Archive for April, 2017


James Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute, is about to wrap up his tenure on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). He is not leaving quietly.

Zogby, who was appointed to two terms on the commission by former President Barack Obama, sent a stunning letter to the commission, expressing his dissent from the latest report as well as his dissatisfaction with the way the commission goes about its business. New congressional legislation, he writes, “does not propose a new strategy. Instead, it doubles down on the failed approaches of the past. Micro-managing how the Administration organizes its foreign policy apparatus; establishing a false hierarchy of human rights; adding new staff, creating new mandates, and requiring more reporting – will not make change. These measures will only serve to add confusion to an already dysfunctional system.”

A major flaw that Zogby highlighted in his letter of departure was the commission’s refusal to address issues of religious freedom in the Israel. At a press conference presenting these issues on Wednesday, Zogby repeatedly stated that the USCIRF’s double standard when it comes to Israel both undermines its credibility when it criticizes other countries and sends the message that those who face religious discrimination from Israel—citizens as well as Palestinians living under Israeli occupation—do not merit having their rights defended. Read more at LobeLog

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White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has a difficult job. Turning Donald Trump’s messages into comprehensible, even respectable, public statements is a tough go. But even taking that into account, his performance has been terrible, and on Tuesday, he hit a new low.

Spicer kicked his day off by stating that “Hitler didn’t sink to using chemical weapons.” Yes, you read that right. Hitler never employed chemical agents to kill helpless civilians.

But gaffes happen. One reporter gave Spicer a chance, asking him to clarify the remark. Spicer thanked her for the opportunity…and proceeded to make the matter even worse. Here’s how he explained himself: Read more at LobeLog

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On March 30, the Israeli government announced that it had approved the first new settlement in 20 years. The new settlement is part of the government’s compensation package to the settlers of the recently evacuated outpost named Amona. The Israeli courts had ordered the demolition of this illegally built settlement for the first-time way back in 2006. This February, Amona was finally removed.

But despite the controversy over the new settlement, it’s not actually the first new one in 20 years. True, it’s the first settlement in that time that the government publicly planned and did not claim to be part of an existing settlement. But in that period, outposts that were ostensibly illegal under Israeli law, have become legal when they declared themselves part of an existing settlement somewhere in the same general area. More recently, outposts have been legalized retroactively under a new law. So, this is the “first new settlement” only in the most technical, and largely meaningless, sense.

More important are the steps that both the Israeli and US governments are taking in the wake of the Israeli announcement. These are the real indicators of the policy taking shape in the discussions between the Trump and Netanyahu governments. Read more at LobeLog

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