Posted on July 31, 2013 in Countdown

Reading the Signs on Renewed Peace Talks

As we’ve told you before, we never want to write off the prospect for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. But John Kerry’s months of diplomacy and recent announcement of renewed negotiations has left us wanting to be optimistic but still wondering whether or not conditions for peace exist. Yesterday in a press conference, Secretary Kerry announced that within the next two weeks Israelis and Palestinians will sit down together somewhere in the region and that all final status issues will be on the table. The goal is to have an agreement within nine months. That’s quite ambitious, don’t you think? Now, we’re glad that the two sides are sitting down to, well, talk about the talks, but the devil has always been in the details. We have no specifics about the framework for the talks, or even a potential starting point for negotiations so we are left to consider three development–developments that don’t lend themselves as indicators that this process is predisposed to success. Let’s work backwards to the most recent appointment of former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk to facilitate the negotiations. We’re sorry, but we have to believe that there are capable people who can lend their expertise to Palestinian-Israeli negotiations who have not tried and failed before. Makes us think of Albert Einstein's definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We're waiting for the announcement about Dennis Ross to join the team. Just kidding. As delicate as these negotiations are, and as hard as Secretary Kerry is trying to keep the two state solution alive, this latest push on its face seems to show a continued use of the same failed approach to an increasingly difficult problem. Let’s not also forget that the Indyk appointment comes just a couple weeks after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed Ron Dermer, a man with utter disdain for Palestinians as Israel’s ambassador to the US. Oh, and how can we forget the comments made by Israeli Cabinet Minister Danny Danon who said “…there is no majority for a two-state solution” in the Prime Minister’s Likud Party. Looking at these signs (and we've left out all the facts on the ground), it doesn’t look good. With all that said, we still want to be proven wrong and are pleased that the talks have resumed. 

Dems Hypocrisy on Amash’s NSA Spying Amendment

It’s no secret that in Washington politics sometimes take precedence over governance. Let’s keep that in mind as we explain what happened surrounding a vote on an amendment to the annual Defense Appropriations bill last week. The House was in an uproar last week while considering Arab American Michigan Congressman Justin Amash’s NSA amendment which would curtail the NSA’s ability to gather bulk data on Americans’ phone records. While it was expected that the national security hawks in the Republican Party, House leaders in both parties, and of course the administration would oppose Amash’s amendment, the vote was shockingly close. Here’s the kicker: While Democrats like to tout their support for civil liberties and serve as a vocal critic of domestic surveillance programs, it’s worth noting that 20% of the members of the Progressive Caucus opposed the Amash amendment, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. In fact, Pelosi privately and very aggressively pushed to defeat Amash’s amendment and was able to sway many key votes. Her efforts ultimately garnered enough democratic support to defeat the amendment. Pelosi’s efforts come in spite of being publicly booed at last month’s Netroots Nation conference, one of the largest gatherings of progressive activists, for defending the Administration’s NSA surveillance programs. But somehow, after the vote of course, Pelosi sent off a letter to the President co-signed by more than 150 Democrats (including many of the same Democrats who opposed the Amash amendment) expressing concern over the NSA programs. Now, not to be cynical , but do you see this as an attempt at political cover by Pelosi and Democrats who are facing backlash in their liberal-leaning districts for supporting the NSA’s surveillance programs? This wasn’t even good politics and bad governance; it was bad politics and bad governance.    

This Week It’s Syria

This week, despite new violence and increased casualties on the ground in Egypt and the announcement by US officials of the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, we are continuing our national conversation by refocusing attention on one of the most contentious foreign policy issues facing the Arab American community: Syria. Yes, you remember that terrible civil war - the one reverberating around the region. Given events in Egypt, Syria’s bloody civil war has been in the media less and less even though the UN recently placed the death toll at more than 100,000 and millions are displaced or have become refugees. 

This week we are hosting both a Twitter chat and a national conference call on Syria, tackling issues including:

  • The latest on sending US arms to rebels and the increased militarization of the conflict
  • The growing humanitarian crises and the US response
  • The implications of the civil war on the broader region

Our Twitter conversation starts today, July 31 at 1pm. To participate, use the hashtag:  #AAIchat. Want to jump on the conference call? Send us an email and we’ll get you the details.

Cruz-in’ for a Gaff-ney

It would have been easy for you to miss, but last week the Senate Judiciary Committee convened a hearing on the closing of Guantanamo. The hearing comes amid renewed calls by members of Congress to close the detention center and reports of force-feeding procedures applied to detainees on hunger strike. But while watching the hearing, we were taken aback when we saw known Islamophobe Frank Gaffney giving testimony. You remember Frank Gaffney, right? He’s the one behind Michele Bachmann’s epic fail when she tried to implicate Arab American and American Muslim public servants in a dreamt-up Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy to infiltrate the upper echelons of the US government. That didn’t go well for Bachmann, did it? So while most of the panel agreed that Guantanamo needs to shutter its doors, Gaffney argued that moving detainees held in Guantanamo stateside would be a national security risk. According to Gaffney, these detainees will indoctrinate US inmates incarcerated in supermax prisons and radicalize them. He then went on to assert that these newly indoctrinated prisoners would then actively promote sharia in the US. It doesn’t end there. Maybe, Gaffney hypothesized, if the Guantanamo detainees are here in the US, somewhere more accessible, like stateside in a federal maximum security prison, someone will jailbreak them. You know, accessible. Stumped as to who would have possibly invited such a loon to testify? It was freshman Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). We’re not buying that Senator Cruz didn’t know what he was doing when he invited Gaffney to the hearing. We just wish the Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights wouldn’t invite people associated with hate groups to come testify to Congress. We think that’d be a solid place to start.

Violence Continues in Egypt

A month after the Tamarrod protests and the subsequent coup, waves of violence continue. Clashes are ongoing between supporters of recently-deposed former President Mohamed Morsi, supporters of the new interim government, and the Egyptian military. Reports of violence between Islamists and security forces in the Sinai are also recurring. The military has continued its crackdown on Islamist leaders and officials, with two leaders of the Al-Wasat Islamist party arrested on Monday. These arrests come after one of the bloodiest days in Egypt yet, as at least 80 people were killed during protests against Morsi’s ousting on Saturday, according to Reuters. This brings the death toll since Morsi’s ouster to at least 200 people. Many are expressing deep concerns about a perceived over-reach by the military, with some drawing comparisons between recent violence at the hands of the military and the alleged authoritarian, “my way or the highway” leadership style Morsi espoused. These concerns may have teeth: on Sunday interim President Adly Mansour and Prime Minister Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi gave the military the authority to make civilian arrests. Our polling from just before the Tamarrod protests found that the military had the confidence of 94% of the country at that time.  Another poll is in the field now and it will be interesting to see how that confidence, which was almost unanimous across the country just over a month ago, has shifted with this new violence. We’ll keep you updated. In the meantime, we want to hear from you. Make sure you engage with us on Twitter as we continue our national conversation on Egypt.

ERPA Bans All Forms of Profiling

Yesterday, Congressman John C. Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA). If that sounds familiar, that’s because it is: he has introduced this legislation to every session of Congress for over 10 years. This legislation would make great strides in re-building confidence between the public and law enforcement by ending not only racial profiling, but also banning profiling on the basis of ethnicity, religion and national origin. The bill rests on the widely-accepted reality that profiling in all its forms is both an ineffective and counter-productive law enforcement methodology, which erodes the trust needed for effective policing. Since this bill was first introduced more than a decade ago, instances of racial profiling have continued to plague and unjustly demonize our community and countless others. These include the NYPD’s surveillance of Arab American Muslim communities, TSA’s SPOT “behavior detection” program, and many Department of Homeland Security (DHS) enforcement measures. We could go on and on with countless other examples of systemic profiling, and sometimes downright bigotry in federal and state law enforcement agencies. In the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, many believe now is a moment when public opinion can finally bring this legislation the attention and votes it deserves. Don’t let another session of Congress go by without the passage of this crucial legislation. With August recess beginning in less than a week, make a point of asking your member of Congress to support the End Racial Profiling Act.

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