Floating Some Ideas for the Flotilla Folk / David Harris

July 10, 2011
Now that the world has been treated once again to the sight of such selfless, humanistic, courageous, modern-day Martin Luther Kings and Rosa Parks, whose single-minded goal is to feed the hungry, unshackle the enslaved, and lift the downtrodden, allow me some additional suggestions beyond the lure of Gaza.

Let's begin with Syria. The flotilla folk could be kept busy there for weeks. Why, with protesters against the Assad regime being arrested, imprisoned, tortured, shot, and killed right and left, where to begin? By marching in the streets alongside the demonstrators? Joining in the funeral processions? Banging on the gates of the prisons and torture chambers? Demanding access for foreign journalists to cover Syria's street protests? Rushing to the Turkish border to lend a hand to Syria's fleeing refugees? Or heading for Assad's office, with a stop at his brother's secret police operation, to confront the henchmen directly?

Millions of Syrians who wish to end the Alawite minority's vise-like grip on the country might greet them with flowers.

And then, flush with the feel of the moment, the flotilla folk might head for Syria's closet ally, Iran. By the way, en route, they should be sure to look towards those heading in the opposite direction. They might wish to wave to the government-ordered Iranians heading for Syria to assist Assad in his clampdown. Then again, perhaps I'm just the victim of the Western media slant, and in reality they're nothing more than Iranian kindred spirits -- Farsi-speaking "human rights defenders" and "peace activists."

And once in Iran, where to begin? The flotilla folk might pay a call on the Baha'i, victims of relentless persecution by the regime for the practice of their peaceful way of life. Or they might check in on the many death-row inmates, since Iran ranks right up there in the use of capital punishment, including for children. Or how about challenging the regime on the treatment of those who dare protest Iran's abuse of power? The prisons and cemeteries are full of dissidents who questioned the denial of basic human rights. And, while they're at it, why not unfurl a few rainbow flags to stand up for Iran's gay population. This assumes, of course, they've not bought President Ahmadinejad's line, expressed at Columbia University, that there are simply no gays in the country. Apropos, that was the same memorable speech in which he declared Iran's women the freest in the world.

And speaking of women, do the flotilla folk have any time for half the population of the region? As they make their way from country to country -- whether by boat, bus or plane -- how about a drop-in to Saudi Arabia? And be sure to include some driver's ed teachers in the group. After all, the fact that Saudi women are not permitted to drive is bad enough, but, then again, that's only the tip of the iceberg for the fate they're consigned to. The flotilla folk might take a moment to learn about the concept of "honor killings" and then add a few lawyers to their ranks. Oh yes, and they should bring along a Christian Bible to conduct an open-air service in Riyadh to affirm the right of non-Muslims to live without fear in a kingdom where openly practicing a religion other than Islam can land you in serious trouble.

And then let them hop back on their "audacities of hope" to Gaza's neighbor, Egypt.

After all, if Gaza is hell on earth, how to explain that the average life expectancy in the Arab world's most populous nation is 1.3 years less than in Gaza? Egypt, then, to borrow from Dante Alighieri, must be a still lower rung of Purgatory. Pray, help Egypt's unfortunate many, deprived of years of life.

And while in Egypt, how about highlighting the plight of its Coptic Christian minority, whose members suffer discrimination and murder, and whose churches have been burned? Surely, such violent persecution ranks high on the priority list, especially when it involves literally millions of people.

Now don't bet the family farm that the flotilla folk will show up anytime soon in Egypt, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, or anywhere else outside Gaza. The reason? Simple and obvious. If it doesn't have an Israeli connection, they're just not interested.

Why? Good question. Their single-minded obsession with Israel and all its alleged sins is worthy of in-depth psychological studies, just like their neglect of truly egregious examples of human suffering that don't involve the world's one and only Jewish state.

The predictable response of the flotilla folk and their ardent defenders will be that "two wrongs don't make a right," or that this is all a diversion from what's going on in Gaza.

Well, no, two wrongs don't make a right, but how to explain the thunderous silence of the flotilla folk -- self-defined, modern civil-rights torchbearers -- as basic freedoms are trampled on before their eyes in country after country, only to be met with telling indifference?

Just imagine how empowering it would be for those at grave risk to themselves, from Tripoli to Tehran, to know they have a lifeline of caring people prepared to risk their own life and limb in brotherly and sisterly solidarity!

But then again, life and limb would literally be on the line. The flotilla folk, even if they gave a fig for what's going on in Syria or Iran, know full well that they wouldn't stand a chance against regimes that have shown no respect whatsoever for the sanctity of human life. For all the demonization of Israel, they know they can count on the conscience of a democratic society that uses force -- yes, according to a strict code of conduct -- only as a last resort. If there are, however, flotilla folk who truly seek martyrdom, their chances, they should take note, do rise dramatically with an attempted protest at Assad's office or Iran's prisons.

And then there's the diversion charge -- all this being just a smoke screen to distract from what's going on in Gaza.

And what exactly is going on in Gaza? Last I looked, Hamas was in charge. And last I checked Hamas was a genocidal group with the stated aim of killing Jews and destroying Israel. (And to the flotilla folk, a friendly warning -- if you yourselves ever fell under Hamas' rule, at a bare minimum say goodbye to the freedoms you purport to cherish.) It's been labeled a terrorist organization by the US and EU. Even so, aid is arriving across two land borders -- Israel and Egypt -- and the UN is present in force.

The US, EU, and UN Secretary-General all publicly opposed the current flotilla attempt as totally unnecessary and, at the same time, deliberately provocative. Israel is out of Gaza by its own volition, and only shows up when it needs to respond, as any nation would, to violent and unprovoked attacks on its citizens from the Gaza side of the border. And most importantly, the fate of Gaza is ultimately in the hands of its residents. To pretend otherwise, as the flotilla folk do, is the ultimate infantilization of those who live there.

And yes, one can care about Israel and also care about the state of human rights in neighboring countries.

After all, if Syria or Iran had even a smidgen of the democratic safeguards that Israel does, they wouldn't be remotely in the position they're in today -- and the region and the world would be far better off.

The flotilla folk could help, but they won't. With no Israeli angle, there's no appeal. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks understood the basic proposition that human rights are indivisible. If their legacy is alive today, as it needs to be, it's certainly not in the hands of the flotilla folk.

For more information, visit ajc.org.

David Harris, AJC Executive Director

Editor's Note: David's blogs are having worldwide impact. If you enjoy reading them, please share this one with your friends and make a donation to AJC.

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