From The Final Call Newspaper

Hypocrisy, hate, hype and the Southern Poverty Law Center

By Starla Muhammad Managing Editor

Fallout continues for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in wake of the abrupt firing of co-founder Morris Dees and the sudden resignation of its president Richard Cohen. The group is in damage control mode in the aftermath of allegations it fostered a racist and sexist work environment.

SPLC headquartered in Montgomery, Ala. with offices in Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana, has touted itself as an ally of Blacks, poor and disenfranchised people in the fight for equal justice and rights. Yet these latest controversies beg the question: Is a group that insists it exposes and monitors hate the real hater?

Critics of the group including left-wing progressives and right-wing conservatives have taken issue with the methodology and tactics of SPLC.

“Mr. Dees and the S.P.L.C. have been credited with undermining the influence of the Ku Klux Klan and extremist groups. But in recent years, the center has come under scrutiny for its classifications of ‘hate groups,’ and whether the organization has abused that label in pursuit of a political agenda or increased donations,” reported The New York Times in a recent article.

SPLC has also been blasted by critics who argue it erroneously yet deliberately classifies and equates Black liberation organizations like the Nation of Islam, which has no history of committing violent or terrorist acts on Whites, Jews or anyone based on creed, class, color, religion, political ideology or sexual orientation—with White supremacist groups who have an established record of violence and murder of Black people.

“It seems the Southern Poverty Law Center’s true purpose is to discredit and disrupt progressive forward-thinking revolutionary Black organizations under the disguise of being a so-called watchdog group. But for decades now all they’ve done is slander the good work and the good deeds of the Nation of Islam and the New Black Panther Party,” said Krystal Muhammad, national chairwoman of the New Black Panther Party.

What is now surrounding SPLC, according to various observers, are the proverbial “chickens coming home to roost.”

Pimping the struggle and tarnishing reputations?

“Being in the South, dealing with poverty, working in legal circles and doing advocacy work I think of the Southern Poverty Law Center as someone that would have been involved with the many racially-charged legal fights that we’ve been fighting but they’re nowhere to be seen. If anything, they’ve demonized us and called us ‘Black identity extremists,’ ” said activist Lady Freedom, who has lived in Alabama since 1999. She lives in Birmingham. Her parents are also from the state which is one of the poorest in the country.

Lady Freedom told The Final Call that she was not surprised at the allegations and that her view and experience as a grassroots activist is that SPLC has not been fully invested in many of Alabama’s poor communities as a true ally and partner and has lent tepid support at best to their efforts. It is also her observation that the group has not responded forcefully enough when Black activists or groups particularly in Alabama received death threats.

“Don’t be pimping our struggle, don’t misuse our martyrs for your benefit to make yourself look shiny and not reach back,” said Lady Freedom who is also an international correspondent and radio personality for Selma, Ala.-based WBFZ 105.3 FM owned by longtime activists Attorney Faya Rose Toure and her husband, former State Senator Hank Sanders.

She said there have been other instances where Black people have been threatened by White supremacists or killed by police but SPLC, which boasts assets over $500 million which includes an endowment fund—fails to respond in a more forceful way.

“What I have experienced in working with several programs through the Voting Rights Museum and even just at an activist level and people saying let’s reach out to them (SPLC); I haven’t had them respond, not once,” said Lady Freedom.

There’s not a community connection between Black Alabamans and the SPLC that one might expect to see, she continued. “I would expect to see more connection in poor places, but I can’t think of the last time I saw that SPLC was having a town hall meeting about hate crimes and they happen very frequently. For them to be so close to poor communities their presence is definitely missing.”

Lady Freedom said she has personally contacted SPLC to demand they remove groups like the NOI and New Black Panther Party from their list of hate groups. These groups work to uplift their people and work in their communities to try and make them better, argue their supporters.

“SPLC is one of the single most institutions that have done extreme damage to the reputation and the good names that the New Black Panther Party, the Nation of Islam, Minister Farrakhan and all true good freedom fighters work by trying to put us in the same category as a so-called hate group when that has never been the case,” explained Krystal Muhammad. “SPLC has been used as a tool to a large extent even to attempt to criminalize us because of their reports.”

It has been used to slander and disrupt the good work we have been doing, she added.

Dr. Charles Steele, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference founded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and based in Atlanta told The Final Call that while he had no information on what was happening with SPLC or its leadership, he was unwavering in his support of Min. Farrakhan and the NOI. “I know the Nation of Islam is a great organization,” he said.

“Min. Farrakhan is one of the greatest supporters of SCLC. If it wasn’t for Min. Farrakhan, SCLC wouldn’t be doing some of the things that we are doing today under my leadership. I can speak for Charles Steele, I can tell you what the Nation of Islam has meant to me!”

The Final Call called and emailed the headquarters of Southern Poverty Law Center requesting an interview and received no response.

A moment of reckoning

As a member of the Nation of Islam Research Team and as a “son of the South,” Demetric Muhammad said he is all too familiar with the tactics of SPLC and said he was not surprised at what is happening.

“Their history has been on our desk for a long time and even though we understood that they have a public persona of being a watchdog group and someone interested in trying to protect the poor and disenfranchised that primarily their goal has been to raise money to continue to perpetuate the status quo in America where you have White supremacy, Black inferiority; where you have gender inequality,” said the Memphis-based NOI student minister.

“We’ve known for a long time that even though they call themselves the Southern Poverty Law Center, poverty is greatest in the Southern states statistically so how could you be based in Montgomery, Alabama … and have one of the largest treasuries of any activist type organization yet poverty still persists in the Deep South where you’re located? We’ve always known they’re a group of hypocrites,” he added.

On March 22 news broke that SPLC president Richard Cohen had resigned but the group did not disclose the reason. He had worked there since 1986. It was also reported by the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper that legal director and senior leadership staff member Rhonda Brownstein resigned March 21. Just days before on March 18, SPLC tapped Chicago-based attorney Christina “Tina” Tchen, a gender and equity expert and chief of staff to former first lady Michelle Obama—to step in and assess the organization’s workplace practices, policies and climate. Mr. Dees was fired March 14 with no explanation given by Mr. Cohen except a statement that said the group is “committed to ensuring that our workplace embodies the values we espouse—truth, justice, equity, and inclusion.”

“When one of our own fails to meet those standards, no matter his or her role in the organization, we take it seriously and must take appropriate action,” the statement continued. Mr. Dees contends he does not know why he was fired and according to The Associated Press said his dismissal involved a “personnel issue.”

After his resignation, Mr. Cohen also issued a statement that read in part, “Given my long tenure as the SPLC president, however, I do not think I should be involved in that process beyond cooperating with Tina, her team, and the board in any way that may be helpful.” “Whatever problems exist at the SPLC happened on my watch, so I take responsibility for them,” the statement continued.

According to the Los Angeles Times just prior to the latest shakeup, two dozen employees sent a letter to management and the SPLC board of directors stating they were concerned that internal allegations of mistreatment, sexual harassment, gender discrimination and racism threaten to jeopardize the organization. The Montgomery Advertiser reported that former SPLC employees have told them the work environment is “toxic” and has been for some time. It is not clear whether there is any connection between the latest allegations and the dismissal of Mr. Dees but it is clear that the organization seems to be failing at practicing what it preaches, argue observers.

According to media reports, Ms. Tchen will submit her findings and recommendations to the SPLC board of directors. How long the evaluation will take and if the report will be made public is unclear.

This is not the first time SPLC has raised eyebrows. In a series of articles published in 1994, The Montgomery Advertiser newspaper outlined concerns then about alleged racial discrimination against Black employees who at the time “accused Morris Dees, the center’s driving force, of being a racist and black employees have ‘felt threatened and band together,’” a charge Mr. Dees denied.

In an article written by former SPLC employee Bob Moser, an openly gay White man, published March 21 in the New Yorker, titled, “The Reckoning of Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center,” racial disparities were one of many contradictions he observed during his tenure at the organization.

“Incoming female staffers were additionally warned by their new colleagues about Dees’s reputation for hitting on young women. And the unchecked power of the lavishly compensated white men at the top of the organization—Dees and the center’s president, Richard Cohen—made staffers pessimistic that any of these issues would ever be addressed,” wrote Mr. Moser.

According to media reports, Mr. Dees has not been involved in day to day operations of the center for some time but it was widely circulated that he ran a tight shop and personally handpicked many of the board members and senior staff. A current review of the SPLC website shows 14 board members, two of who are Black. There is one Black person out of eight listed on the leadership staff and three Blacks out of nine listed as senior staff, according to the website.

Mr. Dees and Attorney Joseph Levin founded SPLC in 1971 and appointed a civil rights stalwart the late Julian Bond, as its first president. The group became well known for successful campaigns in combating the Ku Klux Klan, a group notorious for terrorizing and killing Black people. Over the years SPLC won several multi-million dollar lawsuits against violent and lawless White supremacist groups.

While some analysts note that the money it rakes in and has accrued is enough to keep SPLC afloat, these latest controversies are raising legitimate questions about the history and future of the nearly 50-year-old organization.

But Demetric Muhammad said there are also lessons in this for Black people. “The Southern Poverty Law Center has spent a lot of time calling groups who advocate for the rights of Black people hate groups. They have literally stated that because we teach that Black people are the original people of the planet and that White people evolved from us that that constitutes hate teaching,” he said.

“Our people need to understand fundamentally that we should never expect a favorable point of view from our open adversaries and those that have for many years oppressed us. The oppressor is never going to approve of any group or any leader that is legitimately fighting on behalf of those that he has oppressed and enjoys oppressing,” explained Demetric Muhammad, author of several books.

The oppression of Black people and poor people has been an enormously successful economic enterprise for the White ruling class in America and in the world and Whites purposely assassinate the character of leaders and organizations they view as a threat to that very beneficial relationship, he pointed out.

“To any in the Black community that have falsely believed the reports of the Southern Poverty Law Center that Minister Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam constitute a hate group well now look and see those that claim that we were haters are in fact themselves practitioners of hate, sexism, racism and inequality,” said Demetric Muhammad.

“I think it is something of a moment of reckoning and I think it is the hand of Allah (God) that he would follow up in the immediate aftermath of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan’s brilliant Saviours’ Day message that you would see this kind of a development.”

From The Final Call Newspaper

White anger, White insecurity and global White terror

By Brian E. Muhammad and Tariqah Shakir-Muhammad

Brenton Tarrant

Murderous rage in New Zealand, which left 50 people killed in attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, is part of global, growing and deadly White deadly resentment, said analysts, activists and scholars interviewed by The Final Call

“It is very disconcerting, and we should see it as the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. Wesley Muhammad, a Nation of Islam student minister who holds a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies.

The world largely awakened March 15 to news of one of the bloodiest terror attacks in recent times. A White gunman converged on the mosques targeting everyone in sight during traditional Friday congregational prayer services. An estimated 500 Muslims were attending the Al-Noor Mosque with others at the smaller Linwood Mosque, a short distance away.

Police confirmed three people were arrested and multiple car bombs were found after the mosque shootings. Brenton Tarrant, the alleged shooter who livestreamed the deadly carnage, was charged with murder the day after the killings. “There were a number of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) attached to vehicles that we also stopped. They’ve been made safe by Defense Force but that does go to the seriousness of the situation,” Christchurch police commissioner Mike Bush said. Four people were initially captured by local police and authorities locked down mosques where the attacks took place and much of the city.

NYPD increasing security at Mosques and places of worship in light of the New Zealand attacks, March 15. Photos: MGN Online

“There’s been some absolute acts of bravery ... but let’s not presume that the danger is gone. We are not aware of other people, but we cannot assume there are not others at large,” cautioned the commissioner.

“The pool of sentiment from which he (Mr. Tarrant) came … globally it’s the angry White man, because globally their population is in reverse,” said Dr. Muhammad.
Dr. Wesley Muhammad said White demographic numbers and low birth rates are major factors in the global wave of White nationalism. In the United Kingdom, France and other European nations, Whites are wrestling with increasing numbers of migrants from Africa and darker nations. But, they are arriving amid a time of White population decline and growing economic distress. 

“They (Whites) see themselves losing that great White, Anglo-Saxon power and privilege that they have enjoyed for so long coming to an end,” said human rights activist Lee Jasper, who is based in London, in a previous Final Call interview. Europeans see themselves becoming a minority, but resettled refugees fill needed workforce positions Whites cannot fill because of their declining numbers.

Blacks and ethnic minorities are currently 14 percent of the population across England and Wales, according to a study by Policy Exchange, a UK-based think tank. While Whites are the majority, the Black and ethnic minority population has doubled in the past decade, accounting for 80 percent of population growth. The White population remained stagnant.

Census Bureau numbers say if White birth and death rates don’t change by the mid-2040s, Whites will be a minority population in the United States.

Dr. Wesley Muhammad expects White anger to intensify after the New Zealand tragedy.

The Daily Mail, a UK-based newspaper, reported suspected Christchurch terrorist Tarrant, 28, vowed to kill Muslims a day before the attack. The native of Australia was praised after the heinous act by followers on social media. The Daily Mail said an anonymous user, believed to be Mr. Tarrant, posted on the rightwing blog site 8Chan March 14: “I will carry out an attack against the invaders and will even live stream the attack via Facebook.”

“When they can livestream murder of worshippers at prayer you know depravity has sunk to lowest pits,” commented Moazzam Begg, outreach director for IIICAGE, a London-based advocacy organization for communities impacted by the War on Terror. “This hatred has been stoked by politicians and media. They must be accounted alongside killers,” Mr. Begg said in a Facebook video message responding to the attacks.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a U.S.-based Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, condemned the attacks. CAIR expressed concern that the alleged shooter called himself a supporter of President Donald Trump, who he sees “as a symbol of renewed White identity and common purpose.”

CAIR has reported an unprecedented spike in bigotry targeting American Muslims, immigrants and members of other minority groups since the election of Mr. Trump as president. CAIR has repeatedly expressed concern about Islamophobic, White supremacist and racist Trump administration policies and appointments.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern lamented to the media that she never expected such a thing to happen in New Zealand. However, some observers of New Zealand history disagreed. They expressed surprise a tragedy didn’t occur sooner. “Racism is absolutely the norm in New Zealand,” said Dr. Randy Lancaster Short, a lay leader of the African Orthodox Church. “It’s a serious problem and it’s focused on their version of ‘niggers.’ ”

New Zealand like Australia, where the accused shooter is from, has a brutal colonial past that lingers on in deep social disparities along racial lines today, he said. As in other neocolonial states, it is New Zealand’s indigenous Black Maori population that suffers the biggest burden of inequality.

Race-driven killings have become more prevalent in the United States, Canada and Europe where racist xenophobia has taken root among Caucasians against immigrants, particularly migrants from Africa and the Middle East.

In the U.S., mosques have been desecrated and Dylan Roof, a White nationalist and domestic terrorist, slaughtered nine members of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., during a 2015 bible study. Mr. Roof claimed unequivocal allegiance to White nationalism and was hoping the act would inspire a race war.

In Canada, Alexandre Bissonnette, 28, opened fire on worshippers during evening prayers at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City in January 2017. Six people died and 19 others were wounded in the attack. Reports said those who knew him said he held far-right, White nationalist, anti-refugee and anti-Muslim views.

Though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Philippe Couillard called the shooting a terrorist attack, Mr. Bissonnette was not charged under the terrorism provision of Canadian law. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole for 40 years.

In July 2011, White Supremacist and anti-Muslim extremist Anders Breivik carried out a murderous rampage in Norway. Mr. Breivik parked a van outside the Parliament building in Oslo and lit a bomb that killed eight people. He then shot 69 people to death, mostly teenagers at a youth camp on the island of Utoya. He carried out the shooting over the course of an hour and a half before police arrived. He also distributed racist material online and a manifesto of his views to 1,000 email addresses. He was convicted of terrorism and murder and sentenced to 21 years in prison.

Mr. Tarrant paid homage to these and other race warriors as his heroes and fellow travelers. He also posted a manifesto online where he argued Whites were under attack and he was striking a blow for the salvation of Caucasian people.

“The deeper end and more disturbing part of this is that it’s an indicator that the final conflict is really about to occur,” said Dr. Ava Muhammad, national spokesperson for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. The Christchurch attack is a reminder of an ever-present White supremacist mentality, she warned.

Alexandre Bissonnette

“Minister Farrakhan’s call for Black people in America to seek refuge in a separate state or territory of our own has gone beyond a watch to a warning and by that I mean we have to create our own safe haven,” Dr. Ava Muhammad continued. “Whatever happens in New Zealand, which is predominantly Caucasian owned and operated, is a reflection of the tentacles of the United States and, of course, its doctrines of White supremacy. Unfortunately, we can expect more and more of these to happen.”

Eyewitness Mohammad Jama from Masjid Al-Noor Mosque in Christchurch described in horrific detail the afternoon of the attack. “We were into 10 minutes of our prayers and then we heard gunshots outside, but kept on praying,” he told reporters for Radio New Zealand. “Next minute, it was inside. He was a light-colored skin guy and he started firing and we all went for cover. A couple of guys from inside probably ran outside and they all came out in blood. When we got up we saw people lying around us (who) were shot. They had blood coming out, some from the neck.”

A young Muslim man challenged the armed Mr. Tarrant, who dropped his weapon, fled, and was apprehended by police.

Anders Behring Breivik

Yasmin Ali said the attack left her terrified in what used to be one of the most peaceful places for Muslims. “What terrifies me is that there’s people out there who are enjoying this … that support this, it pushes their cause even more and I am really scared for our future,” she said. “I’m terrified. I don’t know if I’m going to feel safe walking by myself wearing my headscarf and I’ve never felt that way before.”

Imam Amin Nathari, of the Islam in America Movement, called the attack unsurprising given Islamophobia across the globe. “This was more of a manifestation or a consequence of the hate that Trump has produced and that now there’s Islamophobia and the things we see happening in America spreading across the world. Looking at his [President Trump’s] response, his response was deplorable but it’s just representative of his view of immigrants and Muslims of any ethnicity,” said the imam.

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern discuss- ing the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. Photos: MGN Online

Muslims in immigrant and Black communities should be extra precautions, he added. “We should never think that the enemy sleeps; the enemy never sleeps, he just changes shifts.”

From The Final Call Newspaper

The targeting of a courageous congresswoman and fighting the false charge of anti-Semitism
By Barrington M. Salmon -Contributing Writer-

WASHINGTON—Since she entered Congress in January, Rep. Ilhan Omar has enjoyed one of the highest profiles in the freshman class of the 116th Congress.

A Somali-American, who happens to be Muslim, she’s attracted attention as much for being one of the first Muslims voted to Congress as for her outspokenness and willingness to shake up the establishment.

Twice in one month, her comments about the power and influence of the American Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and recent tweets and a comment during a town hall meeting created a firestorm and condemnation from congressional politicians on both sides of the aisle.

“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,” Omar tweeted. “I am told every day that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel. I find that to be problematic and I am not alone. I just happen to be willing to speak up on it and open myself to attacks.”

She took part in a Feb. 28 town hall at Busboys and Poets in midtown D.C. where her comments, again about Israeli influence on congressional lawmakers, sparked outrage, some real, some feigned from Republicans like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Reps. Louis Gohmert and Steve King, who have made anti-Semitic remarks or shared similarly offensive comments and memes on social media.

In answer to a question, Rep. Omar elaborated on her position.

“… But now that you have two Muslims that are saying ‘here is a group of people that we want to make sure that they have the dignity that you want everyone else to have!’ … We get to be called names, we get to be labeled as hateful. No, we know what hate looks like. We experience it every single day. We have to deal with death threats. I have colleagues who talk about death threats ... .”

Political journalists familiar with the workings of AIPAC said the organization dispatched Democratic leaders to fashion a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, bigotry and hate speech. But things didn’t work out as originally planned.

House Democrats led by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, challenged House Speaker Pelosi and other Democratic leaders for seeking to impose sanctions on Rep. Omar for her alleged anti-Semitic remarks yet Democrats have done nothing in response to President Donald Trump’s steady stream of racist, anti-Muslim comments and his embrace of White nationalists.

Furthermore, the CBC and other representatives said, it was hypocritical and disingenuous for the body to be considering a resolution condemning religious hatred without including a condemnation of anti-Islam bias and rhetoric. This schism led to a vote of the resolution being delayed, expanded and then passing the House on March 7 with the language broadened to include these concerns. The ADL, some Republicans and Democrats howled it was not enough, that there should have a been a resolution about anti-Semitism—and it should have specifically named the congresswoman from Minnesota.

“I think there’s a big rise in anti-Semitism and racism, and that’s a bigger conversation we need to be having. But it starts at 1600 Pennsylvania. It doesn’t start with one member out of 435 members of Congress,” Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.) reportedly told his colleagues in the closed-door Democratic session.

President Trump has angered Black people since he assumed office with his harsh and demeaning rhetoric towards Blacks. He called Black NFL players sons of bitches for kneeling to protest racism, police brutality, inequality, injustice and the extrajudicial killings of Black men, women and children; he has been explicit in his support of White nationalists, including equivocating after White nationalist protests, the racial attacks and murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville; his disrespect to prominent Black women, such as Reps. Maxine Waters and Frederica Wilson, Jemele Hill, April Ryan and Abby Philip and more.

Rep. Omar has received the backing of Reps. Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, Rebecca Tlaib and Sens. Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders.

Sen. Sanders’ office released a statement earlier calling the initial bill wrong.

“Anti-Semitism is a hateful and dangerous ideology which must be vigorously opposed in the United States and around the world. We must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel. Rather, we must develop an even-handed Middle East policy which brings Israelis and Palestinians together for a lasting peace,” Sen. Sanders said.

“What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate. That’s wrong,” Sen. Sanders added.

Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) also issued a statement.

“We all have a responsibility to speak out against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and all forms of hatred and bigotry, especially as we see a spike in hate crimes in America,” Sen. Harris said as reported by the Huffington Post. “But like some of my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, I am concerned that the spotlight being put on Congresswoman Omar may put her at risk.”

Rep. Ocasio Cortez said, in several tweets, that the fiery backlash her colleague is facing illustrates the double standard in Congress’ response to different forms of bigotry.

“One of the things that is hurtful about the extent to which reprimand is sought of Ilhan is that no one seeks this level of reprimand when members make statements about Latinx plus other communities (during the shutdown, a GOP member yelled ‘Go back to Puerto Rico!’ on the floor),” Rep. Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter.

Rep. Ocasio Cortez said lawmakers have been given a pass for racist, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBTQ comments and misogyny so congressional leaders should be clear about what behavior merits formal condemnation.

“...incidents like these do beg the question: where are the resolutions against homophobic statements? For anti-blackness? For xenophobia? For a member saying he’ll ‘send Obama home to Kenya?’ ” she asked.

The bill passed by a vote of 407-23. Twenty-three Republicans opposed the measure.

Rep. Omar has had the backing of Jewish Voice for Peace and 40 Jewish organizations around the nation. Prominent Jewish Americans like Naomi Klein, The Nation’s Dave Zirin, Israeli historian, author and activist Ilan PappĂ© also signed an open letter stating that Rep. Omar has been “falsely accused of antisemitism” and that there was nothing anti-Semitic about calling out the “noxious” role of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in American politics.

The letter continues, “the pro-Israel lobby has played an outsized role in producing nearly unanimous congressional support for Israel,” and slammed AIPAC and other lobby groups including the National Rifle Association and the fossil fuel lobby for its “ ‘anti-democratic’ legislative influence on US politics … We thank Ilhan Omar for having the bravery to shake up the congressional taboo against criticizing Israel. As Jews with a long tradition of social justice and anti-racism, AIPAC does not represent us,” and called on other Jews to sign the letter.

Rep. Omar is just the latest critic of the Israeli government who has become the lightning rod of a concentrated barrage of criticism and condemnation from supporters of Israeli’s occupation. The Israeli lobby has effectively used claims of anti-Semitism as a consistent and valuable tool to silence dissent. Supporters have been aggressive in trying to blunt the criticisms of those opposed to the Israeli occupation. According to published reports, 26 state legislatures have passed bills criminalizing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. BDS organizers have patterned the movement on the one that toppled South Africa’s White minority government and the odious apartheid system. BDS seeks to end Israel’s open defiance of a 2004 International Court of Justice advisory opinion declaring the wall in the West Bank illegal. The U.S. Senate passed the “Combat BDS Act” earlier this year as a way to isolate boycott supporters, despite widespread concerns about the bill violating the First Amendment.

Lawmakers, AIPAC representatives and others express outrage at the very idea that the Israel lobby holds any influence, but Israel has long been referred to as the 51st state, and in the early 1970s, Sen William Fulbright called Congress “Israeli-Occupied territory.”

Until now, Israel has received almost total immunity from criticism in the U.S., as noted in a 1971 op-ed for The New York Times by former diplomat David G. Nes who said Israel enjoyed economic, military, diplomatic and cultural support from the U.S.

Mehdi Hasan, a journalist and writer for The Intercept, wrote in a Feb. 12 article that there has always been a taboo against criticizing AIPAC and Rep. Omar, he added, just destroyed it.

Mr. Hasan cited several cases of AIPAC officials boasting about the raw power that “America’s bipartisan pro-Israel lobby” exercises in Washington, D.C.

He recounted the story of Steven Rosen, then a senior official with AIPAC, sat down for dinner with journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, then of the New Yorker in 2005. “You see this napkin?” Rosen asked Goldberg. “In twenty-four hours, [AIPAC] could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.”

“Go back … to 1992, when then-AIPAC President David Steiner was caught on tape bragging that he had ‘cut a deal’ with the George H.W. Bush White House to provide $3 billion in U.S. aid to Israel. Steiner also claimed to be ‘negotiating’ with the incoming Clinton administration over the appointment of pro-Israel cabinet members. AIPAC, he said, has ‘a dozen people in [the Clinton] campaign, in the headquarters … and they’re all going to get big jobs.’ ”

AIPAC’s clout is undeniable. What Mr. Hasan has clarified is that while AIPAC is not a political action committee and does not provide donations directly to candidates, it does act as a “force multiplier,” in the sense that when the organization signals “its rhetorical support for a candidate is a signal to Jewish PACs and individual donors across the country to back his or her campaign.”

Rep. Omar is also widely acknowledged to have forced much-needed dialogue on the influence of money on politics as well as the outsized influence of AIPAC on Congress.

AIPAC spent almost $4 million on lobbying activities in 2018 and enjoys the support of a broad swathe of men and women in Congress. The impact of the Israel Lobby is also considerable.

According to the Guardian newspaper, pro-Israel lobbyists and donors spent more than $22 million on lobbying and campaign contributions during the 2018 election cycle.

“The same or similar Israel-aligned groups and donors have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in recent decades, and that money poured into American politics through a variety of channels,” according to the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. The CRP uses federal election records to track campaign finance spending and makes its data available on the Open Secrets site.

President Donald Trump recently finalized an agreement to provide Israel with $38 billion in military aid over the next 10 years.

In 2004, academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt wrote a detailed article in the London Review of Books, titled, “The Israeli Lobby,” where they showed, “Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that U.S. interests and those of the other country—in this case, Israel—are essentially identical.”

“Since the October War in 1973, Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing that given to any other state,” the authors said. “It has been the largest annual recipient of direct economic and military assistance since 1976 and is the largest recipient in total since World War Two, to the tune of well over $140 billion (in 2004 dollars). Israel receives about $3 billion in direct assistance each year, roughly one-fifth of the foreign aid budget, and worth about $500 a year for every Israeli. This largesse is especially striking since Israel is now a wealthy industrial state with a per capita income roughly equal to that of South Korea or Spain.

“It is the only recipient that does not have to account for how the aid is spent, which makes it virtually impossible to prevent the money from being used for purposes the U.S. opposes, such as building settlements on the West Bank,” the authors said. “Moreover, the U.S. has provided Israel with nearly $3 billion to develop weapons systems, and given it access to such top-drawer weaponry as Blackhawk helicopters and F-16 jets. Finally, the U.S. gives Israel access to intelligence it denies to its NATO allies and has turned a blind eye to Israel’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.”

What is often overlooked is the absolute devastation visited on the Palestinians by the Israeli Defense Force and other instruments of the government.

The Rev. Graylan Hagler visited in 1974, 2004 and 2006 with a delegation of clergy to “investigate what was going on in Israel and the Occupied Territories.” What he and Rev. Patti Fears saw, (she visited in 2017), challenged their accepted Christian narrative.

“What Israel is doing has nothing to do with and is not related to Jews in the Bible,” said Rev. Hagler. “What we saw was a European-American enterprise of colonialism. They have absolute control. We couldn’t get into Gaza, but we were able to get into the West Bank. Gaza is an open-air prison camp.”

“The new constitution renders Palestinians second, third and fourth-class citizens. Settlers can carry automatic weapons; the occupied West Bank is controlled by soldiers and Palestinians aren’t allowed to carry weapons.

“Israel has and continues to steal, appropriate or seize Palestinian land, resettle Israelis on that land and kill, maim or imprison anyone who resists.”

Israeli-American activist and writer Miko Peled said much of the anger towards Rep. Omar stems from fear and race.

“American political institutions are made up of White men who’re not used to Black women,” he told The Final Call during a telephone call from Palestine. “It’s racism. In their mind, she’s supposed to be subservient but she’s calling them out and calling out AIPAC. She has courage and is eloquent and they don’t know what to do with her.”

The Rev. Hagler and the Rev. Fears are among those who are pushing back against the hysteria surrounding Rep. Omar.

“She’s not wrong,” said Rev. Hagler, senior pastor of Plymouth Congressional Church in Northeast D.C. “The Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Congress and others have used the power that they have to scare and intimidate people. The Zionist movement has blurred the line between Israel, Judaism and Jews. But the Jewish state is a racist, colonial, apartheid state. If you can’t criticize them, you couldn’t criticize apartheid in South Africa or Jim Crow in the U.S.

“They label any criticism of Israeli government policy as anti-Semitic and people start freaking out and not wanting to deal with it. This is not a special category of racism and their suffering is no greater than anybody else’s suffering. Their suffering is no less than the genocide of Native Americans or the Middle Passage.”

Rev. Fears, pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Northwest D.C. decried the cruelty she saw in Palestine and lamented not having answers.

“People are treated poorly, houses were bulldozed while people walked by laughing and there were guns to protect the Israelis,” she said. “There was just so much inhumane treatment. The moral characteristic we expected is misplaced. This is a land grab. Israel perpetuates violence and is using military force to eliminate people. They’re not relocating people, they’re killing people. Too many people have been hurt. There will be implosion. It really will take the rise of people to chance this. I wish I had the answer that there will be a real two-state system.”

From The Final Call Newspaper

An unraveling presidency?

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor

Contentious hearing of former Trump ‘fixer’ raises more questions, suspicions 

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Capitol Hill, Feb. 27, in Washing- ton. Photo: AP Photo/Alex Brandon

WASHINGTON—During a riveting day of testimony before the House Oversight Committee, President Donald J. Trump’s longtime personal attorney and fixer said bluntly what many have suspected for years: “I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist, he is a conman, and he is a cheat.”

Michael Cohen worked for Mr. Trump more than 10 years, during which time the president pressured him to lie; to make hush money payments; and to threaten contractors who were owed money by Mr. Trump, and to even threaten his former schools not to release his grades or test scores, he told Congress.

Donald Trump, United States President Photo: MGN Online

“Never in a million years did I imagine, when I accepted a job in 2007 to work for Donald Trump, that he would one day run for President, launch a campaign on a platform of hate and intolerance, and actually win. I regret the day I said ‘yes’ to Mr. Trump. I regret all the help and support I gave him along the way,” Mr. Cohen said during his Feb. 27 testimony.

“I am ashamed of my weakness and misplaced loyalty—of the things I did for Mr. Trump in an effort to protect and promote him. I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump’s illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience.”

What’s worse is that it could get worse. “After you’ve heard Michael Cohen describe Donald Trump and literally say the stuff you’ve heard about Donald Trump being a racist is nothing compared to what he really is: like he’s worse,” John Nichols, national affairs correspondent for The Nation told this writer. “And that’s essentially what Michael Cohen was saying today.

“I think we really today could go back in the future and say, this is the day where you started to see some major unraveling of the Trump administration. You’ve got to have those next stages. But if you do, I think you’ll trace back to this testimony, and you’ll say: ‘This Michael Cohen, he came up there and he basically laid some things out.’ Remember once upon a time, a long time ago, people didn’t think John Dean was that big a deal or that good a guy. History makes you better,” Mr. Nichols said.

Despite the similarities observers draw between Mr. Dean’s impact on the presidency of Richard Nixon, who resigned after Mr. Dean’s testimony in 1974 rather than face impeachment, and Mr. Cohen’s damage to Mr. Trump, this president is unlikely to resign, and if impeached by the House, very unlikely to be convicted and removed by a two-thirds vote in the Senate.

“But I think the public deserves the truth,” David Corn, Washington Bureau Chief for Mother Jones told this writer. “Yesterday, Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, after he heard testimony with Michael Cohen that was private and about more of the Russia stuff that we’re seeing today came out and said: ‘In all my years as a senator, I’ve never been in a more consequential meeting.’ And basically said, ‘I’m scared by what I heard.’ Well, we need to know, the public needs to know what the heck Warner is talking about.”

“I got to know him very well, working very closely with him for more than 10 years, as his Executive Vice President and Special Counsel and then personal attorney when he became President,” Mr. Cohen testified. “I wound up touting the Trump narrative for over a decade. That was my job. Always stay on message. Always defend. It monopolized my life. Over time, I saw his true character revealed.

“Mr. Trump is an enigma. He is complicated, as am I. He has both good and bad, as do we all. But the bad far outweighs the good, and since taking office, he has become the worst version of himself.

“Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great. He had no desire or intention to lead this nation, only to market himself and to build his wealth and power. Mr. Trump would often say, this campaign was going to be the ‘greatest infomercial in political history.’

“He never expected to win the primary. He never expected to win the general election. The campaign – for him – was always a marketing opportunity,” Mr. Cohen said.

A protester holds a sign after the hearing of President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen, before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, on Capitol Hill, Feb. 27, in Washington. Photo: AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

What was equally revealing about the hearing was the Republican strategy. All 17 GOP committee members simply challenged Mr. Cohen’s credibility rather than defend Mr. Trump on his merits.

“I think what the Republicans are doing is that they are giving their base reasons to shut their ear,” Bill Fletcher, a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, said in an interview. “They know that anyone that’s objective minded, is as we saw in the Watergate hearings, going to be listening and trying to evaluate what’s really happening here. In this case, the aim of the Republicans is to make sure that their base doesn’t lose hope and that their base doesn’t unravel.

“You see, the thing about Trump’s base, which is very much like the case with Hitler’s base and the base of many other, autocrats and demagogues is that they believe it’s like the closing line in the monologue that comedian George Wallace would say: ‘That’s the way I see it, and that’s the way it ought to be.’ And there’s a lot of ways that should be the slogan of the Republican Party because they are not interested in anything factual,” Mr. Fletcher continued.

Republicans are reluctant to condemn Mr. Trump “because of the blind loyalty or their own ambition. So we can just look forward to more of the same blind loyalty to their ambition and political agenda. I like to refer to Trump as a blunt force object that the Republican Party has used in order to advance their agenda. And whether they happen to like him or not; respect him or not; they, they look at him as a useful tool in order to advance their, their objective,” said Mr. Fletcher.

“It’s amazing to me,” said Mr. Corn. “I keep saying and I sound naive, but it still is amazing to me that Republicans put up with us because they just don’t seem to care. They get their tax cuts. They get their conservative Supreme Court justices and federal judges don’t forget them, and they just don’t give a damn that they have a president who’s making a mockery of American values, who’s violating the Constitution. And who is even, as Michael Cohen said today, destroying civility and public discourse and ruining norms of government that have existed for decades.

“So every week we hit rock bottom, I always say yes, then the next week comes along.”

During the hearing, after Mr. Cohen called Mr. Trump a racist in his opening remarks, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), introduced Lynne Patton, a former event planner who worked for the Trump family and is now a top official in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Democrats complained loudly. Ms. Patton is Black and touted as proof Mr. Trump was not racist.

“Having endured the public comments of racism of the sitting president, as a Black person, I can only imagine what’s being said in private,” Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) said. “To prop up one member of our entire race and say that nullifies it is totally insulting. To look at his administration speaks volumes.”

Rep. Meadows quoted Ms. Patton as saying she would never work for someone who was a racist. Mr. Cohen responded that as the son of a Holocaust survivor, he should not have done so either but he did. “Ask Miss Patton how many people who are Black are executives at the Trump organization,” Mr. Cohen said. “And the answer is zero.”

Mr. Trump has been accused of making insensitive remarks toward Black people in the past. Also none of his top White House staff are Black and only one member of his Cabinet—Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson—is Black.

During his testimony, Mr. Cohen said Mr. Trump has courted the favor of White supremacists and bigots and that, during one drive-through of a poor neighborhood in Chicago, Mr. Trump “commented that only Black people could live that way.” He also said that Mr. Trump once told him that “Black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.”

“He considers Black people to be stupid,” Dr. Gerald Horne, Moore Professor of History and African Studies at the University of Houston said in an interview. “That this was not necessarily a revelation to those who pay close attention, but however, I think it should remind us that there is an active lobby, an active electorate in this country, which is determined to push the clock back.

“He’s pushing the clock in a counter revolutionary direction towards an era of unrivaled White supremacy, unrivaled messaging and all the rest,” said Dr. Horne. “We need to step up our activism. We need to particularly step up our activism in the international arena.

“We’re going to fall victim to the 63 billion block of voters who saw Mr. Trump and said they would not turn against him even if he killed somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue, and I think we should take that particular comment very seriously. It would not surprise me in the least if Mr. Trump’s base would not crumble and desert him despite this damaging and devastating testimony, despite the fact that if true, he has been painted as a con man and a fraud and a racist to boot, and so if they’re not going to desert him, obviously we need a new approach.”

Bill Fletcher agrees. “I mean, a strategy that is hoping to win over Trump’s base is a strategy that will fail. It is a segment of the population that is an effect dying out, that is resisting every moment that they can. And unfortunately the truth gets in the way of their view. So we shouldn’t worry about trying to convince them. We have to, we have to strengthen our side and we have to win those who are vacillating to understand the ramifications of siding with the likes of Trump.

“I mean every week I say we hit rock bottom and I said that every week. So I mean, I think the amount of, of inappropriate, improper perhaps, illegal activity in this administration continues to go on. It went on for two years unabated because Congress did not step in and start looking at any of this stuff. Now we have a Congress, at least the House that is willing to do something and we’ll see how far they get and how much resistance there is from the Trump administration or other federal agencies when they start asking for information. You know, with Trump, I mean every day, I think people scratch their head and say, how much lower can it go?”

Author David K. Johnston says the corruption goes back decades. “Well, you know, I’ve covered Donald longer than anybody else, more than 30 years,” Mr. Johnston told this writer in an interview. “And my personal and emotional response when I read his 20 page statements to Congress today was, that’s everything I’ve been trying to get people to understand about Donald from day one. He’s a White collar, head of a crime family.”

Ruth Coniff, Editor-at-Large at The Progressive magazine agrees. “It seems like the Trump family is really, it’s like a Mafia basement and (Mr. Cohen) was, you know, he was working for the mobster. Ms. Coniff said in an interview.

What’s worse, Mr. Cohen suggested that President Trump might stage a coup, or manufacture a national emergency to seize power in case he’s not reelected. “Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will not be a peaceful transition of power,” Mr. Cohen said.

“You have to remember even after Nazi Germany was defeated after fascist Italy was defeated, there remained the core of Nazis, a core of fascists that could simply not be convinced that the path that had been taken was the incorrect path,” Mr. Fletcher warned.

“One of my takeaways from these riveting hearings today is that we are in the midst of a counter revolution,” said Dr. Horne.

Mr. Trump’s own response was to blame Mr. Cohen and the Congressional hearing for his failure to secure an agreement with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a highly anticipated summit in Vietnam. Mr. Trump said on March 4 that the Democrats’ decision to interview his longtime fixer and lawyer, on the same day as his own meeting with Mr. Kim, may have contributed to the North Korea summit ending with no deal.

The two leaders met for the second time in Hanoi to try to negotiate a denuclearization deal as Mr. Cohen was testifying, accusing Mr. Trump of ordering him to make threats for him about 500 times over the last 10 years.

“For the Democrats to interview in open hearings a convicted liar & fraudster, at the same time as the very important Nuclear Summit with North Korea, is perhaps a new low in American politics and may have contributed to the ‘walk’,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter, referring to his decision to walk away from what he previously said was a bad deal with Mr. Kim.