According to the New York Times, a quarter of the passengers on the U.S. Boat to Gaza are Jewish.
What does it mean that the U.S. Boat to Gaza is a quarter Jewish? According to the noted American Jewish commentator Adam Sandler, a quarter Jewish is "not too shabby!" Maybe the U.S. Boat to Gaza will be mentioned in Adam’s next Hanukkah song.
What does it mean that the U.S. Boat to Gaza is a quarter Jewish? Maybe it means that the Israeli authorities will have some compunction about shooting up our boat. After all, isn’t the official story of Zionism all about making a "safe harbor" for Jews in Palestine? We’re not trying to make aliyah. We just want to visit. Should we be shot for trying to do so? Wouldn’t it be a mitzvah to let us pass unharmed?
What does it mean that the U.S. Boat to Gaza is a quarter Jewish? Maybe it means that we can openly contest a construction of Jewish identity based on supporting the obstruction of Palestinian freedom, with a Jewish counter-narrative of universal human liberation.
U.S. Boat to Gaza passenger Hedy Epstein, an 86-year-old whose parents died in the Holocaust, told the New York Times,
"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."
Of course, in referring to "the American Jewish community," Hedy meant organizations commonly presented in the media as representing American Jews on the question of Palestine, even though the leadership of these institutions isn’t elected by American Jews as a whole and even though key policies that these institutions support, such as Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and opposition to Israel’s internationally-recognized 1967 borders being the basis of a peace deal, don’t represent the opinions of the majority of American Jews.
In a March 2009 poll commissioned by J Street, 60% of American Jews opposed Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, 76% supported a peace agreement on the 1967 borders with negotiated land swaps (the position recently articulated by President Obama), and 69% supported the U.S. working with a unified Fatah-Hamas Palestinian Authority government to achieve a peace agreement with Israel.
To act as if Bibi Netanyahu has been anointed to speak for all Jews on the question of Palestine is preposterous. Even Meir Dagan, the former head of Mossad, has said that Israel’s top leaders lack judgment and has criticized the Israeli government for failing to put forward a peace initiative with the Palestinians and for ignoring the Saudi peace initiative promising full diplomatic relations in exchange for a return to the 1967 border lines, as the New York Times noted last week.
In the 2009 poll, 65% of American Jews agreed with the statement,
Israel has the right to defend itself, but it must also take into account humanitarian considerations and avoid collective punishment of the entire Palestinian population by closing the borders and causing major civilian hardship.
I have previously noted that in challenging the blockade of Gaza, we are acting consistently with the policy advocated by President Obama in June 2010, when he said that external restrictions on Gaza’s travel and commerce should be "focusing narrowly on arms shipments" rather than a general blockade of goods and persons, to which some exceptions are permitted.
But we are also acting consistently with the policy advocated by 65% of American Jews in March 2009: no to "collective punishment of the entire Palestinian population."
It will be a great day when the opinions of the majority of American Jews matter more than the tired right-wing slogans recycled to try to maintain the destructive status quo. Letting our peaceful boat reach Gaza unmolested would be a great place to start. If you agree, tell Secretary of State Clinton, whose job duties include the protection of Americans traveling abroad.
Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.