Thirteen Things I Learned in Iran

 [This piece originally appeared at Huffington Post.]

Istanbul, Turkey -- I just experienced the blessing of visiting Iran for the first time. Here are some things I learned.

1. If you are visiting someone's office and you appear very sleepy, you may be asked if you want to take a nap. If you say yes, a comfortable place to take a nap may be immediately prepared. I want to state categorically for the record that no country in which you can take a nap any time you want should ever be bombed by anyone.

Senate action TODAY on Fast Track, pro-settlements provision

Sometime this afternoon, the Senate is expected to hold a procedural vote on whether to move the Fast Track trade package a step closer to becoming law.

Among the many reasons to oppose Fast Track is a measure that aims to discourage foreign governments from boycotting, divesting from, or sanctioning companies that do business in "Israeli-controlled territories." This provision is aimed at pressuring the European Union to reverse course on the steps it's taken in recent years to oppose Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The provision also erodes the distinction between Israel and Israeli settlements, seemingly endorsing the Israeli annexation of the West Bank. For these reasons, groups such as J Street, Americans for Peace Now, and Jewish Voice for Peace oppose the measure.

Interestingly, Republicans are working closely with the White House to try to pass Fast Track — but they are having trouble gathering enough Democratic support. Just last night, Senator Dick Durbin said "it's very questionable" whether Republicans have the 60 votes necessary to pass the procedural hurdle to bring the bill to a vote on the floor.

Call your Senators NOW at (202) 224-3121 and say:

I urge Sen. __________ to oppose S. 995, the Trade Promotion Authority Bill, and to vote NO on today's procedural vote to move the bill forward. I particularly oppose the provision in the bill that endorses the Israeli annexation of the West Bank and seeks to block Europe from limiting commercial relations with Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

When you're done, report your call below.

Testify Online Against IL Anti-Boycott Bill!

On Wednesday morning, the Executive Committee of the Illinois House is scheduled to consider SB 1761, a bill that would force state pension fund administrators to blacklist companies that boycott businesses that operate in “territories under the control of Israel” — i.e., in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. This legislation not only infringes on the rights of those making an ethical decision to boycott human rights abuses, it also legitimizes the Israeli annexation of the West Bank, which official US policy opposes.

There is a lot of misinformation circulating about this bill in the State Capitol, which makes it even more important that your reps hear from you!

Here are two things you can do right now to stop this bill:

  1. Submit a witness slip in opposition to the bill. It’s easy and only takes a minute! When filling out the witness slip, indicate “opponent”, “record of appearance only”, and enter the organization you represent under “representation” or just enter “self”. Make sure to spell out your organization (don’t use abbreviations).
  2. Call Executive Committee Chair Dan Burke at (217) 782-1117 and say

    I am an Illinois resident and I oppose SB 1761, which would force state pension fund administrators to blacklist companies that boycott businesses that operate in "territories under the control of Israel." This bill infringes on the rights of those who choose to boycott human rights abuses and also legitimizes the Israeli annexation of the West Bank. I urge Rep. Burke to oppose this bill and stop it in committee.

Help me lobby Rep. Blumenauer tomorrow to oppose pro-settlement legislation

I’m on Capitol Hill this week, with two tasks: urging Democrats to sign the Schakowsky letter supporting diplomacy with Iran, and urging Democrats to oppose the language attacking European sanctions on Israeli settlements in the West Bank that’s been attached to the trade bills.

Your Representative, Earl Blumenauer, is key right now to getting the pro-settlement language out of the trade bills. He’s one of only two House Democrats who supported the trade bills in committee. He has been a champion of diplomacy, endorsed by J Street. If he says that the pro-settlement language has to removed from the trade bills, it’s much more likely to be removed.

I’m going to be visiting Blumenauer’s office tomorrow. Can you help me move Rep. Blumenauer to engage?

Please call Rep. Blumenauer’s office now at 202-225-4811. When you reach a staffer, you can say something like:

I urge Rep. Blumenauer to use his unique position of influence to push for removal of pro-settlement language from the trade bill.

When you’ve made your call, you can report it using the form below.

Call your Senate Finance Committee member against anti-BDS bill

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) is expected to introduce an amendment to a bill in the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday that would demand that the Obama Administration pressure Europe not to enforce policies against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. The amendment is expected to be similar to S. 619 which Cardin introduced March 2. Similar legislation (HR 825) was introduced in the House on February 10.

Both bills target actions to "limit commercial relations" with "territories controlled by Israel." By equating "Israeli settlements in the West Bank" with "Israel," these bills are endorsing the Israeli annexation of the West Bank.

These bills are trying to pressure the European Union (EU), which is currently negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the United States, to reverse course on the steps it has taken in recent years to oppose Israeli settlements in the West Bank. These include new guidelines preventing entities operating in Israeli-occupied territory from receiving EU funding and a recent push to label settlement products entering the EU.

One of your Senators is on the Senate Finance Committee and is expected to vote on Cardin's amendment TOMORROW. You can look up which Senator here:

Call your Senator on the Finance Committee NOW at (202) 224-3121 and say:

I urge Sen. __________ to oppose the amendment Sen. Cardin plans to introduce tomorrow in the Finance Committee that seeks to block Europe from limiting commercial relations with Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

When you're done, report your call here:

Urgent Illinois Action: Don't Legitimize Israeli Annexation of the West Bank

Representatives and Senators in the Illinois legislature should oppose HB4011 and SB1761. These bills would legitimize the de-facto Israeli annexation of the West Bank by cutting off state contracts with companies that boycott Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Call your Illinois State Representative and Senator now and urge them to oppose HB4011 and SB1761.

When you're done, report you call below.

Boycotting Israeli settlements in the West Bank as a means of protesting the Israeli occupation has wide political support in the US and internationally, including by Peace Now (Shalom Achshav) in Israel and Americans for Peace Now in the US, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Presbyterian Church, and United Methodist Church in the US. Any private Israeli entity that wants to receive funding from the European Union must demonstrate that it has no links to the West Bank.

Urge your Representative and Senator in the Illinois legislature to oppose HB4011 and SB1761 by calling them now.

Urge House Dems to #StandWithJan on Iran Talks

House Democrats will play a key role in whether the Obama Administration can secure a deal with Iran. Under the Corker-Cardin compromise on the Corker’s Congressional review legislation, we only need a third of the Senate or a third of the House at a minimum to be willing to sustain a Presidential veto of Congressional legislation against the deal.

Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky is circulating a letter in support of the talks. But some House Democrats, like Florida Representative Alan Grayson, are attacking the talks by trying to introduce issues that are outside the scope of the talks and by setting an impossible standard for a “good deal.” That’s why it’s important that your Democratic Representative support the negotiations by signing the Schakowsky letter.

Call your Representative now at 1-202-224-3121 and say

As a constituent, I urge Rep. _________ to join other House Democrats in signing Rep. Schakowsky’s letter supporting efforts to get a diplomatic agreement with Iran. This letter will be a key marker of support for diplomacy among House Democrats.

When you’ve made your call, you can report it here:

Next step in combating dark money in politics

Thanks in part to over 13,000 JFP supporters who signed our petition, Public Citizen was able to deliver over half a million signatures to the White House in support of this initiative.

Today, the national coalition is asking supporters to call the White House to bolster the case for an executive order.

Join the national day of action by calling the White House at 855-980-5638 and saying

Hi I’m [your name] from [your city and state]. I urge the President to use his authority to combat dark money in politics and sign an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending.

When you’re done, let us know how it went by filling out the form below.

Correspondence with Rep. Alan Grayson About the Iran Talks

[In what follows, I have redacted email addresses, phone numbers, and the names of people who were copied in the exchange but did not participate in it. These are replaced by “X.” When the identity of a participant in the exchange was identified by their email address, the name follows the redacted email address in brackets. -RN]

The key problematic statement in Grayson’s email claiming that critics of his position on the Iran talks are “concocting a conflict that doesn’t exist” is this [my emphasis]:

"As I said, I think that the final agreement should include a complete end to Iran’s nuclear program and its ICBM program, and an end to Iran supplying missiles to terrorist groups."

The reasons this statement from Grayson is so problematic are: 1) no reasonable informed person thinks that "a complete end to Iran’s nuclear program" is a remotely realistic goal for diplomacy, so Grayson's statement is setting up an impossible "unicorns and ponies" standard for a "good deal" (which Grayson, as an informed person, surely knows); 2) the other issues are outside the scope of the talks, and attempts by opponents of the framework deal to add these issues to the talks or argue that these issues are standards by which the comprehensive deal should be judged are a key point of dispute between supporters and opponents of the framework deal. Indeed, language in the original Corker Congressional review bill which the Administration and Senator Cardin successfully removed using the Administration’s veto threat concerns exactly this issue. As the New York Times reported [my emphasis]:

We have a framework for an Iran deal! Tell Dems not to help Republicans kill it

Exciting news from Switzerland: the US, our international partners, and Iran have agreed on a framework for an Iran nuclear deal!

This latest development proves that diplomacy is working. But even with this landmark success, Republicans in Congress will continue to try to derail a final deal. In particular, two pieces of legislation Republicans are trying to push through the Senate—the Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill (S. 269) and the Corker-Menendez bill (S. 615)—will likely be considered shortly after Congress returns to DC on April 14. (Check to see whether your Senators are co-sponsors by following the appropriate links.)

But Republicans can’t kill an Iran deal without help from Democrats. In order to secure a veto-proof majority, Republicans in the Senate need to recruit at least 13 Democrats to support their anti-diplomacy bills.

Republicans are trying to recruit your Dem Senator to help them kill the deal—which means they need to hear from you.

Call your Senator NOW at (202) 224-3121 and say:

The US, our international partners, and Iran have agreed on a framework for an Iran nuclear deal. Diplomacy is working. I urge Sen. _____ to OPPOSE the Kirk-Menendez bill (S. 269), the Corker-Menendez bill (S. 615), and consideration of any other legislation that could compromise a deal until after the June 30 deadline. I also urge Sen. _____ to speak out in support of the framework agreed upon in Switzerland.

When you’re done, report your call using the form below.