Middle East studies in the News
American Activists Plan Gaza Flotilla Ship Named for Obama Book [incl. Rashid Khalidi]
by Robert Mackey
A group of Americans opposed to Israel's naval blockade of Gaza is raising money online to pay for a ship from the United States to take part in a new protest flotilla scheduled to set sail for the Palestinian territory in September or October.
In an appeal for money posted on the Web site UStoGaza.org, the activists say they are "planning to launch a U.S. boat to Gaza, joining a flotilla of ships from Europe, Canada, India, South Africa and parts of the Middle East."
They add that the American ship will be named after President Barack Obama's second book:
One of the activists whose name appears beneath the appeal for funds is Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian-American professor at Columbia whose friendship with Mr. Obama was briefly made into a campaign issue in October 2008 by Senator John McCain.
As my colleagues Marc Santora and Elissa Gootman reported at the time, days before the presidential election, Mr. McCain cited a Los Angeles Times article "about a dinner Mr. Obama attended in Mr. Khalidi's honor in 2003, and questioned Mr. Obama's commitment to Israel."
In 2005 Mr. Khalidi, a Middle East scholar, was barred from lecturing New York City public school teachers for using the words "racist" and "apartheid" in discussions of Israel. He told The Times then, "In a speech I talked about the system of control of Palestinians, where they cannot move, and I said if that system is maintained, it would develop into worse than the apartheid system." He added, in a reply to critics who had accused him of endorsing attacks on Israel's military: "Under international law, resistance to occupation is legitimate. I didn't endorse killing Israeli soldiers. These people will take anything out of context. Anyone who knows me knows the last thing I am is extreme. I've called suicide bombings a war crime. I'm a ferocious critic of Arafat."
The attempt to undermine Mr. Obama in the eyes of supporters of Israel in 2008 because of his friendship with Mr. Khalidi was undercut to some extent by subsequent reports that Mr. McCain had helped finance Mr. Khalidi's work in the West Bank.
Another of the activists who signed the appeal is Iara Lee, a Brazilian-American filmmaker who smuggled out more than an hour of video shot during the deadly Israeli raid of a previous flotilla of ships in May.
On Friday, Ms. Lee argued in the Huffington Post that the nine activists who were killed on board one of the ships as they resisted Israeli commandos were not, as Israel has claimed, "terrorists." Ms. Lee used some of the video she shot on board the flotilla's main ship, the Mavi Marmara, to produce a video report (embedded above) on the aid organization that helped sponsor it, the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, often called the I.H.H.
Last week, my colleagues Dan Bilefsky and Sebnem Arsu reported that the Turkish charity that led the flotilla "has extensive connections with Turkey's political elite, and the group's efforts to challenge Israel's blockade of Gaza received support at the top levels of the governing party." They added:
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