Pavlovian Congress Jumps to Israel’s ‘Self-’ Defense

In a letter to President Barack Obama date June 17, 329 out of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives referred to Israel’s May 31 attack on a humanitarian aid flotilla in international waters, which resulted in the deaths of nine passengers and crew and injuries to scores of others, as an act of “self-defense” which they “strongly support.” Similarly, a June 21 Senate letter — signed by 87 out of 100 senators — went on record “fully” supporting what it called “Israel’s right to self-defense,” claiming that the widely supported effort to relieve critical shortages of food and medicine in the besieged Gaza Strip was simply part of a “clever tactical and diplomatic ploy” by “Israel’s opponents” to “challenge its international standing.”

The House letter urged President Obama “to remain steadfast in defense of Israel” in the face of the near-universal international condemnation of this blatant violation of international maritime law and other legal statutes, which the signatories referred to as “a rush to unfairly judge and defend Israel.” The Senate letter condemned the near-unanimous vote of the UN Human Rights Council for what it called “singling out” Israel, even though no other country in recent memory has attacked a humanitarian aid flotilla in international waters. Both letters called upon the United States to veto any resolution in the UN Security Council criticizing the Israeli attack.

What is perhaps most disturbing is that many of the key arguments in the letters were misleading and, in some cases, factually inaccurate.

The Israeli government had acknowledged prior to the writing of the letter that the extensive blockade of humanitarian goods was not necessary for their security, but as a means of pressuring the civilian population to end their support for Hamas, which won a majority of legislative seats in the most recent Palestinian election. In addition, the Israeli government announced a significant relaxation of the embargo two days after the letter was written. Despite this, the House letter claimed that the purpose of the blockade was “to stop terrorists from smuggling weapons to kill innocent civilians,” thereby placing this large bipartisan majority of the House even further to the right than Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s rightist coalition.

There was no mention in the letter than no such weapons were found on board any of the six ships hijacked by the Israelis nor on the previous eight ships the Free Gaza Campaign had sailed or attempted to sail to the Gaza Strip. In addition, even though the ships had been thoroughly inspected by customs officials prior to their disembarkation, the House letter claimed that had the Israelis not hijacked the ships, they would have “sailed unchecked into Gaza.”

Similarly, according to the Senate letter, Israel’s naval blockade was necessary “to keep dangerous goods from entering Gaza by sea” and falsely claimed that the intent of the Israeli blockade was “to protect Israel, while allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza.” Particularly striking is the fact that, despite that the International Committee on the Red Cross and a broad consensus of international legal experts recognize that the Israeli blockade of humanitarian goods is illegal, the Senate letter insisted that the blockade “is legal under international law.”

The House letter insisted, despite the fact that several of those killed on the Mavi Marmara were shot at point blank range in the back or the back of the head and a video showing a 19-year old U.S. citizen shot execution style on the ground, that “Israeli forces used necessary force as an act of self-defense and of last resort.” Similarly, the Senate letter refers to the murders of passengers and crew resisting the illegal boarding of their vessel in international waters as a situation where the Israeli raiders were “forced to respond to that attack” when they “arrived” on the ship.

The House letter also claimed that the other ships were “commandeered peacefully and without incident,” even though on the other ships, despite completely nonviolent resistance, passengers were tasered and brutally beaten and were attacked with tear gas and rubber bullets. Similarly, the Senate letter insisted that, in spite of these potentially fatal beatings and other assaults, “Israeli forces were able to safely divert five of the six ships challenging the blockade.”

Even though the Israeli government has never entered Gaza to disperse aid to the people of that territory since the start of the siege years earlier and reputable relief organizations have documented that the Israelis had routinely refused to allow humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip, these House members claimed that Israel had offered to “disperse the aid . . . directly to the people of Gaza.” And, despite the fact that the five aid ships that Israel had allowed to dock in Gaza in previous months had distributed their humanitarian cargo directly to those in need, the senators claimed that it would have otherwise gone “into the hands of corrupt Gaza officials.”

Learning what actually transpired in the tragic incident was apparently of little interest to the 87 senators who signed the letter defending the attack. Despite the apparent whitewash forthcoming in the internal Israeli investigation, the senate letter supported Israel’s alleged intention to carry out “a thorough investigation of the incident,” insisting that Israel “has the right to determine how its investigation is conducted.” This comes in spite of a recent public opinion poll shows a clear majority of Americans — including 65 percent of Democrats — favor an international inquiry over allowing Israel alone to investigate the circumstances of the attack .

Ironically, a number of progressive organizations, web sites and list serves have called on the peace and human rights community to support the re- election of some of the very senators who signed this letter, including Barbara Boxer, Ron Wyden, and Russell Feingold. MoveOn, Council for a Livable World, and other progressive groups with PAC money have been are calling on their members, many of whom are peace and human rights activists, to donate their money to these right-wing Democrats who defend attacking peace and human rights activists and lie about the circumstances to justify it. They have no problems with supporting the re-election of those who lie and mislead their constituents in order to defend illegal actions by allied right-wing governments, even when they kill and injure participants in a humanitarian flotilla on the high seas.

There may be an underlying current of racism at work here. It is unlikely MoveOn, Council for a Livable World and other groups would defend such actions if, for example, if the activists were helping those under siege in Sarajevo in the 1990s or West Berlin in the 1940s, who happened to be white Europeans.

It is important to remember that the majority of Democrats joined in with Republicans in supporting the Salvadoran junta in the early 1980s and the Suharto regime in the 1990s until voters made clear they would withdraw their support from them if they did not change their policy. AIPAC and other right-wing “pro-Israel” groups are only as powerful as the absence of counter-pressure from the peace and human rights community. Letters like these will continue to be supported by most Democrats only as long they know they can get away with it.

http://www.fpif.org/blog/pavlovian_congress_jumps_to_israels_self-_defense

Israel’s Dubious Investigation of Flotilla Attack

Few decisions of the Obama administration have outraged the peace and human rights community as much as its successful efforts to block an international inquiry into May’s Israeli aid flotilla attack. Instead, supported by leading Republican and Democratic members of Congress, the Obama administration has thrown its weight behind an investigative committee handpicked by right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to examine the incident.

The three-member panel is not a full committee of inquiry as defined under Israeli law, so it does not have subpoena power or the ability to question Israeli soldiers. Nor can it compel anyone in the military to provide evidence. All the committee members can do is request documents and “summaries of operational investigations” that have already been conducted by the Israeli military itself.

The committee would not have the authority to even request testimony or other evidence “in regard to military personnel and personnel from the other security forces.” They would not be able to interview any soldiers or officers individually or even see their testimony or statements, instead relying only on “summaries” and other documents of internal military inquiries. These are generally done by officers who have no training in such inquiries on possible violations of international law. At most, the conclusions the panel gets will be lessons learned rather than any kind of investigation into possible criminal wrongdoing.

Israel’s Claims

“Israel claims the panel is independent, but insists that it accept the military’s version of events,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Given the Israel’s military poor record of investigating itself in past cases of possible wrongful death, it is hard to have confidence that the panel’s dependence on the Israeli military will lead to the truth.”

There are also questions regarding the committee’s makeup. None of the three members has any experience in this sort of inquiry. The committee is led by the conservative former Israeli Supreme Court Chief Justice Jacob Turkel, who has attacked credible international inquiries into Israeli violations of international humanitarian law. A second member is Amos Horev, a reserve Israeli major general and major figure in the Israeli military industrial complex. The third member is Shabtai Rosen, a 93-year-old law professor who was involved in the cover-up of the 1953 massacre in the village of Qibya when Israeli forces crossed into Jordanian territory, destroying 41 buildings (including the school) and killing 60 villagers.

The Obama administration and other supporters of Netanyahu have emphasized the presence of two foreign observes, Canadian Brigadier General Kenneth Watkin and Northern Ireland’s pro-British Unionist Party leader David Trimble. The news media has emphasized that Trimble won a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the Good Friday peace accord. What they have largely failed to mention is that Trimble was also one of the key players — along with right-wing former Bush UN ambassador John Bolton and the conservative former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar — in a group organized late last month known as “Friends of Israel.” The initiative was launched, according to Trimble and the other sponsors, because of their concern about “the onslaught of radical Islamism” and outrage over the “unprecedented delegitimization campaign against Israel, driven by the enemies of the Jewish state and perversely assumed by numerous international authorities.”

Watkin has been implicated in a scandal, arising from the disappearance and torture of several detainees arrested by the Canadian Forces and turned over to Afghan security services. When called to speak before the Canadian House of Commons, he refused to answer questions about his role in authorizing the transfers despite knowledge of the likelihood of torture and other maltreatment of the prisoners.

International Response

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon noted how Netanyahu’s panel was “not sufficient enough to have international credibility.” The leading Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz, in its analysis of the probe, editorialized, “The government’s efforts to avoid a thorough and credible investigation of the flotilla affair seem more and more like a farce.”

By contrast, the Obama White House issued a statement praising the formation of the committee as an “important step forward,” insisting that “the structure and terms of reference of Israel’s proposed independent public commission can meet the standard of a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation,” as called for by the UN Security Council. U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Alejandro Wolff insisted, “We are convinced and support an Israeli investigation…and have every confidence that Israel can conduct a credible and impartial and transparent, prompt investigation internally.”

Congressional Democrats have defended the Obama’s decision to cover-up for the incident and prevent a credible investigation. Even though Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented the failure of the Netanyahu government to investigate possible war crimes by its armed forces, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) recently insisted that “the Israeli government…has a very good record of holding the Israeli government to account,” and that “the Israeli government has a better record of legitimate self-criticism than almost any other government in the world.” Turning the consensus of international human rights organizations on its head, Frank argues that the only a group “commissioned by the Israeli government” would have credibility, while “clearly no inquiry chartered by the U.N. would have the credibility.” Other congressional Democrats have insisted that the right-wing Israeli government of Benyamin Netanyahu be entrusted with the investigation, including Brad Ellsworth (D-IN), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), Rep. Sestak (D-PA), and Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

All this comes in spite of a recent public opinion poll shows a clear majority of Americans — including 65 percent of Democrats — favor an international inquiry over allowing Israel alone to investigate the circumstances of the attack. It appears, then, that the Obama administration and its allies in Congress are committed to burying the truth and preventing Israel’s right-wing government from any culpability for its attack.

Quid Pro Quo?

At the same time, however, the Obama administration’s acceptance of this whitewash might have been an explicit quid pro quo: The United States would defend the suppression of the truth in the Israeli attack in return for Israel substantially loosening the blockade of humanitarian goods. If true, this maneuver would be yet another case of Obama provoking the outrage of the left wing of his party in order to pursue a behind-the-scenes deal he believes will advance the greater good. Some analysts, like Marc Lynch, make a compelling case that such a trade-off is worthwhile, in terms of easing an enormous level of human suffering as a result of the four-year old-siege.

While tactically defensible, such a quid pro quo is strategically questionable. Given the Israeli government’s history of reneging on its various international commitments, there are questions as to how comprehensive this lifting of the blockade actually may be and how long it will last. It would also mark yet another bad precedent of the United States effectively granting an ally a license to get away with violating international humanitarian law and other illegal activities, thereby further weakening the international legal protection of civilians.

The apparent weakening of the blockade is cause for cautious optimism. But global civil society must continue to pressure governments to ensure that Israel — no more or less than any other country — be held accountable for its violations of international legal norms.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/israels_dubious_investigation_of_flotilla_attack

Democratic Party Defends Israeli Attack

Tens of thousands of Israelis protested in the streets of Tel Aviv last weekend against their right-wing government’s attack on an unarmed humanitarian aid flotilla sailing in international waters. International condemnation of the raids continued in foreign capitals. Meanwhile, in Washington, Democratic congressional leaders were lining up alongside their Republican colleagues to defend the Israeli assault. Countering the broad consensus of international legal scholars who recognize that the attack was in flagrant violation of international norms, prominent Democrats embraced the Orwellian notion that Israel’s raid, which killed at least nine activists and wounded scores of others, was somehow an act of self-defense.

The offensive by the Democratic leadership has been led by Gary Ackerman (D-NY), who serves as House Democrats’ unofficial spokesman on Middle East policy from his position as chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee subcommittee on the Middle East. According to Ackerman, the killings were “wholly the fault and responsibility of the organizers of the effort to break through Israel and Egypt’s legitimate closure of terrorist-controlled Gaza.” According to Rep. Ron Klein (D-FL), due to the determination of activists on the ships to deliver humanitarian aid to the people of the besieged Gaza Strip, “Israel was left with no choice but to ensure the safety of its people.” Similarly, Democratic majority leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) insisted that in attacking an unarmed flotilla carrying humanitarian aid in international waters, Israel had simply “invoked its right to self-defense.”

To rationalize what virtually the entire international legal community recognizes as an act of war, congressional Democrats have engaged in a series of falsifications and radical reinterpretations of international law. The first involved a radically overextended notion of maritime sovereignty. The attack took place in international waters, roughly 85 miles from the Israeli coast. International maritime law has long recognized that territorial sovereignty extends only 12 miles out to sea. A Libyan effort in the 1980s to extend its claim of sovereignty into the Gulf of Sidra beyond the 12-mile limit led to a series of deadly clashes between U.S. and Libyan armed forces in order, according to then-President Ronald Reagan, to enforce America’s “global Freedom of Navigation program” to defend “our rights on and over the high seas under international law.” At the time, congressional Democrats joined their Republican colleagues in defending the use of force to challenge Libya’s illegal overreach of its maritime boundaries.

However, congressional Democrats are quite willing to grant allied governments in the region far more latitude in extending their claims to Mediterranean waters. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) argued that responsibility for the violence lay with the organizers of the flotilla, not with “those who defended Israel’s borders.” Rep. Michael McMahon (D-NY) made a similar argument that the Israeli action was justified because Israel “has the right to maintain and defend its own borders.” The flotilla was aiming directly toward the port of Gaza, not toward any area close to Israeli territorial waters, and no country recognizes the Gaza Strip as part of Israel. Nevertheless, Rep. Kendrik Meek (D-FL) insisted that Israel’s assault on the flotilla was justified because the ships were “on the verge of breaching its sovereign borders.” Similarly, Klein insisted that the ships were “threatening to breach Israel’s defenses of its coastal border,” and therefore “Israel was left with no choice but to ensure the safety of its people” by attacking the flotilla.

Redefining “Self-Defense”

The Free Gaza campaign had made clear that the cargo was exclusively humanitarian. Indeed, all of its previous eight voyages over the past two years were completely free of any weaponry or weapon parts. The plethora of peace and human rights groups participating in the flotilla would have never taken part were there any hint of arms being on board. Most crucially, customs officials rigorously inspected all the ships at their disembarkation points. Indeed, no weapons bound for the Gaza Strip were found on any of the six ships on the flotilla seized by Israel or on the seventh several days later. As a result, no reasonable person could claim that the Israelis had reason to suspect arms smuggling. The congressional Democratic leadership, however, is apparently not very reasonable.

For example, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) insisted that the Israelis attacked the flotilla to ensure that “dangerous resources do not reach the terrorist organization Hamas.” This kind of paranoia was evident on the Senate side as well, as Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) justified the Israeli attack on the grounds that the peace activists might have been trying to smuggle missiles or even a radiological weapon. Similarly, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) declared that “Israel has every right in the world to make certain that weapons are not being smuggled in.” Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) insisted that “Israel has every right to defend itself against radical activists” in order “to prevent innocent civilian aid from being used as a façade for arms trafficking” by those “threatening the safety and security of our ally Israel.”

Despite the participation of large numbers of pacifists on the ships, Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) claimed that the flotilla “was really a Trojan Horse designed to attack the Israelis.” The assault against the unarmed flotilla, according to Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), was simply a case of the Israeli government “defending…their citizens” and “exercising its right to self-defense.” Paul Hodes (D-NH) argued that Israel’s intent in attacking the flotilla was simply “to protect itself and its citizens” while House Majority Leader Hoyer insisted that “Israel — rightfully so — invoked its right to self-defense on the Mavi Marmara.” Rep Patrick Murphy (D-PA) also insisted that Israel was simply invoking its right to self-defense,” while Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) insisted that “those aboard the Mavi Marmara never intended to carry out a peaceful humanitarian mission” and that “It was only when faced with violence that the soldiers reacted in self-defense.”

The Israelis confiscated all recording equipment from those on board, only showing their carefully edited version of events surrounding their assault on lead vessel in a widely circulated videotape. The refusal to return any of the recording equipment to the kidnapped activists would normally raise questions as to what the Israeli government might be trying to hide. But that didn’t bother Democratic lawmakers, who repeatedly cited the Israeli video as “evidence” to support their case that the people defending their ship, not the ones attacking it, were the aggressors. There are conflicting reports of what happened when Israeli forces illegally boarded the Mavi Marmara, but what is known is that Israeli commandos initiated the attack on the ship using stun grenades, teargas, paintballs, and rubber-cased steel bullets. The initial response from those on board was to try to fend off the attackers off with water hoses while the ship’s passengers attempted to form a defensive cordon around the wheelhouse to prevent the attackers from seizing the ship.

Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, acknowledged that the flotilla was simply “too large to stop with nonviolent means.” Despite this, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz (D-FL) insisted that “the Israeli Navy worked to plan a non-violent interception of the flotilla and only used force when soldiers’ lives were at risk.” At least 48 activists suffered gunshot wounds and scores of others were badly beaten.

The British newspaper The Independent reported that soldiers fired down on the activists from their helicopters prior to any Israeli soldiers boarding the Mavi Marmara. One journalist reported that a man standing next to him was shot through the top of his head, killing him instantly. Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI), however, insisted that the killings were all “acts of self-defense,” while Rep. Shelley Berkeley (D-NV) blamed “passengers on the vessel, not Israeli forces, as the instigators of violence.” Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) said the “violent force [was] in fact initiated by those whose boat was boarded.” Though the overwhelming majority of those on the ships were from peace organizations like War Resisters International, the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Pax Christi, and others, Rep. Engel insisted that the ships were actually “filled with hate-filled provocateurs bent on violence.” Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) claimed the responsibility for the killings were “those who chose to run an internationally recognized blockade and attack uniformed personnel.” Though there were no guns found on board any of the ships, Quigley insisted that the activists “shot Israeli soldiers as they landed on the main ship.”

Autopsy reports reveal that most of the victims of the Israeli raid were shot in the head at close range. Fulkan Dogan, a 19-year old U.S. citizen, was shot five times from less than 18 inches away. Similarly, despite Israeli troops using stun guns and severely beating passengers on the other ships who offered no violent resistance, Rep. Shelley Berkeley (D-NV) insisted that the Israeli seizure of the five other vessels took place “without incident,” demonstrating that “Israeli personnel had no intention to use force and only did so in self-defense.”

The Turkish crew — which, unlike the vast majority of people on board the ships, had not gone through the mandatory nonviolence training — should not have fought back. It should be noted, however, that international maritime law clearly gives crew members the right to defend their vessel from attacks in international waters. Apparently, these congressional Democrats believe, however, if you are attacked by the navy of a strategic ally of the United States, you have no right to defend your ship.

Accusations of Terrorist Ties

The most dangerous accusation by congressional Democratic leaders involves charges that the activists on board and the organizers of the flotilla had ties to terrorism. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee’s subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation, and trade, called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute American participants in the flotilla. Because the Gaza Strip is currently ruled by Hamas, according to Sherman, any humanitarian aid to the people of that territory is “clearly an effort to give items of value to a terrorist organization.” Sherman also announced he would be working with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that the more than 700 non-U.S. citizens who took part in the flotilla would be permanently barred from ever entering the United States. This would include European parliamentarians and Nobel laureates, as well as leading writers, artists, intellectuals, pacifists, and human rights activists, virtually none of whom is in the least bit sympathetic with Hamas or terrorism.

A series of Democrats in Congress have joined in insisting that the organizers of the flotilla have, in Sherman’s words, “clear terrorist ties.” Indeed, Frank insists that these groups are “pro-Hamas people” and that, rather than provide aid to the people of the Gaza Strip, they were actually “seeking to land in Gaza to aid and support Hamas.” Engel insisted that the organizers of the flotilla have “links to Hamas and reportedly played a role in the attempted Millennium bombing in Los Angeles.” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) insisted that the United States “must stand up for the right of Israel to defend herself against terrorism — which is what Israel did when she blocked the attempt by the Flotilla to forcefully breach the blockade.” And Rep. Ackerman claimed that the humanitarian relief effort was “to provoke a confrontation with Israel for the benefit of Hamas and as part of the international effort to delegitimize Israel’s existence.”

The very idea that pacifist, feminist, Jewish, and Christian organizations like CODEPINK, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the American Friends Service Committee would ally with a violent, misogynist, Islamic group like Hamas — much less any group that engages in terrorism — should be recognized as absurd on face value. When prominent Democrats — including the head of the House subcommittee on terrorism — imply that leading American and Israeli peace groups are linked to terrorism, it is no longer simply heated rhetoric in defense of the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, but a dangerous attack on civil liberties.These congressional Democrats also ignore the fact that the Free Gaza campaign is supported by such Israeli groups such as Yesh G’vul, the Coalition of Women for Peace, New Profile, and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, among others. Such organizations and their members were already being subjected to violent attacks by far right-wing groups, some of whom have openly called for the murder of Knesset members who supported the flotilla. By falsely accusing these groups of being part of an effort that supports Hamas and other terrorist groups, these members of Congress appear to be willing to put the lives of Israeli peace and human rights activists at risk.

Shutting Out the United Nations

Democratic congressional leaders were quick to praise the Obama administration for blocking the United Nations from criticizing the Israeli attack. Hoyer reiterated how the “administration and Congress are determined to prevent condemnation of Israel at the UN Security Council.” One clear role for the United Nations — given the conflicting accounts of what transpired during the Israeli attack — would be to launch an international investigation. A recent public opinion poll shows a clear majority of Americans — including 65 percent of Democrats — favor an international inquiry over allowing Israel alone to investigate the circumstances of the attack.

Despite this, congressional Democrats have also joined the Obama administration in insisting that Israel, not the UN or other international body, should conduct any investigation into the attack. This comes despite reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documenting the right-wing Israeli government’s notoriously poor record at conducting credible internal investigations regarding possible war crimes by its armed forces. Rejecting such detailed reports from reputable human rights organizations, Frank nonetheless insists “the Israeli government…has a very good record of holding the Israeli government to account,” and that “the Israeli government has a better record of legitimate self-criticism than almost any other government in the world.” Turning the consensus of international human rights organizations on its head, Frank argues that the only a group “commissioned by the Israeli government” would have credibility, while “clearly no inquiry chartered by the U.N. would have the credibility.”

Other congressional Democrats have also been lining up insisting that the right-wing Israeli government of Benyamin Netanyahu be entrusted with the investigation. Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-IN) insisted that “We must allow Israel, not the United Nations. . . to conduct a formal investigation into the flotilla incident.” Similarly, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) has called for an “Israeli-led investigation” as have Rep. Michael McMahon (D-NY) and Rep. Sestak (D-PA), who is currently the Democratic nominee for Senate. Reid underscored his confidence in the right-wing Israeli government in noting how “Israel has pledged to carry out a transparent and thorough investigation of this incident, and I look forward to its findings.”

Denying the Humanitarian Crisis

Democrats have also lined up to defend the blockade of the Gaza Strip, even as corporate media outlets such as Newsweek acknowledge that the blockade has little to do with preventing weapons smuggling. Some have gone as far as challenging the credibility of the UN and a plethora of aid agencies that have documented the public health crisis and food shortages in the Gaza Strip. For example, Sherman insists “the health circumstances in Gaza are better than they are in many American cities.” In reality, UN officials have called the situation “grim,” “deteriorating,” and a “medieval siege.” A bare minimum of 400 truckloads of goods needs to enter Gaza each week, and only an average of 171 get in. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in 10 Gazans suffer from “chronic malnutrition,” and the UN says six in 10 Gaza households are “food insecure.”

As reported in the Israeli press, as elsewhere, Israel has repeatedly refused to allow humanitarian goods into the Gaza Strip. This fact did not stop Reid from claiming that Israel “put in place a process to ensure that legitimate humanitarian relief reached Gaza.” Similarly, Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ) praised Israel for “allow[ing] trucks loaded with humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza on a daily basis,” ignoring that such vehicles allowed by Israel are far less than what’s needed. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) insisted that “there are alternative methods of delivery that are available,” ignoring the fact that restrictive Israeli checkpoints have repeatedly turned away WHO medical supplies and rejected or delayed the delivery of UN food aid. Despite efforts to blame Hamas, Israel is in fact the source of the humanitarian crisis. Yet Democrats continue to be in denial.

‘Creating an Incident’

Israel had allowed five of the previous eight ships from the Free Gaza Campaign carrying humanitarian supplies to deliver their goods to the port of Gaza without interception. So there was some genuine hope that the Israelis would allow this flotilla to dock unimpeded as well. To leading Democratic lawmakers, such as Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), however, “this flotilla was more about creating an incident than helping people.” Similarly, Mikulski insisted that the activists “cared more about inciting a confrontation that they did about delivering aid.”

These lawmakers seem to have forgotten, however, the longstanding tradition of strategic nonviolent direct action to “create an incident.” The four African-American students who sat at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro back in 1960 weren’t just interested in a cup of coffee. Similarly, when civil rights activists protested in downtown Birmingham in 1963, there was reason to suspect that Sherriff Bull Connor would use force to break up the demonstrations.

When people struggle nonviolently for justice against an oppressive state apparatus, there is no contradiction between helping people and creating an incident.

Relations with Turkey

Much of the wrath of congressional Democrats centers on the government of Turkey, a longstanding NATO ally. Pallone demanded that Obama condemn the Turkish government for supporting the relief effort and reacting negatively to the attack, which killed nine Turks on board. According to Rep. Anthony Wiener (D-NY), “We know this tragedy was instigated by Turkey.” Though Turkey remains in NATO, Wiener went as far as referring to Turkey as “our former ally.” Similarly, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) argued that criticism of Israel’s action “neglects the role that Turkey played in staging the flotilla and Turkey’s readiness to condone this kind of brinksmanship.”

Putting the blame on Turkey for the deaths of its own citizens in international waters taking part in a multinational humanitarian relief efforts is particularly ironic given that, as recently as two months ago, many of these same members of Congress refused to support the recent House resolution commemorating the 1915 Armenian genocide on the grounds that it would offend the Turkish government.

In the world view of congressional Democrats, however, defending what is essentially an act of piracy and the murder of nine Turkish citizens is worth damaging relations with this key NATO ally, but acknowledging the genocide of one and half million Armenians is not.

Withdraw Support from the Democratic Party

This is certainly not the first time that Democratic congressional leaders have defended violations of international legal norms by U.S. allies. The history of supporting the Salvadoran junta, Nicaraguan Contras, Indonesian occupation forces in East Timor, and Moroccan occupation forces in Western Sahara all attest to the way the Democratic Party, like the Republican Party, is wedded to the notion that U.S. allies should be held to a lower standard of adherence to international law than perceived adversaries.

Indeed, one can imagine the reaction of these same Democrats had it been the Iranian navy that attacked a humanitarian flotilla in international waters, killed passengers and crew members, and kidnapped 750 people (including journalists) and held them incommunicado for several days in Iran.

Republican congressional leaders have certainly done no better in supporting Israel’s raids. Yet many Democrats who have engaged in these right-wing attacks on human rights and international law consider themselves “progressive.” Democratic members of Congress have ended their defense of the Salvadoran junta, the Indonesian dictatorship, and other criminal policies only when pressured by their constituents. Peace and human rights activists should similarly raise an outcry in response to the dangerously intemperate and inaccurate statements from congressional Democrats and then deny support for the re-election of any member of Congress who continues to support this latest Israeli atrocity.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/democratic_party_defends_israeli_attack

Will the Flotilla Attack Be Our “Kent State” Moment?

The offensive by the Congressional Democratic leadership against the Gaza humanitarian aid flotilla has now moved beyond just rhetorical support for the Israeli attack on the unarmed convoy. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee’s subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation and trade, has called upon U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute U.S. citizens who were involved or on board the flotilla.

Because the Gaza Strip is currently ruled by Hamas, according the Sherman, any humanitarian aid to the people of that territory is “clearly an effort to give items of value to a terrorist organization,” which is prosecutable under the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. Despite the active support of the humanitarian aid effort by a number of pacifist organizations in the United States and Europe, Sherman insists that the organizers of the flotilla have “clear terrorist ties,” dismissing critical analysis of such charges as part of the ideological agenda of “the liberal media.”

Sherman also announced he would be working with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that the more than 700 non-U.S. citizens who took part in the flotilla would be permanently barred from ever entering the United States. This would include European parliamentarians, Nobel laureates, as well as leading writers, artists, intellectuals, pacifists, and human rights activists, virtually none of whom are in the least bit sympathetic with Hamas or with terrorism.

Given the very real threat of terrorism from Al-Qaeda and other groups against the United States, it is very odd that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic Party leaders would choose — out of 255 Democrats in the House of Representatives — a paranoid right-winger like Sherman to chair the critically important terrorism subcommittee. Rather than focus on the real threats from Al-Qaeda and other dangerous organizations, it appears that Sherman is putting his energy into going after the motley group of Quaker pacifists, left-wing Jews, and other like-minded activists who boarded the ships attempted to bring medicines, school supplies, toys and other humanitarian aid to children of the Gaza Strip.

Indeed, it raises serious questions about whether the Democratic Party Congressional leadership is really concerned about international terrorism or, like the Bush administration, is attempting to use the threat of terrorism as an excuse to suppress nonviolent dissent against the policies of the U.S. government and its rightist allies.

Organizers and endorsers of the flotilla include such reputable American peace groups as Code Pink, Jewish Voice for Peace, Pax Christi, the American Friends Service Committee, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the Resource Center for Nonviolence, War Resisters League, Women in Black and others. Supporters of this nonviolent effort to bring humanitarian aid to the people of the Gaza Strip also include such Israeli groups such as Yesh G’vul, Coalition of Women for Peace, New Profile, and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, among others.

Despite this, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), insists that these groups are “pro-Hamas people.” Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) claims that the organizers of the flotilla have “links to Hamas and reportedly played a role in the attempted Millennium bombing in Los Angeles.” Rep. Ron Klein D-FL) insists that the real agenda of these peace and human rights organizations is “to bolster the terrorist Hamas government in Gaza.” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) argues that Israel’s attack on the unarmed flotilla laden with humanitarian supplies part of an effort to “defend herself against terrorism.”

When prominent Democrats — including the head of an influential House subcommittee concerned with national security — begin implying that leading America and Israeli peace groups are linked to terrorism, it is no longer simply an issue of over-heated rhetoric in support of an allied right-wing government, but a McCarthyistic attack on nonviolent dissent. Indeed, it could only be a matter of time before we see Medea Benjamin, Mitchell Plitnick, and other leading nonviolent activists who have supported the flotilla hauled before Sherman’s subcommittee regarding these alleged ties to terrorism.

In many respects, however, Israel’s attack on the unarmed flotilla last weekend could be a “Kent State moment.” At the time of the 1970 shootings, National Guardsmen and police had been killing African-Americans and Hispanics with some regularity for years. When white middle class students were gunned down on a college campus, however, it woke up a whole new segment of American society, goading them into active resistance. Similarly, while the Israeli military has been killing Arab civilians for years, now that they have attacked European and American peace activists — with the support of Congressional leaders — it has created a whole new dynamic, one I witnessed personally this past Friday evening, at the annual dinner of the Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz, California.

Roughly 150 people gathered in the fellowship hall of a local Congregational Church this past Friday evening, including prominent liberal members of the city council and county board of supervisors, area clergy (including a local rabbi), professors, small businesspeople and other community leaders. The main speaker was Nomika Zion, founder of kibbutz Migvan in Sderot, Israel, a community which had suffered from relentless bombardment for many months from Qassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. Zion — a leader of the Sderot-based peace group Other Voice, which opposed Israel’s war on Gaza — argued that it was the ongoing siege of Gaza which was the biggest threat to the security and called for an end of the Israeli blockade RCNV staffperson and former Santa Cruz mayor Scott Kennedy then called on the city to come together to organize a boat to send relief supplies to Gaza Strip in an effort to end the siege, adding that he would write Rep. Sherman and Attorney General Holder and dare them to investigate and prosecute the hundreds of people in this coastal community who would support such an effort.

Israel’s rightist government and their allies in the U.S. Congress have clearly miscalculated. By claiming that the hundreds of dedicated peace and human rights activists on board those ships — most of whom in no way support Hamas or any terrorist group — as supporters of terrorism, they are mobilizing what could become a major backlash. It is a particularly bad calculation for the Democratic Party, which is going to need the support of the peace and human rights community — a key constituency of the party’s base — going into the mid-term election this fall. There are already plans for additional ships to try to run the blockade, most of which will have active participation from nonviolent activists here in the United States. We’ll see if Rep. Sherman and other Congressional leaders can stop them.

U.S. Support for Israel Mirrors 80s Support for El Salvador Junta

It’s like the 1980s all over again.

During that decade, the Reagan administration – with the support of Congress – sent billions of dollars worth of unconditional military and other support to the right wing-junta in El Salvador, just as the Obama administration is today with the right-wing government in Israel.

When Salvadoran forces massacred 700 civilians in El Mozote, Congressional leaders defended the killings, saying that the U.S-backed operation was “fighting terrorists.” Similarly, when Israel massacred over 700 civilians in the Gaza Strip early last year, Congressional leaders defended the killings for the same reason.

When Amnesty International and other groups investigated the El Mozote killings and found that it was indeed a massacre targeted at civilians by the Salvadoran army, members of Congress denounced these reputable human rights organizations as “biased.” There was a similar reaction when Amnesty and other groups documented similar Israeli war crimes, with Congressional leaders accusing them of “bias.”

Even when the Salvadoran junta murdered international humanitarian aid workers, that right-wing government’s supporters in Washington insisted that the victims were actually allied with terrorists and that they somehow provoked their own deaths. We’re now hearing the same rationalization regarding the attack on the humanitarian aid flotilla in the eastern Mediterranean.

The difference is that, back in the 1980s, members of Congress and the administration who were responsible for such policies were targeted with frequent protests, including sit-ins at Congressional offices and other kinds of nonviolent direct action. Unlike supporters of the El Salvador’s former right-wing government, however, today’s Congressional supporters of Israel’s right-wing government seem to be getting a free ride.

Senators Barbara Boxer, Ron Wyden, Russ Feingold, Barbara Mikulski, and Carl Levin – who led the attack against Justice Goldstone and others who documented Israeli war crimes – are still supported by many so-called “progressives” who apparently believe that, despite these senators’ attacks on basic human rights, they should still get their vote, campaign contributions, and other support. For example, here in California, Code Pink co-founder Jodie Evans and singer/songwriter Bonnie Raitt, who were active in opposition to U.S. policy in Central America during the 1980s, are major contributors to Boxer’s re-election campaign. The willingness to challenge such right-wing Congressional militarists has substantially diminished.

The problem is less a matter of the power of AIPAC and the “pro-Israel lobby” as it is the failure of those on the left to demand a change in Obama administration policy. Progressives must recognize that the lives of Arab civilians are as important as the lives of Central American civilians; that it is just as inexcusable for the United States to support a government that kill passengers and crew on a humanitarian flotilla in international waters as it is to kill nuns, agronomists and other civilians working in the Salvadoran countryside; and that, when it comes to international humanitarian law, the differences between the policies of Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama are not as great as we would like to think.

http://www.fpif.org/blog/us_support_for_israel_mirrors_80s_support_for_el_salvador_junta

Israel’s Latest Violation

Every time Israel’s right-wing government engages in yet another outrageous violation of international legal norms, it is easy to think, “No way are they going to get away with it this time!” And yet, thanks to the White House, Congress and leading American pundits, somehow, they do.

Israel’s attack on an unarmed flotilla of humanitarian aid vessels in the eastern Mediterranean — resulting in more than a dozen fatalities, the wounding of scores of passengers and crew, and the kidnapping of 750 others — has so far not proven any different.

Violation of Maritime Law

The bottom line is that under no circumstances does Israel, or any other country, have the right to board humanitarian aid vessels, guns blazing, in international waters. By most definitions, this is piracy, pure and simple. International maritime law gives the crew of ships attacked in international waters the right to defend themselves. Certainly it would have been better if the largely Turkish crew of the ship where most of the fatalities took place had not fought back. But it was well within their legal right to do so.

Israel’s actions raise a number of questions. Why didn’t the Israelis simply disable the rudders and guide the ships to port? Why did they have to board the ships with the guns blazing — according to eyewitnesses, before some members of the crew picked up their “weapons” of wrenches and poles — unless they intended to kill people?

Read the rest at Foreign Policy in Focus:
http://www.fpif.org/articles/israels_latest_violation