Posted on August 22, 2019 in Countdown

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Victim of His Own Stupidity

Last week, we told you about Israel’s outrageous decision to bar Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from entering the Palestinian territories (AAI President Jim Zogby wrote a piece about it, and Deputy Director Omar Baddar talked to MSNBC about it). But a strike of incredible irony befell Trump while he was attempting to smear the Congresswomen with false charges of anti-Semitism: He exposed his own anti-Semitism by accusing American Jews who vote for Democrats of “disloyalty.” When Trump caught flak for his outrageous comments, he doubled-down in the most hilarious and disturbing way possible: He quoted a kooky conspiracy theorist who said Barack Obama was a “Manchurian candidate” and a gay Muslim (Trump always has the best of friends). This kook weighed in to claim that Israelis loved Trump like he was “the king of Israel” and “the second coming of God,” and pretty much deemed American Jews either dumb or ungrateful for not loving Trump as much. These aren’t side comments from the kook’s past, these are the ones Trump quoted to respond to the fallout from his own comments. We’d end on a joke about the sheer stupidity of this, but don’t want to make light of this assault on the American Jewish community. “Dual loyalty” is an ugly anti-Semitic trope, and it’s pathetic to see those who falsely leveled that charge at Tlaib and Omar turn around and trivialize it when Trump employs it.

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New Rule: Sudan

By now you (better) know, Sudan’s longtime authoritarian ruler Omar al-Bashir was forced to step down back in April, amid widespread protests against political repression and systemic human rights violations within the country. So, is Sudan a thriving democracy that respects human rights? Sadly, not yet. In June, following continued violence against democracy demonstrators, deliberations moderated by the African Union ended in a power-sharing agreement, dictating the creation of a ruling Sovereign Council, which the military will lead for the first 21 months, followed by a civilian leader for the next 18 months. Under this agreement, 11 members of the Council were sworn in on Wednesday. Critics have been concerned about the under-representation of women (only 2 of the 11 members of the Council), the lack of a voice for the victims of the genocide in Darfur, and the role of the military, including allies of al-Bashir. Because Sudan’s struggle is complex and needs to be understood better, we just held a briefing on Capitol Hill exploring what can be done to maximize the odds for a speedy transition to democracy. There are no guarantees about what happens next in Sudan, but we salute the brave youth of the country for standing up for their rights and for all the small victories they achieved along the way, and hope we they get to celebrate the big one soon!

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Thanks, But Really, No Thanks

In the last week or so, we have seen proposals from three members of Congress to create a new federal crime of “domestic terrorism.” While this idea has been around for a while now, these bills from Rep. Schiff (D-CA), Rep. Weber (R-TX), and Sen. McSally (R-AZ) appear to be a direct response to this month’s violence in El Paso, where a white supremacist targeting the Latinx community killed 22 people and wounded 27 others. We agree with Schiff, Weber, and McSally that the threat of white supremacist violence is real, and that the federal government must do more to address it. But new criminal laws are not the answer. In a country with a broken criminal justice system and national security policies that not only target specific communities, but that are also excessive and unjust, the last thing we need is more criminalization and securitization. The federal government already has all the tools it needs to address white supremacist violence. The problem is that they don’t seem to be using them, and if they are, they are not doing enough to show the general public how they are being used. Oversight and accountability, not more unchecked power, is what federal authorities need right now.

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Georgia Fights Back

Officials in Georgia are making all these decisions about elections and voters are Not. Having. It. This week, the Jeff Davis County Board of Elections and Registrars voted to reopen a polling place in a majority-minority voting precinct, after a grassroots campaign exposed the attempt to close this polling place (in a county where there are already consolidated voting precincts) for what it was: an effort to suppress minority voters. All fixed, right? Not quite: Voters are also challenging new voting machines that collect votes in a way that is neither secure nor verifiable. Last month, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger awarded a massive contract to Dominion Voting Systems to replace Georgia’s voting machines. Then, voters submitted a petition signed by over 1,450 registered voters, including elected officials, from 100 counties arguing that the Dominion voting machine system is “illegal and unreliable.” The petition argues that these machines produce paper records with a summary of the voter’s choices that is human-readable (good) but that a scanner tallies the votes based on a code that is only machine-readable (bad) – voters won’t know that this code accurately reflects their selections, and officials won’t be able to conduct meaningful post-election audits. They also argue that the new machines don’t comply with a new state election code that Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law in April (secretly and against advice from security experts and other lawmakers who weren’t into it). This ain’t settled yet, but one thing’s for sure: Georgia voters are continuing to take back control of their elections and they are NOT messing around.

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Closing a Difficult Chapter

Last week, a former State Department Foreign Service officer was sentenced to 5 years  in prison and three years of probation after being found guilty of committing federal hate crimes targeting Arab American Institute leadership and staff, including AAI co-founder and President Jim Zogby. The sentence stems from a May 9 conviction on 14 counts, seven hate crime charges and seven interstate threats charges. Over a period of five years, the defendant sent more than 700 emails to AAI, which included multiple death threats and profuse anti-Arab hatred targeting AAI President Jim Zogby and AAI staff for their advocacy for Palestinian human rights and Arab American civic engagement. In his weekly column, Jim stated the following: “With Syring going to jail for the next five years, my staff and I feel a degree of relief. It won't give us back the years we lived in fear, but we know that at least for the foreseeable future our daily lives won't be turned upside down by cruel death threats from this man. We are thankful for that. We are also thankful for the strong support and protection we were given by the Civil Rights attorneys at the DOJ and law enforcement agencies and for the friendship and support we received from allies and friends. 

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