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What about the Jews on the US boat to Gaza?

For Jews on board the US boat to Gaza, the Audacity of Hope, their decision to sail to Gaza was a concrete action marking their divergence from mainstream American Jewish allegiance of the Israeli policies. Jewish presence in the flotilla represents growing dissatisfaction among American Jews with Israel’s incessant willingness to monopolize modern Jewish identity.

Participants of the US boat on the 2011 Gaza-bound flotilla in Athens, June 2011 (photo: Mya Guarnieri)

Over the past two weeks, American activists aboard the US boat to Gaza, dubbed the Audacity of Hope, have been engaged in nonviolence training, holding preparation meetings and speaking to the media about their mission to Gaza. Yesterday, their mission officially ended. The Greek government acting on the behest of Israel, stopped their boat, arrested their captain and ended their mission. Confident that they still won the public relations war, the emotional withdrawal from such an event will leave a lasting mark on many of the passengers. For the Jewish passengers on the Audacity of Hope, their convoluted relationship with Israel will continue to play a major role in their lives when they return to the United States.

The exhaustion of two anxious weeks of preparation was clear on the face of 74 year old Sante Fe resident Ken Myers as he talked about his Jewish background while on the lower deck of the Audacity of Hope, snacking on a freshly prepared Greek salad the night before the boat set sail. “For the most part, my family including my Israeli family have been supportive of my participation in this mission to Gaza.” He remarked as passenger chefs announced that everyone must take second portions of the salad since there is not enough storage space on board for leftovers. “I grew up in an extremely Jewish neighbourhood on the south shore of Long Island but my parents never forced Zionism on me even though my friends were all in Zionist youth groups.” Taking his last bits before handing over his plastic dish to the chefs he said, “I have come to understand that Zionism is simply incompatible with my version of Judaism.”

The Israeli government announced that it would seek a 10 year travel ban for all passengers participating in the Gaza flotilla for ‘illegally entering Israel’. Myers, visibly upset at the prospect of being banned from a country claiming to be his homeland questioned the rationale of the decision. “I am not traveling to Israel on this boat. I am traveling to Gaza and if Israel takes over the boat en route and claims that I illegally entered Israel despite the facts, well, banishment is the price I am willing to pay.”

As the Audacity of Hope left port on Friday afternoon, passengers embraced one and other triumphantly. Despite that the fact that they had not entered international waters and would surely be stopped by the Greek coast guard, many felt that their mission to confront Israel had succeeded when the boat left port. When Greek coast guard officials approached, their nonviolent trainers went into action, informing passengers to take  positions around the wheelhouse in order to protect the captain.

The initial excitement of the confrontation with the Greeks wore off as the evening approached. The passenger chefs prepared a dinner of pesto pasta as the defeat of their mission to Gaza set in. Some passengers remained upbeat even after it was clear that the boat would not travel to Gaza. Steve Fake, a writer and activist from New Orleans, remarked under the setting Athenian sun as the boat approached a military port, “just getting this boat to sea, even if it has only been for an hour, is proof that our mission of awareness has been successful.”

Standing on the docks of a Greek military port after the Audacity of Hope was stopped and its captain arrested, Richard Levy, a New York based lawyer, lamented the position of the Israeli government towards Gaza and its perceived support by Jews. “Just look at this boat and how many Jews on it have lost family in the Holocaust,” Levy continued between frantic phone calls with Greek lawyers about the legal situation of the US boat. “We think that we have a special responsibility to make it clear that AIPAC and the Israeli government, which describes itself as a Jewish state, do not speak for all the Jews. We are here to say that “never again” stands for all people, the Palestinians living under occupation included.”

The Jews on board The Audacity of Hope set out to challenge Israeli control of the Gaza Strip, at great personal risk, in part due to a version of Jewish identity which draws heavily on a history of persecution. Over the past two weeks, it became increasingly clear that their bold actions in defence of Palestinian rights were, in fact, born out of the difficult internal Jewish debates regarding Israel which plague Jewish communities throughout the diaspora. Many expressed their frustration with Israel, its policies towards the Palestinians and the general culture of acceptance for anything Israel does inside the American Jewish community. Quite simply, they wanted to replace fiery rhetoric– which has typified dinner conversations with AIPAC-supporting family and friends in the US– with concrete action.

Israeli attempts to paint flotilla activists as a violent threat to the national security of the state has only brought the efforts of these Jews more exposure. The flotilla may have been stopped from physically sailing to Gaza, but the damage it has inflicted on Israel’s position as the vanguard of Jewish identity has added dramatic new layers to a painful internal discussion already in motion.

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    1. michael w

      “I have come to understand that Zionism is simply incompatible with my version of Judaism.”

      We have come to understand that Ken Myers attitude is simply incompatible with Judaism in general!!!!

      Reply to Comment
    2. Holden

      The “Jews” on this this Hamas mission were carefully vetted with an eye to their ethnic/religious conflict. The US boat was unarmed, but it is now very well known that other ships came well prepared for an intentionally violent confrontation with the Israel defense forces.

      These pathetic creatures are known as Kapos, such as were appointed by the Nazi overseers in WW2 era concentration camps to control and inflict misery upon their fellow Jews.

      Of course some of them may be faking this, as this floptilla was well and truly compromised from its’ earliest moments by spies for Israel and no doubt the CIA and probably Greece.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Empress Trudy

      the comment was deleted for violating the blog’s rules

      Reply to Comment
    4. Alice

      Not to be disparaging, but I wouldn’t characterize these Jewish activists as part of a “growing” trend. I would say they are a vibrant minority of individuals who visibly confront the “monopolization of Jewish identity.” Unless J Street is in on the Audacity of Hope. Can you fit a panel discussion on a flotilla? The lighting is good.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Sami Smith

      The attempt to undermine Israel’s right to self-defense = Epic fail

      “According to United Nations diplomats, the latest draft of the report asserts that Israel’s blockade of Gaza was legal”

      Reply to Comment
    6. max

      Holden, your statements are unjust and unfair to both the Kapos and Activists.
      While some of the Kapos were criminals, most were chosen against their will; many have been “demoted” when not “effective”; many simply hoped that having a Jewish Kapo would be better than a – say – Ukrainian one.
      The activists chose their view and action, they weren’t coerced into them.
      I strongly disagree with them; some prefer to see the Jewish State disappear and some wish to see Jewishness merge into a future cosmopolitan human being. They are naive and look for excitement.
      They want to support a better world, as did many revolutionaries and communists, their ideas ending up with massacres.
      In turn, as George Orwell described so well, these people are exploited by criminals.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Empress Trudy

      Yes it seems the old ex Trotskyite ex hippie dead enders of Marin county have sent out the call to go home. The Ships of Fools is over. It just wasn’t worth it when no one wanted to pay massive attention to them.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Empress Trudy

      So we’re agreed. The ‘activists’ like KAPOs are just ruthless survivors bent on surviving at all costs. Though I’m hard pressed to understand how the Flotards were threatened with death, in America, Holland, France.etc to drive them to take such extreme measures. I suppose in this case ‘survive’ and ‘scream from a soapbox’ are largely interchangeable.

      Reply to Comment
    9. burningface

      Where can I get those T-Shirts..”Stay Human”,”Unarmed Civilian”..awsome…

      Reply to Comment
    10. Mordechai Ben Yosef

      Empress Trudy, I thought the Kapos were the Jews assigned the task of maintaining compliance to the regime in the name of survival. Is this not what you and your friends advocate on this blog? You have performed admirably in supporting the regime to keep out the unworthy Jews. Congratulations.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Empress Trudy

      Mordechai Ben Yosef;

      And you are surely entitled to cringe in fear and anger at me, because you only outnumber me here 100:1.

      But more to the point, just because a bunch of old ex hippie Jews from San Fran and Berkeley can afford to spend their summer sailing the Med, is really neither here nor there. The whole “As-a-Jew” syndrome really does speak to the kind of legal defenses those KAPOs attempted at the Nuremberg trials. And to be fair, I’d try to weasel out the same way. But let’s just admit shall we, that that’s precisely what it is. I for one accept that raging antisemitism really does exist. At least the skin heads are refreshingly blunt about it. The “As-A-Jews” are simply uttering most of the same hate speech, except they hide behind the term ‘Zionist’. They don’t want all the Jews up the chimney, just the ‘Zionists’ and if you prod them you find that their definition of who a ‘Zionist’ is, is so broad that encompasses almost everyone to the right of Lev Bronstein.

      And why is that? Because the ‘As-a-Jews’ are hypocrites. They tell me that because Israel is mostly Jewish it should be held to an absurdly higher standard. While in the same breath because they are Jews they seemingly have much more moral latitude than anyone else.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Why is Steve Harper (Canada’s much hated Prime Minister who stole his elections just like Bushs)

      **SO** fanatical about supporting Isreal bombing innocent Palestinian civilians? What’s the… secret agenda at work here?


      Canada does one billion dollars $$$$$$ of trade with Israel annually. Most of it military. (At the 5:30 mark).

      … the standard picture is that the U.S.(and by extension Canada) is an honest broker trying to bring together two recalcitrant opponents- Israel and Palestinian Authority.

      That’s just a charade.

      http://www.democracynow.or​g/2010/11/30/noam_chomsky_​wikileaks_cables_reveal_pr​ofoundSee More

      Reply to Comment
    13. max

      Nadine, one must love you for your numbers!
      Canada has a GDP of 1.5T, trade with Arab countries at 9B, yet you claim that a 1B trade with Israel defines its policy.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Mordechai Ben Yoserf

      Empress Trudy:
      I have no fear of you, nor anger. It seems it is you who fear the “old ex hippie Jews.” Raging antisemitism is nothing new. It has always existed. We have survived by maintaining Jewish values, not abandoning them. Israel is not a Jewish state because it is “mostly Jewish.” It formally declares itself a Jewish state.Is this a declaration of race or values? You suggest race trumps values (it should be held to an absurdly higher standard). This is the rationale of the kapo’s masters. The hypocrites are the “as a Zionists” who use this identity to justify their abandonment of Jewish values as well as international law. I’m not sure of the relevance of Lev Bronstein to this discussion. I do know his mastery of military tactics and strategy didn’t save him.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Empress Trudy

      It’s clear all you want is the last word & I won’t give it to you.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Mordechai Ben Yosef

      I see, the Empress has no clothes.

      Reply to Comment