Wilbur Ross and Mark Meadows are deer in headlights during hearing with Cummings and AOC

Wilbur Ross arrived for his Oversight committee hearing with all the false confidence of a billionaire who’s operated with impunity for decades. During the hearing, Ross claimed that his attempt to insert a citizenship question into the 2020 census was:

  • Not influenced by Steve Bannon and Kris Kobach, both of whom urged him multiple times to include such a question to suppress immigrant response rates to the census
  • That the question was included to comply with the voting rights act, and not to reduce the representation of states/areas with immigrant populations
  • That in any case, he was merely reinstating a question from the 1950 census.
  • The fact that it was reinstated rather than a new question, meant that he did not need to inform Congress he was doing it.

There were several other fabrications and likely outright lies. 

And then AOC began her questioning (which you can watch below). Using both news reports and court records, she made clear he was lying about his contact with Bannon, Kobach and his reasons for including the citizenship question.

Then, she pulled out the 1950 citizenship question and noted that it was very different from the question proposed by Ross, therefore not a reinstatement.

Finally, the knife, AOC asks why Ross has failed to file a report required by law before changes are made.

At this point, Ross’s billionaire entitlement kicks in and he says she’s out of time, so he won’t answer. Which is pretty amazing behavior for a witness. Cummings steps in and says he will ask the question for AOC. Then Mark Meadows, who’s fumbling around, tries to raise a point of order because “we don’t know what she’s talking about”. Meanwhile Ross’ attorneys are furiously whispering to him. All gets shot down by Cummings, who demands Ross answer and also provide a written statement. All of it is worth watching, but the action starts at 5:30 or so in the clip below.

Goal Thermometer
Donate to AOC, Omar, Pressley and Tlaib

I’ve got to agree that AOC’s team demonstrates a level of preparation that you rarely see, even from very experienced members’ questioning. This is commendable and really underscores how much energy and dedication AOC, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Rep. Rashida Tlaib are bringing to Congress. You can donate to them using the link here.

In this case, AOC is doing a remarkable job protecting the interests of the many immigrant families in her community. People who would be materially harmed if Ross got his way with this census question. The Trump administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric would scare many immigrants away from the census, especially if a citizenship question were on it. That would mean fewer funds for those communities and a larger district with more people in it because the immigrant population would be undercounted.

AOC and her team know what is at stake and aren’t going to let a plutocrat like Ross harm the people of her district.

It’s great to watch how Cummings has her back, and fantastic to watch mediocre hacks like Ross and Meadows squirm under the pointed questioning.

— @subirgrewal

India takes voting rights seriously, wish we did too.

India is a poor country. Its per capita income ($2,000/yr) is just 3% that of the US ($60,000/yr).  Yet, despite its relative poverty, India takes the voting rights of its citizens far more seriously than our vastly wealthier country does. 

In April and May of this year, India will go to the polls to elect a new central government. That means almost 900 million eligible voters across its length and breadth will have a chance to cast their vote. And Indian officials will move heaven and earth to ensure every last soul has a reasonable chance to vote. 

Voters are electing lawmakers for the 543-member lower house of parliament, or Lok Sabha. In 2014, the Election Commission of India deployed 3.7 million polling staff, 550,000 security personnel, 56 helicopters and 570 special trains to conduct a five-week-long exercise in close to a million polling stations. — www.bloomberg.com/…

In 2014, the electorate was 830 million strong, voter turnout was 66.4%. 553 million Indians eventually voted. By comparison, in our own 2016 general election, a mere 138 million Americans cast a ballot and turnout was a comparatively low 55.7%.

Political rally in Hyderabad

The scale of this election is almost incomprehensible. The picture on the right is an election rally in Hyderabad. I can say with some certainty that none of our Presidential candidates will attract a crowd close to that size to any rally this cycle.

The logistics and scale are so challenging that the polls simply cannot be conducted on a single day. Instead, the country will vote in phases over a five-week period.

And everyone will indeed be able to vote because the Election Commission of India runs the process. It is an independent entity vested with almost absolute constitutional authority over election mechanics. Removing the Chief Election Commissioner from his or her office is as arduous as removing a justice of the Indian Supreme Court. It takes its responsibility to guard the voting rights of Indian citizens seriously.

The EC will ensure that every single eligible voter has a polling station within 2 kilometers of their home. No matter how remote that home may be. This is done so that even the poorest, even someone who may not be able to ride a cart to the polling station, can walk or be carried if needed. This means poll workers carry polling machines high into the mountains, and deep into forests, often so a handful of fellow Indians can exercise their franchise.

Millions of poll workers, police and security personnel are deployed in cities, towns, villages and hamlets. They use planes, boats, trains, helicopters, elephants, and camels and travel by foot to reach far flung voters, from the snow-capped Himalayan mountains in the north to tiny islands in the Arabian Sea to the south, the desert in the west and the deep forests in the east.

This time, the commission will mobilize 11 million officials to conduct the election at 1.04 million polling stations which will use over 2 million electronic voting machines. — www.bloomberg.com/…

That is not a typo, literally millions of civil servants will be entrusted with portable polling machines and they’ll take helicopters, trains, cars, bullock carts, camels, horses, donkeys and sometimes walk to get to some of the most remote places on earth. It’s going to be relatively expensive to run for a poor country. But there are unusual expenses to cover, like elephant rental.

Some of that may be used for elephants to carry electronic voting machines to relatively inaccessible regions, and boats to ferry men and materials across the mighty Brahmaputra river in the northeast.  — economictimes.indiatimes.com/…

Yarlung/Tsango weaving its way around Namcha Barwa

As an aside, “mighty” is not hyperbole. The Brahmaputra carves a route across Tibet and then cuts through the Himalayas. There it has created the longest and deepest canyon in the world, the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon. Its walls are 5,000 meters (16,000 feet) high. The river runs East across Tibet till it can slide past the Easternmost 25,000 foot peak in the Himalayas, Namcha Barwa. There it bends around this remote behemoth, which has been summited only once by humans, and enters India to become the Brahmaputra. Here, as it winds through the hills and valleys of Assam, one of the rainiest places on Earth, the river swells to a width of 5 miles at times. Then the river enters Bangladesh and splits in two. Its western branch joins with the Ganga. The Eastern joins the Meghna, and there it ends, having carried the snowmelt of the Himalayas 1,800 miles through three countries, to deliver it into the Bay of bengal.

Back to elections. Election spending is expected to exceed $7 Billion, which if realized would make it more expensive that the 2016 US election.

The highest polling station is in Hikkim, Himachal Pradesh, 4,400 meters or 14,400 feet above sea level. That’s high as Mt. Elbert, the highest peak in the Rockies, and about 100 feet lower than Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48. Hikkim is relatively accessible, other mountainous villages are even more remote.

The midday sun was blazing when Biswajit Roy, a middle-aged Indian high-school teacher, gingerly pulled himself, and two voting machines, into a modified dugout canoe.

His mission: Traverse crocodile-infested mangrove swamps, cross a stretch of open sea and then hike through a jungle to the remote village of Hanspuri so its 261 voters could cast ballots in India’s national elections. — www.wsj.com/…

Despite all its many flaws, when it comes to election mechanics, India gets a lot right.

Oh yeah, one more thing, Indians will vote on modern voting machines. No differing and complicated ballots. Since many older Indians are illiterate, each party picks a symbol which is represented on the machines. And every voter has biometric voter ID as well, it’s issued at no cost and the system is controlled by the election commission to prevent political parties from interfering.

during the last general election, air force helicopters carrying polling officials were unable to land in a remote region tucked in the high Himalayas in Ladakh. Undeterred, a polling team trekked for 45 kilometers through knee-deep snow in the high mountains to reach 35 voters.  […]

Deputy Election Commissioner R. Balakrishnan told VOA that traversing this last kilometer is not always easy. He cited the example of a polling station with just one voter in the western Gujarat state.

“This polling station is located 20 miles deep into the Gir forest jungle. To secure this one vote, we will send a team of officials. Even one voter we try and reach out, and then for reaching out that one voter we do what it takes. And it involves sometimes using all modes of transport, from helicopters and elephants and camels and what not and sometimes involves days of trekking,” said Balakrishnan. — www.voanews.com/…

Every single vote matters.

This is not to say the elections will be flawless, there will be fraud. Political parties in some places still make a habit of literally distributing cash to voters ahead of the election. Though gerrymandering is futile since an independent Boundary Commissiondraws the electoral map, past governments have delayed when new boundaries go into force for partisan advantage. That is still quite a lot better than the extreme partisan gerrymandering we in the USA have been subjected to. 

Reading about the extreme lengths Indian officials go to extend the franchise to each of their fellow citizens is both uplifting and inspiring. It reinforces your faith in democracy. In contrast it’s dejecting and depressing to consider the lengths to which American politicians and officials will go to to obtain partisan advantage by suppressing the vote or frighten their fellow Americans away from the polls. It makes us, as ordinary voters feel powerless.

In India, hanks to an independent, powerful election commission, most attempts to sap the power of the people in this way go nowhere. There are a lot of things that we do better, but on this one, we might want to take a leaf from India’s book.

PS. At some point I may do a diary about the parties and candidates in this election. That will be a lot more depressing than this I’m going to put it off.

— @subirgrewal

Netanyahu: We transfer cash to Hamas because it divides Palestinians, prevents statehood.

With the Israeli elections around the corner, the hits just keep on coming. In today’s edition:

The prime minister also said that, “whoever is against a Palestinian state should be for” transferring the funds to Gaza, because maintaining a separation between the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza helps prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. […]

The Blue and White Party’s platform calls to stop allowing the transfer of funds to Hamas, calling it mafia-style “protection” payments.
 — www.jpost.com/…

Sort of undercuts the Israeli propaganda that they “do not have a partner for peace” doesn’t it? To be clear, the funds being discussed here are tax/customs duties collected by Israel on behalf of the PA and aid from third countries primarily Qatar.

None of this comes as a surprise to long-time Israel watchers. It is merely another example of someone in Trump’s orbit saying the quiet part out loud. Fomenting division has always been a primary goal of Israeli policy towards Palestinians. That is part of the reason Israeli intelligence agencies helped Hamas in its early stages:

The PLO was known for being a Socialist organization whose sole purpose was the elimination of the state of Israel along with the establishment of a socialist state of Palestine where the constitution would be run by secular Marxism rather than Islam

Due to the short sidedness of the Rabin administration and later Begin there was an idea to bring about a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood into Gaza and the Palestinian territories to counter balance the strength and popularity of the PLO. […]

According to The Interceptor, ” Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Segev, who was the Israeli military governor in Gaza in the early 1980s. Segev later told a New York Times reporter that he had helped finance the Palestinian Islamist movement as a “counterweight” to the secularists and leftists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Fatah party, led by Yasser Arafat (who himself referred to Hamas as “a creature of Israel.”).” — blogs.timesofisrael.com/…

There is of course, a political purpose to Netanyahu’s statement. He wants to fend off criticism from politicians on both the left and right that sending funds to Hamas supports terrorism. Of course, the folks making those critiques are merely putting on a show. They know all too well how useful Hamas is to limiting sympathy towards Palestinians and muddying the waters around Israeli human rights violations. Netanyahu didn’t say the quiet part aloud for them, he said it for voters who need to be reminded by they should vote for Likud.

Voters who need reminding that Likud will go to every length possible to prevent Palestinian self-determination and facilitate the annexation of the West Bank. Annexation has been Likud’s goal since the moment it was founded. That is why, for instance Likud’s co-founder Menachem Begin allied with the Christian Zionist movement:

Of all the Israeli prime ministers since 1948, Begin stands out as the first to openly endorse Christian Zionist support and to seek to harness it in defence of the Jewish state. Others before him may have had connections to individual Christian figures, but the story of the Israel-Evangelical partnership as we know it today starts with Begin. […]

First, Begin realised that he shared a certain biblical worldview with Evangelicals. Dr. Gordis noted that Begin looked on the Bible as Israel’s title deed to the land and saw the Jewish return as fulfilment of the vision of the Hebrew prophets, just as many Christians did.

Second, Begin was surrounded by several close advisors who shared his friendly disposition towards pro-Israel Christians. This included Harry Hurwitz, who had been exposed to genuine Christian supporters of Israel in his native South Africa and was the key official within Begin’s inner circle who convinced him to approve the founding of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem in 1980. — int.icej.org/…

For more inside the Israeli elections, read this on the election commission’s decision to ban an Arab party ahead of this election. Meanwhile, they’ve approved the extremist right-wing “Jewish Power” party, which has allied with Netanyahu.

As he bans his opponents from competing in the elections, Netanyahu and his supporters keep insisting Israel is a democracy. 

“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” — George Orwell, 1984

— @subirgrewal

Rep. Eliot Engel maintains silence on Netanyahu’s Kahanist alliance and supremacist comments.

Rep. Eliot Engel (NY-16) is the Democratic chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. As such, he is the Democrat with the most power over foreign policy since the Senate and White House are controlled by Republicans.

Just a week ago, he spent significant chunks of his time working to pass another resolution aimed squarely at Rep. Ilhan Omar. Right wing media and Trump claimed Rep. Omar’s remark at the DC coffeehouse was anti-semitic or a “dual loyalty” allegation. Their hypocrisy on this issue was staggering, and misinformed, but Rep. Engel decided he would jump right into it without review, and condemned Rep. Omar’s remarks.

Which should lead us to ask where Rep. Engel’s loquaciousness is today. He’s previous waxed eloquent about Israel being a “true democracy”, blatantly ignoring the fact that for over 50 years it has ruled over millions of Palestinians who do not get a say in the oppressions visited upon them by the military occupation:

Now that PM Benjamin Netanyahu has clarified that Israel is a democracy, but really only for its Jewish citizens, Rep. Engel seems to have nothing to say. 

On Sunday morning, Netanyahu responded to Sela on his own Instagram. He uploaded a picture of himself against the backdrop of an Israeli flag, and wrote, “Dear Rotem, an important correction: Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the Nation-State Law that we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish People – and them alone. As you wrote, there’s no problem with the Arab citizens of Israel – they have the same rights as us all and the Likud government has invested in the Arab sector more than any other government.”

Likud only asks,” the post continued, “to sharpen the central point of these elections: it’s either a strong right-wing government led by me, or Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz’s left-wing government with the support of the Arab parties. Lapid and Gantz have no other way to form a government, and a government like this will undermine the security of the state and citizens. The decision – another month at the ballot box. Have a nice day.” — www.haaretz.com/…

Most of the commentary following these remarks has focused on Netanyahu’s statements that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens”. That will not come as news to non-Jewish citizens of Israel, they’ve lived under a supremacist system and policies all their lives. The explicit inclusion of such a statement in Israel’s supposedly democratic constitution, merely acknowledges what all observers have long known.

But the real political meat of Netanyahu’s statement is in the second paragraph.

In it, Netanyahu presents the mere prospect of a Blue-White/Labor coalition forming a government with the Joint list (consisting of Arab parties like Balad, Ta’al and the radical left-wing Hadash) as an apocalyptic outcome to be prevented at all costs. And it seems to be working. Netanyahu’s comments seem to have spurred his right-wing coalition into the lead, despite the fact that Netanyahu is likely to be indicted for corruption by July 10.

What Netanyahu is actually doing here is following his buddy Trump’s strategy of openly demonizing minorities and making an argument for supremacy. Supremacy of one group is antithetical to democracy, but that is exactly what Netanyahu says here is the sole acceptable outcome.

Of course, this is nothing new. Though Arab/non-Jewish persons make up over 20% of Israel’s citizens, not a single one has held any cabinet position in the 70 years of Israel’s existence. There have been several deputy ministers and a Labor MK who held the Science, Culture and Sports portfolio. Throughout the 70+ years of Israel’s existence, Arab/non-Jewish citizens have been shut out of wielding any actual power. This is one of the many reasons it is fair to say that Israel proper is a de-facto Jim Crow regime, and not, as Rep. Engel claims, a “true democracy”.

Worse yet, the specter of sharing power with their Arab/non-Jewish fellow-citizens is routinely presented as a dire, frightening prospect by Israeli governments. This is the context in which Benjamin Netanyahu said “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves” before the last election. That is why no single Israeli government has ever accepted an Arab/non-Jewish party as a coalition partner.

Of course, all this side-steps the fact that 4.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank/Gaza and 150,000 in East Jerusalem do not get a say in these elections to choose a government that holds sway over every aspect of their lives.

So how in what world does Rep. Engel get away with saying Israel is the “one true Democracy” in the Middle-East unchallenged?

In fact, like the United States, Israel is at best a flawed democracy, and even that is only credible if you ignore the apartheid it practices in the West Bank (where settlers can vote and have their own roads), and ignore completely the Israeli government’s pervasive human rights violations in Gaza.

Other senior Democrats, even those without Foreign Affairs assignments, have spoken about Netanyahu’s comments:

Rep. Engel, in contrast, has maintained a studious silence, despite being the most important Democrat holding a foreign policy role right now.

Rep. Engel didn’t even have anything to say about Netanyahu’s open alliance with a Kahanist party. Compare that with his colleague, Rep. Jerry Nadler:

Rep. Engel frequently has positive things to say about Israel and applaud Netanyahu. He rarely misses an opportunity to smack down any criticism of Israel (for eg. here and here). His website says Israel is a “close strategic ally” that shares an “unbreakable bond” with the US. Rep. Engel is ready to lead the charge against statements made by junior members of congress when they criticize the US’s Israel policy. A few weeks ago, Rep. Engel jumped to criticize Rep. Omar for suggesting AIPAC driven contributions played a role in lawmakers’ views on Israel/Palestine. The Guardian has done an analysis that seems to bear out her contention. But he has nothing at all to say when this close strategic ally’s government openly allies with a racist party founded by terrorists.

To be fair, Rep. Engel has occasionally criticized the Israeli government and petitioned Netanyahu. He’s taken the time to do this publicly when the Israeli government disallowed non-orthodox led prayers at the Western wall, when it stopped accepting Jewish-status letters from an orthodox rabbi and after its decision to deport tens of thousands of African refugees. But Rep. Engel has never, to my knowledge, had the time or seen fit to criticize any of Israel’s policies that impact Palestinians. He consistently sees every discussion about Palestinians through the lens of a “security threat” to Israel. He consistently blames Palestinians and other nations in the region for Israel’s current discriminatory, oppressive policies towards Palestinians. His silence on the most recent issues simply adds to that deeply one-sided pattern of priorities.

In contrast, Rep. Engel seems to periodically offer unsolicited advice on Israel policy via his official Twitter account to Palestinians and even to the tiny nation of Grenada/St. Kitts.

Perhaps Rep. Eliot can spare a brief moment to give some advice to Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he has met several times?

Let’s reiterate, Rep. Eliot Engel, in his position as chair of the Foreign Relations committee, is the Democrat with the most power on foreign affairs. When it comes to foreign affairs, he effectively controls the actual policy of the Democratic party. On Israel-Palestine, Rep. Engel simply does not have the record to be considered an honest broker.

As we approach 2020, Democrats should consider whether Rep. Engel is the right person to steer our policy towards Israel/Palestine. I believe the time has come for him to either:

  1. Credibly follow a more even handed approach championing equal rights of all people in Israel/Palestine. Or,
  2. Step aside and leave this important House committee chair to someone who can credibly present such an approach.

Lastly, I’m going to share a Palestinian perspective on this fracas:

— @subirgrewal | Cross-posted to TheProgressiveWing.com

For a moment, let us think about the feelings of our Israeli brothers and sisters.

Let us, for a moment, consider the feelings of our Israeli brothers and sisters.

When a Jewish-Israeli woman remembers the shoah, can you understand her feeling? She knows that her ancestors were singled out for extermination with industrial, inhuman precision.  She remembers that a society her ancestors had inhabited for centuries, one whose language, science and culture they helped enrich immeasurably, turned on them.

It turned on those who had assimilated, seeking to make it their own. And it turned on those who had chosen to faithfully and visibly preserve the old ways. It turned on the young, on the old, on the infirm, and it mauled them all, including the strong who tried to resist.

None were safe, and few, painfully few promises of sanctuary were honored. When her people needed them most, none who held the power to turn back the threat chose to answer her people’s anguished calls.

When the great powers did rise up against the threat, they were driven by self-preservation, not out of regard for her ancestors.

She understands that turning back the threat came at an immense cost. Thirty million lives in Europe, and as many or more in Asia.

So perhaps you can understand her desire to never put her people, and the world, in that position again.

When she recalls that this happened a mere two generations ago, perhaps you can understand why she is unpersuaded by your argument that she trust in others for her people’s security.

When she looks at the world around her, she sees the great powers have spent the intervening decades chewing up vulnerable, powerless peoples in wars across Asia, Africa and South America. They have armed and financed vicious men, in pursuit of ideological hegemony and lucre. Perhaps you can see why she doesn’t necessarily trust your reassurances.

When she views her country’s immediate neighborhood, absorbed in a violent conflagration to upset the illogical boundaries drawn by great powers a century ago, you can understand why she questions the honesty, ability and good faith of their current leaders.

When she looks at the world’s most powerful democracy, which half her people call home, she sees people openly flaunt the flags, salutes and chants of the scourge that sought to destroy her people. 

Perhaps now you can sense why she trusts no one else with her children’s safety. Perhaps you can understand the solace in knowing that her people too have weapons of mass destruction, that she herself and those she calls her own are not so powerless, so vulnerable. 

When an observant Jewish-Israeli man ends the week at Shabbat dinner with his family in Israel, can you understand the depth of emotion this evokes? For two thousand years, when his ancestors have celebrated this ancient, sacred, weekly ritual, they have thought of this land. They have imagined this moment, this prayer, this breaking of bread made with grain flowering under this sun, planted in this earth, tilled perhaps by his nephews and nieces. His family’s presence here is the distilled realization of all their hopes.

Every aspect of his faith is grounded in the history of his people on this patch of earth. This land is evoked in innumerable prayers his ancestors have repeated over millennia as strangers in strange lands. Do you know what it means for him to know that he and his children are the fruit of their patience and perseverance. They are Sabra, of and from this earth, and god-willing only to this earth, this land they were promised, will they return. Perhaps you can understand why he finds it offensive that some question his belonging and see him as an interloper.

Perhaps you can understand the promise and draw of this precipice, which is also a portal.


— @subirgrewal 

This diary should not be necessary.

No thinking person, with even a basic knowledge of history, should have to be told this. We should feel it in our bones. But it is necessary. The past week has seen numerous new participants in I-P debates, and some have a very mistaken sense of where we are coming from and what we understand and appreciate. Some have been careless when discussing topics that should be approached with the awe that is due the memory of the dead.

History and our animal natures have set out for us the dangerous trap of tribal allegiance. It is laid deep in our psyches and evolutionary development. To avoid falling into this trap, to resist the inclination for supremacy, to consciously avoid propping up the indefinite subjugation of millions of fellow human beings, requires careful and effective analysis.

We must start from first principles. We must define the political principles that are inviolable for us. For those on the left, we have to start from a position that places equal rights above all. When we start there, and conduct an honest analysis grounded in the principle of universal human dignity, coupled with the Kantian imperative to accept each person as ends unto themselves, we can make our way through the morass of history.

So we can see the suffering of the whole world, past, present and future, in a single child’s eyes.

And that realization is the only thing that can bring us from the darkness into the light of a new country. Into a world where both our hearts and minds recognize solidarity.

Lastly, this comment should not be necessary. It is painful to add it as a coda to this diary. This diary is a heart wrenching thing to have to write. Its sentiment should and does stand alone, without reservation.

For a moment, let’s talk about Palestinians’ feelings

Over the past few days, we have discussed how the wrong words used in service of advocacy for Palestinian rights may cause offense to some Jewish-Americans. It is right and proper to have this discussion. In the pursuit of a better world, in our search for the right path to a better foreign policy, we should not inadvertently cause harm to our allies and innocents. Nor should we further any form of bigotry.

Let’s also stop for a moment and consider the feelings of Palestinians, Palestinian-Americans and their allies. They have been largely absent from most commentator’s consideration during this week’s debate. By conjunction, let us also consider the feelings of all people our foreign policy has materially harmed and those who feel for them. 

How do you think a Palestinian in the West Bank feels when they see Israeli settlers zip past checkpoints they have to stop at when traveling to university in the nearest town?

What do you think a Palestinian in Gaza feels when their home is destroyed by a targeted bomb made in the US? Or when they cannot buy ice-cream for their child’s birthday because none has made it past the Israeli checkpoints? Or when they can’t go to their uncle’s funeral because some bureaucrat refused their permit to travel to the West Bank? Or when their neighbor’s entire family is killed in a “targeted assassination”? Or when their orchards are uprooted and their water diverted?

What do you think a Palestinian feels, when they look around them and see the actual, material, harm being done to their communities day in and day out, by a regime that enjoys virtually unqualified support from the US government? 

What do you think they feel when they see more ink spilled in US newspapers and more hours spent on TV talking about tweets and tropes than about hundreds of Palestinians, including dozens of children, killed at protests?

What do you think they feel when they compare this outrage over these words, with the faintly discomfited expressions liberals offer to talking heads who casually call their brethren terrorists?

Would they be wrong to conclude that their feelings don’t matter?

Would they be wrong to conclude that their lives don’t matter as much?

And let’s stop for a moment again. Let us broaden our lens further, beyond Israel/Palestine.

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a child fleeing a war funded and supplied by the US, as most wars across the globe are in some form. Would that child be wrong to believe that their feelings, their well-being, nay their life does not seem to matter?

And if that child were ever to enter the halls of the US Congress as a legislator.

Would the moral authority of her outrage not be righteous?

When she expresses solidarity with all children harmed by oppressive regimes our government supports, is that not awesome to behold?

When you hear her call for justice on behalf of the war-torn and those weary of oppression, does that not leave you, whoever you are, awash in feeling as well?

— @subirgrewal 

What we have learned from the attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar

For now, House leaders have backed off from the presenting a resolution aimed at rebuking, or censuring Rep. Ilhan Omar.

Earlier in the day, Democrats, including some prominent African-Americans, confronted Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a testy closed-door meeting, demanding to know why they were being pushed to pass the resolution when bigoted comments by Republicans have gone unchallenged.

Representative Ayanna Pressley, Democrat of Massachusetts, said she told leadership that there must be “equity in our outrage,” noting that Ms. Omar, a Minnesotan and one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, was being attacked for her faith. — www.nytimes.com/…

The turnabout is the result of immense pressure from the left-wing of the party, including pro-Israel lobbying organizations like J-Street seeking to offer an alternative to AIPAC. In the age of Trump and Netanyahu, it has become increasingly clear that AIPAC’s “bi-partisanship” is really a fig-leaf for a far-right policy stance.

Over the past few weeks, it’s also become clear that far-right Republicans are focused on attacking Rep. Omar. They are doing this as a part of Trump’s xenophobic and misogynistic re-election campaign. People like Steve Scalise have openly disparaged Rep. Omar without facing any sanctions from the House. Their complaints are rank hypocrisy in the face of their close alliance with white supremacists and neo-Nazis.  

As we point out Republican hypocrisy, it is worth noting that the attempts to silence and intimidate Rep. Omar went as far as they did because several Democrats fell for and aided Republican attacks. Leading this charge was the chairman of the Foreign Affairs committee, Eliot Engel. Rep. Engel is the most powerful Democrat on Foreign Policy issues by virtue of his chairmanship. But, his views on foreign policy are diametrically opposed to those held by rank and file Democrats.

In order to frighten Americans into supporting a U.S. takeover of Iraq, Engel falsely claimed just prior to the 2002 war authorization vote to invade Iraq that the Iraqi government was still producing chemical and biological weapons. He was among a rightwing minority of Congressional Democrats who voted to authorize the illegal, unnecessary, and predictably tragic U.S. invasion of that oil-rich country. — progressive.org/…

In 2015, he was one of a handful of Democrats who opposed President Obama’s P5 nuclear deal with Iran.  Rep. Engel’s views are far closer to Trump’s than Obama when it comes to Iran.

In a recent poll, 98% of self-described liberals supported stopping arms flow to the Saudi and Emirati coalition bombing Yemen. Yet, in 2017, Rep. Engel helped kill a resolution that would have done what 98% of liberals wanted.

In 2014, Israeli forced bombed large swaths of Gaza. This included the targeted bombing of homes, which claimed the lives of hundreds of children. In a Gallup poll conducted during the bombing of Gaza, non-white voters called Netanyahu’s war unjustified by a 49-25 margin. 18-29 year olds called it unjustified by 51-25 margin. 20-49 year olds said it was unjustified by a 43-36 margin.

Overall, Democrats opposed it by a healthy 10% margin:


In contrast, Rep. Engel unabashedly defended Netanyahu’s merciless war. In 2014, as today, Rep. Engel’s views were far more aligned with those of Republicans than with rank and file Democrats.

Which should lead us to ask why Rep. Engel holds the powerful position of chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. His views do not reflect those of most Democrats. His positions are far, far more hawkish than those of most Democrats. He also has terrible political instincts. By escalating unfair Republican attacks on a black, muslim Congresswoman, one who is herself a child refugee from a war, Rep. Engel is playing into Republican hands.

Why indeed, does he have the powerful chairmanship? That’s a question we should all be asking ourselves.

And as we do that, it absolutely must be stressed that these attacks are unfair, deeply hypocritical and part of a Republican strategy to appeal to their base. Why is any Democrat aiding them in this?

Paul Waldman has an Op-Ed in the Washington Post that is very much worth the five minutes it takes to read:

You may have noticed that almost no one uses “dual loyalty” as a way of questioning whether Jews are loyal to the United States anymore. Why has it almost disappeared as an anti-Semitic slur? Because, over the last three decades, support for Israel has become increasingly associated with conservative evangelicals and the Republican Party.

Not coincidentally, this happened at the same time as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, the most prominent and influential pro-Israel lobby, went from supporting Israel generally to being the lobby in the United States for the Likud, Israel’s main right-wing party. While AIPAC works hard to keep Democrats in line, its greatest allies are in the GOP, where support for Israel and a rejection of any meaningful rights for Palestinians have become a central component of party ideology. When the most prominent advocates for Israel are people such as Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, “dual loyalty” loses any meaning as a slur against Jews. […]

Ilhan Omar certainly didn’t say that Jews have dual loyalty. For instance, in one of the tweets that got people so worked up, Omar said, “I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee.” You’ll notice she didn’t say or even imply anything at all about Jews. She said that she was being asked to support Israel in order to have the privilege of serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which was true. Many on the right have called for her to be removed from that committee (see here, or here, or here, or here). Her argument, to repeat, isn’t about how Jews feel about Israel, it’s about what is being demanded of her.— www.washingtonpost.com/…

As usual, AOC gets to the heart of the matter.

It should come as no surprise that Republican politicians are consistently found supporting white-supremacy, racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and actual anti-semitism. These forms of bigotry are related, and in a Trumpian Republican party, they have found a natural home. There is absolutely no reason powerful Democrats should be supporting hypocritical attacks by Republicans who do not have the interests of ordinary people at home and abroad, at heart.

Rep. Omar may have inadvertently caused hurt to some with a poorly phrased remark. She has apologized for that where warranted.

There is no doubt, in my mind though, that as former refugee whose life was torn apart by a civil war that the US had a hand in exacerbating, she has a unique and invaluable perspective in Congress. She has quite literally been in the shoes of millions of ordinary people caught in the horrors of war. Wars that are often perpetrated, financed and supplied by powerful people like Trump, who would never put themselves in harm’s way for anyone else.

We need more people like Rep. Ilhan Omar in Congress if we are to transform our foreign policy, which has rarely had the interests of the world’s most vulnerable people at heart. Thankfully, many Democratic leaders know this and have expressed it:

Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is again running for the Democratic presidential nomination, took the opposite tack and suggested House Democratic leaders were trying to tamp down legitimate discussion of the conduct of the Israeli government. […]

But that was not enough for many lawmakers, especially African-Americans who see Ms. Omar getting singled out as a woman of color, while Democratic leaders have let slide other racist and bigoted remarks — including those of President Trump. According to several people in the room, a number of African-American representatives stood up to challenge Ms. Pelosi. — www.nytimes.com/…

The Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the two largest in Congress almost uniformly opposed the resolution targeting Rep. Omar. 

Finally, as usual, there’s a tape of Bernie pointing out the hypocrisy, way back in 1994.

Embedded video


.@BernieSanders in 1994, calling out the hypocrisy of the House for condemning anti-Semitic remarks (by the Nation of Islam) while refusing to condemn any other kind of bigotry. #TheMoreThingsChange #Sanders2020 #IStandWithIlhan #NotMeUs1,84211:21 AM – Mar 5, 2019751 people are talking about thisTwitter Ads info and privacy

— @subirgrewal

AOC asks where the resolutions are against anti-blackness, Islamophobia, homophobia..

Numerous analyses of Rep. Omar’s comments at a bookstore last week rely on two mistaken arguments:

  1. Claiming it is anti-semitic to question the reasons that US policy de-prioritizes equal rights for Palestinians, while providing one-sided support to Israel..
  2. Willful blindness towards the fact that most reflexive support for the right-wing Israeli government comes from evangelical christians and the right-wing politicians they support.

Right-wing Republicans have weaponized this confusion and used it to mount bad-faith attacks on Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib. They are doing this partly to obscure their own party’s tolerance and penchant for various forms of hatred. It’s a particularly Trumpian tactic, accusing others when criticized.

That’s right, a GOP member yelled “Go back to Puerto Rico” and there was no uproar to rebuke or censure for this person.

A senior member openly campaigned on “sending Obama home to Kenya” and there were no reprimands, no rebukes, no censures.

But all Rep. Omar has to do is raise questions about US policy towards Israel-Palestine and why it undermines equal rights for Palestinians, hey presto there’s a resolution every month to police her tone.

Ms. Omar questioned why it was acceptable for her to speak critically about the political influence of the National Rifle Association, fossil fuel industries and “big pharma,” but not the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.  — www.nytimes.com/…

Rep. Omar’s questions are having an impact, they have even prompted the NY Times to ask:

Ilhan Omar’s Criticism Raises the Question: Is Aipac Too Powerful?

“It is so disingenuous of some of these members of Congress who are lining up to condemn these questioning voices as if they have no campaign finance interest in the outcome,” said Brian Baird, a former Democratic congressman from Washington State, who became a vocal critic of Israel, and Aipac, after a constituent of his was killed by an Israeli Army bulldozer in Gaza while protesting the demolition of Palestinian homes in 2003.

“If one dares to criticize Israel or dares to criticize Aipac, one gets branded anti-Semitic,” Mr. Baird added, “and that’s a danger to a democratic republic.” […]

But in a recent article in The Nation, M.J. Rosenberg, who worked for Aipac in the 1980s and is now a critic of the organization, described how “Aipac’s political operation is used precisely as Representative Omar suggested,” including during policy conferences, when members gather “in side rooms, nominally independent of the main event,” to raise money and “decide which candidate will get what.” […]

But other lawmakers bristle at Aipac’s tactics. In 2006, Representative Betty McCollum, Democrat of Minnesota, who has advocated humanitarian aid for Palestinians, wrote an angry letter to Mr. Kohr saying Aipac would be barred from her offices until it apologized for the behavior of one of its representatives who had berated her chief of staff, Bill Harper, and said Ms. McCollum’s “support for terrorists will not be tolerated.”

— www.nytimes.com/…

Jeremy Scahill lays out why it is so important that we not fall for bad-faith attacks on Rep. Omar, who as a child refugee, understand the real world impact of our destructive foreign policies better than most.

And I’ll give Rep. Omar the last word:

ACT: Write your congressman and your senators.

— @subirgrewal

If this were really about anti-semitism…

If it were really about anti-semitism, the House would be censuring Rep. Jim Jordan for this blatant smear:

Rep. Nadler is Jewish, and so is Tom Steyer. Notice the $?

If it was about anti-semitism, the House would have censured Dan Quayle, who had a fondness for the 80s equivalent of “globalist”.

Vice-President Dan Quayle made his contribution with his now-infamous frontal attack on the “cultural elite.” Whatever one’s view on the issue, the vice-president’s tone as much as his phrasing made many people uncomfortable, clearly echoing the populist anti-Semitic rhetoric that began in the thirties and would for several decades wrap Hollywood, Jews, and Communism into a neat little anti-American package. Many people simply saw cultural elite as a euphemism for Jewish elite. Addressing a Clinton fund-raising dinner, in fact, director Mike Nichols opened by saying, “We can drop the Republican code for ‘cultural elite.’ Good evening, fellow Jews.” — nymag.com/…

If it were really about anti-semitism, the House would have censured Rep. Kevin McCarthy:


and Rep. Steve Scalise:

Yet, in 2002, Scalise, then a Louisiana state representative, attended and spoke at a convention of the white supremacist European American Unity and Rights Organization, a group founded by David Duke. You remember Duke, right? The Holocaust-denying former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who has been described by the Anti-Defamation League as “perhaps America’s most well-known racist and anti-Semite.” — theintercept.com/…

and Rep. Matt Gaetz:

Florida congressman is under fire for inviting a Holocaust denier to the State of the Union on Tuesday.

Matt Gaetz, a first-term Florida Republican, insisted that he gave the ticket to Charles C Johnson only by happenstance, telling the Daily Beast that the notorious alt-right troll just “showed up at my office” on the day of the speech. — www.theguardian.com/…

and Rep. Paul Gosar:

Rep. Paul Gosar, the Republican who represents Arizona’s 4th Congressional District, has claimed that the far-right rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 — at which marchers chanted “Jews will not replace us” — was “created by the left” and led by an “Obama sympathizer.” He has also suggested that Soros funded the event and falsely claimed that the Jewish billionaire “turned in his own people to the Nazis.” — theintercept.com/…

and Rep. Louie Gomert:

Gohmert spun a conspiracy theory about billionaire Soros with no evidence, claiming that the Jewish Holocaust survivor had stolen property from fellow Jews.

“George Soros is supposed to be Jewish, but you wouldn’t know it from the damage he’s inflicted on Israel and the fact that he turned on fellow Jews and helped take the property that they owned,” Gohmert said Thursday on “Varney & Co.,” hosted by Stuart Varney. — www.huffingtonpost.com/…

and Rep. Steve King. Wait you say, but Steve King was censured? 

No, he wasn’t. The censure resolution was blocked by Democratic leaders. Why? 

House Democratic leaders blocked an effort to censure Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) for racial comments, referring the measure to the House Ethics Committee for further review because of concerns that it might set a dangerous precedent for policing members’ speech. […]

“I don’t know that it’s a good thing for us to talk about censure for things that are done outside of the business of the House of Representatives,” said Clyburn, the highest-ranking African American congressional leader. “We should be very, very careful about doing anything that constrains, or seems to constrain, speech.

By doing so, you “open the window for anybody to attack speech, no matter if it’s Democrats or Republicans,” he added in a subsequent interview. — www.washingtonpost.com/…

Yep, that’s right, we wouldn’t want to set off a “dangerous precedent for policing members’ speech” when the members in question are white Republican men who repeatedly cast vile slurs.

On the other hand, if it’s a black Muslim woman, there’s no need to worry about setting “dangerous precedent”. Which is why:

Democratic leaders are still debating whether to mention Omar by name in the resolution, according to multiple sources. Staffers for Pelosi and top Democrats, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), began drafting the resolution over the weekend as the confrontation between Omar and her colleagues unfolded on Twitter.

Two of the House’s most senior Democrats — Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel and Lowey — called out Omar in public statements, demanding she apologize. — www.politico.com/…

What is the difference?

Is it that Rep. Omar has the temerity to question the US’s bias against equal rights for Palestinians? That’s what Rep. Omar’s Democratic colleague on Foreign Services, Rep. Juan Vargas thinks. He said it’s “unacceptable” to question the US’s lop-sided support for Israel :

Where were the outrage, rebukes and censure resolutions when Matt Gaetz invited an honest to goodness holocaust denier onto the floor of the House?

Why is Rep. Eliot Engel’s outrage reserved for comments about US policy towards Israel delivered by relatively powerless members like Rep. Ilhan Omar? Rep. Jim Jordan is a powerful ranking member of the oversight committee. Why hasn’t Rep. Engel said a single word about Rep. Jordan’s tweet from yesterday attacking his colleague Rep. Nadler by name?

Why didn’t Rep. Engel and Rep. Lowey scream from the rooftops about minority leader Kevin McCarthy’s refusal to apologize for his tweet? Especially when McCarthy made clear, weeks ago, that he would go after Rep. Omar?

Perhaps it’s just less risky to attack a black muslim woman, without seniority or power, rather than go after a Republican who might someday chair a committee you’re on. She’s an easy target, even the Saudis dislike her because she questions the devastation they have wrought on ordinary Yemeni people.

This isn’t about anti-semitism. If it were, the House would have censured powerful Republicans for their anti-semitic comments. Starting with the man in the White House.

Instead, many Democrats are choosing to enable Trump’s attacks on one of their colleagues.

It isn’t even about combatting hate. If it were, Rep. Engel and Rep. Lowey would have said something about the ruling Israeli faction’s alliance with an openly racist party created out of a banned terrorist organization. They have both maintained a studious silence on that.

And it definitely isn’t good politics to give in to the Republican attacks. If the House passes a resolution censuring Rep. Omar, do you believe Republicans will refrain from attacking Democrats as anti-semites in 2020? On the contrary, the ads will say “even Democrats like Rep. Engel, and Rep. Lowey agree, their party has an anti-semitism problem”. It’ll be played over a montage of black and brown faces, some in hijabs. It’s a four for one, an anti-black, anti-muslim ad that seeks to shave off Jewish voters from the Democratic coalition while pulling a cover over the Republican party’s open advocacy of white supremacy. Instead of recognizing and parrying this bad-faith attack on Rep. Omar, too many seem hell-bent upon enabling it.

ACTION: call your representatives and Senators. Let them know you stand with Rep. Omar, and that if they want a house resolution that actually combats anti-semitism (rather than conflate it with criticism of right-wing Israeli policy), it should name these Republicans: Matt Gartz, Steve Scalise, Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan, Paul Gosar, Steve King, Louie Gomert, Donald Trump.

— @subirgrewal