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New Jersey Muslims mobilize against longtime congressman over Israel stance

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Last time Rep. Bill Pascrell faced a serious primary challenge, he ended up winning by a 20-point margin after the Arab American community rallied in support of the New Jersey Democrat. Now that same constituency is turning against him, posing a major threat to the 14-term House member over his stance on the Israel-Hamas war.

Arab Americans protested outside his district office in Paterson, home to Little Ramallah, the largest Palestinian American enclave in the country. They’ve held press conferences demanding a cease-fire and, last week, interrupted a fundraiser to confront him over his pro-Israel position. Most consequentially, some Arab Americans plan to mobilize against the 86-year-old when he seeks reelection next year.

Former supporters now call him a “charlatan” and a “mouthpiece for the dehumanization of Palestinian people.” They say Pascrell’s seeming indifference to their concerns over Israel’s offensive in Gaza and his refusal to back a cease-fire has led them to consider backing Democratic challengers in June — including a former aide.

“You can’t call yourself a friend of the community and then turn your back on them,” said Feras Awwad, a local school board member in the city of Clifton whose grandparents hail from Ein Karem, a village outside Jerusalem. “There’s not a chance in hell anybody’s going to be supporting him.”

The rising tension in Pascrell’s 9th congressional district is a striking reflection of the broader fault lines running through the national Democratic party following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Federal lawmakers have strongly backed Israel’s right to defend itself but, after two months of Israel pummeling Gaza, killing about 20,000 people, they’ve faced increasing pressure from the left to push for an end to the offensive.

One of the biggest names to join calls for a cease-fire is Rep. Katie Porter, a California Democrat running for that state’s open Senate seat in 2024. But the vast majority of Democrats in Washington take the same view Pascrell expressed at a fundraiser Monday in Paterson.

“I can’t control the politics of Israel,” he said, according to a video of his remarks obtained by POLITICO. “But they have every right to protect themselves and defend themselves. Case closed.”

While Arab Americans are an important constituency for Pascrell, they make up a relatively small bloc in a district that includes two dozen towns in heavily Jewish Bergen County. That’s made it impossible for the representative to please the entire Democratic base.

Pascrell has tried since the Oct. 7 attacks to tread a fine rhetorical line. He backed a “humanitarian pause” and pushed for more aid into Gaza, but, like most House members, did not sign onto a resolution calling for a cease-fire (his Democratic colleagues Rep. Bonnie Watson-Coleman and Donald Payne Jr. were the only lawmakers from New Jersey to do so).

In public statements and in letters to the White House, Pascrell has pushed for the release of hostages and advocated for “good faith efforts” between Palestinians and Israelis to reach a two-state solution. Until then, he said that “restraint to protect innocent civilian lives” is the most prudent path forward.

“I hear and feel powerfully the anguish of our community and like millions of Americans I desperately want a permanent end to the fighting as soon as possible and a major flow of humanitarian aid provided by America to protect Palestinians and begin the rebuilding of Gaza,” Pascrell said in a statement to POLITICO.

Some of his constituents don’t accept his public statements as enough. Since the start of the war, members of the Arab American community have met with Pascrell and other federal and state leaders, including Rep. Mikie Sherrill, Sen. Cory Booker and Gov. Phil Murphy, expressing their concerns and pressing them to support a cease-fire. But some residents and leaders said they don’t feel Pascrell has been receptive and have made it clear to him that he is no longer welcome in their mosques, businesses and homes given his unwavering support for Israel.

“He’s been somebody who in past years had been engaged in the community,” said Ahmet Akdag, a resident of Clifton who is both Turkish and Muslim. “We just don’t feel like he’s been reciprocating as we had hoped and what we had expected.”

A native of Paterson who served as its mayor and in the New Jersey Legislature before his 1996 election to the House, Pascrell is one of New Jersey’s more colorful political figures. He is well known for speaking passionately with a North Jersey accent — and at considerable length — when given the opportunity, whether it’s on the House floor or at a local press conference.

His style and stances have endeared him in the past to the Arab American community. Other Muslim leaders said Pascrell had been much more responsive to them in the past, particularly in 2012, when he was forced into a Democratic primary in the newly redrawn 9th district against incumbent Rep. Steve Rothman. Pascrell, who was then representing the 8th district, was seen within the Arab American community as a strong alternative to the Jewish, staunchly pro-Israel Rothman.

Salaheddin Mustafa, who helped lead the grassroots Muslim effort to make Pascrell the Democratic nominee in 2012, recalls inviting Pascrell to an office on nearby Route 46 to fill him in on their plans to organize support by going town by town in the new district.

“We led, he followed,” said Mustafa, who is also outreach director for the Islamic Center of Passaic County.

Pascrell trounced Rothman in the primary, capturing 61 percent of the vote. The Record newspaper reported that year that Pascrell won 90 percent of the vote in the new district’s six Passaic County towns — including Paterson, which has the second largest Arab American community in the country, according to the city.

But that level of support seems unattainable following Israel’s invasion of Gaza and a death toll that hits close to home. More than 1,000 Palestinians with relatives in North Jersey have been killed in the conflict, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ New Jersey chapter. The council’s vice chair, Ali Aljarrah, was one of the protesters at the fundraiser. He said Pascrell’s response since Oct. 7 contrasts with the person the Arab American community helped reelect.

“He was the guy. He was essentially like our T.E. Lawrence in Congress,” he said, referring to the British diplomat known as Lawrence of Arabia. “That’s why Arabs got involved. They saw Steve Rothman in 2012 as this pro-Zionist candidate, and you have a lot of Arabs who live in the district who just did not want someone who would toe the party line. …. That’s why they went out and got Pascrell elected.”

Now, he said, Pascrell is the one toeing the party line.

Muslim residents say they may have found someone more aligned with them in Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh, a former Pascrell communications assistant. Sayegh is of Syrian and Lebanese descent, speaks Arabic and has been among the few politicians in New Jersey to vocally back a cease-fire. He declined to comment on speculation he will run for Pascrell’s seat. But he told the Paterson Press, after it reported his recent political donations to organizations in Bergen and Hudson county towns that make up the 9th district, that “if you have ambition and ability, you shouldn’t restrict your opportunities.”

Any challenger would face difficulties against Pascrell. He has strong organizational support and, despite its large Arab population, the 9th district is also dominated by heavily Jewish towns in neighboring Bergen County. But the frustrations and disappointments with Pascrell extend beyond the Arab American community to younger, more liberal and even some Jewish voters in the district, Mustafa said. The goal is to build a political infrastructure for the long term “so that our community doesn’t have to deal with charlatans like Congressman Pascrell,” he said.

“It’s not the community that he knew on October 6,” Mustafa said. “It’s a much more unified community. It’s a much more demanding community. It’s a community that’s not going to allow people like Pascrell to use us for his own personal gain and abandon us like he’s doing now.”

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Otu-Umuokpu Anambra USA in Houston Gets New Leadership  

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Houston – TX: The Otu-Umuokpu Anambra USA Association Inc., Headquartered in Houston, Texas, has inaugurated its new executive leadership. An election was held in November 2023 where a set of new executive leadership emerged and was officially sworn-in on February 4, 2024.

Adaeze Stella Icon Adeone Samuel ( Stainless) is now the group’s new President, whereas Adaeze Nkiruka Mbonu ( Mmili doluedo) is the  Vice President.  Former President, Adaeze Dr Maria Elioku (Nkpulunma) remains the President Emeritus. A complete list of the new executive board members will be available on the group’s website, it was gathered.

While welcoming the new leadership team, President Emeritus Dr. Elioku thanked the outgoing executives for their impeccable service during their tenure. “As we all know, our mission as Otu- Umuokpu Anambra, USA Association is to promote and uphold our welfare and culture as well as foster unity, love, and harmony among us; and I am glad that within the past years, we were able to curtail distracting challenges to uphold those values,” she said.

Otu- Umuokpu Anambra, USA Association is a community of all paternal daughters of Anambra State of Nigeria with the core mission to promote and uphold the welfare and culture of her members; and foster unity, love, and harmony among them. The group has since its inception shared the uniformity of their ancestry as a unifying tool for community development and bonding of sisterhood.

For more information about Otu-Umuokpu Anambra, USA Association, Inc., please call 832-640-6329 or click to visit their website >>>>

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Mexican Authorities say they saw a huge increase in migrants from Africa and Venezuela in 2023

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Mexican authorities say they saw a huge increase in the number of migrants from Africa and Venezuela entering the country in 2023.

Those migrants generally enter Mexico from Central America, and cross the country in a bid to reach the U.S. border.

Mexico’s Interior Department said year-end figures showed that nine times more migrants from Africa entered Mexico in 2023, with numbers rising from 6,672 in 2022, to 59,834 in 2023.

The report also showed the number of migrants from Venezuela more than doubled last year, rising from 96,197 in 2022 to 222,994 in 2023.

In part, that may reflect more rapid and more numerous movements of migrants through the jungle-clad Darien Gap that connects South America to Panama.

Smugglers are moving migrants more quickly through the dangerous route, which last year was traversed by over half a million migrants. Once in Panama, migrants make their way through Central America to Mexico.

Overall, the number of all irregular migrants found in Mexico in 2023 rose by 77%, going from 441,409 in 2022 to 782,176 last year.

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White House pushes back on GOP attacks on Muslim judicial nominee

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WASHINGTON — The White House is slamming three Republican senators for leveling what it deems to be “cruel and Islamophobic attacks” at a Biden judicial nominee as part of a larger “smear effort” to discredit the man, who would be the first Muslim American judge to serve on the federal appeals court if he is confirmed.

GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Tom Cotton of Arkansas are being called out specifically for a “malicious” line of questioning about circuit court nominee Adeel Mangi’s views on Hamas militants’ terrorist attack in Israel on Oct. 7 at his December confirmation hearing. That led to a broader attack from the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative judicial advocacy organization.

“While Mangi served on its board of advisors, the [Rutgers Law School Center for Security, Race, and Rights] taught students to hate Israel and America and to support global terrorism, blaming America for the 9/11 terrorist attacks — and most recently blaming Israel for the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7th,” the group wrote in a statement released Monday.

The White House said conservatives’ criticisms were driven by Islamophobia.

“Mr. Mangi has been subjected to uniquely hostile attacks, in a way other nominees have not — precisely because of his Muslim faith,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement first shared with NBC News. “Senators Cruz, Hawley, and Cotton owe Mr. Mangi an apology.”

“He represents the best of America, and when confirmed, Mr. Mangi will not only make history — he will make an outstanding judge,” Bates added.

The senators told NBC News they remain opposed to Mangi’s candidacy, with a Cotton spokesperson accusing him in a message of “ties to antiSemites,” a Cruz spokesperson saying the White House “can’t defend Adeel Mangi’s record” and a Hawley spokesperson saying of Mangi that “people who advise pro-terrorist campus groups have no place on the federal bench.”

All three cited Mangi’s involvement in the Rutgers Law School Center for Security, Race, and Rights and condemned its decision to host an event on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which featured as a speaker Sami Al-Arian, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to conspiracy to provide services to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The Biden administration is under pressure to improve its standing with Muslim and Arab American communities following its vocal support of Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza.

President Joe Biden nominated Mangi to serve as a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Philadelphia, last fall.

The Anti-Defamation League, which battles antisemitism, said Mangi was “subjected to aggressive questioning unrelated to his professional expertise or qualifications,” and it criticized the Republican senators for “berating” Mangi “with endless questions that appear to have been motivated by bias towards his religion.”

“This was an attempt to create controversy where one did not exist,” the ADL said last month.

Weeks later, the Judicial Crisis Network launched a digital ad campaign against Mangi, alleging he is antisemitic and “radical.”

Bates, the White House spokesman, wrote, “Mr. Mangi has forcefully and repeatedly condemned Antisemitism, terrorism, and the October 7th terrorist attacks.”

At the hearing, Cruz repeatedly asked Mangi whether he condemned the atrocities of the Hamas terrorists and whether there was “any justification for those atrocities.”

“I have no patience ― none ― for any attempts to justify or defend those events,” Mangi said in December in reference to the Oct. 7 attacks.

Nonprofit groups dedicated to combating Islamophobia in the U.S. have spoken out in Mangi’s defense, as well.

“The deplorable smear campaign against him is steeped in Islamophobic tropes that have no place in our country,” Arsalan Suleman, the CEO of America Indivisible, told NBC News in a statement. “The Senate should confirm Mr. Mangi as soon as possible and condemn these malicious and spurious attacks.”

So far, 177 of Biden’s nominees to be federal judges have been confirmed. More than 65% are women and 65% are people of color, according to the White House.

Biden has nominated and Congress has confirmed more Black women to life-tenured federal judgeships than during any previous administration, according to the White House, including Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court.

While Mangi has cleared the Judiciary Committee process in the Democratic-led Senate, it’s unclear when his nomination will be brought up for a vote in the next procedural step before a confirmation vote.

If he is confirmed, Mangi would be only the third Muslim American federal judge ever.

Mangi has served on the board of directors of the Muslim Bar Association of New York, the Legal Aid Society of New York and Muslims for Progressive Values and as an ally board member for the National LGBT Bar Association, according to his biographical page at the law firm Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, where he is a partner.

Culled from the NBC

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