Posted on October 30, 2013 in Countdown

How We Should Talk About the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

AAI president Jim Zogby argues that Arab Americans and supporters of the Palestinians here in the US need to focus more on Palestinians' rights, and less on the “debate as to what the 'deal' [between Israelis and Palestinians] should include or whether no deal is the best outcome – since that result, some say, would lead inevitably to a one-state solution.” Don’t get him wrong, though, it’s not that the outcome of the “deal” doesn’t matter - it most certainly does. Instead, Zogby says we should focus on what we can do: “shine a light on the daily injustices visited upon Palestinians, and mobilize support for those whose human rights are being abused." "As long as Palestinians are not known, discourse about the issue in the US will remain hopelessly one-sided." "Only when Palestinians are known and their rights are fully recognized will the US feel the need to press for balanced peace that recognizes the rights and needs of all.” Cynical about this approach? Consider this: In 1977 when the Palestine Human Rights Campaign was created, no then-existing human rights group would adopt Palestinian cases. Now, movies like “Five Broken Cameras” highlighting gross human rights violations are getting nominated for Oscars.

A Big Step on "The Road to Immigration"

AAI and the Muslim Public Affairs Council hosted a successful town hall meeting last weekend to discuss comprehensive immigration reform. We heard from Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), a leader in Congress, a high-level White House official, and an immigration lawyer. The panelists discussed the challenges involved in crafting a comprehensive immigration reform package that stays true to our heritage as a nation of immigrants, and how the White House and Congress feel about the comprehensive bill passed by the Senate in June. It was refreshing to have the conversation without the political sniping and xenophobic undertones that usually accompany discussions of immigration. Let’s hope Congress stays up to the task as the US takes yet another stab at comprehensive immigration reform.

Time for the DOJ to Investigate NYPD Spying

We’re not letting up on the New York Police Department (NYPD) or the Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding their spying tactics targeting members of our community. Thanks to persistent advocacy, there has been growing political opposition to the invasive spying practices, most recently with New York Mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio promising to end it if elected. But to date the Department of Justice, despite appeals from members of Congress, has yet to issue a judgment on the constitutionality of the NYPD’s spying. So AAI and over one hundred other advocacy organizations sent a letter to the Department of Justice urging that they come to a judgment on the NYPD’s ongoing activities. Responding earlier this year to repeated questions about the NYPD during a House committee hearing, Attorney General Eric Holder said the matter was “under review.” Well, now we’ve formally asked the DOJ to come to a conclusion on whether the NYPD infringed on the constitutional rights of those they spied on. The significance of a favorable outcome in the DOJ investigation cannot be overstated and would represent a significant break with invasive surveillance practices spawned in the post-9/11 environment.

Putting a New Face on the Drone War

There are few issues of US foreign and counterterrorism policy more controversial than targeted killing and the use of drones. Last week, two reports came out that were severely critical of their proliferation under President Obama the last few years, but this week we heard from a voice that, incredibly, has been neglected until now. Yesterday, for the first time ever, members of Congress came face to face with the human cost of drone warfare. The members heard from individuals who had survived, been injured, or lost loved ones to drone strikes. They described their terror at the most mundane tasks, and how they’re always watching the skies in fear. It is vital that these conversations continue. The American people need to be aware of the consequences of its leaders' actions and see the human cost of its remote warfare.

It's Finally Here!

We’ve been talking up the USA FREEDOM Act for the last couple of weeks, and this week the build-up is finally over. The proposal was introduced simultaneously in both Houses of Congress by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), a liberal Democrat, and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), a conservative Republican. It stops the NSA’s dragnet collection of data that was exposed over the summer, and sets common-sense limits on data collection and surveillance so that they’ll actually be connected with someone who’s suspected of wrongdoing. Remember that Congressman Sensenbrenner was the lead author of the Patriot Act, and even he thinks these programs go too far. You know you have a problem when the author of the Patriot Act says, “whoa, too much.” The bill is sponsored by over 70 Representatives, and 16 Senators, and there is a good mix of both parties. Even in this hyperpartisan atmosphere, it looks like our Congress just might step up to the plate and do some good. We’ll keep you posted.

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