U.S. sanctions compound the coronavirus crisis in Iran

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The Shift is a weekly politics newsletter from Michael Arria taking you to the front lines in the battle over Palestine in the United States. Got a tip? Send them to

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Iran Sanctions

Covid-19 is becoming a very dire problem in Iran. At the time this newsletter was written, at least 237 people had died and 7,161 had been infected. However, experts say the actual numbers are probably much higher. Earlier this week, The Atlantic’s Graeme Wood wrote an informative piece about the situation, but one word was notably absent: sanctions.

The situation in Iran is compounded by the fact that the Trump administration imposed a new round of sanctions on Iran after violating the nuclear deal. Technically medicine is not supposed to be impacted by the sanctions, but many transactions are now declined by banks as a result of these actions. “Iran is one of the worst-hit countries by the coronavirus,” senior research analyst with the National Iranian American Council Sina Toossi tweeted, “It’s fighting the disease at a time when a huge part of its national budget has been eliminated by U.S. sanctions… The sanctions continue to be a crime against humanity.”

Last week Iran developed an app to provide people with information during the crisis. Google immediately pulled it off its app store.

The right-wing pressure group is United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) is pushing to make this cruel and unusual situation even worse. The Intercept‘s Eli Clifton reports that the organization is trying to stop medical supplies from getting to Iran. As Clifton points out, UANI has a number of direct connections to the Trump administration:

Senior UANI adviser John Bolton worked for UANI both before and after his stint in the Trump administration as national security adviser. UANI’s umbrella group, Counter Extremism Project United Inc, paid Bolton $240,000 between 2016 and 2017. Bolton’s appointment as national security adviser was quickly followed by Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran.

Besides Bolton, the Trump administration twice sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to UANI’s annual conference, held during the United Nations General Assembly. Pompeo used the occasions to promote outlandish claims about Europe purportedly financing Iranian terrorism and to present the administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy to UANI’s audience, which included senior diplomats and intelligence officials from the Persian Gulf and Israel.

Just a week before dropping out of the presidential race, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren sent a letter, to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin, seeking assurance that U.S. sanctions aren’t making the situation worse in Iran.

“I am concerned about the vulnerability of the Iranian people to the coronavirus and the potential for Iran’s coronavirus cases to worsen the spread of the disease to neighboring countries, including regional allies, and to the rest of the world,” wrote Warren. “Therefore, I seek an assurance that every reasonable effort is being made by the United States to ensure the availability of medicine and other non-sanctionable humanitarian items to the Iranian people to help prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.”

Warren’s letter is commendable, but she voted for tougher sanctions on Iran in 2017. In fact, every single Democrat did. The only lawmaker who caucuses with the Democrats to vote against them was Bernie Sanders.

Schools Look to Divest From Israel

Early next month, Columbia will hold a campus-wide referendum on whether or not to divest “from companies that profit from or engage in the State of Israel’s acts towards Palestinians.” Student activists have been fighting to hold the historic referendum for four years. Columbia University president Lee Bollinger has condemned the referendum and essentially declared that the BDS movement is antisemitic. “Critical matters are at stake, to be sure,” he said in a statement, “But what must be avoided at all costs, and what I fear is happening today, is a process of mentality that goes from hard-fought debates about very real and vital issues to hostility and even hatred toward all members of groups of people simply by virtue of a religious, racial, national, or ethnic relationship. This must not happen.”

An advisory committee at Brown University has formally recommended that the school divest from “any company that profits from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.” The move comes a year after the launch of the Brown Divest campaign and a student body vote where divestment was overwhelmingly supported.

“Any company that profits from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is complicit in human rights abuses,” reads the report, “If Brown University is directly invested in such companies, it certainly has the moral duty to break any financial relations with them. … We believe that recommending divestiture is the most appropriate response to the severe social harm experienced by the Palestinian people.”

Odds and Ends

🗳️ JVP Action (the advocacy wing of Jewish Voice for Peace) has announced its first slate of political endorsements for the upcoming congressional  elections: Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Mark Pocan (D-WI). No real surprises here, but the fact Palestinian rights has finally permeated our political system in some capacity is a welcomed development.

⚖️ Republicans in Arizona are pushing a law that could make some criticisms of Israel possible hate-crimes. Here’s CAIR-AZ Executive Director Imraan Siddiqi on the proposed legislation: “CAIR-Arizona opposes any attempts to suppress First Amendment expression. We stand firmly against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and all forms of bigotry. Criticism of the actions of a foreign nation for its human rights record should never be restricted by local, state or federal law.  The Arizona Senate must ensure that all Americans have the right to free expression.”

You can read more about the background at our site.

🎓 Some good news out of Bard College. Ben Mulick and Akiva Hirsch, the two students who were investigated by the school after protesting an anti-Palestinian speaker, have been cleared of any wrongdoing. The students had been represented by Palestine Legal. “I’m grateful for the finding of no wrongdoing by both the faculty panel and the president,” said Mulick in response to the decision, “It also has to be said that Palestine Legal’s help was instrumental to these decisions and that we couldn’t have done it without them. This is a step in the right direction for Bard, but the investigation should have never happened. The only reason Bard chose to investigate was due to the fact that the protest was inherently anti-Zionist. We will continue to protest until Bard divests and takes a clear stance on normalization.”

Mairav Zonszein has a fantastic piece on what really happened at the university in Jewish Currents.

Take care of one another and wash your hands.
– Michael