Posted on July 27, 2015 in Countdown

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Congressional Slander & BDS B.S.

Convened by the House Committee on Oversight & Government reform, yesterday we attended a hearing on  “the impact of the BDS movement,” and boy do we regret eating our lunch beforehand. We would never expect Congress to be a great venue for a factual conversation about BDS’s cause and intended impacts. But no amount of skepticism could have prepared us for the slanderous, nauseating proceedings that zeroed in on minority witness and AAI friend, Matt Duss, President of the Foundation for Middle East Peace. Instead of debating the merits of BDS, or the business interests related to the practice of BDS, or the decades old distinction the U.S. makes between Israel and the settlements – a distinction Congress has tried their best to erase – the majority of the time was spent on Rep. Steve Russell’s (R-OK) wild accusations and mischaracterization of the witness in an attempt to distract from a serious discussion of BDS or the conflict. It all amounts to shameful Congressional behavior and yet another successful diversion from the issue at hand – ending the Israeli occupation, not ending one of the movements to end the occupation.


Don’t Bite the Hand that Feeds

Republican leadership in Washington has a serious mutiny problem. Amid roiling concerns about a disconnect between House and Senate GOP leadership—and underscored by the still wary relationship between the republican establishment and the tea-party—Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) defied the republican orthodoxy by questioning the integrity of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The Texas Senator and Presidential candidate first accused McConnell of lying and later attempted to change Senate procedures in order to push for an Iran-related amendment. In response to Cruz’s actions, the Republican leadership fired a broadside. Numerous Republican Senators expressed their anger at Sen. Cruz for violating Rule 19 of the Senate, which makes very clear that no senator is to impugn the integrity of another senator. When Sen. Cruz came to the floor looking for a second on a roll call vote, McConnell and his allies refused to grant it. But the tiff soon turned into an all-out brawl when the Majority Leader uncovered an email from Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-UT) office to conservative activists discussing a plot to use an Obamacare vote as a political weapon against Senate leadership. This prompted McConnell to call the GOP into a closed door session, where he and other Republican leaders asserted their dominance by making every GOP senator read the email and calling for unity in the GOP. Whether or not Cruz’s contest with Senate leadership is related to his presidential campaign, the broader fallout shows that the power struggle between establishment and tea party Republicans is getting heated.


Pollard On His Way Out

The late breaking Friday news story suggesting convicted spy Jonathan Pollard will be released was enough to keep us reeling through the weekend. It’s a suspiciously casual way to go about releasing a convicted spy who sold classified information—including information on U.S. officials - to the Israeli government. Pollard is set to be released on November 20. Two decades worth of intelligence heads are against releasing Pollard, a precedent that was reaffirmed as recently as this past May when talk of Pollard’s release was passed around as a way to keep Israel at Secretary Kerry’s peace negotiation table with the Palestinians. Now that Kerry is presiding over the Iranian negotiation table, President Obama’s obviously preferred foreign policy endeavor, there is wide speculation that the timing of this choice piece of news is the latest gift to Israel to buy their begrudging acceptance of the Iran deal. Though the White House has denied the connection, are we really convinced that the same week Obama is putting full-court press on Congress to pass the deal, that putting on the ritz for the 'Senator from Israel' isn’t part of his strategy? The Iran deal might go down in history as the beginning of a new regional order – but the Pollard release will only go down in history as the continuation of the contemporary U.S. tradition to put Israel’s preferences ahead of our own national security.


Turkey Enters the Fray

Following the deadly July 20 ISIL attack in the Kurdish majority town of Suruc along the Turkish-Syrian border, which left 32 dead, Turkey called for an extraordinary meeting of NATO under Article 4 of the organization's charter. This is only the fifth time such a meeting has taken place since the alliance's founding 66 years ago.  Last week was particularly difficult for Turkey, ISIL forces also shot and killed a Turkish border guard, and the Kurdish separatist group PKK killed two Turkish police officers for what they perceived as Turkey – ISIL collaboration in the Suruc attack. By the end of the week Turkey deployed its F-16s for strikes against both ISIL and the PKK in Syria and Iraq; NATO has supported Turkey politically but there has, as yet, been no commitment of additional air or ground support. This week the U.S. agreed, after some consideration, to work with Turkey on a so-called "Safe Zone"—the UN advised against the term—stretching for 68 miles along the Syrian border and 40 miles into the embattled country. The U.S. has been clear that this zone will be a base for fighting ISIL and nothing more, while Turkey and the Syrian opposition hope to use it as staging ground to strike at the Assad regime. This could be the beginning of a more full-bodied military campaign necessary to crush ISIL…or perhaps, Turkish opportunism to ramp up strikes against the PKK, which could further destabilize the region.


Gov. Kasich Jumps Into the Race

Ohio Governor John Kasich is the latest Republican candidate to announce his campaign for the Presidency and his catch-phrase, "Kasich is for US," reflects the type of campaign he wants to run. While GOP candidates like Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee use contentious comments to earn their seat at the Fox News debate stage, Gov. Kasich is looking to run a campaign that unites, not divides, Americans. In fact, he called on some of his Republican colleagues to “grow up,” and make realistic promises to American voters. In speaking about how to combat ISIL, Gov. Kasich stated that he would insert U.S. combat troops as part of a coalition force. Gov. Kasich’s blunt approach has both hurt and helped his campaign. During a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, he responded to a few questions by saying, “I don’t know.” Some voters in attendance warmly received his honesty, while others felt that his answers lacked nuance. Kasich's strategy is already making positive gains in the polls. Will Gov. Kasich’s honest and inclusive campaign land him a spot on the debate stage in his home state of Ohio on August 6th? We will have to wait and see.


We've Seen This Before

It's no lie to say that history – particularly its dark side – repeats itself. Just last week, we were enlightened to the ugly fact that the Department of Homeland Security has been actively monitoring individuals who are affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement. Using their social media accounts, the DHS has tracked the location and movement of activists, while producing maps of “conflict zones.” Despite how stunning this revelation may appear, it should come as no surprise. From 1956 to 1971 the FBI engaged in a number of infamous surveillance and political disruption activities under the label COINTELPRO, including the wiretap of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It didn't end there, in 1972, following the massacre of Israeli athletes in Munich, the Nixon Administration launched Operation Boulder, tapping Arab Americans’ telephones and gathering information about their political ideas. This is America, and we can do better.