Daily Archives: February 9, 2019

Muslim Lawmakers’ Criticism of Israel Pressures US Democrats

WASHINGTON The support for a boycott of Israel by the first two Muslim women in the U.S. Congress has opened a breach in the Democratic Party and threatens to create a fissure in the ironclad U.S.-Israeli alliance.

Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib made their debut in the House of Representatives in January openly declaring their support for the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, or BDS.

What is BDS?

The movement, launched more than a decade ago and modeled on the 1960s movement to pressure South Africa over apartheid, calls for people and groups to sever economic, cultural and academic ties to Israel, and to support sanctions against the Jewish state.

But for Israel partisans, including many Democrats and Republicans in Congress, BDS smacks of anti-Semitism and poses a threat to Israel.

Tlaib, 42, has Palestinian roots and represents a district of suburban Detroit, Michigan, that is home to thousands of Muslims.

She argues that BDS can draw a focus on issues like the racism and the international human rights violations by Israel right now.

Omar, 37, is the daughter of Somali refugees who was elected to represent a Minneapolis, Minnesota, district with a large Somali population.

She accuses Israel of discrimination against Palestinians akin to apartheid, but denies that she is anti-Semitic.

Pro-Israel anger

Her remarks in January to Yahoo News however sparked anger among the large pro-Israel contingent in Congress, the powerful, largely Democratic U.S. Jewish community, and Israel itself, where BDS is seen as a national threat.

When I see Israeli institute laws that recognize it as a Jewish state and does not recognize the other religions that are living in it, and we still hold it as a democracy in the Middle East, I almost chuckle, Omar told Yahoo News.

Because I know that if we see that in another society we would criticize it � we do that to Iran, any other place that sort of upholds its religion.

Fissure among Democrats

Omar and Tlaib sparked the BDS controversy during a period when Donald Trump’s administration has strengthened relations with Israel and slashed aid to the Palestinians.

But Republicans saw their support for BDS as both a threat to Jews and an exploitable rift among Democrats.

Democrats have made it clear that hateful, bigoted rhetoric toward Israel is not confined to a few freshman members. This is the mainstream position of today’s Democratic Party and their leadership is enabling it, Republicans said in a statement Jan. 29.

Bids to legislate

The worry about the small but growing support for BDS in the United States predates Tlaib’s and Omar’s political rise.

A number of states have passed or proposed constitutionally questionable legislation and policies that would penalize supporters of the boycott movement.

But the arrival of Tlaib and Omar in Congress was greeted with the first proposed federal law to fight to that end, in the Senate.

Senator Marco Rubio argues that BDS aims to eliminate the state of Israel, and said his legislation would protect states’ rights to exclude from public contracts any supporters of BDS.

Republicans, the majority in the Senate, along with more than half of the Democrats approved the legislation.

But a significant number of Democrats opposed it, because, they said, it violates constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression.

‘Political football’

That has left Democrats vulnerable to charges of anti-Semitism.

To fight that, in January prominent party members formed the Democratic Majority for Israel, touting themselves as The Voice of Pro-Israel Democrats, which for some came across as a rebuke of Omar and Tlaib.

After Omar joined the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee, according to The New York Times, Jewish committee Chairman Eliot Engel privately made it clear that he would not ignore any particularly hurtful remarks she might make.

You hope that when people are elected to Congress, they continue to grow, he reportedly told her.

There is obviously a serious fight going on within the Democratic Party with respect to how to deal with BDS and some within their party who advocate for it, said Alvin Rosenfeld, who directs the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism at Indiana University.

Should the party swing to the far left and appear to be way out of line with America’s traditional ties to one of its strongest allies, Israel, the party will surely suffer at the polls, he told AFP.

Amy Elman, a political science professor at Kalamazoo College, said anti-Semitism should not be used as a political football by any party.

Democrats should care less where the charges of anti-Semitism come from. What matters is if the accusations are valid, she said.

Source: Voice of America

Nearly 70 Killed in Cameroon as Separatists Stop Youth Week Activities

YAOUNDE, CAMEROON Renewed fighting has killed 69 people in English-speaking regions of Cameroon, where armed separatists have ordered people to stay inside their homes as the country prepares to celebrate its national youth day.

February 11 coincides with the 1961 plebiscite, which separatists identify as the day their English-speaking territory was handed to the French-speaking majority.

Patients writhe and scream on the floor and get little medical attention at Saint Mary Clinic, a private hospital in Cameroon’s English-speaking coastal city of Limbe. Nurse Frederick Mengoli says they were dumped there on Friday night by the Cameroon military.

“This morning, the military brought 11 wounded patients and we can not take care of them because our staff is not present and we do not have the necessary drugs to take care of them,” said Mengoli. “We are just going to clean their wounds. It is very serious situation.”

Fighting has been going on since Tuesday, February 5 in the English-speaking southwestern towns of Limbe, Buea, Mutengene, Kumba, Mamfe and Tombel, as well as in the northwestern towns of Bamenda, Kumbo, Ndop, Nkambe, Bafut and Kom. That’s when armed separatists began what they call a 10-day lockdown, banning many activities in the war-torn Anglophone regions through February 14.

They say the ban is intended to disrupt National Youth Day activities to be celebrated on February 11.

Here in Buea, hundreds of students from the town’s university are shouting as they return home after being forcefully removed from their hostels by the military and locked up for several hours. The military said by staying at home, they were following the separatists instead of obeying government instructions to continue with their activities.

Nineteen-year-old journalism student Edmond Mbella says they cannot continue their studies because their lives are being threatened by the separatists.

“Even the soldiers who are well armed, well trained with sophisticated weapons are being killed, but they [the government] want us to go out. We will not,” said Mbella. “Who will be able to protect us when the soldiers can not protect themselves?”

Some of the students remained in detention. The government says at least six military, 47 armed separatists and 16 civilians have been killed. The separatists say on social media they have killed more troops than the government is reporting.

Deben Tchoffo, governor of the English-speaking northwest region, says troops will continue attacking and killing the armed fighters who disturb the public peace.

“Those that will continue to challenge the state, our security, and furthermore the population, are going to be treated accordingly. Soonest, the situation will come back to normalcy in our region,” said Tchoffo.

Cameroon celebrates youth day every year to encourage young people to renounce violence and other negative behavior.

February 11 was chosen because it coincides with the day in 1961 when the United Nations organized a plebiscite in the southern and northern parts of the British-administered trust territory in Cameroon.

The northern part voted to have independence by joining the Federal Republic of Nigeria, while the southern part, today known as the English-speaking regions of Cameroon, voted to have independence by joining French-speaking Cameroon.

Since then, English-speaking Cameroonians have been complaining the U.N.-sponsored plebiscite did not give them a third option: to have an independent state on its own.

This resulted in an armed insurgency that started in the English-speaking regions in November 2017, after separatists declared the independence of a nation they called “Ambazonia” complaining minority anglophones were being systematically marginalized in the largely French-speaking country.

Source: Voice of America