Washington Policy Weekly

White House Holds Equity Briefing with Arab American Community.

On April 22, and in honor of the National Arab American Heritage Month, the White House’s Office of Public Engagement held a briefing on the Biden Administration’s efforts to ensure equity toward the community. Speakers were Jamie Keene, WH Deputy Director of Racial and Economic Justice, Day Al-Mohamed, Director of Disability Policy on the Domestic Policy Council, Jonathan Smith, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, Brenda Abdelal, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, and Fayrouz Saad, Director of Public Engagement at the US Agency for International Development.

 Jamie Keene said that the Biden Administration is emphasizing the issue of equity for the Arab American community, mentioning some 300 strategies in place at different federal departments. One pressing issue is that of potentially classifying Arab Americans as an ethnic community which could help in overcoming their undercounting and invisibility. She added that recommendations are being made today to try to ameliorate that problem.

Day Al-Mohamed highlighted some of the administration’s important goals that include the advancement of economic self-sufficiency for the disabled. One strategy is increasing accessibility to transportation and integrating care in the work force and housing. Importantly, she added, is the work being undertaken to ensure equal access to children with disabilities.

Jonathan Smith asserted that the Department of Justice sees everyone benefiting from good, lawful, and effective policing. He said the department is monitoring misconduct in federal agencies and the law enforcement community. He admitted that hate crimes in the United States witnessed a 200 percent increase in 2020 and the increase was motivated by race and ethnicity. He stressed that Attorney General Merrick Garland is making it a priority to improve reporting hate crimes and increase and improve law enforcement training.

Brenda Abdelall discussed the state of civil rights in the post-9/11 environment, saying that the office of engagement is a key institution in monitoring and responding to threats of domestic violent extremism. She pointed out that there have been increased training of Transportation Security Administration personnel to deal with unconscious profiling and bias and a move away from strategies focused on counterterrorism.

Fayrouz Saad from USAID said that her agency is working on improving its delivery to people from Middle Eastern and North African countries that have previously been underserved. She added that USAID is very interested in community engagement because that helps it in improving its delivery on social and economic matters in the MENA region.

I. Congress

1) Personnel and Correspondence

 AIPAC Helping Its Friends in Congress, Including Republican Insurrectionists. The political action committee affiliated with the America Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC PAC, has over the last six months distributed $6 million to 326 current members of Congress or candidates in the upcoming midterm elections, including 109 of the 147 Republicans who refused to certify the election of President Joe Biden. Apparently, what matters to AIPAC is not where members of Congress stand on American democracy but where they stand on Israel. Liberal Jewish supporters of Israel criticized the organization.

II. Executive Branch

1) The White House

Biden Nominates Ratney as Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. On April 22, President Joe Biden nominated career foreign service officer Michael Ratney to be ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He previously served as Chargé d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Jerusalem and worked as a professor at the National Defense University.

Harris Criticized for Serving Israeli Settlement Wine. Jewish and Palestinian activists have criticized Vice President Kamala Harris for serving wine made in a Jewish settlement for Seder dinner. The VP’s assistants were quick to state that serving the wine was not to be considered “an expression of policy.” The Trump Administration had erased the line between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, instead allowing the label “Made in Israel” to apply to products made in the settlements.

2) State Department

 State’s Gavito Urges Iraq to Form Government. On April 22, and following a visit to Baghdad, Jennifer Gavito, the State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq and Iran, said that the United States is committed to its partnership with Iraq and urged Iraqi politicians to work toward forming a new government. Early parliamentary elections were held last October but political factions have not agreed on a formula for forming a cabinet.

US, Iran at Loggerheads over IRGC Designation. Al-Monitor reported on April 20 that nuclear negotiations in Vienna seem to be stalemated over Iran’s request that the United States lift the designation on its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. The Trump Administration had classified the IRGC as an FTO and imposed new sanctions on Iran that the Islamic Republic is now trying to rescind. On the other hand, a State Department official is reported to have said that the United States has no plans to lift any sanctions on Iran beyond those lifted as a result of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed in 2015.

Blinken Speaks with Head of Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council. On April 21, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone with the president of Yemen’s new Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad al-Alimi. Blinken congratulated al-Alimi on his new post and on new developments in Aden. He also reiterated US support to the current ceasefire in the country and commitment to helping Yemen find a negotiated settlement to its conflict.

Blinken Speaks with Israeli Foreign Minister Lapid. On April 19, Secretary Blinken had a phone conversation with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid about the violence in Jerusalem and tensions with the Gaza Strip. As usual, Blinken reiterated US commitment to Israel’s security and support for expanding “Israel’s relations in the region.”

Blinken Speaks with Palestinian President Abbas. On April 19, the secretary also called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the recent violence and call for de-escalation. He also renewed the US commitment to improving the lives of Palestinians and to the two-state solution.

Blinken Speaks with Jordanian Foreign Minister Safadi. On April 19, Secretary Blinken also spoke with the Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi for the same purpose. He emphasized the importance of “Jordan’s special role as custodian of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem.”

Acting Assistant Secretary Travels to Middle East. Yael Lempert, Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, is in the Middle East until April 26 on a visit to Jordan, Israel, the West Bank, and Egypt. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr is part of the delegation. The main purpose of the visit is to engage with officials on ways to reduce tensions and ending violence. The Jerusalem Post revealed that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas threatened in a meeting with the delegation to halt security cooperation with Israel if occupation forces continue to attack Palestinians in Jerusalem.

3) Treasury Department

 Yellen Talks with Saudi Finance Minister. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had an online conversation with Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan to discuss bilateral relations and the impact of the Ukraine crisis and oil prices on the international economy. They also discussed fighting terrorist financing and health and climate issues.