Published on Friday, June 11, 2010 by Foreign Policy in Focus
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
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
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
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
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 "
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
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
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
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
A series of Democrats in Congress have joined in insisting that the organizers of the flotilla have, in
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
Despite this, congressional Democrats have also joined the Obama administration in insisting that
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
Denying the Humanitarian Crisis
Democrats have also lined up to defend the blockade of the
As reported in the Israeli press, as elsewhere,
'Creating an Incident'
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
When people struggle nonviolently for justice against an oppressive state apparatus, there is no contradiction between helping people and creating an incident.
Much of the wrath of congressional Democrats centers on the government of
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
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
For More Information:
All quotes from congressional representatives taken from the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, "Congressional Statements on the
Stephen Zunes is a professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco, where he chairs the Middle Easter Studies program, and serves as a senior analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus, where this article first appeared.
URL to article: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/06/11-0
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