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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Exodus: Memorial Day Open Thread UPDATE

Many of you remember the true story of Exodus, turned into a compelling piece of fiction by Leon Uris, and great film by Otto Preminger. If any single story helped to solidify a positive pioneer image of Israel in the American mind, it was probably this.

The ship sailed with 4,515 passengers (mainly Holocaust survivors – PJ) from the port of miggets S├Ęte, France, a fishing town near Montpellier on July 11, 1947, and arrived at Palestine shores on July 18. The British Royal Navy cruiser Ajax and a convoy of destroyers trailed the ship from very early in its voyage, and finally boarded it some 20 nautical miles (40 km) from shore. The boarding was challenged by the passengers (the ship was in international waters where the Royal Navy had no jurisdiction), and so the British soldiers used force. Three shipmates, including 1st mate William Bernstein, a U.S. sailor from San Francisco, died as a result of bludgeoning and several dozen others were injured before the ship was taken over

This morning, in a chilling echo from history,  Israeli forces boarded a flotilla (again in international waters) and killed at least ten people from a largely Turkish and Scandinavian aid convoy planning to break the blockade of Gaza.

Various dignitaries (including a holocaust survivor, a member of the European parliament,  and the Swedish thriller writer Henning Mankell) were on board. Turkey, the main source of the aid, is – in case anyone doesn’t know this – one of Israel’s staunchest allies in the region.

For my own part, the only thing I can say for certain is that the timing is not coincidental. Just as the recent Gaza incursion took place in the interregnum before Obama’s inauguration, I am not surprised this attack has taken place on Memorial Day.

Despite the pathetic attempts by some to make this “All Obama’s Fault”, the forthcoming meeting with Netanyahu next week has been cancelled.

Personal take: whatever the ins and outs of the violence on board these ships, this is a dark day for anyone who believes in peace. Bibi seems intent on derailing any possible talks, and this bodes badly for anyone who is a long term friend of either Israel or Palestine.

UPDATE: thanks to CG for providing some balance and videos of the assault. It’s quite clear from this that the commandoes did not expect resistance, and the large number of casualties were a response to unplanned for events. I don’t think the shooting were a calculated act.

However, I don’t think (and don’t think CG is arguing) that the unarmed resistance of the boat occupants does anything to excuse the Israeli over-reaction. As Andrew Sullivan puts it:

A simple point. The violence by the activists is pretty abhorrent. These are not followers of Gandhi or MLK Jr. But the violence is not fatal to anyone and it is in response to a dawn commando raid by armed soldiers. They are engaging in self-defense. More to the point: theya r civilians confronting one of the best militaries in the world. They killed no soldiers; their weapons were improvised; the death toll in the fight is now deemed to be up to 19 – all civilians.

It staggers me to read defenses of what the Israelis have done. They attacked a civilian flotilla in international waters breaking no law. When they met fierce if asymmetric resistance, they opened fire. And we are now being asked to regard the Israelis as the victims.



  1. HappyinVT

    far.  I just don’t know if this is it.  Turkey has recalled its ambassador although that may be a temporary measure to coordinate it response.  France, the EU, and Britain have issued strong statements.  Of course, members of the US Congress will continue to stress that we remain the best of friends and allies to Israel as we continue to give billions of dollars in aid.  I wonder how much of the military equipment used in this raid was US-backed?

    I’m frequently late to work because there are no consequences for my tardiness.  So I’ll continue to be late until there are.  The Israeli government will continue building and bombing and blockading because they have no reason to stop.

    (BTW, I’m only ten to twenty minutes late and I more than make up for it at the back end and on weekends ~ lest anyone think I’m a slacker.)

  2. creamer

    That would make me feel all warm and fuzzy about the US and “democracy”.

    Israel is calling the IHH a terrorist front group.( IHH is a Turkish based humanitarian group by it own definition.)It will be interesting to watch how American media defines the group.

    Personaly I think Obama should withhold military equipment or money until Gaza is resolved.(I’m not sure if he can withold money? Maybe a congress thing.)And no more meetings with Bibi. There comes a time when you quit talking to thugs.

  3. HappyinVT

    opted to stay in Cyprus and was not on board one of the ships in the flotilla, per a link at

  4. a couple of clarifications if i may – firstly i think the number killed has been revised since the writing. second – while turkey and israel did historically have  decent diplomatic relations, recently this isn’t the case. third hedy epstein is not a holocaust survivor, even though she is often characterized as one.

    ok – so here are my thoughts. this flotilla had one aim – and it achieved it – which was to gain publicity for its undoubtedly doomed to fail attempt to get aid into gaza. which in my mind is rather against what the goal should be – to actually get in aid. the ship was asked by the israeli military to go to the port of askelon so that the aid could be inspected.

    now one could argue that the blockade shouldn’t exist, and it would be hard to disagree, but it does indeed exist and within the constrains of it – this was avoidable by all parties.

    as to the ‘attack’. i am not sure i would characterize this way – yet. from the news and video that is coming out now – this was not a peaceful protest. i am not sure if you have seen some video of the attack from the israeli side of things – but it makes clear that the attacking is a bit more than one-sided.

    lastly i am stymied though at you larger point of timing on the israeli government’s part… these terrible events and the timeline were set by the activists. perhaps we will agree that violence could have been averted, but the timing, not.

  5. According to CCN-IBN

    Two Turkish activists were reported to be among those killed in the flotilla. Ankara warned that further supply vessels will be sent to Gaza, escorted by the Turkish Navy, a development with unpredictable consequences.

    I hope Turkey back down from this threat, but one thing is for sure in terms of Israeli foreign policy: pissing off former ally and major NATO member Turkey is huge blunder. It’s army dwarfs Syria. Its economic power and demographic weight (80 million Non Arab Muslims) make it a massive player for peace, or otherwise.

    Netanyhu and Barak have really screwed this one up. What chance the government might even fall because of it.

  6. HappyinVT

    …The Turkish flotilla aimed to replicate the Exodus story or, more precisely, to define the global image of Israel in the same way the Zionists defined the image that they wanted to project. As with the Zionist portrayal of the situation in 1947, the Gaza situation is far more complicated than as portrayed by the Palestinians. The moral question is also far more ambiguous. But as in 1947, when the Zionist portrayal was not intended to be a scholarly analysis of the situation but a political weapon designed to define perceptions, the Turkish flotilla was not designed to carry out a moral inquest.

    Instead, the flotilla was designed to achieve two ends. The first is to divide Israel and Western governments by shifting public opinion against Israel. The second is to create a political crisis inside Israel between those who feel that Israel’s increasing isolation over the Gaza issue is dangerous versus those who think any weakening of resolve is dangerous.


    In all of these countries, politicians are extremely sensitive to public opinion. It is difficult to imagine circumstances under which public opinion will see Israel as the victim. The general response in the Western public is likely to be that the Israelis probably should have allowed the ships to go to Gaza and offload rather than to precipitate bloodshed. Israel’s enemies will fan these flames by arguing that the Israelis prefer bloodshed to reasonable accommodation. And as Western public opinion shifts against Israel, Western political leaders will track with this shift.

    The whole thing is intriguing.

  7. spacemanspiff

    … involved in this fiasco. Unacceptable and out of line. I was outraged when I first heard about the events and I’m still outraged after seeing ALL the images provided thus far by both sides. Wow. Just fucking WOW.

  8. DTOzone

    Paul Rosenberg, noted by some to be “a respect left wing voice” posted this response from someone involved with the flotilla.

    The purpose of the Free Gaza Freedom Flotilla was to literally break the Israeli blockade that it is imposing on Gaza, a form of collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians who are trying to survive at this point, basically, especially after the Israeli attacks in December, 2008-January, 2009, in which much of Gaza was reduced to rubble, and has not been able to have been rebuilt, where Palestinians can’t get basic food and medicine in, to just survive with. And so, this effort was, yes, to deliver the goods and materials that Gaza, the Palestinians in Gaza need, but also to awaken the international community to the abuse that the Palestinians are suffering that has been regarded by the Goldstone Report, by many other reports and by human rights organizations, including the E.U. and other groups, calling this blockade and this siege criminal, as well as cruel and inhuman….

    to which I said I hope that isn’t true because it sounds like their primary goal was to engage the Israelis and that gives the Israelis leverage “They were here to attack us, drag us into a battle and then complain they were aid workers being attacked”

    Good Paul responded;

    It’s Truly Amazing To Watch You Make Shit Up Out Of Thin Air (0.00 / 0)

    There’s absolutely nothing in the quote to support your conclusion.

    Do you think none of us can read?

    The guy’s a real asshole, I don’t care how much of an important left wing voice he is. If this is the guy selling our message, no wonder the right keeps winning.  

  9. jsfox


    Large protests erupted on both sides of the Atlantic. The ensuing public embarrassment for Britain played a significant role in the diplomatic swing of sympathy toward the Jews and the eventual recognition of a Jewish state in 1948.

    In August 1947, a New York Times article on the clash at sea the previous month was headlined: “Crew Man From the Exodus 1947 Denies the British Met Firearms; Grauel, on Arrival in New York, Says Naval Boarding Party Shot at Jews Whose Weapons Were Potatoes, Canned Goods.”

    I have always been a fairly strong supporter if Israel ever since my visit to the country shortly after the Six Days War. This support gets harder and harder as the country seems bound on a course of apartheid. And it gets equally hard to defend my fellow Democratic Congress critters who seem to be friends of Israel who are unwilling to be true friends and say: “In your effort to save yourself you are doing a good job of committing suicide.”

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