An indication of just how low the Israel Lobby can go in its efforts to smear U.S. government officials who defy their wishes can be seen in today’s Maariv. It features an article by Israel’s leading smear-monger rightist reporter, Ben Dror Yemini, calling John Kerry a supporter of “radical ultra-leftists” and “Israel-haters” like Jodie Evans (a co-founder of Codepink) and Ali Abunimah (Electronic Intifada). The (false) headline:
Scoop: John Kerry Supported Organizers of the Gaza Flotilla
Letter of Recommendation Given to Anti-Israel Group Raises Question About Kerry’s Discretion and Conduct Concerning Iran Negotiations
The background: in 2009, the Free Gaza Movement organized a series of flotillas and humanitarian missions designed to break the Gaza siege and bring humanitarian relief to Gaza. In 2010, the Mavi Marmara attempted to break the Gaza blockade.
As Greta Berlin, a founder of the Movement notes in a comment below, a separate entity was the Gaza Freedom March. Its mission was to bring humanitarian relief overland to Gaza via Egypt. Yemini has confused the two entities.
Among those supporting the March, according to Yemini, were Jodie Evans and Ali Abunimah. In fact, before one of these missions (December 2009) someone in Evans delegation secured a letter from then-Sen. Kerry’s office asking for safe-passage from any government officials they might encounter. Kerry asked that the group be treated with respect and allowed to complete its work.
This letter, one of hundreds Kerry has undoubtedly written over the years, is designed to ensure the safe passage of his constituents who travel into regions where such a letter might carry some weight. Thus, a harmless pro-forma letter becomes an indictment of both the aid groups themselves and John Kerry for supporting them.
The article goes on, claiming falsely that both Abunimah and Codepink organized the Gaza flotillas, which supposedly supported Hamas. This proves not only their hatred of Israel, but their support of terrorism. By inference, Kerry himself becomes tainted by his supposed bad judgment in endorsing them.
Yemini notes that Evans and Abunimah did attempt to use the letter to get the Egyptian authorities to permit them to pass through Egypt to Gaza. But unlike Kerry, the Israeli reporter states, the Egyptians weren’t hoodwinked by the humanitarian guise of the trip. They “wisely” ignored Kerry’s letter, dismissing it out of hand, and detained Abunimah and Evans’ group, preventing them from entering Gaza.
But, Yemini falsely claims, the American activists persevered and later reach Gaza on the flotilla that included the Mavi Marmara. That vessel’s ill-fated trip occurred in May 2010, while the Egyptian trip happened in December 2009, five months earlier. Neither Abunimah nor Evans were aboard the Mavi Marmara.
It’s important to get a (bitter) taste of the rhetoric employed in this smear:
The Egyptians didn’t take the delegation seriously. Israel didn’t take it seriously either. The problem was John Kerry. How could such a figure of such stature equip this group, whose views on the Middle East were much closer to Balad [the Israeli-Palestinian nationalist political party] or Hamas than to “Peace Now.”
The letter raises a grave question about Kerry’s political orientation, whether regarding Iran or Palestine. Even then, in 2009 it was clear to Kerry with whom he preferred doing business. In 2008, one of the strangest meetings that ever took place in New York joined “peace activists” (including representatives of Codepink) on one side and on the other, the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The result was an agreement to wage a common struggle against America’s “criminal” sanctions.
…How could such a Senator provide legitimization to a group characterized by its support for Hamas and Ahmadinejad, including its deep hatred of Israel and the U.S.? And an even more important question: is the John Kerry of 2013 the same as the John Kerry of 2009?
I’ve been trying to pinpoint what might be the source for this garbage. At first I thought it might be from the prime minister’s office or Israeli intelligence. But it seems too gross even for them. Then I started thinking it might be from the new take-no-prisoners Israeli ambassador, Ron Dermer or an Israel Lobbyist like Josh Block, director of The Israel Project.
After doing some googling, it appears that Yemini dredged up much of this material from the scuzzy underworld of the Israel Lobby. Specifically sources like David Horowitz‘s Discover the Networks, which “exposes” Jodie Evans’ pro-Palestine activities; and World News Daily, in which smut reporter Aaron Klein raises many of the charges Yemini uses in his report. Though Klein at least doesn’t throw facts to the wind as Yemini does in his piece.
As an example, compare the italicized portion of the passage quoted above to what may be the original version of the story of the alleged Ahmadinejad-Codepink meeting as portrayed by David Horowitz’s Discover the Networks:
In September 2008, Evans and Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin met with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York; they were subsequently invited to meet with Ahmadinejad again, in Iran, two months later. There, they met with high-level government officials, and offered to help fund environmentally-friendly businesses as well as the construction of a “peace park” in Tehran.
Yemini has the peace activists joining together to fight sanctions, while Horowitz has them building a peace park. While there’s little doubt that Codepink opposes U.S. sanctions, that doesn’t mean it agreed to join forces with Iran in a commons fight against sanctions; or that it harbors a “deep hate of Israel and the U.S.,” as Yemini claims.
The hidush (“what’s new”) in the Maariv story is the attempt to connect Kerry as a supporter of terrorism to the Iran talks. The inference is that just as Kerry supported Hamas and sold Israel down the river for the sake of Jodie Evans, he’d do the same regarding Iran. Unfortunately, Yemini doesn’t point to a single sin Kerry has committed in supporting the Iranian ayatollahs. He doesn’t even try to connect the secretary of state to that bane of the DC neocon world, Trita Parsi.
So we’re meant to believe that a single letter supporting a supposed activist plot on behalf of Hamas will lead to Kerry selling out Israel’s interest in the Iran negotiations.
A bit of personal disclosure is in order: I felt ambivalent when I first read this story. While it raised my level of indignation sky-high, I have to say that I harbor mixed emotions about Ali Abunimah and Electronic Intifada. Not about the content of his blog (which I largely respect and admire) nor about him personally since I don’t know him well. Rather, my issues are with the fact that I’ve been excluded from publication there.
In fact, when I faced my own crisis and my website was hacked by pro-Israel cyber-thugs, I asked Ali to publish a piece I’d written about it. I’d hoped there’d be some sense of solidarity between me and supporters of the Palestinian struggle for justice. There wasn’t. A later attempt to publish a different piece at EI was also rejected. A number of other anti-Zionists–including one who writes regularly for EI–and who once collaborated with me on important human rights projects, have stopped all contact with me.
While I’ve collaborated willingly in the past with EI writers on projects and used EI as a source for some of my own reporting, I’ve been put in a sort of far-left herem (“excommunication”). It isn’t only EI: I’ve noted how often the anti-Zionist left accuses me, both publicly and privately, of being a tool of Israeli intelligence.
All that being said, my personal issues shouldn’t interfere with the fact that Ben Dror Yemini has attacked not just Ali Abunimah, but the entire progressive Israel-Palestine community. To paraphrase Pastor Niemoller, they may first come for Ali Abunimah, but eventually they’ll come for the rest of us as well. I refuse to ignore injustice merely because of my own personal disappointments or because I’ve failed someone’s political litmus test.