Obama, the ADC, and the Gaza Freedom Flotilla


Imagine the media coverage that would have awaited us in our local and national newspapers, our radio, Facebook, twitter and television news alerts and special bulletins had Iran or another ‘enemy’ nation killed — and in some cases executed – 9 or more Israeli or American Jewish peace activists aboard a Turkish vessel (and therefore a NATO partner). What if that vessel were leading a convoy of 700 unarmed activists aboard ships filled with humanitarian aid to a million and a half Jewish political prisoners held hostage by that nation on spurious and sinister claims of ‘national security’?

Imagine, in the wake of these events, President Obama rejecting without comment an invitation to deliver the keynote address at AIPAC, the US’ most influential pro-Israel lobby, as Jews and their supporters from across the United States traveled to Washington DC for AIPAC’s most important annual event — one that coincided with the 30th anniversary of its founding? The political fallout from such an offense would have created a storm of controversy.

Of course, none of this happened because the event at hand involved the murder of 9 Turkish-Muslim activists (one an American citizen) aboard a convoy of ships on behalf of the Gaza Freedom Movement, a movement organized and participated in by citizens from around the world, including Israel, fed up with the craven, gutless responses of their governments to more than half a century of dispossession, expulsion, theft, abuse and killing of Arabs and Muslims from, or supporting, Palestine. Faced with the imminent ‘threat’ of having to cease its illegal siege and blockade of Gaza — and perhaps from there begin dismantling its occupation by letting the aid ships in — Israel seized the occasion to halt the flotilla in international waters and storm the ship with the maximum amount of force at its disposal. Taking these already violent and illegal actions to levels of absurdity bordering on madness, Israel then made the cynical and preposterous claims that it had been forced to use ‘self-defense’ against al-Qaeda-allied terrorists on the high seas. By then even some of Israel’s most egregious defenders had begun to voice some complaints.

At this year’s Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) gala dinner on Saturday night, June 5th 2010, long-time Lebanese-American activist (on behalf of the American people) and former presidential contender Ralph Nader gave the keynote speech to some 800 people. Halfway through his speech, Nader explained apologetically that he had been asked at the last minute to "pinch-hit" for Barack Obama who was supposed to have addressed the convention that evening. Arab-Americans, including many distinguished guests, were not the only people in the room with raised eyebrows over Obama’s absence.

Dignitaries including Ambassadors from across the Arab World also noticed, especially given the timing, coming as it did just one week after Israel’s raid aboard the Mavi Marmara. In fact, that very day still another illegal Israeli military raid forced the Irish ship, the MV Rachel Corrie, to abort its mission to Gaza and dock in the Israeli port of Ashdod with its 7,500 tons of humanitarian aid. When I asked Dr. Safa Rifka, Chairman of the ADC’s Board of Directors, if he would verify that President Obama had been invited to address the audience that evening, Rifka responded in undisguised contempt, "absolutely; and you can mention my name as well." He said he himself had sent the invitation and that Obama didn’t even bother to reply.

Fortunately, there were no killings aboard the MV Rachel Corrie, a boat named after the twenty-three year old American activist crushed to death by an armored D-9 Caterpillar Bulldozer on March 16, 2003, as she attempted to prevent it from demolishing another Palestinian home. (More than 17,000 people from Rafah, Gaza, had been made refugees twice and thrice over as a result of Israel’s policy of demolishing homes along the Philadelphi Corridor near the Egyptian border.) Corrie wore a blaze orange vest and carried an orange bullhorn when the driver of the bulldozer trapped her under a mound of dirt and drove over her body twice, breaking her back shortly before she died.

Unsurprisingly the US has yet to insist that an independent investigation into Rachel Corrie’s death take place. Neither has the US approved even the least critical of the independent investigations into Israel’s attack on Gaza in December-January 2008-9, the Goldstone Report. ‘Operation Cast Lead’ was the very embodiment of the ‘supreme international crime’ of aggression and should have led to the arrest and incarceration of its perpetrators for war crimes at the International Court of Justice at the Hague; but of course, it did not. Hence, it should come as no surprise that US representatives stood alone again at the United Nations last week just after the deadly raid on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, arguing that Israel should be allowed to investigate its latest crime of aggression and murder all by itself.

Arab and Muslim-Americans are hardly surprised that state terror directed against their people here or overseas requires no special attention or concern within any US administration. That Obama’s insult to the ADC occurred exactly one year after his widely acclaimed speech in Cairo, Egypt, in which he promised a change in US foreign policy toward Middle East and Islamic nations only underlines the hypocrisy and doublespeak of his alleged convictions.

What distinguishes the Obama administration’s Middle East foreign policy from that of the Bush administration and those before it is the rhetoric in which its fundamental continuity is outlined. This is especially disappointing — and dangerous — for anyone who hoped that non-violent solutions and a basic adherence to international law would finally prevail.

As the United States ‘defends itself’ from the wreckage of what is still called Iraq; as it prevents an attack on ‘our way of life’ by destroying the very fabric of life in Afghanistan; as it bullies other nations around the globe into imposing sanctions on Iran, a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) unlike its client, Israel; as it pours trillions of US dollars urgently needed for domestic programs into the development, maintenance and use of its own enormous stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and then dismisses out of hand third-party agreements intended to help prevent the horrors of a third World War, there is no reason to assume it will rein in the shameful policies of Israel.

Like its US patron, Israel continues to promote state-of-the art-global violence –even when that means executing citizens of US-allied nations for resisting its spiral into madness. When US politicians, pundits and media spokespeople congratulate Israel and its special Naval Commando units for assaulting a NATO partner’s ship carrying 700 peace activists tired and ashamed of the persistent international silence over the sadistic destruction of the land, culture and identity of the Palestinians, Arab-Americans are not the only group of people who should be both sickened and aghast.


Jennifer Loewenstein is a Faculty Associate of Middle East Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is also a freelance journalist who has lived, worked and traveled extensively in the Middle East.

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