is essentially recycled rhetoric and sounds a lot like the hawkish approach of the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party that defined much of the Bush administration’s foreign policy. It’s also apparent that the muddled foreign policy pursued by the Obama administration – demonstrated by discrepancies between the State Department and the White House – has opened up room for criticism and division, but is it really a good idea to revert back to what sounds like Bush-era policy? Can we put a third option on the table, please?
“The Day We Fight Back”
This past Tuesday’s “The Day We Fight Back” marked a day of action to protest the NSA’s overreaching surveillance programs. More than 5,000 websites participated in the effort, including Google, Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Google blasted an email out to 4.5 million people who previously supported its petition in 2012 against the Stop Online Piracy Act. Nearly 100,000 phone calls were made and 555,000 emails were sent to Congress on “The Day We Fight Back” by citizens urging their representatives to support The USA Freedom Act, an NSA reform bill authored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in the Senate and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) in the House. The USA Freedom Act will end the NSA’s bulk data collection program, will bring greater transparency to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court), and will introduce a public advocate before the FISA Court. “A hundred thousand or so calls to Congress, on a single issue, in just over 24 hours, is the sort of mark that’s met perhaps a handful of times a year, if that,” said David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, lead organizer for the day of action. But we’re not in the habit of letting the internet do all our work for us, so AAI and other Arab American, South Asian, and Muslim organizations met yesterday with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), an independent agency within the executive branch that advises the President on civil liberties and privacy issues as it pertains to national security. The Board heard concerns from members of our community regarding unlawful surveillance, profiling at US ports of entry, and concerns over the DOJ’s national security loophole in its profiling guidance.
Lebanon: Head in the Clouds?
Lebanon has a newly formed cabinet after over 10 months of political standoff. So the country should be delighted by the fact that an agreement was reached between the varied and divided political factions, right? Well, not so much. Instead, controversy erupted following the release of a photo of the cabinet’s first public appearance with a clearly photoshopped image of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s head on someone else’s body. Although Berri was around for the agreement, sources say he left the presidential palace just moments before the photo-op. Adib Abi, the presidential media advisor, stood in his place. While the photoshop scandal has received much criticism from the media, Berri has been busy meeting with Kuwaiti leaders in an effort broker an agreement on Syria between regional foes Iran and Saudi Arabia. Yes, the “photogate” scandal makes for a great headline, but we think a newly formed government is a better one.