What does the new Gaza flotilla have to do with the Freedom Riders?
Sometime this month a flotilla of ships will once again seek to breach the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza. This effort is similar to the one that took place a year ago. That last attempt to break the Gaza blockade ended with nine people on the ships being killed after they attacked and injured the Israeli soldiers who took custody of those ships. The Israeli sea blockade is intended to prevent weapons, explosives and other contraband from being shipped to terrorists in Gaza, also preventing the entry of terrorists.
Last Thursday, The New York Times reported on the new plans for breaking the blockade, and described what happened on the first attempt: “A year ago, nine people in a flotilla of six boats were killed when Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish boat in international waters off the coast of Gaza. The Israelis said their commandos were attacked and struck back in self-defense, but the Turks blamed the Israelis for using live ammunition. The raid soured relations between Israel and Turkey and intensified pressure on Israel to end the naval blockade.”
The new effort will apparently include ten boats carrying American, Canadian, Spanish, Swiss and Irish protesters. On the American boat will be a reported 34 passengers, says The Times, “[i]ncluding the writer, Alice Walker, and an 86-year-old [woman] whose parents died in the Holocaust.” Ms. Walker is the author of “The Color Purple.”
The Times article further reports “The American passengers say they support the Palestinian people, not Hamas.” They compare themselves to the Freedom Riders who 50 years ago, rode buses to the South to challenge racial segregation then maintained by Southern states.
Let’s examine these arguments and motivations. Hamas has been described by the American government, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations (the so-called “Quartet”) as a terrorist organization. It came to power in an election in Gaza where the choice was either Hamas or Fatah. Hamas ran on its platform and charter that there would never be peace with Israel and that every Jew who entered historic Palestine after 1917 would be expelled. Hamas won the election against the more moderate Fatah, whose leader, Mahmoud Abbas, said at the time he favored negotiations with Israel leading to a two-state solution with Israel and a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace. Israel and Hamas waged a short war in 2008-2009 after Hamas showered civilian targets in southern Israel with thousands of rockets. Despite a truce, Hamas still allows its adherents and other terrorist factions to attack southern Israel with rockets. The most recent attack, on April 7th , critically injured an Israeli child on a school bus.
Pray tell, how does this situation compare in any way to that of the American Freedom Riders, such as Congressman John Lewis, who in a documentary on the Freedom Riders talked of the violence visited upon him as he rode the bus? I believe the situation is analogous to World War II, where the U.S. and our allies declared and enforced a boycott against Nazi Germany. Would those same American passengers have sought to break such a boycott, saying they supported the German people, not the Nazi government, knowing the German people had voted for Hitler in a democratic election before he took office as German Chancellor in January 1933?
The Times further reported, “About a quarter of the passengers are Jewish. Among the crew is a former captain in the Israeli air force who refused to fly missions in Gaza.” Hedy Epstein, the 86-year-old, according to The Times, said “The American Jewish community and Israel both say that they speak for all Jews. They don’t speak for me. They don’t speak for the Jews in this country who are going to be on the U.S. boat and the many others standing behind us.” Hedy Epstein’s parents, the Times noted, died in the Holocaust, and Hedy survived it.
Nobody ever said that all Jews are rational. But Hamas has said that all Jews who entered historic Palestine after 1917 will be expelled. Hitler did order the arrest and death of all Jews in Germany and everywhere else the Nazis could enforce the “final solution.”
Why, for heaven’s sake, aren’t these same protesters leading a flotilla to Syria’s shores, where the Syrian government has killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Syrian citizens who were, as reported by the media, non-violently protesting the despotic acts of their own government, demanding the ouster of their president Bashar al-Assad? The Times of June 4th reported that “On Friday, more than 30 protesters were killed in the city of Hamah, according to Rami Abdelrahaman, a human rights monitor. That report could not be immediately confirmed.” It’s possible the flotilla protesters don’t go to Syria because they know the Syrian government is capable of killing them all in cold blood.
In 1982, in that same city of Hamah, at least 10,000 Syrian citizens were killed by Bashar’s father, who put down an uprising directed against his dictatorship. His son, Bashar, is now facing a worldwide revulsion to the recent killing and torturing of a 13-year-old boy attending a street protest in a Syrian town, where he was arrested by the Syrian police. According to The Times of May 31, 2011, “…the remains themselves testify all too clearly to ghastly torture. Video posted online shows his battered, purple face. His skin is scrawled with cuts, gashes, deep burns and bullet wounds that would probably have injured but not killed. His jaw and kneecaps are shattered, according to an unidentified narrator, and his penis chopped off.”
Why aren’t Hedy and the former Israeli captain on boats with 1,000 others, including writer Alice Walker, seeking to land at a Syrian port to show their support of the Syrian people and the family of this tortured and murdered child? I believe for two reasons: One, their primary goal is the ultimate destruction of the Jewish state, which I believe is the supreme act of anti-Semitism, comparable to Hitler’s final solution; Second, their fear of being killed en masse by the Syrian army and police at the direction of the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. They are afraid of Bashar, but know Israel will do everything possible to avoid bloodshed, but will not flinch in protecting its borders, the right of every country.
I believe it is fair to state that support for the Arab attacks upon Israel here in the U.S. and in the Western world comes overwhelmingly from the radical left. The question posed by those on the right and those in the center of political thought which no one seems able to answer is: why are there so many Jews who support the forces that would, if they could, kill them and their religious and ethnic brothers and sisters? I have no answer to that question, but they are — to use the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s words, he referring to President Jimmy Carter — “joining the jackals.” They are making a deadly mistake, and I do not forgive their folly.
Edward I. Koch, who served as mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989, is a partner in the law firm of Bryan Cave.