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COMMENTARY: Omar Faces Rightwing Backlash as She Forces Uncomfortable Conversations About Israel, Palestine

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Trump, the New York Post and Fox News, each owned by media magnate and Trump friend Rupert Murdoch, and the Republican National Committee’s Ronna Romney McDonald, have led the way in the criticism, smears and deceptive coverage and which has triggered pushback and calls to cease this dangerous behavior from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, Women’s March creators Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory and a range of other women and activists, including Rashad Robinson of Color of Change, journalist and activist Shaun King and others.”

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By Barrington M. Salmon, NNPA Newswire Contributor
@bsalmondc

For the last several months, freshman Congresswoman IIhan Omar (D-MN) has weathered sustained attacks from Republicans, Fox News and other conservative elements because she has the temerity to question the intimate, decades-long relationship between the United States and Israel.

In addition to an avalanche of intense criticism, smears and lies from Republican and conservative critics, Omar has had to deal with death threats from people identified as being supporters of President Donald Trump and others opposed to the fact that a Muslim woman is in Congress.

The threats have gotten so intense, that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered an increased security presence around the Minnesota representative, who to her credit, isn’t backing down from the campaign of hate launched by Trump, Congressional Republicans and rightwing media outlets.

“I did not run for Congress to be silent,” Omar said on Twitter following a tweet from Trump showing a video of Omar and images of the twin towers ablaze on 9/11 after an Al Qaeda attack in 2001. “No one person – no matter how corrupt, inept, or vicious – can threaten my unwavering love for America. I stand undeterred to continue fighting for equal opportunity in our pursuit of happiness for all Americans.”

Trump, the New York Post and Fox News, each owned by media magnate and Trump friend Rupert Murdoch, and the Republican National Committee’s Ronna Romney McDonald, have led the way in the criticism, smears and deceptive coverage and which has triggered pushback and calls to cease this dangerous behavior from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, Women’s March creators Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory and a range of other women and activists, including Rashad Robinson of Color of Change, journalist and activist Shaun King and others.

Tlaib, one of Omar’s staunchest defenders, called on Democrats last week to speak up in support of her colleague. And they have.

Enough is enough, she said.

“Taking it out of context, this is just a pure racist act by many of those — hateful acts by those — because she does speak the truth,” Tlaib told MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson. “I’m really outraged because as a person who has gotten direct death threats myself, I know that her life is put in more danger.”

“The fact that these people are irresponsibly taking those words out of context and endangering the life of Rep. Omar is immoral, it is wrong, and it needs to be called out by many my colleagues not just myself. They need to stop targeting her this way, it is absolutely putting her life in danger.”

Ocasio Cortez and Prof. Ibram X. Kendy said the same.

“Members of Congress have a duty to respond to the President’s explicit attack today. @IihanMN’s life is in danger. For our colleagues to be silent is to be complicit in the outright, dangerous targeting of a member of Congress. We must speak out,” she said.

American University Prof. Dr. Ibram X. Kendy also offered his public support.

“It goes without saying that #IstandWithIIhanOmar. And anyone who doesn’t not stand with @IIhanOmar stands with Islamophobia, with racism, with politicians deploying lies to inflame religious and racial terror in the country. There is no middle ground in this struggle,” said Dr. Kendy, Director of AU’s Antiracist Research & Policy Center, a National Book Award winner and author of ‘Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.”

Since she was sworn into Congress in January, the freshman legislator has spoken of, and tweeted about the crisis that has engulfed Israel and the Occupied Territories. Few in her position have been so openly critical about Israel’s decades-long clashes with Hamas, the deaths of primarily unarmed Palestinians at the hands of Israeli forces and a variety of actions that international organizations like the United Nations have deemed violations of international law and breaches of human rights conventions and laws.

The Muslim-American lawmaker has also taken on the pro-Israel lobby, particularly the American Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) which spends more than $100 million lobbying Congress and enjoys widespread bipartisan support.

At a town hall at Busboys and Poets in downtown DC almost two months ago, Rep. Omar, one of the two first Muslim women ever elected to Congress, spoke about AIPAC’s influence on Congress.

“…. For me, I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is ok for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” she told the audience. “And I want to ask, why is it ok for me to talk about the influence of the NRA, of fossil fuel industries, or Big Pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobby that is influencing policy?”

The backlash has been sustained and fierce.

Israeli- American activist and writer Miko Peled said Omar is being targeted specifically because she’s chosen to give voice to her deep misgivings about America’s unequivocal political and economic support of Israel despite the government’s 52-year occupation, the Israeli government’s illegal settlement activity, its appropriation of Palestinian land and of shooting unarmed civilians with live rounds.

Much of the anger, criticism and condemnation towards Omar stems from fear and race, said Peled, member of a revered Zionist family, whose grandfather was one of the original signers of the Declaration of Israel’s independence and son of general who fought in the 1948 and 1967 wars.

“American political institutions are made up of White men who are not used to Black women,” he said 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.”

What has been lost in the furor is the fact that Rep. Omar and her colleague Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American, are raising these questions because they want what they call an honest debate around these issues. That isn’t happening because at the moment, it is often drowned out by the furor of her critics, which is by design, Omar and other critics say.

“But it’s almost as if every single time we say something, regardless of what it is we say, that it’s supposed to be about foreign policy or engagement, that our advocacy about ending oppression, or the freeing of every human life and wanting dignity, we get to be labeled in something, and that’s the end of the discussion, because we end up defending that, and nobody gets to have the broader debate of, ‘What is happening with Palestine?’” Omar told the Busboys and Poets gathering.

But Pro-Palestinian activist Ariel Gold said Rep. Omar has opened the door to more public debate and shaken up the status quo in a way that likely cannot be reversed.

“I think this is a watershed moment. I saw it coming in an interesting way,” said Ms. Gold, national co-director of Code Pink, a women-led grassroots organization working to end U.S. wars and militarism and supporting peace and human rights initiatives. “We’ve seen a dramatic shift in Congress and American Jewish opinion, especially young Jews. They are more outspoken against the occupation and Reps. Tlaib and Omar are now in Congress.”

This changing sentiment has scared pro-Israel supporters, she said, hence their resentment of, and fury towards, Omar.

“Defenders of Israel and the status quo became more incensed,” said Gold, a Jewish-American, who in 2018 was denied entry into Israel to study because of her work in the US and Israel in support of the Palestinian cause. “These supporters were looking for the weakest link and saw a Black, Muslim woman. They thought this was shaky ground. They felt this was the time to go after her, not just Marco Rubio, Engel, Deutsch, but to ensure that Democrats would tow the party line. This shift is an aberration. You had a number of different pieces coming together. Let’s just say they got their asses handed to them.”

Peled and a number of political analysts and experts agree with Gold that Omar’s comments and her willingness to question the actions of the Jewish state as well as AIPAC’s enormous influence on members of Congress may change the way people deal with Israel.

“She has set the bar so high and opens the door to a whole new level in the next two years, if we stand with them and not allow them to be pushed back,” said Peled, a fierce and vocal critic of Zionists, the Netanyahu government and those who support the oppressive state. “There are a whole lot of them (congress people) who’ll move if they’ve not the first one. Historically, we’re standing at a really important intersection. We might be at that tipping point.”

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BlackPressUSA.com or the National Newspaper Publishers Association.

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PRESS ROOM: First Book, an Innovative Leader in Education Equity, Releases Groundbreaking Research Illustrating the Impact of COVID-19 on Emotional Wellness of Students in Underserved Communities

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Collaborating with First Book to provide educators with evidence-informed activities and curriculum is one more step forward in making sure they feel more prepared to support their students,” said Ariana Hoet, Ph.D., clinical director of On Our Sleeves and pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Educators have been on the frontline supporting children’s mental health before and throughout the pandemic with limited resources. We know the pandemic has exacerbated worries around children’s mental health, so this need is even more crucial than ever.”

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Nearly One Thousand Educators Participated; Report that over half (53%) of the students they serve struggle with their mental health

WASHINGTON, First Book, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring education equity for children living in poverty, today announced the results of a national survey designed to identify emotional wellness challenges faced by school-age children. In addition to reinforcing earlier findings regarding the devastating mental health effects of COVID-19, this survey shed new light on the severity of this impact — especially in communities of need. It also established that emotional wellness issues have become a significant barrier to education for many students who attend schools in these communities – a majority of whom are children of color. Pediatric psychologists from Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s On Our Sleeves movement for children’s mental health partnered with First Book to offer a clinical perspective on survey questions and process.

In the new survey findings, educators report that 53 percent of the students they serve struggle with their mental health and only 20 percent of educators feel prepared to support the mental well-being of their students. Of significant concern, 98 percent of educators say mental health challenges act as a barrier to children’s education. And notably, educators are facing their own mental health challenges. Student mental wellness issues have a ripple effect on educators who feel helpless and unsupported.

“Educators across the country are speaking out about the urgency of the mental wellness issues that their students are facing, how they don’t feel prepared to address the issues, and how those issues act as a barrier to learning. Based on what we’re hearing from our Network of educators, this is truly a crisis,” said Kyle Zimmer, president and CEO, First Book. “First Book is committed to supporting low-income communities that have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic and the data revealed in this survey is guiding us in providing educators with high-quality, research-driven tools to nurture emotional wellness and develop healthy habits that prepare students to not only learn but thrive.”

On an ongoing basis First Book solicits input from its Network of more than 525,000 educators – all of whom serve children in need – to enable the organization to directly address the needs of practitioners and the children they serve. Mental wellness was spotlighted as a critical problem exacerbated by COVID-19, leading the organization to design focus groups and a survey to better understand the magnitude and scope of the issue, as well as what is needed to address this barrier to education. Nearly 1,000 educators responded to the survey providing startling data. The results provided a framework for the resource, which is now available, entitled: Taking Care: An Educator Guide to Healthy Habits for Student Emotional Wellness, a free resource created in collaboration with On Our Sleeves. The resource and study are now available through First Book.

“Collaborating with First Book to provide educators with evidence-informed activities and curriculum is one more step forward in making sure they feel more prepared to support their students,” said Ariana Hoet, Ph.D., clinical director of On Our Sleeves and pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Educators have been on the frontline supporting children’s mental health before and throughout the pandemic with limited resources. We know the pandemic has exacerbated worries around children’s mental health, so this need is even more crucial than ever.”

According to the First Book study, the top three life circumstances or experiences that contribute to children’s mental health challenges are 1) unstable or difficult home life; 2) hunger/food insecurity and 3) isolation due to Covid-19. Because these three factors often intersect as children grapple with returning to normalcy post-pandemic, the resources First Book provides to educators are essential tools for helping them become better equipped to aid students who are still dealing with the effects of Covid-related depression, trauma, loneliness, and loss.

First Book’s findings are particularly relevant given recent warnings issued by professional organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association. These groups have declared a national emergency in children’s mental health and have noted that psychological strains, made worse over the past few years by pandemic-associated isolation, anxiety, fear, and grief, have caused a crisis in several societal sectors including education. They also emphasize that children in communities of color have been disproportionately impacted due to previously unresolved inequities linked to structural racism.

Additional key findings in First Book’s survey include:

  • 72% of educators say the pandemic has introduced new mental health challenges among students/children;
  • 65% of educators report the pandemic has exacerbated the existing mental health challenges students already faced;
  • 80% of educators believe gaining access to mental health support is a high or emergency priority in relation to students’ overall needs at this time;
  • 98% of educators say mental health challenges act as a barrier to children’s education;
  • 93% of educators became aware that a student was struggling with mental health issues due to a noticeable change in behavior;
  • 92% of educators indicated they are very or extremely interested in accessing support resources focused on promoting the general mental health and well-being of all students;
  • 51% of educators report that a student’s race/racial identity is relevant to their mental health;
  • 68% of respondents indicate that they take a child’s race and/or culture into consideration when supporting their mental well-being (e.g. observe family/cultural norms, design a culturally inclusive curriculum, and foster open and trusting relationships with their students);
  • 74% of educators are very or extremely interested in accessing support resources to help them approach mental health challenges related to race, identity, and intersectionality;
  • Older children reportedly struggle more than younger children. Educators serving middle and high school students estimate that 59% and 60% (respectively) of the students they serve struggle with mental health, while early childhood and elementary educators estimate 50% and 52% (respectively) of their students struggle.  This compares to the general population at 53%;
  • Educators in urban and suburban communities consider addressing mental health as a stronger priority (83% high/emergency priority) vs. their rural counterparts (75% high/emergency priority).

About First Book

Founded in Washington, D.C., in 1992 as a 501(c)3 nonprofit social enterprise, First Book is a leader in the educational equity field. Over its 29-year history, First Book has distributed more than 200 million books and educational resources, with a retail value of more than $2 billion. First Book believes education offers children in need the best path out of poverty. First Book breaks down barriers to quality education by providing its Network of more than 525,000 registered teachers, librarians, after school program leaders, and others serving children in need with millions of free and affordable new, high-quality books, educational resources, and basic needs items through the award-winning First Book Marketplace nonprofit eCommerce site. The First Book Network comprises the largest and fastest-growing community of formal and informal educators serving children in need.

First Book also expands the breadth and depth of the education field through a family of social enterprises, including First Book Research & Insights, its proprietary research initiative, and the First Book Accelerator, which brings best-in-class research-based strategies to the classroom via relevant, usable educator resources. First Book Impact Funds target support to areas of need, such as rural communities or increasing diversity in children’s books. For more information about First Book, please visit http://www.firstbook.org.

About On Our Sleeves®

Children don’t wear their thoughts on their sleeves. With 1 in 5 children living with a significant mental health concern and half of all lifetime mental health concerns starting by age 14, we need to give them a voice. On Our Sleeves®, powered by behavioral health experts at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, aims to provide every community in America with free resources necessary for breaking child mental health stigmas and educating families and advocates, because no child or family should struggle alone.

Since the inception of On Our Sleeves® in 2018, more than 3 million people in every state across America have interacted with the movement’s free pediatric mental health educational resources at OnOurSleeves.org and educator curricula have reached more than four of five classrooms across the United States.

To schedule an interview with a spokesperson for First Book, please contact Ian Kenison at ikenison@firstbook.org.

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Moore Brown: Maryland Set to Have Two Black Statewide Officials

NNPA NEWSWIRE — If they are elected, Maryland would be the first state to have two Black statewide officials. Wes Moore has caught lightning in a bottle. He has run ads that have been narrated by Oprah Winfrey and has captured the excitement of the moment in Maryland.

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By Lauren Victoria Burke, NNPA Newswire Contributor

On July 19, Wes Moore and Congressman Anthony Brown won their primary contests to be Governor of Maryland and Attorney General.

Maryland is a deep blue state that currently has a moderate Republican Governor. It is expected that Moore and Brown will have a major advantage over their Republican competitors.

If they are elected, Maryland would be the first state to have two Black statewide officials. Wes Moore has caught lightning in a bottle. He has run ads that have been narrated by Oprah Winfrey and has captured the excitement of the moment in Maryland.

Moore’s main opponent was former DOJ Civil Rights chief and DNC Chair Tom Perez. Perez came in second to Moore. The results were 36 percent for Moore, 27 percent for Perez and 19 percent for Peter Franchot.

Wes Moore’s victory is verification that Black statewide candidates in states with over 20 percent of the Black vote can run and win strong campaigns.

Current Governor Larry Hogan has said publicly that he will not vote for the Republican nominee for Governor. That nominee, Dan Cox, is a supporter of Donald Trump.

“Dan Cox …is a QAnon whack job who was in favor of calling Mike Pence, my friend, a traitor, when they were talking about hanging him,” Hogan said at a news conference on July 19.

Attorney and former prosecutor Glenn Ivey defeated former Congresswoman Donna Edwards in a primary to replace Anthony Brown in Maryland’s 4th district. Ivey is all but certain to be elected to Congress in such a blue district.

Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent investigative journalist and the host of the podcast BURKEFILE. She is a political analyst who appears regularly on #RolandMartinUnfiltered. She may be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on twitter at @LVBurke

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DOJ Indicts Four Police Officers Who Allegedly Lied to Secure Search Warrants for Breonna Taylor’s Home

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Breonna Taylor should have awakened in her home, as usual, on the morning of March 13, 2020. Tragically, she did not. She was just 26 years old. As Attorney General Garland just stated, today’s indictments allege that Louisville Police Detective Joshua Jaynes and Sergeant Kyle Meany drafted and approved what they knew was a false affidavit to support a search warrant for Ms. Taylor’s home. That false affidavit set in motion events that led to Ms. Taylor’s death when other LMPD officers executed that warrant,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke on August 4. 

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By Lauren Victoria Burke, NNPA Newswire Contributor

Tamika Palmer, Breonna Taylor’s mother, has long been insisting that Louisville police have never been at her daughter Breonna Taylor’s apartment on the night they shot her dead.

On August 4, the Department of Justice, led by the Attorney General and Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Kristen Clarke, announced the indictments of four police officers who fatally shot Ms. Taylor during a nighttime raid on her apartment.

They asserted that the officers lied in order to get a search warrant for Taylor’s apartment.

The Justice Department announced that the indictments against the four current and former police officers would include federal charges of using “unconstitutionally excessive force.”

“Breonna Taylor should have awakened in her home, as usual, on the morning of March 13, 2020. Tragically, she did not. She was just 26 years old. As Attorney General Garland just stated, today’s indictments allege that Louisville Police Detective Joshua Jaynes and Sergeant Kyle Meany drafted and approved what they knew was a false affidavit to support a search warrant for Ms. Taylor’s home. That false affidavit set in motion events that led to Ms. Taylor’s death when other LMPD officers executed that warrant,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke on August 4.

“The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution ensures that people are subject to searches only when there is probable cause supporting a search warrant. Falsified warrants create unnecessary hazards for the public and for the police, who rely on facts that fellow officers report in carrying out their public duties,” Clarke added.

“These charges focus on the conduct of the Louisville Metro Police Department’s Place-Based Investigations Unit. In the first indictment filed today, we allege that in early 2020, that unit was investigating suspected drug trafficking in the West End [area] of Louisville. On March 12, 2020, officers from that unit sought 5 search warrants they claimed were related to the suspected drug trafficking.  Four of those warrants targeted properties in the West End where that activity was allegedly occurring,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland before Clarke spoke.

Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent investigative journalist and the host of the podcast BURKEFILE. She is a political analyst who appears regularly on #RolandMartinUnfiltered. She may be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on twitter at @LVBurke

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