Posted on July 20, 2017 in Countdown

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Battleground BDS

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement trying to hold Israel to account for its severe human rights violations has long been under assault, but things have taken a nutty turn for the worse when the House and Senate introduced bills to flat-out criminalize BDS (Toto, I have a feeling we're not in America anymore). The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was reportedly involved in writing the bills. Thankfully, the people standing up to this madness aren’t just your typical defenders of Palestinian rights, but also giants of American free speech and civil rights like the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU just issued a letter to Congress saying: “We urge you to refrain from co-sponsoring the legislation because it would punish individuals for no reason other than their political beliefs,” noting that the law would institute penalties ranging from a $250,000 to 20 years in prison for violators of the ban on Israel boycotts. This is every bit as ominous as it sounds, and it calls on all who care about our rights as Americans to speak out, regardless of where we stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But if there is a silver lining in all this, it’s realizing that opponents of Palestinian rights are having to take extreme, loony measures to defend Israel’s occupation, even damaging American liberties, because they can no longer win the argument for the occupation on merits.


A Senator Rises to Defend Opponent

Deedra Abboud is running for a US Senate seat in Arizona. She is also Muslim and, in the current climate, she’s being trolled by anti-Muslim bigots constantly. In an effort to remind her detractors about the illegitimacy of attacking her over her faith, Abboud shared a Facebook post about the US constitution, on its protection of religious freedom and its separation of church and state. But even that post was flooded with trolling comments (and supporting ones). Not surprisingly, standup Republican Senator Jeff Flake, the very man whose job she wants to take, tweeted at her saying “Hang in there @deedra2018. Sorry you have to put up with this. Lots of wonderful people across AZ. You'll find them.” Kudos to you, Senator!  Now, wouldn’t it be nice if all elected officials could react to anti-Muslim bigotry in the same way, instead of fanning its flames? Yeah, we're not holding our breath either.


Trump Ends Syria Policy Track

It was always difficult to predict Trump’s policy in Syria. On the one hand, he was hawkish enough to advocate bombing the families of suspected terrorists. On the other, he wanted President Obama to stay out of Syria. But following a chemical attack that had many fingers pointing to the Assad regime, Trump carried out an attack on a Syrian government air base. Though that attack was limited, it didn’t stop Trump from threatening Assad over a prospective chemical attack that didn’t materialize. All of these incidents and statements left Trump’s actual policy goals in Syria pretty vague. But just this week, we got the first indication of a consequential policy change on Syria from the Trump administration, which just ended a covert CIA program to fund Syrian rebels aiming to take down the Assad regime. Officials said the move “reflects Trump’s interest in finding ways to work with Russia, which saw the anti-Assad program as an assault on its interests.” This doesn’t change, however, that large numbers of civilians in Syria continue to die due to Trump’s aggressively expanded airstrike campaign against ISIS in the country.


Mic Check

What does Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu think of the European Union’s exhibition of some tepid concern for Palestinian rights? “It’s crazy. It’s actually crazy!” That moment was brought to you by a hot mic where, in private talks with European leaders, Bibi was referencing the EU’s preference to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolved before initiating closer trade ties. According to Bibi, such a move undermined Europe’s business and security interests (yeah, right!).  The most revealing aspect here, though already obvious to close observers, is Bibi’s contentment with leaving Palestinians under perpetual occupation. His comments are basically calling on the EU to also get comfortable with Palestinians living indefinitely without their basic rights. But with growing discontentment with the occupation, it’s Bibi who actually needs to learn to get comfortable with growing global reluctance to ignore it. Oh, and did we mention he also confessed to "dozens and dozens" of Israeli airstrikes in Syria?


Politics Aside

You’ve probably heard by now, Senator John McCain is facing a tough battle with an aggressive form of brain cancer. We’ve had our fair share of disagreements with the senator (often strong ones), but we also remember how he stood against bigotry and incendiary discourse during the 2008 campaign, how steadfast he was in the face of those who advocated for torture, how he advocated for pragmatic and comprehensive immigration reform, and how often he placed principles before politics. American leaders from across the political spectrum are rooting for McCain to beat this, and we would like to join them in wishing the senator a speedy recovery. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family as they take on this fight.