New US lawmakers’ criticism of Israel pressures Democrats

Ilhan Omar, left, and Rashida Tlaib made their debut in the House of Representatives openly declaring their support for the BDS movement. (AP)
Updated 10 February 2019

New US lawmakers’ criticism of Israel pressures Democrats

  • Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib made their debut last month as US representatives by openly declaring support for the Palestinian-led BDS
  • The movement calls for sanctions against Israel over its apartheid policies

WASHINGTON: The support for a boycott of Israel by the first two Muslim women in the US Congress has opened a breach in the Democratic Party and threatens to create a fissure in the ironclad US-Israeli alliance.

Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib made their debut in the House of Representatives in January openly declaring their support for the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, or BDS.

The movement, launched more than a decade ago and modeled on the 1960s movement to pressure South Africa over apartheid, calls for people and groups to sever economic, cultural and academic ties to Israel, and to support sanctions against the Jewish state.

But for Israel partisans — including many Democrats and Republicans in Congress — BDS smacks of anti-Semitism and poses a threat to Israel.

Tlaib, 42, has Palestinian roots and represents a district of suburban Detroit, Michigan that is home to thousands of Muslims.

She argues that BDS can draw a focus on “issues like the racism and the international human rights violations by Israel right now.”

Omar, 37, is the daughter of Somali refugees who was elected to represent a Minneapolis, Minnesota district with a large Somali population.

She accuses Israel of discrimination against Palestinians akin to apartheid, but denies that she is anti-Semitic.

Her remarks in January to Yahoo News however sparked anger among the large pro-Israel contingent in Congress, the powerful, largely Democratic US Jewish community, and Israel itself, where BDS is seen as a national threat.

“When I see Israeli institute laws that recognize it as a Jewish state and does not recognize the other religions that are living in it, and we still hold it as a democracy in the Middle East, I almost chuckle,” she told Yahoo News.

“Because I know that if we see that in another society we would criticize it — we do that to Iran, any other place that sort of upholds its religion.”

Omar and Tlaib sparked the BDS controversy during a period when Donald Trump’s administration has strengthened relations with Israel and slashed aid to the Palestinians.

But Republicans saw their support for BDS as both a threat to Jews and an exploitable rift among Democrats.

“Democrats have made it clear that hateful, bigoted rhetoric toward Israel is not confined to a few freshman members. This is the mainstream position of today’s Democratic Party and their leadership is enabling it,” Republicans said in a statement on Jan. 29.

The worry about the still small but growing support for BDS in the US predates Tlaib’s and Omar’s political rise.

A number of states have passed or proposed constitutionally questionable legislation and policies that would penalize supporters of the boycott movement.

But the arrival of Tlaib and Omar in Congress was greeted with the first proposed federal law to fight to that end, in the Senate.

Sen. Marco Rubio argues that BDS aims to eliminate the state of Israel, and said his legislation would protect states’ rights to exclude from public contracts any supporters of BDS.

Republicans, the majority in the Senate, along with more than half of the Democrats approved the legislation.

But a significant number of Democrats opposed it, because, they said, it violates constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression.

That has left Democrats vulnerable to charges of anti-Semitism.

To fight that, in January prominent party members formed the Democratic Majority for Israel, touting themselves as “The Voice of Pro-Israel Democrats,” which for some came across as a rebuke of Omar and Tlaib.

After Omar joined the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee, according to The New York Times, Jewish committee Chairman Eliot Engel privately made it clear that he would not ignore any “particularly hurtful” remarks she might make.

“You hope that when people are elected to Congress, they continue to grow,” he reportedly told her.

“There is obviously a serious fight going on within the Democratic Party with respect to how to deal with BDS and some within their party who advocate for it,” said Alvin Rosenfeld, who directs the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism at Indiana University.

“Should the party swing to the far left and appear to be way out of line with America’s traditional ties to one of its strongest allies, Israel, the party will surely suffer at the polls,” he told AFP.

Amy Elman, a political science professor at Kalamazoo College, said anti-Semitism should not be used as a “political football by any party.”

“Democrats should care less where the charges of anti-Semitism come from. What matters is if the accusations are valid,” she said.


Cairo turns to Tokyo for a lesson on education

Updated 22 August 2019

Cairo turns to Tokyo for a lesson on education

  • The Japanese education system is recognized as one of the top five worldwide

CAIRO: Egypt is seeking Japan’s help to improve its education system, which has fallen to 130th place in international rankings.

The Japanese education system is recognized as one of the top five worldwide, and Cairo is hoping to apply key aspects of Japan’s approach to the Egyptian curriculum.

Education has played a major role in transforming Japan from a feudal state receiving aid following World War II to a modern economic powerhouse. 

During a visit to Japan in 2016, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi discussed political and economic development with Japanese officials, and was also briefed on the Japanese education system.

The Egyptian leader visited Japanese schools and called on Japan to help Egypt introduce a similar system in its schools.  

As part of Egyptian-Japanese cooperation, Japan’s embassy established cultural cooperation as well as technical and professional education links between the two countries. Collaboration has been strengthened from kindergarten to post-university, with Japanese experts contributing in various education fields.

Japanese experts have held seminars in schools across the country, focusing on basic education. 

During one seminar, Japan highlighted the importance of enhancing education by playing games during kindergarten and primary school, encouraging children’s ability and desire to explore.  

Education expert Ola El-Hazeq told Arab News that the Japanese system focuses on developing students’ sense of collective worth and responsibility toward society. This starts with their surrounding environment by taking care of school buildings, educational equipment and school furniture, for example.

“Japanese schools are known for being clean,” El-Hazeq said. “The first thing that surprises a school visitor is finding sneakers placed neatly in a locker or on wooden shelves at the school entrance. Each sneaker has its owner’s name on it. This is a habit picked up at most primary and intermediate schools as well as in many high schools.”

Japanese students also clean their classrooms, collect leaves that have fallen in the playground and take out the garbage. In many cases, teachers join students to clean up schools and also public gardens and beaches during the summer holidays.

El-Hazeq added that neither the teachers nor the students find it beneath their dignity to carry out such chores.

The academic year in Japan continues for almost 11 months, different from most other countries, with the Japanese academic year starting on April 1 and ending on March 31 the following year.

Japan’s school days and hours are relatively longer in comparison with other countries. Usually the school day is from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Teachers normally work until 5 p.m. but sometimes up to 7 p.m. Holidays are shorter than in other countries. Spring and winter holidays are no longer than 10 days, and the summer holiday ranges from 40 to 45 days.