Congressman says US foreign policy has ‘blind spot’ on Israel-Palestine conflict

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Updated 02 June 2022

Congressman says US foreign policy has ‘blind spot’ on Israel-Palestine conflict

Congressman says US foreign policy has ‘blind spot’ on Israel-Palestine conflict
  • US Congressman Sean Casten of Illinois said that a real friend to Israel will tell it when it does wrong, such as in examining the killing of Palestinian-American Shireen Abu Akleh
  • Casten urges the reopening of US Consulate to help Palestinians address challenges they face from Israeli settlers and to undermine the influence of Hamas

CHICAGO: American foreign policy has a “blind spot” when it comes to getting accurate information on challenges facing Israelis and Palestinians or achieving peace, Illinois Congressman Sean Casten (D-6th) told Arab News Wednesday.

Elected in 2018 after defeating conservative Peter Roskam, Casten said he saw how the “status quo” provokes extremists on both sides, Hamas and Israeli settlers, during two visits to Israel and later the West Bank.

Casten said he supports a two-state solution but believes it will be difficult to achieve under current circumstances. He stressed that he supports Israel’s right to security in the face of threats from Hamas, as well as the rights of Palestinian civilians, citing the experiences he saw Palestinian farmers face from armed settlers while in Bethlehem last February.

“We had gone in the last time I was there, which was last February. We had gone in and met with several Palestinians. They (Israeli settlers) have got a farm up on the hill above their farm, and it is essentially an outpost with armed settlers who are regularly coming down and shooting their (Palestinian) livestock,” Casten recalled from the trip.

“And we’re sitting there saying we are members of Congress. Why don’t we just walk up? And they were saying no, no… ‘You are going to get shot if you do that, do not walk up there,’ which is weird because normally as a member of Congress, we can go anywhere. We then come back, and we met with Tom Knives, the US ambassador to Israel, who is a lovely guy, and we start telling him about this and it was clear he was not aware of those realities on the ground because as the ambassador to Israel, he cannot travel into that region except in a supervised fashion. And so, we need to have information. We have this blind spot in US foreign policy right now.”

Casten said the situation he saw there reinforced his belief that re-opening the US Consulate in Jerusalem for Palestinian affairs, which is one of the goals of President Joseph Biden, is essential.

“We have Palestinian communities who need representation. They don’t have an embassy anymore. Should we push to create that embassy? That seems like a good thing Congress should do. We’re not taking sides. We are just saying we need to make sure that people [are safe]. We talked to a guy who runs the Hope Flowers School that teaches non-violence in Bethlehem. He doesn’t have anyone to reach out to right now. So, we raise that issue and then we hear, well, ‘Be careful pushing that because as you have seen the Knesset is very divided right now and if you push too hard that might create the rise, the return of the Israeli political right,’” Casten said.

“I am completely in [support] of that (opening the US Consulate). But the challenge is how do we do that in a way that is responsive to the circumstances on the ground there?”

Casten complained that the US understanding of the Israeli-Palestine conflict is dominated by activists on both sides in the US and that a greater effort needs to be made to hear the views of everyone involved to better understand the reality. He said that the US must “understand how it affects the politics on the ground there” in order to address those challenges.

Appearing on “The Ray Hanania Show,” broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News, Casten said his experiences showed how one cannot only listen to activists who advocate for their causes but must also hear from others to better understand the hurdles that prevent peace.

“There is so much pressure in our US system to be responsive to US citizens who are advocates for the region. And I think it is so dangerous to only listen to those groups if you haven’t spoken to groups on the ground…I have met with everyone from Prime Minister (Mohammed) Shtayyeh to (President) Mahmoud Abbas to (Prime Minister) Benjamin Netanyahu and (Alternate Prime Minister) Yair Lapid this last time,” Casten said.

“Everybody will tell Americans who are there that the system is very brittle. If you push us too hard, you will see the rise of the right on the Israeli [side], if you push us too hard you will see the rise of Hamas on the Palestinian side. And there is this tremendous pressure that says, ‘Please don’t violate the status quo.’ And yet we all know that the status quo is untenable. I think the surest way to compromise the security of everyone in the region is to continue the status quo where you have a group of people with no property rights and increasingly little hope.”

Casten observed how the recent signing of peace accords between Israel and other Arab states has changed the dynamics of what many Israelis believe is the path to peace.

“The feeling on the ground in Israel, I think there used to be a sense in Israel that there is no path to regional peace without a resolution to the Palestinian issue,” Casten said. 

“And with the passage of the Abraham Accords, with the increasing concerns of a nuclear Iran, the feeling I get on the street when I talk to Israelis over there is that they have almost inverted that until we have regional peace, we don’t need to worry about the Palestinian issue. I don’t know how to solve that. I feel better about our opportunity to solve that when we have more centrist moderate governments. Of course, the Israeli government has been very brittle now for four or five years.”

Casten said he supports the two-state solution but is unsure how it can be achieved in today’s political dynamics.

“I absolutely support it, and I wish I could tell you that I saw a path to getting it done. I don’t know how you have a democratic Jewish Israel that doesn’t have two states with coherent borders,” Casten said.

“I will also share with you, I have yet to meet an Israeli leader who is committed to the idea that they don’t have complete control of security, which is one and one-half states. And I have yet to meet a leader in the Palestinian authority who doesn’t have a business card that doesn’t have a map that runs from the Jordan to the sea.”

Casten also said he was optimistic in cases like the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh that one could criticize Israel without being anti-Israeli. Palestinian witnesses have said they believed the Palestinian-American citizen was killed on May 11 by an Israeli sniper’s bullet, but the Israelis have resisted that conclusion.

“There are a lot of pressures in our domestic politics. But I think we should be able to manage,” Casten said when asked if responsibility for Abu Akleh’s killing will be resolved.

“I have always been partial to that beautiful line of Frederick Douglass when he said that the best friend of the nation is who acknowledges her faults rather than cloak himself in the specious garb of patriotism. He was, of course, talking about America. But I think in the same way, for the United States to be a good friend of Israel, as we are, we also have to be willing to say as your friend, you are not perfect.”

Casten is a scientist, clean energy entrepreneur and CEO who has dedicated his life to fighting climate change. He serves on the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and is vice chair of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Investor Protection, Entrepreneurship, and Capital Markets.

Casten faces fellow Democrat Congresswoman Marie Newman in the June 28 election primary. Newman did not respond to several requests to appear on the radio show.

The Ray Hanania Show is broadcast live every Wednesday at 5 p.m. Eastern EST on WNZK AM 690 radio in Greater Detroit, including parts of Ohio, and WDMV AM 700 radio in Washington D.C., including parts of Virginia and Maryland. The show is rebroadcast on Thursdays at 7 a.m. in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Chicago at 12 p.m. on WNWI AM 1080.

You can listen to the radio show podcast here


US Supreme Court backs Biden bid to end Trump ‘remain in Mexico’ policy

US Supreme Court backs Biden bid to end Trump ‘remain in Mexico’ policy
Updated 30 June 2022

US Supreme Court backs Biden bid to end Trump ‘remain in Mexico’ policy

US Supreme Court backs Biden bid to end Trump ‘remain in Mexico’ policy
  • Supreme Court overturns decision requiring Biden to restart Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy after the Republican-led states sued to maintain the program

WASHINGTON: The US Supreme Court on Thursday gave a major boost to President Joe Biden’s drive to end a hard-line immigration policy begun under his predecessor Donald Trump that forced tens of thousands of migrants to stay in Mexico to await US hearings on their asylum claims.
The justices, in a 5-4 ruling authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, overturned a lower court’s decision requiring Biden to restart Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy after the Republican-led states of Texas and Missouri sued to maintain the program.
The ruling bolsters Biden as he pursues what he calls a more “humane” approach at the southern border even as Republicans blame him for what they portray as an immigration crisis.
The justices concluded that the New Orleans-based 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals erred in finding that federal immigration law required sending migrants back to Mexico so long as there was not enough space to detain them in the United States.
“The problem is that the statute does not say anything like that,” Roberts wrote, adding that the 5th Circuit’s decision also mistakenly imposed a “significant burden” upon the US government’s ability to conduct diplomatic relations with Mexico.
Trump’s administration adopted the policy, formally called the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” in 2018 in response to an increase in migration along the US-Mexican border, changing longstanding US practice. It prevented certain non-Mexican migrants, including asylum seekers fearing persecution in their home countries, from being released into the United States to await immigration proceedings, instead returning them to Mexico.
Biden’s fellow Democrats and immigration advocates have criticized Trump’s policy, saying migrants stuck in Mexican border cities have faced kidnappings and other hazards.
Roberts was joined by fellow conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the three liberal justices in the ruling. In dissent, Justice Samuel Alito — joined by fellow conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch — said Congress never meant for the government to release immigrants and simply hope they “will show up for the hearing.”
The ruling also faulted the 5th Circuit for voiding the administration’s June 2021 decision to end Trump’s program. The 5th Circuit found that Biden’s administration had failed to properly explain its rescinding of Trump’s policy in violation of federal administrative law. But the Supreme Court found that the June 2021 decision was superseded by a new, more detailed one issued by the administration four months later.
Biden suspended the “remain in Mexico” policy in January 2021 shortly after taking office and acted to rescind it five months later. Roughly 68,000 people fell under the policy from the time it took effect in 2019 until Biden suspended it.
At issue in the case was the meaning of a provision of a 1996 US immigration law that stated that US officials “may return” certain immigrants to Mexican territory pending immigration proceedings. Texas and Missouri have said this provision must be used because the United States lacks detention space for migrants. Biden’s administration said the provision was clearly discretionary.
For migrants not posing a security risk, immigration law separately allows their release into the United States for humanitarian reasons or “significant public benefit” pending a hearing, a practice officials have followed for decades.
Kavanaugh, in a concurring opinion, said that every president since the late 1990s has allowed immigrants into the United States to await their proceedings.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, criticized the ruling, saying it “will only embolden the Biden administration’s open border policies.”
Immigrant rights groups called the ruling a victory.
“The US for generations has been a refuge for those fleeing danger and persecution,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, urging Biden’s administration to “move swiftly to permanently end every facet of the human rights disaster that is ‘remain in Mexico.’“
The number of migrants caught crossing the US-Mexico border has reached record highs recently. Republicans contend that the “remain in Mexico” policy effectively deterred unlawful migration.
After a judge ruled in favor of Texas and Missouri, reinstating the program, the Supreme Court last August refused the Biden administration’s request to block that decision while it appealed. The 5th Circuit ruled in December that because the government lacks the capacity to detain all migrants eligible for admission pending a hearing, it must maintain “remain in Mexico.”
Thursday’s decision came on the final day of rulings for the court’s current nine-month term.


Congresswoman Newman ousted by fellow Democrats over pro-Palestinian, progressive views

Congresswoman Newman ousted by fellow Democrats over pro-Palestinian, progressive views
Updated 30 June 2022

Congresswoman Newman ousted by fellow Democrats over pro-Palestinian, progressive views

Congresswoman Newman ousted by fellow Democrats over pro-Palestinian, progressive views
  • ‘Dark money’ and smearing as antisemitic scuppers re-election bid, says candidate’s advisor
  • ‘Campaign reforms vital to limit political funding by reactionary, pro-Israel, interest groups’

CHICAGO: Although many Arab activists will point a finger at former president Donald Trump and blame him for racism and discrimination against their community, one of the newest and loudest voices supporting Palestinian rights was ousted by the Democratic Party they supported during Tuesday’s Illinois elections.

Congresswoman Marie Newman, who was elected in 2020 to represent the 3rd District, which has one of the largest concentrations of Palestinian voters, lost her re-election bid to a fellow member of the Democratic Party who had support from both the Democrats and pro-Israel PACs.

Newman was targeted by these political action committees because she had during her first year in office introduced or co-sponsored dozens of resolutions and bills defending Palestinian civil and human rights, which also harshly criticized Israel’s government policies.

To silence Newman, her supporters said, her own Democratic Party redrew her district and forced her to run against another more centrist Democrat, two-term incumbent Sean Casten of the 6th District.

Newman lost to Casten in the Illinois Democratic Primary Tuesday, June 28. Casten received 54 percent of the vote while Newman received only 42.3 percent, according to unofficial Illinois State Election Board results.

Shadin Maali, a Palestinian American political consultant who joined Newman’s team, blamed her defeat on “dark money” and being defamed as “antisemitic” because of her criticism of Israel’s apartheid policies against Palestinians.

 

“We can be critical of our own government,” Maali told Arab News Wednesday during the broadcast of The Ray Hanania Show program.

“We can criticize our government left and right. We do it every day. It is our fundamental democratic right to do so. But for some reason, this whole antisemitic label, when we are, when we question, or are critical of Israel in any way (this is how we’re labelled). All anybody that is pro-peace, pro-justice is saying here in our district and all over the country and the world, is that we want rights to be recognized for everybody. That’s all.”

Maali said that Newman was the target of a massive assault funded by pro-Israel critics who opposed her supporting justice for Palestine.

 

“I think we need to get the money out of politics. It shouldn’t be about who raises the most money. It should be about who represents the people the best,” Maali said, arguing there needs to be limits on how much money candidates can spend or receive from outside special interest PACs.

“Campaign reform. We absolutely need campaign reform. Every time you mail out a negative ad smearing a candidate, that is ($30,000) to $50,000. Most of the time it is not the candidates doing that. It is the PACs, the special interest PACs that are endorsing these candidates and are working on their behalf.”

As of June 8, 2022, three weeks before the election, Casten raised $3,112,950 and spent $2,572,280, while Newman raised $1,467,558 and spent $1,176,151, according to Open Secrets which monitors campaign funding.

In addition to media purchased by Casten, pro-Israel PACs spent $504,266 to attack Newman in TV ads and mailers and $154,517 to support Casten.

 

“The dark money exactly. That is exactly what is happening. And it is what’s happening to Marie every single day. We were getting, in my house, we were getting two to three ads smearing Marie to try to get her out,” Maali said.

“Why is the establishment working so hard to taint the name of somebody who is the third most prolific legislator in office out of the new freshman class?”

She emphasized: “It is completely about the money. It is so horrible because we are not on an equal footing.”

Newman is only one of a handful of the 435 members of the US House of Representatives who openly criticize Israel.

Maali concluded that it was her own Democratic Party that marginalized her in the election, leading to her defeat, and silencing a voice for peace and justice.

The Ray Hanania Show is broadcast live every Wednesday at 5 p.m. Eastern EST on WNZK AM 690 radio in Greater Detroit including parts of Ohio, and WDMV AM 700 radio in Washington D.C. including parts of Virginia and Maryland. The show is rebroadcast on Thursdays at 7 a.m. in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Chicago at 12 noon on WNWI AM 1080.

You can listen to the radio show podcast here.


Kuwait’s Ghanem stresses the world’s need for neutral third voice

Kuwait’s Ghanem stresses the world’s need for neutral third voice
Updated 30 June 2022

Kuwait’s Ghanem stresses the world’s need for neutral third voice

Kuwait’s Ghanem stresses the world’s need for neutral third voice
  • Ghanem cited Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories as a clear paradigm of the global failure to ensure mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty

BAKU: Kuwaiti National Assembly Speaker, Marzouq Al-Ghanem, said on Thursday that the world is in dire need of a principled neutral third voice calling for the application of law and justice in the face of risks worldwide, Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reported.

At the Parliamentary Network of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Conference in Baku, Ghanem stated that the fact that the Palestinian struggle remains unresolved is proof of the ongoing threats in various world regions.

Ghanem added that although NAM was founded 67 years ago, the problems that led to its inception persist, with the risk of a third world war looming.

Ghanem cited Palestine and the Zionist occupation of Palestinian territories as a clear paradigm in this regard, saying its continuation is a disgrace to both the past and present world orders.

He stressed that looking forward, a major challenge will be promoting a movement that is moderate and fair.

Ghanem also thanked Azerbaijan for overseeing the Non-Aligned Movement since it assumed the rotating presidency three years ago, as well as for all of its efforts during its term.

The conference, which began earlier this Thursday, brings together parliamentary delegations from over 40 countries, as well as representatives from nine international parliamentary organizations, to advance their roles in promoting global peace and sustainable development.


US tells pharmas to make Covid boosters targeting BA.4 and BA.5

US tells pharmas to make Covid boosters targeting BA.4 and BA.5
Updated 30 June 2022

US tells pharmas to make Covid boosters targeting BA.4 and BA.5

US tells pharmas to make Covid boosters targeting BA.4 and BA.5
  • A panel of medical experts convened by the agency voted in favor of updating Covid vaccines against Omicron
  • BA.4 and BA.5, which are more transmissible and immune evasive, now comprise more than 52 percent of US Covid cases

WASHINGTON: The US Food and Drug Administration on Thursday told vaccine makers that Covid boosters for this fall and winter should include components targeting the BA.4 and BA.5 sub lineages of omicron.
Earlier this week, a panel of medical experts convened by the agency voted in favor of updating Covid vaccines against omicron, with most indicating they would favor shots that target the latest iterations rather than its original form, BA.1, fearing the latter would be too out-of-date.
BA.4 and BA.5, which are more transmissible and immune evasive, now comprise more than 52 percent of US Covid cases, according to an official tracker.
“We have advised manufacturers seeking to update their Covid-19 vaccines that they should develop modified vaccines that add an omicron BA.4/5 spike protein component to the current vaccine composition to create a two component (bivalent) booster vaccine,” the FDA said in a statement.
These vaccines would also need to target the original Wuhan strain, in order to increase the breadth of immune response.
Pfizer and Moderna, which produce messenger RNA Covid vaccines, have developed and tested vaccines against BA.1, and representatives of both companies indicated during the experts’ meeting they would need around three months to produce BA.4 and BA.5 vaccines at scale.
Pfizer shared early results showing its BA.4/5 vaccine produced a strong antibody response in mice, but it hasn’t yet been trialed in humans.
Novavax, which makes a protein subunit vaccine, said it could offer BA.4/5 vaccines by the end of the year.
The FDA said in its new statement that the companies would need to submit human data prior to authorization.
The “primary series” or first shots a person receives would remain against the original strain, the FDA added.
While previous “variants of concern” like Alpha and Delta eventually petered out, omicron and its sub lineages have dominated throughout 2022, to the point it comprises the vast majority of all Covid in the world, FDA official Jerry Weir told the expert meeting this week.
This makes it more likely that the virus’s future evolution will also occur along the omicron branch of the Covid family tree, he added.
Earlier this month, the World Health Organization also recommended the use of omicron boosters after a primary series against the original strain.


Muslim World League holds first conference of Asian ulama in Kuala Lumpur

Muslim World League holds first conference of Asian ulama in Kuala Lumpur
Updated 30 June 2022

Muslim World League holds first conference of Asian ulama in Kuala Lumpur

Muslim World League holds first conference of Asian ulama in Kuala Lumpur
  • More than 1,000 participants arrived from Saudi Arabia and 16 Asian countries
  • Conference was opened by Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob

KUALA LUMPUR: Participants from 17 countries gathered in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday for the first conference of Asian religious scholars organized in Malaysia by the Muslim World League to unite efforts addressing extremist ideologies.

The MWL is an international non-governmental Islamic organization founded in Saudi Arabia in 1962, that focuses on promoting and clarifying the worldwide understanding of Islam. It is headquartered in Makkah and maintains offices around the world.

More than 1,000 participants arrived from Saudi Arabia and countries including Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines.

The conference was opened by Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Malaysian Religious Affairs Minister Idris Ahmad and MWL Secretary-General Sheikh Dr. Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa.

“We feel proud and lucky that the MWL has chosen Malaysia to host the conference, which of course is a recognition to our country, which highlights Islam as a harmonious, safe and prosperous religion in a multi-racial and multi-religious society,” Yaakob said, adding that the meeting was taking place at a time when Muslims are still facing various challenges, including disputes among themselves, provocation, and Islamophobia.

The meeting will pave the way for the establishment in Kuala Lumpur a permanent council under the umbrella of the MWL.

Al-Issa said that the council’s first session was planned next year. The conference aims at developing educational tools and initiatives to foster collaboration and solidarity, especially among young and emerging leaders, to combat extremist ideology and what the MWL said in a statement were “artificial differences that sometimes exist” in politically diverse societies.

“With the efforts of the scholars, multi-pronged activities are being carried out to counter extremism in all parts of the world,” Al-Issa told Arab News on the sidelines of the conference. “We are hopeful that such efforts will bear fruits in due course and help wipe out extremism totally.”

He said that the MWL had chosen multiethnic Malaysia as it is “well known for its harmonious life.

“It is an ideal region for the propagation of harmony and peaceful coexistence among Muslims and non-Muslims,” he added.

“The attendance in large numbers bears eloquent testimony to the enthusiasm of the people and religious scholars to work towards peace, harmony, and coexistence.”