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.

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.

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