He got into Harvard. And now he finally got into the United States.


Ismail Ajjawi, a Harvard freshman who said he was was denied U.S. entry because of his friends’ social media postings, arrived in Boston in time for the start of classes. He is pictured in his home near the El Buss refugee camp in Lebanon. (United Nations Relief and Works Agency)

JAWEED KALEEM, Los Angeles Times, SEP. 3, 2019

A Palestinian student who flew to Boston last month to attend Harvard but was a denied entry to the United States has been allowed into the country in time for the start of classes this week, the university said.

Ismail Ajjawi, 17, was at the center of an uproar involving top Harvard officials, immigrant advocates, international student organizations and thousands of student petitioners after the Harvard Crimson newspaper reported that immigration officials held him on Aug. 23 at Logan International Airport while combing through his social media accounts before canceling his visa.

The incident underscored concerns at Harvard and other universities over the ability of international students and scholars to enter the country as the Trump administration curtails legal immigration.

In a welcome letter Tuesday to students, Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow highlighted immigration barriers for students.

“Since May, the obstacles facing individuals ensnared in the nation’s visa and immigration process have only grown,” he wrote. “Various international students and scholars eager to establish lives here on our campus find themselves the subject of scrutiny and suspicion in the name of national security, and they are reconsidering the value of joining our community in the face of disruptions and delays.”

Ajjawi was a top student in Lebanon, where lived as a refugee outside the southern city of Tyre and attended United Nations schools. He received a scholarship from an international nonprofit to attend Harvard, where he planned to study physical and chemical biology en route to becoming a surgeon.

He was allowed into to the U.S. on Monday after he “overcamve all grounds of inadmissibility,” a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement.

The spokesman did not answer a question about what had changed. Previously, immigration officials had said that Ajjawi “was deemed inadmissible to the United States based on information discovered during the CBP inspection.”

His family released a statement through its attorney, describing his experience as “difficult and anxiety-filled.”

“We truly appreciate the efforts of so many individuals and officials in Lebanon, Washington, Massachusetts and at Harvard that have made it possible for our son Ismail Ajjawi to begin his studies,” it said.

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Harvard freshman denied entry at Logan Airport by immigration officials

Posts by friends on social media were critical of the United States

Deirdre Fernandes, Boston Globe, August 27, 2019

A 17-year-old Palestinian student en route to Harvard University to begin his freshman year was denied entry to the United States at Logan Airport last weekend, heightening fears that the Trump administration’s restrictive immigration policy is making it harder for international students to come to study.

The student, Ismail Ajjawi, lives in Lebanon and had a valid visa to study in the United States, but upon his arrival at Logan he was questioned by immigration officials and then sent on a flight back home, according to officials with Amideast, an international education nonprofit that administers the Hope Fund scholarship
the student received to help him attend Harvard.

Ajjawi was reportedly denied entry over political posts his friends made on social media that were critical of the United States.

The case has drawn anger and concern about the increased scrutiny facing the thousands of international students who flood US campuses, particularly those in the Boston area, every fall.

“It’s so counterproductive to American interests to close the doors to kids like this,” said Geraldine Brooks, the novelist, who was involved with the Hope Fund in its earliest days, nearly 20 years ago.

The more than a dozen freshmen who have come through the Hope Fund annually have studied through the shelling of their neighborhoods and had their schooling disrupted for long stretches, but they see a US degree as a path forward. One went to work for NASA, others have become engineers and educators, and one is a Rhodes Scholar, Brooks said.

“This is an indicator of a serious and dark problem happening unseen in back rooms of our airports,” Brooks said. Ajjawi is fortunate to be going to Harvard, an institution that has the resources and network to help him try and resolve the problem, she said.

“I’m completely outraged and so concerned about the kids who aren’t trying to get to clout-rich institutions,” Brooks said.

PEN America, a nonprofit that advocates for free expression issues, called the decision to send Ajjawi back “perverse.”

“The idea that Ajjawi should be prevented from taking his place at Harvard because of his own political speech would be alarming; that he should be denied this opportunity based on the speech of others is downright lawless,” Summer Lopez, senior director of the organization, said in a statement.

Officials with the Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but said the student was deemed inadmissible and his visa was canceled.

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Barbara Olson and Tsela Barr: Congress needs to stand against Israeli travel bans


In this July 15, 2019, file photo, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn, right, speaks, as U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., listens, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite)

TSELA BARR AND BARB OLSON, The Cap Times, August 23, 2019

Last week, the Israeli government took the unprecedented step of denying two sitting members of the U.S. Congress, Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, entry to Israel.

Their crime was to set up their own independent fact-finding trip to visit Palestine rather than participate in the scripted, AIPAC-sponsored free trip to Israel that most Congress members participate in.

They couldn’t be allowed to meet with Israeli or Palestinian peace activists, or visit places like heavily occupied Hebron that aren’t on the itinerary of the AIPAC junket.

Tlaib and Omar had to be kept out because they had the gall to criticize Israel and express support for the non-violent South Africa-inspired Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement seeking justice and human rights for Palestinians.

This may be outrageous, but it is hardly surprising. Israel has been denying entry to Palestinians since they began expelling them in 1948. The discrimination and harassment experienced by Palestinian, Arab and/or Muslim travelers seeking to enter Israel, or just pass through it to visit the illegally occupied Palestinian territories, is well-known. Recently they have also kept out Jewish Americans who support BDS and champion Palestinian human rights.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration revoked the visa of Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court; denied a visa to Palestinian diplomat Hanan Ashrawi; and prevented Palestinian civil society activist Omar Barghouti from traveling to the U.S. for his daughter’s wedding.

It is also not surprising that Trump, no friend of human rights anywhere, seeks to score political points with his base by continuing his racist and Islamophobic attacks on Omar and Tlaib, as well as fellow Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Presley.

But alarm bells should ring out when a U.S. president openly collaborates with the government of a foreign country to which Congress generously provides some $5 billion per year in U.S. tax money in order to stop members of that same Congress from seeing the reality on the ground there.

Many members of Congress are speaking out against the Trump/Netanyahu action. One of these is our own Rep. Mark Pocan, who tweeted “Prime Minister Netanyahu is wrong to deny @RepRashida & @Ilhan entry into Israel. The U.S. is Israel’s strongest ally & has provided billions in support. PM Netanyahu must reverse this decision & no member of Congress should visit Israel until all members of Congress are welcome. “

One who has yet to speak out is Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Baldwin is a co-sponsor of Senate Resolution 120 that slanders the BDS movement, implies that it is anti-Semitic, and condemns this legally protected exercise of First Amendment rights.

Even Sen. Ron Johnson has yet to co-sponsor this bill.

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Israel pushing Palestinians to leave Gaza


Relatives of Muhammad Abu Namous, one of three Palestinians killed along the Gaza-Israel boundary overnight, mourn during his funeral in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza, on 18 August. (Mariam Dagga/APA images)

Maureen Clare Murphy, The Electronic Intifada, 19 August 2019

“Israel is ready to carry the costs of helping Gazans emigrate,” and would potentially use air force bases in Israel for that purpose, The Times of Israel reported on Monday.

The unnamed official, in Kyiv as part of Benjamin Netanyahu’s delegation to Ukraine, added that more than 35,000 Palestinians left the coastal enclave last year.

Two million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, which has been subjected to a punishing Israeli economic blockade for 12 years and repeated military offensives.

Residents of the territory have been plunged into poverty and cut off from the rest of Palestine and the wider world.

Every two in three Palestinians in Gaza is a refugee from lands inside what is now Israel. That government forbids them from exercising their right to return as enshrined in international law because they are not Jews.

The senior Israeli official was reported by The Times of Israel as saying that his government is asking countries to absorb Palestinians emigrating from Gaza.

“The official said the National Security Council had been spearheading the effort, with Netanyahu’s blessing, for about a year,” The Times of Israel added. It has also been “discussed in the security cabinet several times.”

No European or Middle Eastern country has agreed to participate in the scheme, according to the publication. The official did not say whether any other governments are cooperating.

The revelation is an example of how ideas that supposedly exist only at the extreme fringes of Israeli politics are often not far from government policy.

During Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, Moshe Feiglin, then deputy speaker of Israel’s parliament, proposed a plan to “concentrate” Palestinians in Gaza in border camps and “exterminate” any who resisted, while destroying all civilian housing and infrastructure.

Feiglin, who represented Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party, suggested that “Israel will start searching for emigration destinations and quotas for the refugees from Gaza.”

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He Threatened Us, Now He Goes to Jail

Dr. James J. Zogby, August 17, 2019

Back in May, a jury found Patrick Syring, a former State Department official, guilty of 14 counts of making threats against my life and my staff at the Arab American Institute. This week, a federal judge sentenced Syring to five years in prison to be followed by three years of court-ordered probation. 

This was Syring’s second conviction. He had been found guilty of the same crimes against me and my staff in 2008 and served over a year in prison. After his release and a period of probation, he began once again to stalk, harass, and threaten me and my office. He accused me of horrible crimes – organizing dozens of terrorist attacks around the world. He referred to me as a “genocidal, anti-Semitic, homophobic murderer,” in addition to threatening me with death by saying that “The only good Arab is a dead Arab” and America would only be free of terror when it was “cleansed of James Zogby” and “all Arab Americans.” 

Although Syring’s threats were communicated directly to me, he made a practice of copying other members of my staff and even our young interns. In all, we received over 700 such emails from Syring and because of their frequency and the hate-filled threats they contained, they were a cause of real concern. 

Each day, when I entered my office I could tell on the faces of my staff and interns whether or not Syring had struck again. Especially after a terrorist attack either in the US or internationally, his language became so extreme that we had to call local police for protection and report the threats to the FBI. The support they provided us was so appreciated. For a time, two agents accompanied me to public events. The Department of Homeland Security gave us an assessment of measures we should take to make our building and office more secure. And because we knew who had sent the threats, they often visited Syring to warn him that there would be consequences to his behavior. 

His obsession with me and his hatred of Arab Americans was so great, that he continued until the Department of Justice finally convened a Grand Jury and indicted him for his crimes. Nothing, however, stopped him. 

It was this obsession and hatred that concerned us most precisely because we never knew when he might act on his threats of violence. Our concern was heightened by his apparent willingness to continue despite having already been punished for the same crime and having been repeatedly warned by law enforcement to stop what he was doing.   

So now the sentence has been given. Syring will be in a federal prison until 2024. At that time, he will begin three years in court-ordered probation, undergoing psychiatric evaluation, and be required to avoid any contact or communication with me or any current of former staff member of the Institute. 
 
It gives me no pleasure to see this man going to jail for a long period, but it does provide us all with a sense of enormous relief. I’ve been threatened before. My wife, my children, and I have received death threats for the past 50 years – owing to my advocacy for Palestinian rights and the rights of the Arab American community. My office was fire-bombed and an Arab American colleague, whom I hired, was murdered. Two individuals who, in the past, made death threats against me and my children were convicted and sentenced to prison terms. But this case was different. 

In the first place, Syring had tormented us for over a decade. He literally became a part of our daily lives. My wife had his picture handy and if a car was parked outside of our house, she would check to see if he was the driver. My staff were instructed to alter their behaviors – so as not to take the same route to and from the office. And some even had to receive counseling. It was especially troubling to see the reactions of young interns when they would be the unlucky recipients of a Syring email. They had come to have a Washington work experience, not to be threatened or have their ethnicity maligned.  

This is also different because for more than two decades Syring had been a State Department official who had served two tours in Lebanon. During the 2008 proceedings, I learned that on more than one occasion he had been rebuked by the DOS for displays of anti-Arab behavior. I was shocked that instead of taking action they simply moved him to another posting. They even allowed him to remain in the federal service after he was indicted for his first threats against me – some of which he made from his State Department phone or his State Department computer. At that time, I asked DOS officials, “What if a foreign service officer had threatened a Jewish American leader and made repeated anti-Semitic comments against him and called for genocide against the Jewish community – what would the reaction have been?”

That troubled me then and still troubles me now. And while there has been some press coverage of the case, I am compelled to ask, “What kind of press treatment would have been given if a former government official delivered death threats to a Jewish American leader accompanied by the statement ‘the only good Jew is a dead Jew?'”  Why are Arab Americans seen in a lesser light? And why are threats against us less worthy of evoking outrage?

With Syring going to jail for the next five years, my staff and I feel a degree of relief. It won’t give us back the years we lived in fear, but we know that at least for the foreseeable future our daily lives won’t be turned upside down by cruel death threats from this man. We are thankful for that. We are also thankful for the strong support and protection we were given by the Civil Rights attorneys at the DOJ and law enforcement agencies and for the friendship and support we received from allies and friends. 

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What Is Israel Trying to Hide?

Reps. Tlaib & Omar Blocked from Taking Official Trip to West Bank


Democracy Now!  August 16, 2019

    GUESTS
    Mustafa Barghouti
    member of the Palestinian Parliament, secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party. He was a presidential candidate in the 2005 elections.
    Rebecca Vilkomerson
    executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Israel sparked outrage Thursday when it banned two freshman Democratic congresswomen of color — Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota — from entering the country. Following outcry from Democratic leaders and Palestinians, Israel granted permission for Tlaib to enter the country on “humanitarian” grounds to visit her family in the West Bank — though Tlaib said Friday she will not visit her family under such conditions. Israel originally denied entrance to Tlaib and Omar after President Donald Trump tweeted, “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people.” Congressmembers Tlaib and Omar are the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, and were planning to tour East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. Both congresswomen have voiced support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement, a global solidarity campaign with the Palestinian people. The nonviolent movement seeks to use economic and cultural pressure to force Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian lands. We speak with Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative political party, and Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Israel has announced it will conditionally allow Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib to visit family in the West Bank, a day after it barred both Tlaib and fellow Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from entering Israel to travel to occupied Palestine. Israel is still refusing entry to Omar. Israel initially blocked entry to both lawmakers after President Trump took the unprecedented step of publicly urging Israel to bar entry to the women, the first two female Muslim members of Congress. Trump tweeted Thursday, “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people,” he tweeted.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended his decision Thursday. Israeli prime minister defended the decision to bar both the U.S. lawmakers.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] By law, we are not willing to admit anyone into Israel who calls for the boycott of the state of Israel and acts to delegitimize the state of the Jews.

AMY GOODMAN: Israeli authorities say Congressmember Tlaib will now be allowed entry on “humanitarian” grounds to visit her ailing 90-year-old grandmother, on the condition she does not promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement during her visit. Both Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar have voiced support for the BDS movement, the global solidarity campaign with the Palestinian people. The nonviolent movement seeks to use economic and cultural pressure to force Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian lands. The congresswomen were planning to tour East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

After learning of the ban, Congressmember Ilhan Omar released a statement that read, in part, quote, “It is an affront that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, under pressure from President Trump, would deny entry to representatives of the U.S. government. Trump’s Muslim ban is what Israel is implementing, this time against two duly elected Members of Congress,” she said.

Both centrist and progressive Democrats criticized Israel’s move and Trump’s statements. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged Israel to reconsider its decision. Meanwhile, Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “I cannot move forward with scheduling any visits to Israel until all members of Congress are allowed.” Despite outcry from Democratic leaders, as well as Palestinians, President Trump doubled down on his position later on Thursday.

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