Hero Mandela On US Terrorist Watch List-- Could it Affect AIPAC and Mideast?

Taking Mandela off the terrorist list -- a no brainer. Consequently opening up some new possibilities for peace in the Middle East? Priceless.
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I collect heroes. Not action figures, not baseball cards, no, I ask people who their heroes are. As a campaign consultant who specializes in helping candidates to identify the stories, narratives and parts of their lives that define who they are, what they stand for and how they have reacted to challenges, difficulties and opportunities in their lives, one of my standard questions is, "Who are your heroes, living and dead?"

Once we get past the listing of parents and relatives, Nobel Prize winner, Nelson Mandela is, by far, the first on peoples' lists. I'm talking about the first on Americans' lists. So it comes as somewhat of a surprise to discover that Mandela is on U.S. terrorist watch lists. USA Today reports,

"Nelson Mandela is flagged on U.S. terrorist watch lists and needs special permission to visit the USA. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls the situation "embarrassing," and some members of Congress vow to fix it.

The requirement applies to former South African leader Mandela and other members of South Africa's governing African National Congress (ANC), the once-banned anti-Apartheid organization. In the 1970s and '80s, the ANC was officially designated a terrorist group by the country's ruling white minority. Other countries, including the United States, followed suit.

"U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says it is time to end U.S. travel restrictions against former South African President Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC). Mandela and the ANC were blacklisted by the United States during their fight against apartheid Democratic Congressman Howard L. Berman, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced a bill to lift the travel restriction. He told VOA the U.S. was on the wrong side of history and that it's time to correct the injustice against Mandela and the ANC.

'The notion that people knew about this restriction all these years and didn't do anything about it is very disappointing. And so we're trying to rectify it...'"

This is a bill that the Democratic congress should rush to pass. It should go through unanimously. That could do their dismal poll ratings some good. And if any member of the opposition party votes against such a bill, they'll be in a terribly indefensible position, making them seem like total extremist fear mongers.

BBC, one of the first media organizations to report on this situation, said,

"Howard Berman, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, who introduced the bill said it was "shameful" that the United States still treated the ANC this way.

'Amazingly, Nelson Mandela still needs to get a special waiver to enter the United States based on his courageous leadership of the ANC. What an indignity. This legislation will wipe it away,' he said."

It's a no-brainer that Hillary and Barack should go on the record supporting this, and insist that McCain do the same... except for one small problem that may complicate things a bit -- the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The forgiving of ANC members just might lead to a precedent that could lead to forgiveness of other freedom fighting organizations that are currently deemed terrorist by the regimes they are currently fighting... like FATAH, or even Hamas.

I'm not saying there is any equivalence between ANC and these organizations that have proudly taken responsibility for suicide bombings and rocket attacks on innocent civilians. But the AIPAC lobby IS very powerful. They have been able to intimidate US politicians into backing off from passing legislation forbidding Dubya and Cheney from starting a war with Iran without first getting explicit approval from congress.

AIPAC along with the far right extremists like Christian Zionist John Hagee and others who pray for the rapture and consequently, the destruction of Israel, might get a bit squeamish when they hear what the VOA says,

"Congressman Berman said he was motivated to introduce the legislation because the ANC successfully made a change from armed struggle to peace, and that the U.S. should celebrate this transformation rather than continue a two decade-old policy that is out of reality.

'I learned... that based on an old designation of the ANC probably 25 years ago, membership in the ANC put you on a data base which kept you from getting a visa. The notion that Nelson Mandela is deemed ineligible for a visa to the United States and has to apply and in effect beg for a waiver to come here, there's no justification at all. Here is a much revered leader of a very important cause that we strongly support is subjected to that kind of treatment is just wrong. So we're going to change it...' Berman said.

He said by blacklisting the ANC based solely on its designation by the apartheid regime as a terrorist organization, the United States was on the wrong side of history out of ignorance rather than out of bad intentions."

But the good news for people who honor, value and respect heroes is that Condi's okay with congressman Berman's effort to remove Mandela from the terrorist lists. Voice of America reports "Secretary Rice told a congressional committee Wednesday the United States now has excellent relations with ANC-led South Africa. She said it was embarrassing that she still has to issue special waivers for Mandela and other senior South African government officials to enter the United States."

And VOA reports that Berman said,

"I believe that many years ago we could have corrected this. I think that those of us in Congress, I speak for myself, I had no idea it was still the case. Long after apartheid, long after the new government in South Africa took over, many whose leaders come directly out of the ANC, that we would still be keeping a data base of ANC members and then disqualifying them for admission into the United States is wrong. And I think, you saw it with Secretary Rice, even some of the most conservative Republicans agree with me that there's no justification for this. So we're going to change it.'

This may be one rare battle that AIPAC loses. Though I'm Jewish, and a steadfast supporter of Israel's right to exist and defend itself from terrorist attacks, I've long believed that AIPAC's extreme right wing positions and their hardball approach to all things middle east have made matters worse for Israel. Certainly, Israel and the Israeli people are worse off than they were pre-Bush. Yet AIPAC and some Isralis believe Bush has been the best friend of all the US presidents in recent years.

AIPAC may want to back off on this battle. There's a new kid in town. The J Street Project is a "pro-Israel, pro-Peace" a new PAC and affiliated lobbying organization that aims to be political, according to Mother Jones,

"It's the first time that there has been a political arm for those of us who are pro Israel but pro peace, and who believe that reaching a negotiated settlement in the Middle East is absolutely essential for the security of both Israel and the United States," Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director of J Street and JStreetPAC told me. "That is the reason for this effort. We believe the majority of American Jews and many other Americans friendly and supportive to Israel really do recognize that a policy both here and there that would be geared towards really pushing for a two state solution is in Israel's and the U.S.'s best interests."

"What has happened in the political world is that the people both elected [to Congress] and candidates and the folks around them have come to believe that the only way to speak to the Jewish community is to take the most right-wing position," Ben-Ami said. "There is no political benefit to be at the center."

"We would like to create a political mechanism, a political benefit to being at the center," Ben-Ami continued. "Perhaps there should be a dialogue between the U.S. and Syria. Perhaps the U.S. should pursue an alternative route to Iran. Let's get serious about a two-state solution, and stop the settlements and stop the occupation and get a two state solution. That is currently not being said."

Perhaps the latest victimization of hero Nelson Mandela will open the opportunity for new pathways through one of the world's most difficult problems, to peace in the middle east, or at least provide more latitude for navigation than AIPAC's right leaning lobbying has allowed.

Talk about a great birthday present for Mandela, who will be celebrating his birthday this summer. It's an interesting birthday question, "What do you give to one of the world's most admired living heroes?" I'd guess, for Mandela, a safe answer would be something that moves the world toward peace and justice. Taking Mandela off the terrorist list -- a no brainer. Consequently opening up some new possibilities for peace in the Middle East? Priceless.

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