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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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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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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Why Americans Should Support BDS


Demonstrators protest New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s McCarthyite executive order requiring state agencies to divest from organizations that support the Palestinian call to boycott companies profiting from, or cultural or academic institutions complicit in, Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people, June 9, 2016. (Sipa via AP Images)

Omar Barghouti, The Nation, July 29, 2019

Last Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed a resolution, H. Res. 246, targeting the grassroots, global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights that I helped found in 2005. Sadly, H. Res. 246, which fundamentally mischaracterizes our goals and misrepresents my own personal views, is only the latest attempt by Israel’s supporters in Congress to demonize and suppress our peaceful struggle.

H. Res. 246 is a sweeping condemnation of Americans who advocate for Palestinian rights using BDS tactics. It reinforces other unconstitutional anti-boycott measures, including those passed by some 27 state legislatures, that are reminiscent of “McCarthy era tactics,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union. It also exacerbates the oppressive atmosphere that Palestinians and their supporters already face, further chilling speech critical of Israel at a time when President Donald Trump is publicly smearing members of Congress who speak out in support of Palestinian freedom.

In response to H. Res. 246 and similarly repressive legislative measures, House member Ilhan Omar, joined by Rashida Tlaib, civil rights icon John Lewis, and 12 other co-sponsors, introduced H. Res. 496, which defends “the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

Inspired by the US civil rights and South African anti-apartheid movements, BDS calls for ending Israel’s 1967 military occupation, full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the UN-stipulated right of Palestinian refugees to return to the homeland they were uprooted from.

BDS categorically opposes all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. Contrary to the false claim in H. Res. 246, BDS does not target individuals, but rather institutions and corporations that are implicated in Israel’s systematic violations of Palestinian human rights. Continue reading

US Congresswoman proposes cutting Israel aid

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic primary in New York's 14th congressional district [Rothman's/Facebook]
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th congressional district [Rothman’s/Facebook]

The Middle East Monitor, April 18, 2019

US Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has proposed the US cut military and economic aid worth $3 billion a year from Israel in response to the re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister.

“I think these are part of conversations we are having in our caucus, but I think what we are really seeing is an ascent of authoritarianism across the world. I think that Netanyahu is a Trump-like figure,” she said during an interview with Yahoo News’ “Skullduggery” podcast.

“I think it is certainly on the table. I think it’s something that can be discussed,” she added referring to cutting the aid.

Ocasio-Cortez explained that there are many ways to protect the Palestinians from Israeli violations including a bill proposed by Democratic Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum that would prohibit US aid to Israel from being used to detain Palestinian children in the West Bank.

READ: Ocasio-Cortez calls out Congress double standards

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged during his election campaign to annex illegal settlements built on the Palestinian lands in the West Bank.

Ocasio-Cortez’s view on Israel and Palestine have received extensive media attention. The Democratic congresswoman expressed her support for the Palestinians during the Land Day protests in Gaza in which 135 Palestinians were killed by Israeli occupation forces and a further 13,000 were injured.

“This is a massacre,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.

“I hope my peers have the moral courage to call it such.”

“No state or entity is absolved of mass shootings of protesters. There is no justification. Palestinian people deserve basic human dignity, as anyone else.”

Stop Palestinian Home Demolitions!

The morning of Monday, July 22, 2019, Palestinian families in the village of Sur Baher woke up to the sound of bulldozers accompanied by hundreds of Israeli troops that had been ordered to oversee the destruction of their homes. Israeli demolition crews are now in the process of destroying 16 Palestinian apartment buildings, totaling 100 home units in East Jerusalem, under the justification that the homes were too close to the Separation wall. Israel says the homes are a “security” risk. 

The demolitions are part of an ongoing policy where Israel is bent on controlling the demographics of East Jerusalem in order to maintain a Jewish majority. When Israel built its Separation wall, they built it to place the Palestinian Wadi al-Hummus neighborhood of Sur Baher inside Israel, even though legally it’s part of the West Bank. Israel denied the community building permits and then when the Palestinian Authority gave permits to the families, Israel declared they had the right to demolish the homes — most of the homes were built by hand, stone by stone. 

The displacement of people (via home demolitions) is a war crime and 2020 candidates should speak out against it.

Send a message to the 2020 candidates: speak out against Israel’s demolishing of Sur Baher. 

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