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A Rematch in Michigan

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Jones Challenges Tlaib

This week, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones officially announced that she will run against Rep. Rashida Tlaib in Michigan’s 13th congressional district. Jones won a special election in 2018 to fill John Conyers’s old seat and, just five weeks later, Tlaib defeated Jones by a slim margin in a crowded Democratic race. Of course now Tlaib is a household name as a result of her strident opposition to the Trump administration and support for Palestinian rights. Plus, she’s already raised $1.6 million to put toward her reelection. It may seem like an uphill battle for Jones, but it remains to be seen what role pro-Israel organizations will play in the race. Here’s Ron Kampeas in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency last August, writing about the local pro-Israel opposition to Tlaib:

I was told that there had already been outreach to Brenda Jones, the Detroit City Council president whom Tlaib defeated in last year’s primary, and who is considering another run. I was also told that pro-Israel folks were already socking away money to target Tlaib….Pro-Israel money is rarely directed against surefire winners, because losing would embarrass the pro-Israel community. Tlaib is seen as beatable. She (barely) won a primary in a majority-black district, against several black candidates. The thinking in the room was that the African-American community in the 13th will coalesce around a single candidate — likely Jones — and that candidate would draw pro-Israel support.

There’s another aspect of this race that’s worth paying attention to. Remember when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced it was going to blacklist any “political vendors” that supported primary challengers to incumbents? It was perceived by many as a blatant attempt to impede more progressives (like AOC) from running, but this time around the incumbent is a progressive. We will now get to see whether the centrist outfit is compelled to play by its own rules.

The War on Palestine Solidarity

Earlier this year, we reported on Trump’s Education Department opening two investigations into UCLA over the unpardonable sin of tolerating Palestinian advocacy on their campus. The move comes in response to complaints from two right-wing, pro-Israel organization (StandWithUs and the “Zachor Legal Institute”) over a guest lecture on Islamophobia and a National Students for Justice in Palestine conference.

The complaints are fairly laughable, but they deserve to be taken seriously in our current climate. Ever since Trump’s December 2019 executive order adopting a broad definition of antisemitism, proxy groups have bombarded the the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights with accusations of discrimination and Betsy DeVos’s crew has been happy to oblige them. The script is fairly straightforward at this point: you identify some event or speech that’s critical of Israel and claim that it’s created a culture of antisemitism on campus. The government then threatens to yank federal funding to the university if it doesn’t clean up its act. After a North Carolina congressman complained to DeVos over a conference held by the Duke-University of North Carolina Consortium for Middle East Studies last year, the Education Department launched an investigation and ruled that the program must provide the Trump administration with “a description demonstrating how each activity promotes foreign language learning and advances the national security interests and economic stability of the United States” if it wanted to continue receiving Title VI funding.

Anyway, back to UCLA. Last week, a coalition of civil rights groups signed onto a letter from the Los Angeles chapter of the Council for American-Islamic Relations to the school’s chancellor Gene Block. The groups are calling on the university to defend the academic freedom of its students and staff. “The university’s virtual silence in the face of media reports that falsely equate advocacy for Palestinian rights at UCLA with fostering a climate of antisemitism smears your students, faculty, and guest speakers and stifles the ability to engage in critical intellectual debates – the very mission of UCLA in particular and the university in general,” reads the letter.

These investigations are quite obviously intended to create a culture of fear across the country’s universities and restrict the parameters of accepted discourse, but you never hear a bleat of protest about them from the Campus Free Speech Brigade. Makes you think.

COVID-19 and Palestine

My colleague Yumna Patel has launched a newsletter covering the COVID-19 crisis in Palestine. Yumna is based in Bethlehem and is one of the only voices able to provide on the ground coverage of the rapidly developing situation. “At the end of the day, Palestinians are all too aware of the fact that their healthcare systems cannot withstand even the smallest outbreak, especially in Gaza where there are only 62 ventilators in the entire territory, which is home to more than 2 million people,” she writes in the first issue, “As we head into the fourth week of quarantine, people are holding their breath to see if, somehow, they can manage to circumvent the disaster that is sweeping across the rest of the world.”

You can read the first edition and sign up for the newsletter on our website. Yumna also did a livestream about the situation last week, which you can watch here.

Odds and Ends

🇮🇷 A group of lawmakers (including AOC and Bernie Sanders) sent a letter to the Trump asking for Iran sanctions relief amid the COVID-19 crisis. “Rather than continue to pile on sanctions in the Iranian people’s hour of need, we urge you to substantially suspend sanctions on Iran in a humanitarian gesture to the Iranian people to better enable them to fight the virus, it reads, Sanctions relief should encompass major sectors of the Iranian economy, including those impacting civilian industries, Iran’s banking sector and exports of oil, and should last for at least as long as health experts believe the crisis will continue. Failure to do so risks inhibiting the delivery of key humanitarian goods, and putting the Iranian people into further health and economic peril,” reads the letter.

🗳️ 31-year-old Ammar Campa-Najjar is running against established Republican Darrell Issa in California’s 50th district. Campa-Najjar’s father is Palestinian and he was raised in Gaza. He was recently interviewed by Jewish Insider and it’s safe to say he’s no Ilhan Omar:

Campa-Najjar believes the Palestinian leadership has been intransigent through the years, which he fears will leave the Palestinians with nothing if they refuse to make concessions in future negotiations.

“It’s turning into where these Palestinian territories are like Native American tribes,” he said, “little statelets in the grander part of Israel.”

Instead, he favors a kind of tough love, arguing that he supports restoring aid to the Palestinian Authority only if it is used to help rebuild civil society for the Palestinians and not in the service of violence. Campa-Najjar said he believes Israel should continue to receive foreign aid — an investment, he said, that gives the U.S. some leverage when it comes to negotiating with a country that he regards as a key ally.

Campa-Najjar has also refused to say whether or not he would have voted to impeach Trump and called the trial unfair. He’s running in a conservative district, so perhaps he’s just attempting to hedge his bets.

✉️ Last week, more than 60 Democratic lawmakers sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that seeks to hold Israel accountable for the destruction of Palestinians homes in East Jerusalem last summer. The effort was led by Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), and Steve Cohen (D-TN) .“U.S.-supplied military equipment to Israel should only be used for legitimate self-defense against the very real security threats Israel faces,” said Khanna in a statement, “Such military equipment should not be used to turn Palestinian homes into rubble, displace families, and tear apart communities. I look forward to the State Department providing the information necessary to ensure that U.S.-supplied military equipment in the West Bank is not being used in this destructive practice.”

Here’s everyone who signed the letter:

Anna Eshoo (CA-18), Steve Cohen (TN-9), Karen Bass (CA-37), Don Beyer (VA-8), Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), Julia Brownley (CA-26), André Carson (IN-7), Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Judy Chu (CA-27), Gerald E. Connolly (VA-11), Danny K. Davis (IL-7), Peter DeFazio (OR-4), Rose DeLauro (CT-3), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Lloyd Doggett (TX-35), Veronica Escobar (TX-16), Dwight Evans (PA-03), Bill Foster (IL-11), Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02), John Garamendi (CA-03), Jesús G. “Chuy” García (IL-04), Al Green (TX-09), Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-03), Deb Haaland (NM-01), Jahana Hayes (CT-05), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Henry C. ”Hank” Johnson (GA-04), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30), Daniel T. Kildee (MI-05), Ron Kind (WI-03), Ann McLane Kuster (NH-02), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Andy Levin (MI-09), Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Andy Lowenthal (CA-47), Betty McCollum (MN-04), A. Donald McEachin (VA-04), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Seth Moulton (MA-06), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Donald M. Payne, Jr. (NJ-10), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), David Price (NC-04), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Bobby Rush (IL-01), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), José E. Serrano (NY-15), Jackie Speier (CA-14), Mike Thompson (CA-05), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Paul Tonko (NY-20), Lori Trahan (MA-03), Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-07), Peter J. Visclosky (IN-01), Maxine Waters (CA-43), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ- 12), Peter Welch (VT-At Large), John Yarmuth (KY-03)

Take care of each other and wash your hands. We’re all in this together. – Michael

Michael Arria

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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