Monday, July 11, was a historic day for the movement to abolish the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The right-wing dominated Israeli Knesset gave the campaign to boycott the Israeli occupation a Good Housekeeping seal of approval - a hechsher, if you will - by passing legislation to punish it.
Of course, the effect of this legislation will be to rejuvenate the Israeli peace movement ["Israeli Left launches public campaign against new law banning boycotts," Haaretz reports] and promote the boycott. It is a sign of the political bankruptcy of the Israeli Right that it is now condemned to take actions which promote the agenda of its opponents.
This month, the right-wing Israeli government shone a spotlight on its illegal blockade of Gaza when it made giving free publicity to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla the top Israeli government priority. Every day, it seemed, there was a new Israeli government statement calling attention to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, more outrageous than the last: 67-year-old Alice Walker was going to pour sacks of sulfur on Israeli soldiers and light them on fire; journalists who reported on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla were going to be banned from Israel for ten years.
Last week, renowned author Christopher Hitchens published a column highly critical of those who attempted to sail to Gaza on the Freedom Flotilla earlier this month. In the article, he sharply questions the flotilla participants’ “political ambitions,” which he suggests are linked to those of Hamas, Hezbollah and even Osama bin Laden. Presumably, Hitchens would also claim that the International Committee of the Red Cross has ‘political ambitions’ aligned with Al Qaeda’s, because both groups support an end to the blockade of Gaza.
The column concludes with a challenge: “There is something about this that fails to pass a smell test. I wonder whether any reporter on the scene will now take me up on this.”
Challenge accepted. Although the flotilla was prevented from going to Gaza, this isn’t the end of activism to end the blockade, so Hitchens’ assertions about the true intentions of this activism are certainly still relevant. Let’s start with the first major claim he makes about the flotilla: “It seems safe and fair to say that the flotilla and its leadership work in reasonably close harmony with Hamas.”
If you share in the project of reforming U.S. foreign policy so that it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans, then you care about the New York Times. Because of its role in influencing the coverage of other corporate media, the Times is a key gatekeeper shaping not only what the broad majority of the American public know about what our government is doing in the world, but also in determining to what perspectives about these policies the broad American public is exposed.
As a corollary, if you care about reforming U.S. policy towards the Palestinians' quest for self-determination, then you care about Ethan Bronner, because Bronner is the Times' Jerusalem bureau chief.
It was thus with keen interest that, as a passenger waiting in Athens earlier this week to board the U.S. boat to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope, I read Ethan Bronner's "news analysis" Sunday of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, "Setting Sail on Gaza's Sea of Spin."
UPDATE ON 3 KEY VOTES WE HIGHLIGHTED IN DEFENSE APPROPS DEBATE:
Rep. Conyers' amendment to prohibit funds for ground troops in Libya, "unless the purpose of such deployment is solely to rescue members of the United States Armed Forces", was approved by voice vote!
Rep. Lee's amendment to cut funds for the war in Afghanistan failed by 97-322. Find out how your member voted here.
Rep. Kucinich-Amash amendment to cut all funds for the war in Libya failed by 199-229. Find out how your member voted here.
The Defense Appropriations bill as a whole was passed 336-87.
Below is a list of votes on other amendments to the Defense Appropriations bill relevant to the wars and Pentagon spending, provided by Council for a Livable World.
LIBYA WAR VOTES:
Rep. Cole (R-OK) amdt: “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the Department of Defense to furnish military equipment, military training or advice, or other support for military activities, to any group or individual, not part of a country's armed forces, for the purpose of assisting that group or individual in carrying out military activities in or against Libya.”
Rep. Gohmert (R-TX) amdt: Limits spending on Libya operations. None of the funds made available by this Act may be obligated, expended, or used in any manner to support military operations, including NATO or United Nations operations in Libya or in Libya's airspace.
Libya and War Powers: Offered by Sherman (D-CA): bars spending that violates the War Powers Act, which, according to Sherman, would limit the Administration from spending on any military activities not currently underway. On June 13, the House voted 248-163 for a similar Sherman (D-CA) amendment to the Military Construction appropriations bill.
Only a week after the President stood before the nation to proclaim the successes of the war in Afghanistan under his guardianship, the Obama strategy is set to reap one of its most grisly rewards: within the next few days, 1,000 U.S. troops will have died in Afghanistan since President Obama took office, according to iCasualties.org and our counter, "U.S. Deaths in Afghanistan: Obama vs. Bush" (right). By comparison, 575 U.S. soldiers died in Afghanistan under President Bush. In other words, after managing the war for a mere quarter of its duration, Obama is responsible for nearly two-thirds of U.S. casualties in Afghanistan.
What is that I hear? Ah, it's a groan coming from up in the balcony. I believe they're saying, “of course more troops were going to die under President Obama's Afghanistan strategy than President Bush's. More troops means more deaths. It was only because Bush ignored Afghanistan that Obama had to expand the U.S.'s troop commitment in the country. And now you're blaming him for it?”
With continued threats coming from Israel, a complaint traced to an Israeli organization aimed at docking the U.S. boat indefinitely, and the reported sabotage of another flotilla ship, the State Department ought to say or do something to avert the possibility of undeserved violence toward U.S. citizens sailing to Gaza.
But, of course, to date, the State Department has done just the opposite.
Last week, the State Department issued a travel warning to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza that sounded more fit for the Democratic Republic of the Congo than a close U.S. ally and purported bastion of freedom and democracy. The warning states,
Hey guys, did you all hear? We're getting out of Afghanistan! Yes, finally, after nearly ten years, over 1,500 American lives, countless Afghan (and Pakistani) lives, and hundreds of billions of dollars, the President says we're pulling our forces out and the war is going to end! Hold on, I have the quote right here:
… starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point.
Wait a second—what did he say? Only 10,000 troops? But, does he know that we have over 100,000 in Afghanistan? And that there are less than 100 al Qaeda left in the country?
Let's do the math: 10,000 out by the end of this year leaves us with over 90,000 troops in Afghanistan. Another 23,000 by summer 2012 brings us down to roughly 68,000. There were about 34,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan when Obama took office. So, one year from now, the President's proposed drawdown will leave us with double the amount of U.S. troops in Afghanistan than were there when he got involved in this whole mess. Is this sounding less like a withdrawal plan and more like a bait and switch to anyone else?
And then the remaining 68,000 American forces … wait, what is the plan for the rest?
Six members of Congress ask Secretary Clinton to ‘ensure the safety of all American citizens on board the Audacity of Hope’
For Immediate Release
June 27, 2011
Athens/en route to Gaza: Robert Naiman, naiman [at] justforeignpolicy.org
Washington, DC: Kate Gould, press [at] justforeignpolicy.org
WASHINGTON, DC: On Friday, June 24, six members of Congress wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking her to "do everything in your power" to help "ensure the safety of all American citizens on board The Audacity of Hope." The letter, which was initiated by Representative Dennis Kucinich, notes The Audacity of Hope's willingness to open its cargo to "international inspection" and their commitment to "nonviolence and the tenets of international law."
The letter was signed by Representatives Dennis Kucinich [OH-10], William Lacy Clay [MO-1], Sam Farr [CA-17], Bob Filner [CA-51], Eleanor Holmes Norton [DC], and Barbara Lee [CA-9].
The letter is viewable online below or here.
Robert Naiman, Policy Director of Just Foreign Policy, issued the following response from Athens, Greece, where he is preparing to sail to Gaza as a passenger on The Audacity of Hope:
"This letter is historic, marking the first time members of Congress have publicly expressed concern for the safety of the U.S. passengers aboard The Audacity of Hope. This statement runs in stark contrast to Secretary of State Clinton's false accusation that we are trying to ‘provoke action by entering into Israeli waters', when in fact we have every intention of sailing to Gaza peacefully and avoiding Israeli waters entirely. We hope Secretary Clinton heeds this request from Congress and speaks out against threats from the Israeli authorities to attack us in our effort to break the illegal blockade on the Gaza Strip."
While national attention is on the war in Afghanistan after the President's announcement last night to only withdraw 33,000 U.S. troops by the end of next summer, Congress is gearing up again to debate another U.S.-led war--in Libya.
While there is resounding, and ever growing, opposition to the war in Libya in the House, the loudest voices from the Senate have, for the most part, been supportive of the war, though even that could be changing soon.
Rep. Howard McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, explained that the measure, which is still being drafted, would ban funding for U.S. participation in combat missions such as drone attacks in the NATO-led air war.
"It would not have funding for hostilities. The drones couldn't be used for bombing," McKeon said.
Meanwhile, Senator John Kerry and Senator John McCain continue to try to gain support for their resolution which would authorize U.S. military operations in Libya--while prohibiting ground troops--for one year. Their resolution continues to be delayed, and now it seems likely there won't be a floor debate for weeks.
As The Cable's Josh Rogin reports, "In interviews Tuesday with more than a dozen senators, The Cable discovered that it will take weeks, not days, for the resolution to come up for a vote. The resolution’s language is only the starting point for a Senate debate that will feature resolutions and amendments from multiple senators, each of whom has his or her own ideas on how to express the Senate’s position on the fighting in Libya.
[At this writing, the text of the resolution is not in Thomas yet, so I am posting it here. The video of Senator Webb's introduction of the bill is here.]