How Americans View the Flotilla

Reactions to the Flotilla show a new variance in American opinion of Israel

Obviously, Americans are very diverse and hold very different opinions.  The reactions to the Flotilla disaster are no  different.  Only one day after running an op-ed relating the activists on board the blockade-busting boats to Jew-hating, demonizing, ‘ghettoizing’ Nazis, the Washington Post is calling for the US to engage with Hamas, the democratically elected government of Gaza that has been designated as a terrorist organization and ignored by successive American administrations.  Yet, at the same time, American Congressmen are calling for the prosecution of those US citizens that were involved in the humanitarian-cum-political mission.

In today’s Post, Daoud Kuttab writes that the debacle of the Israeli military this week has only strengthened the ever-moderating Hamas while calling attention to the immorality and illegality that clouds the Israeli blockade of the tiny strip.  Kuttab recalls President Obama’s inaugural address in which he said, “We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”  Kuttab adds that Hamas has its fist unclenched as the innocent people of Gaza are struggling to survive the mass shortages and rolling blackouts that plague the Gaza strip.  The solution?  Engage with Hamas:

But it is important to note that the Hamas leadership, both in Gaza and Damascus, has been sending positive signals for some time. The group has stopped firing rockets into Israel. Hamas leaders have moderated their positions on acceptance of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and expressed willingness to sign a long-term cease-fire. All of this provides the Obama administration with clear avenues for productive diplomacy.

By refraining from using tough language against Israel over this incident, Washington might have regained its ability to quietly influence Tel Aviv. But it cannot allow such silence to be understood as acquiescence or support for an act of violence in international waters. A better way to respond would be to move to reach an understanding with Hamas regarding security and other issues. In return for the beginnings of dialogue with the United States, Hamas should be asked to agree to a complete cease-fire, including that of violence by more radical groups, and a commitment not to disturb the U.S.-sponsored proximity talks.

[tweetmeme] Despite the logic behind this solution, it seems as though Obama will continue the Bush-era policies of simply ignoring problems until they ‘go away.’  The reason for Obama’s reluctance to even approach the discussion of engaging Hamas is because of people like Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman of California.  Rep. Sherman is calling for the US government (yes, the only one that kept silent this week) to prosecute the American citizens who were aboard the humanitarian ships (I wonder if that includes the American citizen who was shot 4 times in the head from close range).  Sherman is also pushing for the US government to bar any of the international activists from entering the US:

“The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 [PDF] makes it absolutely illegal for any American to give food, money, school supplies, paper clips, concrete or weapons to Hamas or any of its officials,” Sherman said on the Israel Project call, conflating Hamas and Gaza’s civilian population. “And so I will be asking the Attorney General to prosecute any American involved in what was clearly an effort to give items of value to a terrorist organization.”

Sherman also said that he plans on working with the Department of Homeland Security to make sure that any non-U.S. citizen involved with or aboard the Flotilla are excluded from entering the U.S.

I suppose defending Israel’s actions can be somewhat justifiable by simply logic, but to blame Hamas for Israel’s use of disproportional force in international waters against international activists – and then to try to throw those activists in jail (something even Israel isn’t doing) – is an entirely different issue.

These two articles provide a good example of how polarized the debate on the US-Israel ‘special relationship’ is.  In America, there seems to be three camps – the supporters of an independent Palestine like Richard Silverstein and Philip Weiss who view this episode as a signal of Israeli folly typical of an extremist Israeli government that should be held accountable; the moderate Israeli supporters like Jeffrey Goldberg or Leon Wieseltier (though Wieseltier usually hangs out with the third group) who see the mess as a dirty spot on Israel’s polished record, but with no sympathy for the activists; and the die-hard Krauthammer folk who claim that the  entire episode was an anti-Semitic attack on the innocent Israeli state (the Liz Cheneys and Marty Peretzs of America who criticize Obama for calling the deaths of civilians a tragedy can also be found in this third group).  While there has been enough written on the Flotilla this week to make an argument for any three of these positions, the importance behind the discussion is not simply who is correct, but that the discussion is actually taking place.

With varying degrees, people – and Jews – in America are starting to question Israeli and American policies in the region and beginning to reconsider the US-Israeli relationship.  There are diverse opinions of everything in the US.  Until now, the sanctity of Israel’s bond to the US was an exception, but this is starting to change.

Photo from Cloud Dragon

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