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Looking behind the headlines, and the slogans, another picture emerges of the flotilla/flytilla organizers and their not so peaceful agenda

n March 2010 at a Presbyterian church in San Anselmo, California – just north of San Francisco’s  Golden Gate Bridge – Paul Larudee, a Bay Area leader of the Free Gaza Movement, announced plans to fly hundreds of Westerners of Palestinian descent into Ben Gurion airport in a “media stunt” aimed at “breaking the siege of Palestine.” The message to be carried by these protesters is that they are “from here” and therefore “do not need passports.”  As such, today’s fly-in demonstration at Ben Gurion is designed to be a direct challenge to Israeli sovereign existence.   The occasion of this announcement was a conference organized by Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian organization based in Jerusalem that advocates something called “Palestinian liberation theology.”

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh second right, shakes hands with American Paul Larudee as he stands with members of the U.S.-based Free Gaza group during a meeting at his house in Gaza City, Sunday, Aug. 24, 2008. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

At the time, I was on the staff of the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Relations Council.  We knew that this Sabeel conference would attract a large number of anti-Israel activists, some 500 attended, from all around Northern California.  So, along with a number of colleagues and volunteers – Jewish and Christian – I attended to document the proceedings.

It was in one of the conference’s workshops at which Larudee, and his comrade Janet Kobren, announced their fly-in plans, which included their working with a team of lawyers in Israel skilled at delaying deportations.  Elaborating, they said invitees to the fly-in would include celebrities (to raise media profile) and that they were working with Palestinian organizations (which ones they did not say) who are asking the Free Gaza Movement to do the grunt work.

They also announced other schemes, including last year’s flotilla, and a more daring plan to purchase a short takeoff/landing aircraft to fly and land in Gaza.  One idea was to place VIPs on board to act as human shields, daring the IAF to shoot down the plane.

Adam Shapiro, another of the Free Gaza Movement’s major leaders, made the group’s goals crystal clear at Rutgers University last November.  In a YouTube video made available by Shurat HaDin the Israel Law Center, Shapiro said,

“Free Gaza is but one tactic of a larger strategy, to transform this conflict from one between Israel and the Palestinians, or Israel and the Arab world…to one between the rest of the world and Israel… Our ground is the whole world.  And that’s where our resistance has to be.  The whole world… We already have a third intifada.  It’s going on right now. It’s going on all over the world.”

So, the main goal of Shapiro and Free Gaza is not to deliver humanitarian aid, which can easily be delivered either through Israel or the now open border between Egypt and Gaza.  It is to turn the world against the only Jewish state.

Adam Shapiro and Huwaida Arraf

Shapiro and his wife Huwaida Arraf are the co-founders of the anti-Israel International Solidarity Movement, which in turn spawned the Free Gaza Movement.  Born into an American Jewish family, Shapiro told the UK’s Guardian, “I don’t identify as Jewish. I see it as a religion rather than an ethnicity and, as I have no religious feelings, I don’t regard myself as Jewish.”   (Such a fine distinction would have been lost on the Nazis, of course, whose racist laws defined anyone with a single Jewish grandparent as a “Jew” and thus marked for extermination.  But, that is for another discussion.)

Some may feel that this is an ad hominem attack on Shapiro, and I should avoid questioning his personal identity.  Normally, I would agree. However, it wasn’t me who raised the issue, he did and quite publicly.  What I as an Israeli Jew have to contend with is the spectacle of Shapiro the self-renounced Jew stating that his organization’s goal (and presumably his personal goal, too) is to turn all humanity against me, my children and the other nearly six million Israeli Jews here.  The symbolism of that specific number should not be lost.  Nor should we lose sight that the total Jewish world population is only some 14 million (plus or minus) and that Shapiro’s marketing strategy is to create the agitprop aimed at making nearly one-half of Jewry World Public Enemy Number 1.

When Shapiro declares later in the video, “It’s not just the conflict, it’s not just the siege… it’s also the attempt to define a place where twenty per cent of the population is Palestinian, to define the land underneath their feet as Jewish,” then we know the issue is not about “freeing Gaza” or the West Bank for Palestinian statehood.  Rather, it is Israel qua Israel his movement takes issue with.  Israel’s existence is the problem Free Gaza has, not the post 1967 occupation.

Irish Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire, who arrived in Gaza on the "Free Gaza" boat, left, holds a gift from Gaza's Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, right, at his office in Gaza City, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2008. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

t is reasonable to say that both Free Gaza and the ISM work closely with Hamas.  Indeed, in the summer of 2008 after the first flotilla arrived in Gaza, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh feted the group at his Gaza City home and presented them with medals of honor.  Reuters and AP photographers were on hand to document the glorious moment.  Several months later another flotilla arrived in Gaza carrying Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan Maguire among the passengers.  She, too, was photographed accepting an honorary golden plate from Haniyeh depicting the Palestinian flag draped over all of Israel and the disputed territories.

Free Gaza activists meet with senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh at his house in Gaza August 24, 2008. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem (GAZA)

If Free Gaza were somehow to succeed in breaking Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza, there will be a free flow of Iranian weapons into Gaza delivered by cargo ships.  Let’s be clear: Free Gaza activists are not peace activists.  Through their actions they seek to intensify the conflict, not defuse it.  These are warmongers.

One more point and then I’ll move on.  Hamas’ politburo is hosted by Bashar Assad’s regime in Damascus, which is busy massacring its own citizens craving freedom.  So it is safe to assume Shapiro, Arraf, Larudee, McGuire and Associates will not be organizing a flotilla to the besieged Syrian port city of Baniyas any time soon.

erhaps most baffling for me is the support given the flotilla by the Israeli group Rabbis for Human Rights.  I know many rabbis in the US, all  friends of mine, who are longtime supporters of RHR.  I generally have a deep respect for RHR and always thought of them as the loyal opposition representing the left wing of the pro-Israel world.  I’ve long seen them as critical supporters of Israel whose strong disagreements over Israeli policies in the West Bank nevertheless did not prevent them from also expressing their strong support, and love, for Israel.  Certainly RHR’s strong opposition to the Presbyterian Church’s anti-Israel divestment resolution in 2004 was a strong principled stance.  Why RHR signed onto a statement written and distributed by the pro-Hamas Free Gaza Movement is not within my power to understand.  I truly hope it is a mistake that will be rectified soon.

et’s not mince words by using the euphemisms of our enemies.  What the Flotilla/Flytilla organizers  hope for is Israel’s destruction.  Some otherwise goodhearted, well-intentioned people (including such notables as flotilla passenger Alice Walker) have been fooled by the Flotilla/Flytilla organizers’ rhetoric of “peace and justice.”  But, we dare not be lulled into thinking these ongoing efforts are passing phenomena of no significance, a mere midsummer’s distraction.   These people are serious, determined and they are working with our regional enemies toward our eradication.  To believe otherwise is to engage in self-delusion.