| Welcome to Global Village Space

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Why a Bold Jewish Lady stands up for Imran Khan & Pakistani Democracy in US Congress?

Najma Minhas, Managing Editor of GVS news ,sits in with Medea Benjamin, An American Jewish bold Activist.

Najma Minhas, Managing Editor of GVS news sits in with Medea Benjamin, An American Jewish bold Activist, on March 25. The discussion covered that how and   when a Bold Jewish Activist stands up for Pakistan and Protesting  for greater democracy in Pakistan. What is her interest in Pakistan and What was special about the Congressional hearing on Pakistan’s democracy.  Her unexpected turn of events when she was in Pakistan! Getting picked up by strange men in Pakistan, who they were and why they did it!

Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin  is the co-founder of the women-led peace group CODEPINK. she was one of 1,000 exemplary women from 140 countries nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the millions of women who do the essential work of peace worldwide. She is the author of ten books, including Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection, and Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Her articles appear regularly in outlets such as The Hill, Salon, CommonDreams and The Progressive. She  tweets @medeabenjamin.

Najma Minhas 

Najma Minhas is Managing Editor, Global Village Space. She has worked with National Economic Research Associates (NERA) in New York, Lehman Brothers in London and Standard Chartered Bank in Pakistan. Before launching GVS, she worked as a consultant with World Bank, and USAID. Najma studied Economics at London School of Economics and International Relations at Columbia University, New York. She tweets @MinhasNajma

Najma Minhas: I wanted to bring someone very special to you today. Someone who’s been an inspiration to me last several months, I’ve been seeing her actions, someone who’s a very bold person is able to speak back to authority. While the rest of us was sitting very sheepishly at the congressional hearing on March the 20th, held on Pakistan and democracy there. She was one of those protesters who was led out of the room, I’m joined by Medea Benjamin. She is the co-founder for Code Pink. And I was just very intrigued about Medea your, your interest in Pakistan and this particular course, so thanks so much for joining me.

Medea Benajmin: A pleasure to be on with you.

Najma Minhas: So, Medea, what got you interested in Pakistan and this course for democracy?

Medea Benajmin: Well, I’m interested in democracy around the world. I’ve spent many years in Africa and Latin America and the Middle East. And I’ve been to Pakistan a couple of times to support the democracy movement, both the lawyer’s movement, when there was an issue about the Supreme Court and the lawyers going on strike. We went there and camped outside the home of Aitzaz Ahsan, when he was under house arrest. We supported the journalists in their efforts to have the right of freedom of association. And we also once we have been doing a lot of work on US policy in general, and when the US was using drone strikes, to kill people, indiscriminately in places like Waziristan, we went to meet with the families of drone strike victims. And we also went with Imran Khan to Waziristan to protest the US drone strikes.

Najma Minhas: Okay, interesting. So, on this particular congressional hearing, you already had a history of working with Pakistanis on different issues related to Pakistan.

Medea Benajmin: Yes, I did. And since we had a chance to meet with Imran Khan to go with him, not only to his Waziristan, he took us to one of his cancer hospitals, we met with members of the party, particularly the women’s division, we have a history of recognizing that Pakistan needs a leader like Imran Khan. And we were horrified at the US interference and the US hostility towards him and felt that the US was indeed complicit in trying to get rid of a leader that is the most popular person in Pakistan.

Najma Minhas: So why I mean, I want to ask your thoughts on Donald Lou’s testimony, but what you mentioned the fact that you were really hurt horrified by the approach that the United States talk, where do you see its complicity in it personally? And why did it take that approach?

Medea Benajmin: Well, I feel that particularly since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the US has been trying to get its ducks in a row and have the countries around the world siding with it and pulling countries away from any other independent kind of stance. And certainly, when Imran Khan had said that Pakistan is not a slave of the United States could make its own independent decisions with respect to foreign policy, that really was a red line for us leaders who want to control the world,

Najma Minhas:  I think he said that in response to the EU letter, which rebuked him. So, he said that particular statement which they didn’t take very well as we know that, what are your thoughts on Donald Liu and his testimony that day?

 Medea Benajmin: Well, I think that Donald Liu was trying to clean slate as far as the US involvement. I don’t believe a lot of what he said. And of course, the Pakistanis in the room did not believe what he said with the constant cries of Liar coming out from the audience.

Najma Minhas :Do you think that’s what made you protests because at some point, at one point, you started protesting as well?

Medea Benajmin: Well, I really came to listen to what Donald Liu had to say, but also to be in solidarity with the Pakistanis who were coming there. And we did not want to take any lead in that in any kind of protest. But when we heard the Pakistanis speaking out, we certainly felt that it was important for us to join in with them as well. It was quite ironic, because we were not the ones that started that, nor were we the loudest ones. But we were the ones that were kicked out of the room.

Najma Minhas: Yeah. And you and particularly, I mean, Ryan Grim, tweeted that you in particular, you didn’t actually say anything at that particular point in time. You were actually still sitting when the protests started.

 Medea Benajmin: I was there actually, with my hands very quietly. I had written 804.

Najma Minhas: All right. Yeah. And the view is that on the screen, I mean, though, that you had the word free 804 Kaidi, which we say prisoner 804. Written on your hands.

 Medea Benajmin: Yes. So, I was quiet. I was standing in the back with my hands up like that. And, yes, it was quite ironic that I was one of the ones kicked out when I really wasn’t one of the ones that was shouting. But I must say that I’ve gone to many, many, many hearings. And that was very unusual in a hearing, because you will find sometimes, you know, we will get up and showered and get hauled out and get arrested. But we’re, you know, one or two or three people in the room. This was almost the entire room. And so, it was impossible for the police to know who to take out. Right. When the you know, the disruption is the whole room. I thought at one point that we’re going to close the whole hearing and have everybody removed, which has happened at some hearings. But this was very interesting. When it wasn’t even the chairman. It was one of the representative McCormick. Right when representative McCormick said I think this is disrespectful, and they should take be taken out. The police then looked around and said, who because it was just about everybody.

Najma Minhas: I was sitting there, and I was very close to that policeman as well. And he was just shrugging his head and thinking, who do I take out at this point? I found it very interesting, though, that I felt that when Donald Liu made his statement, and first of all, he was just reading more or less from that piece of paper. But when he did answer their questions, what I found a bit disturbing was the fact that the Congressman didn’t counter any of his points. They didn’t ask any Council questions, to bring up more information or to disagree with him at all. I mean, is that usual in a hearing?

 Medea Benajmin: Well, I must say that when I was kicked out, I wasn’t able to follow what happened during the hearing. And usually, in these hearings, there are a couple of people, the more progressive Democrats, for example, who will question them more deeply. But I don’t know in this case, who are the ones? I did? There was somebody right? Ro Khanna perhaps. Right? Who was questioning more? Oh, and you know, somebody who’s bad on other issues, but seemed to be good at that hearing was representative Brad Sherman.

Najma Minhas: Yes, Strong point there about selective justice, Greg Cesar made you know, a couple of points as well. And then Congressman Pflueger from Texas made some really strong points about the ability for Pakistanis to have free and fair elections. And did these take place where Donald actually came out and said, no, we don’t think they are, but that’s not very unusual. But we do think if that’s proven, then they should have reelections. There’s a dispute over whether he meant total reelections or just reelections in those particular constituencies, but there’s some strong messaging did come out of that congressional hearing. So, you went to that hearing and you heard what they said. But you’ve been, as you mentioned before, you were in protests in 2007 as well. And you got detained and deported from that country as well. So, what happened there?

Medea Benajmin: Well, this was under Musharraf, and it was one of the scariest moments of my life. We had been to a press conference in which the US ambassador was talking about the US Pakistani relations. And I got up and said, why are we supporting a dictator? Why are we supporting General Musharraf? And I think it was Patterson Exactly. And Patterson, yes. And the next day, we were at the association of the journalists and a car. We were getting a ride with one of the journalists and our car got carjacked, got pulled over by plainclothes police with guns, who dragged us out of the car took us, no drag the driver out, took the car speeding along at like 100 miles an hour to an unknown destination. I thought, well, this is it. And we it was a very obscure police station; we ended up being taken to and interrogated. And I was scared to death at that moment thinking, you know, what’s going to happen to us? Because they said, you know, we put Americans in jail for unknown periods of time. And that can happen to you they said. They were asking us everything about why we had why we were there. Why we had gone to that press conference, what we were doing there. All kinds of questions, but the scariest thing came when I they said, who do you think ordered us to come and pick you up? And we said Who? They said your own embassy? And lo and behold, about a half an hour later, somebody from the US Embassy showed up and told us that we were being deported.

Najma Minhas: Wow, wow. Yeah. Interesting., so the US Embassy potentially, I mean, that’s obviously their word for it. But they’re saying that the US Embassy just wanted you trouble causes out of the country.So how many people were with you?

 Medea Benajmin: So that was me and my partner Ty Barry Yeah. With two Americans. Yes. And they had us on the next slide out of there that the embassy had already arranged for us to go. They told us that either we get on that next flight, or we would be held in prison in Pakistan for an unknown period of time

Najma Minhas: Oh, my God. So, do you believe them when they said to you that your embassy are the ones who sent us to pick you up? Or when they said that?

 Medea Benajmin: And I certainly now after the fact believe that that is exactly what happened. Because you know, it was very coincidental that it was the day after that we had interrupted the US ambassador.

Najma Minhas: Right. Yeah. But you also mentioned the fact that you know, why we use supporting a dictator. So potentially there is that room, that maybe the dictator was behind that. But that’s quite scary, as if, as an American citizen, you can’t rely on your own embassy to protect you in that way. Absolutely.

Medea Benajmin: In fact, we were saying we’re going to call the embassy we want to, you know, see. And they that’s when they stopped and laughed and said it was your own embassy. And I think this was true because   of the strong collusion between the US government and undemocratic leaders in Pakistan, which we know has been going on for quite a long time.

Najma Minhas: Right. Right. So, I mean, I mean, you’ve just, you’ve just shared this very, very scary incident, I can imagine as to people who don’t really speak the language can’t understand what’s going on, just taken, you know, taken. So, I mean, and then I see, you know, around DC, you’re protesting all the time, you’re speaking up to people, I’ve seen you protesting and, you know, Obama speaking, you speak against him on his policy or, you know, Trump speaking and so on. So how do you do that? I mean, how are you so bold and having this courage? I mean, what do you think gives you that courage to actually, you know, take on power? Well,

Medea Benajmin: I’m outraged by my government. You know, I grew up during the days the Vietnam War. So I learned at an early age when I was in high school that my government lies to me and to the American people in order to get us to do terrible things and To have learned what the consequences of the US war in Vietnam was about to the millions of people who were killed the use of chemical agents, the destruction that, you know, the cancer that continues to this day, and then to see repeated over and over of the US overthrowing democratically elected governments, I lived in places like Guatemala, where the US did that. I’ve been to Iran, where the US did that, you know, I’ve been all over the world, I worked for the UN at some point. And I saw time and time again, where there was an Africa, Latin America, Asia, the destructive role of the United States. And I feel this tremendous responsibility as a US citizen, especially when countries are trying to do something different or trying to get out of the morass of dictatorial governments, like in the case of Pakistan, and have a chance with a new leader and a new era with someone like Imran Khan thinking, you know, this is the time to try to get our government from to stop interfering in the internal affairs. So, I think that’s a strong motivation to have seen with my own eyes in so many different places throughout the decades. How wonderful attempts when there are huge grassroots movements that managed to successfully bring in democratic governments that provide new hope for people to see my government destroy them is something terrible.

Najma Minhas: Exactly. I mean, we’ve seen around DC currently, in the last couple of months since the Hamas attacking of Israel on October the seventh, you’ve done and Code Pink has done a lot of positive. I mean, I would say positive work in the sense that you’ve been protesting. You’ve been putting congressmen on the spot, Congress members on the spot, to ask them about their position on Israel, and what’s happening in Gaza. And yet, you’ve described yourself as a nice Jewish girl, do you think your community still see you as a nice Jewish girl given your work on this issue?

More to read:Principal Aitchison College resigned against preferential treatment for Ahad Cheema children

Medea Benajmin: Well, certainly there are a lot of wonderful members of the Jewish community that have been protesting and organize some of the most impactful largest protests in the last couple of months. And so, I feel an affinity with that community. But unfortunately, the majority of members of the Jewish community in the United States continue to stand behind Israel, especially the older generation people in my generation, who have this lifelong affinity to Israel, and are part of groups pro-Israel lobby groups like APAC, that have been so insidious, and done such a horrific work in supporting pro-Israel candidates and destroying the careers of people in Congress who have professed any kind of concern for the Palestinian people. So, there is tremendous division within the Jewish community in the United States. And I think as this goes forward, we see a real generational divide, which is something that gives me some hope.

 Najma Minhas: So, you see a generational divide in terms of the younger Jewish voters not supporting Israel, in that way against Palestinians?

Medea Benajmin: yes, the younger generation doesn’t have the kind of deep-seated connection to Israel, a longer time, of course, has in their lives from the time of the Holocaust, it becomes a much more distant memory. And they are more open to looking at the issues affecting Palestinians. And I think, you know, there has been in the Jewish community traditionally, an affiliation with people who are oppressed, a lot of Jewish people were involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Many people in the Jewish community have been involved in foreign policy issues that are supporting liberation movements. It’s just there’s been this blind spot when it comes to Israel. That’s why there’s this at saying progressive of in everything but Palestine, among the younger people who have a chance, whether it’s in their college campuses or other experiences to actually meet Palestinians to learn more about what actually happened in 1948, to learn that, there was this tremendous dispossession of the people of Palestine in the creation of the State of Israel. I think the younger generation has a different view of Israel.

More to read:PTI denied permission to hold public rally in Islamabad

Najma Minhas: What makes you different though, because you say you’re from that generation Who is closer to having, you know, direct relations to people who’ve come from who suffered under the Holocaust? So, what made you different and see it in a different perspective altogether?

Medea Benajmin: Well, I, at some point had traveled with my mother to see her what might have been left of her family in Hungary. And we went there and found out that the entire family had been wiped out in the Holocaust. So certainly, that is something that I have a personal connection to. On the other hand, when I was a teenager, I was sent by my parents at the age of 16, to go live in a kibbutz in Israel to experience that. And I loved the life of the kibbutz, because it was very communal. But I realized that there were Arabs surrounding us and the racism of the people in that kibbutz was something that affected me, I had been dealing with issues of racism in my high school in the United States, where black students had started to come to what was an all-white school. And there were all kinds of race riots that broke out. And so, I was sensitive to the issue of race and saw the way that the Israelis were talking about in treating their Arab neighbors. And that made me question and start to look more deeply at the issue. And then, of course, over the years, I had a chance to go back to Israel and go to the West Bank, go to some of the most apartheid villages in the West Bank. Is it places like Hebron and go to Gaza several times where you saw that way? Before October 7, all was not well, and that people were living under extremely oppressive conditions.

More to read:President Zardari resonates no compromise on Sovereignty of Pakistan

Najma Minhas: Yeah, it’s true. So, does, is there anything about what’s happening right now that gives you hope about the future in terms of Palestine, Israel?

Medea Benajmin:  Well, I am quite amazed that despite the bias in the US media that really portrays Israel continues to be portrayed in a lot of the US media, as a democracy. And as a country that’s just trying to defend itself under difficult conditions. That even months ago, there were polls like the AP poll that showed that 66 of percent of Americans wanted to ceasefire. And when it came to Democrats, that was 80%. And more recently, there have been polls that’s that show a slight majority, but still a majority, not wanting to send more weapons to Israel. And so, this gives me hope. It also just shows what a disconnect there is between the American public and what happens in the White House and in Congress, that they continue to give pretty much unconditional support to Israel, even though the rhetoric might have changed. So, it does give me hope that the American people are questioning the US support for Israel are questioning Israel’s response to October seventh. And you do see in the mainstream media, there have been more and more accounts that do show the level of destruction, the horrific starvation now, and I think that that does make more Americans sensitive to what’s happening in questioning what our government is doing.

Najma Minhas: What are your thoughts on the tick tock ban? I mean, there’s a lot of people who are now saying this might be related to the way Israel is being portrayed on tick tock. Do you agree with that? What are your thoughts or do you so because I know that you’re against the banning of tick tock? Is that an issue of liberal thought there? Or is that an issue of what the portrayal of Israel for you personally?

Medea Benajmin: Well, Ithink it’s both but I think tick tock is now bending over backwards to show that it is not quote pro Palestine. In fact, I was banned. Last week on tick tock live from a teaching that we were having in a congressional office saying that it was hate speech, and there was nothing of hate speech in there. So, I am worried that tic tac because it’s under the microscope now is leaning in the other direction.

More to read:Gunmen kill more than 60 in concert attack near Moscow, Islamic State claims responsibility

Najma Minhas : Very interesting. So, a lot of people say that the kind of protests measures that you use, for example, you know, the way you I don’t use the word harass, but that’s the word that is used, that when you go up to these congressmen and you constantly keep talking to them, and you are very much in their face as it is. It doesn’t necessarily get your cause any positivity. It doesn’t get you any further. In fact, what you’re doing is alienating them and getting their backs up. Do you agree with that? Oh, do you? I mean, how do you perceive your strategy about how you speak to Congressman about these issues?

Medea Benajmin: Well, it depends. I think there are a number of members in what’s called the Democratic caucus that has almost 100, the Progressive Caucus of the Democrats that has almost 100 members. And it is quite remarkable that so few of them in the initial, let’s say, two months, called for a ceasefire, and how many of them continue to back Israel. And so, I think when we confront those members, it does have an impact because they get embarrassed because those members are being confronted on a regular basis by their own constituents. And so, if it’s a combination of the disruptions that happen in the town halls back home, or other ways that local members are flooding the offices of their representatives with phone calls with emails or doing even sit ins in their local offices, when we expose them, that has a ripple effect back home. And so, I think I wouldn’t say that it’s because of us. But we were part of the effort that has led the members of the Democratic Congress to move from only 18 members calling for a ceasefire, to now about 70 members calling for a ceasefire. When it comes to Republicans, they tend to have their iron ball already set up. They think it’s in their interest to continue to support Israel. And I don’t think we change them what we do is expose them, and certainly ones who say things like kill them all when it comes to Palestinians or question whether there are really Palestinian, innocent civilians or continue to parrot the disproven. Allegations like the beheading of babies. I think it is important to expose them.

Najma Minhas : Thank so much for your time today.