Posted on November 17, 2017 in Countdown

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Palestinian Human Rights in Congress?

You don’t typically think of the halls of Congress as a place where Palestinian human rights are afforded the concern they deserve, but that changed on Tuesday, when Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) introduced a bill called “Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act.” As you may be able to tell by the name, the bill seeks to ensure that “American tax dollars don't support Israel's military detention of Palestinian children.” This comes on the heels of a report by Israeli human rights organizations documenting the abuse of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention. We’re still a long way from holding Israel accountable for its wide-ranging abuses against Palestinians and violations of their rights, but the leadership of Congresswoman McCollum is most certainly welcomed and will help advance basic human rights—for kids! Can’t imagine who wouldn’t get behind that.


Annual Hate Crime Report Missing some Reports

The FBI released its annual hate crime report on Monday. While the rollout of FBI Hate Crime Statistics, 2016 was rather subdued, the data speaks for itself. Quick takes? Well, hate crime surged another 4.6 percent in 2016, this after a 6.8 percent increase the previous year. In only the second year that law enforcement agencies could report anti-Arab incidents to the FBI, the number of anti-Arab hate incidents rose from 37 in 2015 to 51 in 2016, a 38% increase.  And among the 6,121 hate crime incidents reported in 2016, a plurality occurred between the months of October and December. Need we remind you, that period coincides with the presidential election, its upending outcome, and subsequent fit of nationwide convulsions. You know what they say, hate engenders hate, and in November 2016, hate seemed to be on the ballot. Our takeaways are here, as well as a link to the report itself. But before you leave us, remember: the FBI’s statistics don’t reflect every hate crime reported to the police, only those voluntarily submitted by law enforcement agencies around the country…and don’t forget, most hate crimes aren’t even reported to the police. So, while we can conclude that hate crimes are indeed on the rise, know that the data we do have is likely just the tip of the iceberg.


Suspense in the Middle East Continues

We told you in the last Countdown about the “half-joking/half-serious” speculation that Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was held against his will in Saudi Arabia. Well, the half-joking part has since died off. It started with State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert referring to the “the conditions of him being held”, only to quickly backtrack and dance around the question of whether he was being held against his will or not. Shortly after, Lebanese government officials, including allies of the Prime Minister, started saying they believed Hariri was under house arrest. But to assure his home country that he was well, Hariri gave a TV interview saying he was free and well. But his demeanor was so tense in the interview that it only added to the belief that he wasn’t really free. Hariri has long been saying that he’ll be returning to Lebanon “soon”, but has now also accepted an invitation to go to France, which is expected to happen in the next 48 hours. One ominous line in the Washington Post noted “It was unclear whether Hariri would take his family on the trip.” Elsewhere, it was reported in Israel that when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was summoned to Saudi Arabia last week, he was “ordered” to either accept Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan when it’s presented (speculatively early next year) or resign. Is that actually true? And what exactly is in Trump’s “ultimate deal”? The suspense is killing us (we bet it’s super ultimate).


The Extremism that Wasn’t, Then Was Again

Remember when Trump nominated an extremist by the name of David Friedman to become US Ambassador to Israel? He was so extreme that he called President Obama an anti-Semite, and called centrist Jewish groups like J Street Nazi collaborators. But that was the old Friedman, who since said he regretted expressing such offensive views, and so he was forgiven and appointed US Ambassador to Israel. Well, he’s managed to restrain the epithets, but it’s hard to really resist the old ways entirely. So when he was giving a speech to his buddies at the Zionist Organization of America a few days ago, he accused president Obama of “the greatest betrayal of Israel by a sitting president in American history.” Veteran Washington journalist Laura Rozen said this attack by an ambassador on a former president “crosses a line [she had] not seen a US appointee cross in a long, long time.”  Know who else spoke at the ZOA? Steve Bannon. No shocker there, but his message was something else: He called on American Jews to join the war against the GOP establishment. On the bright side, we finally found the moral baseline beneath which Sheldon Adelson refuses to sink, as he publicly breaks with Bannon over his war on the GOP.  You know you’re out there on hawkish extremism when even Alderson thinks you’re too much.


The Ugly Face of War in Yemen

Yemen has been facing a humanitarian disaster for years now, after the Saudi-led coalition intervened to topple Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who took over the government some 3 years ago. Thousands of Yemenis have been killed in the fighting, and no less than a million Yemeni children, cut off from clean water, are at risk of getting cholera.  It’s hard to imagine how things could get worse, but they did. After the Houthis fired a ballistic missile aimed at the Saudi capital (which was intercepted), Saudi Arabia stepped up the bombing of Yemen and tightened the siege on the country. The UN is now warning that “untold thousands” of innocent Yemenis will die if the blockade isn’t lifted, in what is being dubbed “the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.” Devoid of the human toll, the proxy squabble over power and influence in Yemen is perfectly understandable. But when the devastation is on this scale, humanity must come before regional politics. That’s why we think this war should end immediately, and we call on our government and all parties with leverage in the region to look for non-violent ways to resolve the dispute over Yemen. This is a pressing moral responsibility we’ll be judged for by future generations.


Voting Wrongs and Rights

While the rest of Capitol Hill turned its attention to Russia’s influence in our most recent presidential contest, we felt it important to shine a light on a neglected threat to our democracy: the attack on voting rights, which has accelerated since 2010. We held a congressional briefing on voting rights on the anniversary of the “orange surprise” (also known as the 2016 election) and the increasing threat of voter suppression efforts. Indeed, 14 states passed restrictive voting laws that were new for 2016, meaning this was the first presidential election since the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court case limiting the bipartisan Voting Rights Act. The event briefing featured Nicole Austin-Hillery of the Brennan Center for Justice, Jeanette Senecal of the League of Women Voters, Jennifer Bellamy of the ACLU, and Danielle Lang with theCampaign Legal Center. The panelists discussed potential avenues for advocacy to protect and expand voting rights, the gerrymandering case Gill v. Whitford in front of the Supreme Court, and Trump’s ironically named Pence-Kobach Commission on Election Integrity. For more, see our voting rights issue brief and our Yalla Vote project.