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Split This Rock Poem of the Week: Randall Horton

A weekly featured poem of provocation and witness. You can find more poetry and arts news from Blog This Rock.

Note from a Prodigal Son III

The gavel
The splintered body
The red-neck guards
The state dungarees
The grey cinder block
The naked shower
The elemental fear
The unspoken yoke
The mercy plea
The awakening
The trembling hands
The walk to chow
The razor fence
The barrel’s scope
The Rottweiler’s teeth
The hesitation
The guttural pain
The calls refused
The return to sender
The rivulet of tears
The frozen heart
The opaque night
The seclusion
The muffled screams
The masturbation
The silence

-Randall Horton

Published in The Lingua Franca of Ninth Street (Main Street Rag, 2009). Used by permission.

Randall Horton, originally from Birmingham, Alabama, resides in New Haven, CT and is a former recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize. He is the author of the poetry collections The Lingua Franca of Ninth Street and The Definition of Place, both from Main Street Rag. He is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of New Haven and the poetry editor of Willow Books.

Horton appeared on the panel Dissidence, Memory, and Music in African American Poetry during Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2010.

Gaza Flotilla: Prelude to a Wider War?

Looked at from a diplomatic point of view, Israel’s attack on the Gaza aid flotilla was an act of astonishing stupidity: it burned bridges to Israel’s one friend in the Middle East, Turkey; it drew world-wide condemnation for what many call an act of piracy; and it shifted the focus from Hamas to the inhumanity of the blockade. What were Tel Aviv’s decision makers thinking?

Well, a leading Jerusalem Post columnist suggests “a possible way to explain Israel’s decision to stop the flotilla to Gaza…was the Israeli government’s readiness to accept the development of a potential war with no other than Teheran.”

While the idea of jumping from the Gaza disaster into an Iranian frying pan seems insane, Shira Kaplan argues that Israel has used such “casus belli” in the past as a rationale for making war: the 1956 Suez Crisis sparked by an Egyptian move to nationalize the Canal; the 1967 Six-Day War in response to Nasser’s closing of the Tiran Straits; and the 2006 invasion of Lebanon following the seizure of two Israeli soldiers.

“Israel may very well be meaning to seize this regional crisis as a casus belli to challenge Teheran, “she writes.

There are a few developments that give one pause.

First, Israel recently deployed Flotilla 7 in the Persian Gulf, consisting of three submarines—the Dolphin, the Tekuma, and the Leviathan—armed with nuclear tipped missiles. According to an Israeli naval officer quoted in the Sunday Times, “The 1500 kilometer range of the submarines’ cruise missiles can reach any target in Iran.”

Second, the Netanyahu administration has elevated the use of unreasonable force to its standard modis operandi. The recent debacle in Dubai is a case in point. The Israelis sent a team of 27 assassins to kill a mid-level Hamas official who didn’t even merit a bodyguard. The hit not only deeply angered Dubai—which at the time had a cordial relationship with Tel Aviv—but annoyed Australia, Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany by counterfeiting their citizens’ passports.

According to the Financial Times, the Gaza flotilla calamity bears a lot of similarity to the disastrous 2006 decision to invade Lebanon. Yehezkei Dror, a member of the Winograd Committee that examined the 2006 invasion, concluded that a major reason things went wrong was that the Israeli cabinet deferred to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), which long has had a tendency to underestimate an enemy.

In the case of Gaza, however, the key decision-makers didn’t have to defer to the IDF. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are both former members of the Sayeret Matkal special forces, and the Minister of Strategic Affairs, Moshe Yaalon, is a former IDF chief of staff. According to the newspaperMaariv, Netanyahu and Barak never even bothered to hold a full cabinet discussion about the Gaza operation, and even cut out the cabinet’s five member inner core. To Netanyahu and Barak—two hammers—the Gaza flotilla was a nail.

Kaplan suggests that the Israeli government “has probably decided to come nearer to a point of no return with Teheran.” Certainly things are not going Tel Aviv’s way right now.

The Brasilia-Ankara initiative to ship 1,200 kilos of Iranian nuclear fuel to Turkey for reprocessing is gaining support, and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva is launching a full-court press aimed at getting Russia, China and France on board.

Israel has never been this internationally isolated, and its charge that the Gaza blockade is aimed at preventing Iran from establishing a foothold on the Mediterranean is gaining few supporters. But rather than backing off, Netanyahu has pulled the wagons in a circle and stepped up the rhetoric about the Iranian threat. All the talk about Iran being an “existential threat” and references to the Holocaust is the kind of language that leads people to make very bad decisions..

Right now the last thing the Obama administration needs is a war with Iran, because a war between Teheran and Tel Aviv would almost surely involve the U.S. on some level. But the Israelis are not listening much these days to Washington. The White House said it told the Israelis not to “over-react” to the Gaza flotilla, a plea that was clearly ignored.

Polls show two out of three Israelis disapprove of the attack on the flotilla, but are the two military men running the Tel Aviv government listening? Or are they about to take advantage of a crisis to launch a regional war that would make the Gaza boat attack look like a glass of spilled milk?

Part 2-The Futility of Trying to Debate Our Way to Disarmament

Tilting at Windmills

This post is part of a three-part series. Read Part 1 here. Check back tomorrow for Part 3.

Another obstacle to those who seek disarmament through policy channels is just how difficult it is to dispute “realist” arguments against disarmament. Among them, as enumerated by center-right nuclear-weapons analyst Bruno Tertrais in a recent issue of the Washington Quarterly, are:

The bottom line is that it is very difficult to explain the absence of war among major powers in the past 65 years without taking into account the existence of nuclear weapons.

[It] is far from certain that even modern conventional weapons alone would be able to hold a major power such as Russia or China at bay.

Proponents [of disarmament] argue that driving toward zero would [by demonstrating leadership or setting an example, help prevent] the emergence of a nuclear-armed North Korea and Iran. [Yet disarmament measures] have not had any impact whatsoever on the nuclear programs of India, Iran, Iraq . . . Israel, Libya . . . North Korea, or Pakistan.

Worse, Tertrais maintains in his realist-representative argument, disarmament might even incite proliferation.

Smaller countries that seek to balance Western power may actually feel encouraged to develop nuclear weapons . . . if they believed that the West is on its way to getting rid of them. … the smaller the U.S. arsenal becomes, the less costly it would be to become “an equal of the United States.”

Here’s the essence of the realist argument:

The emphasis on abolition would distract the current nonproliferation regime from the “real world” priorities of rolling back Iran and North Korea. … The argument that arms control [settling for halting the spread of nuclear weapons as opposed to abolishing them — RW] is [a diversion] from the more valuable goal of abolition should in fact be reversed: abolition as a vision would distract from arms control.

Those who seek absolute disarmament operate under the assumption that by ratcheting back its top-end weaponry, a state eases the strains between hostile states and creates the conditions for peace. Realists flip that around and assert that defusing the tension over disputed regions such as those cited by Tertrais — Kashmir, Palestine, Taiwan, and the Korean Peninsula — is required to beget disarmament (in however distant a future).

They claim that they’re just echoing the language of the preamble to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons argument. Those signing the treaty, it reads, seek to “further the easing of international tension and the strengthening of trust between States in order to facilitate” disarmament. [Emphasis added.]

Whether or not they were intended to be the watchwords that realists and conservatives regard them as is open to debate. But when all the arguments are assembled, it becomes apparent how difficult it is to argue for disarmament without sounding like you’re soft on national security or in a state of denial about the facts on the ground.

True disarmament cannot be reasoned into existence. The simple truth is that many of us are, at heart, incapable of consenting to the continued possession of nuclear weapons until states begin to solve the underlying differences between them. However unassailable some realist logic may be, I think I speak for many in the disarmament movement when I say we simply don’t have the stomach for such a regimen.

Part 1-The Futility of Trying to Debate Our Way to Disarmament

You’re passionate about the abolition of nuclear weapons. But isn’t owning up to an uncompromising position on disarmament just a way of marginalizing yourself? Perhaps not. In the long run, those in the margins — grassroots types sprouting by the side of the road — may have a better chance of implementing disarmament than those steering policy limos down the middle of the road.

Take the Obama administration’s nuclear initiatives — the new START, the security summit, a revised nuclear posture review. However tentative, they might seem like steps in the right direction toward disarmament. Yet, in what can only be called a perverse experiment in cognitive dissonance, that same administration is requesting a 10 percent increase in funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration over the year before. Now fold that $7 billion into the $180 billion it’s requesting to upgrade U.S. nuclear weapons production for the next ten years. You can be forgiven for wondering what happened to the “dis” in disarmament.

Some assume that these budget hikes are the administration’s way of securing votes needed from conservative congresspersons to pass START. In reality, what it shows is how deluded are those who believe that decisions about nuclear weapons are predominantly determined by political instead of financial considerations. Darwin BondGraham, Nicholas Robinson, and Will Parrish explain at ZComm (emphasis added):

Rather than allowing a neat policy process carried out at the executive level to determine the future of the nuclear weapons complex, forces with financial . . . stakes in nuclear weaponry, working through think tanks like [the Hoover Institute], or corporate entities like Bechtel and the University of California, are actively attempting to lock in a de-facto set of policies by building a new research, design, and production infrastructure that will ensure nuclear weapons are a centerpiece of the US military empire far into the future.

According to the authors, among those forces if not necessarily with financial stakes, but acting on their behalf, are two of the “four horsemen” who, along with Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn, wrote a series of op-eds for the Wall Street Journal ostensibly calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Former defense secretary William Perry is a senior fellow at Hoover, as is George Schultz, who was president of Bechtel for eight years before he became Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state. Even more worrisome, prior to her appointment as Obama’s undersecretary of Arms Control and International Security, Ellen Tauscher was a congressperson who worked to secure federal funding for the Lawrence Livermore and Sandia nuclear laboratories in her California district.

With the four horsemen’s last WSJ column, How to protect our nuclear deterrent, the cat was out of the bag. First, the title was a giveaway because as a rule only hawks or realists subscribe — as, no doubt, they were advised by some communications firm — to the re-branding of nuclear weapons as “our nuclear deterrent.” Neither offensive nor even defensive any longer, apparently they’re now just the equivalent of a big stick that we don’t need to brandish, nor even keep in plain sight. In short, proponents of nuclear arsenals can be disarming in the service of their advocacy.

“But as we work to reduce nuclear weaponry,” the four horsemen wrote, “and to realize the vision of a world without nuclear weapons, we recognize the necessity to maintain the safety, security and reliability of our own weapons.” Suddenly their support for disarmament was reduced to a cover under which the nuclear-weapons industry was making a strategic fallback to a position where it could retrench, secure in the knowledge it occupy it in perpetuity. In other words, if disarmament were a shell game, our eye is on the politics when it should be following the money.

Pelosi Protest Followed by Cautious Optimism at Progressive Gathering

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s speech at the America’s Future Now conference went off-script. The Washington Post did a great job telling the story of how the California lawmaker spoke for a half an hour over the garbled jeers of more than a dozen infuriated healthcare activists in orange t-shirts, many of them in wheelchairs. Pelosi wouldn’t let conference organizers or the Secret Service escort the protesters out, and both she and they continued to talk. At the same time. As a result, her shouted speech mostly came across as “blah, blah, jobs, jobs, jobs, blah, blah, prosperity.” The folks in orange were with the group ADAPT and they had a point. Cassie James, 54, told me “I’m a woman in a wheelchair and I have a child I won’t be able to raise if I’m in a nursing home.” But I don’t think their tactics will win them any fans. “Let’s take a short time out,” Campaign for America’s Future co-director Roger Hickey said when this spectacle subsided.

The prolonged outburst contrasted with the otherwise patient and cordial mood at this gathering, but highlighted a strange duality. Participants seemed to alternate between warning of the dangers posed by the growing right-wing extremism overtaking the Republican Party, with of course the potential for then running the United States into the ground, and listing reasons for progressives to be optimistic about their rosy political future.

“Stop the lies. Stop the smearing. Stop the fear,” Eric Burns from Media Matters said regarding Fox News and tea party-supporting members of Congress after screening a chilling new video to illustrate his concerns about right-wing extremism (no link available for that yet, unfortunately). Blogger Digby lightened the pall hanging over the room at that point by predicting that Glenn Beck will “likely do himself in.”

Not much later, Simon Rosenberg presented a boatload of data about demographic trends among Democratic voters and the American public. Basically, the Democratic Party is winning over more women, young people, and minorities than Republicans. Eventually the old white guys voting Republican will die, and voila, there’s no way the GOP will be able to win office. OK, not exactly. “This is not a done deal. This is an opportunity,” Rosenberg said.

“If Washington realizes that it can’t demoralize its base, we can have a 40-year majority,” said former presidential candidate and DNC chair Howard Dean, adding to this cautious optimism. Activists need to take lawmakers and “hold their feet to the fire so they can act like real Democrats,” Dean said. (Or maybe he shouted that part.) “We are done with getting people into office who forget who got them there.”

U.S. Energy Policy Creating a New Generation of Dr. Strangeloves

President Eisenhower is well-remembered for warning the public in his final address to the nation to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence . . . by the military-industrial complex.” But it is little known that Eisenhower, in that same speech further cautioned that “we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”

In May, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steve Chu announced that 42 university-led nuclear research and development projects would receive $38 million through the Department of Energy’s “Nuclear Energy University Program” designed to help advance nuclear education and develop the next generations of nuclear technologies. “We are taking action to restart the nuclear industry as part of a broad approach to cut carbon pollution and create new clean energy jobs,” said Secretary Chu. “These projects will help us develop the nuclear technologies of the future and move our domestic nuclear industry forward.”

At a time when the United States should be creating a new Manhattan Project for safe, clean, green energy from the sun, wind, and tides, the Obama administration is trying to recreate the old Manhattan project, training our best and brightest to continue to wreak havoc on the planet with nuclear know-how. Instead of letting the old nuclear complex rust in peace, the government is proactively taking the initiative to create a whole new generation of Dr. Strangeloves, enticing young people to study these dark arts by putting up millions of precious dollars for nuclear programs and scholarships.

What a disappointment that Dr. Chu, a Nobel laureate scientist, appointed by Obama for “change we can believe in”, represents the old paradigm of top-down, hierarchical, secret nuclear science. It’s just so 20th century! Chu has apparently ignored the myriad studies that show that dollar-for-dollar, nuclear power is one of the most expensive ways to meet energy needs, when lifecycle costs are compared to solar, wind, geothermal, appropriate hydropower and biomass, as well as efficiency measures. This is also true for reducing carbon emissions, as expensive nuclear power would actually exacerbate catastrophic climate change since less carbon emission is prevented per dollar spent on costly nuclear technology compared to applying those funds to clean energy sources and efficiency.

Further, countless studies, including recent reports from three communities in Germany with nuclear reactors, indicate that there are higher incidences of cancer, leukemia and birth defects in communities with toxic nuclear power plants that pollute the air, water, and soil in the course of routine operations. And a recent report from the New York Academy of Sciences, by distinguished Russian scientists, finds that deaths from the disastrous accident at Chernobyl now number over 900,000. Dr. Chu, a nuclear physicist, is well aware that the radioactive byproducts of nuclear power will remain toxic for 250,000 years and that there is no known solution to safely store this lethal brew for the eons it will threaten human health and the environment.

Americans should oppose any further funding for this failed, dangerous technology as well as the inordinate subsidies presently planned for the nuclear industry. It’s time to invest in a clean energy future that will create millions of jobs and enable the US to earn an honest dollar by developing desirable new technology to offer to the world. Instead we will be providing a growing number of countries the wherewithal and technical know-how with which to make a nuclear bomb, while subjecting their communities to the consequences of toxic radiation.

Alice Slater is the New York Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

From the Frontlines: June 8, 2010

From the “Well, that’s something” department: Huffpo’s Sam Stein reports that the White House endorses an unlimited liability cap for oil spillers. The current cap is $75 million, mere pocket change for corporations like BP.

New York State is poised to lead the nation in securing rights for domestic workers. (New York Times)

The Pentagon bans four reporters from Gitmo, reports Democracy Now!.

Groups around the United States join Haitian farmers in protesting Monsanto seeds, writes IPS associate fellow Bev Bell. (Revista Amauta)

Will the Gaza flotilla attack be our “Kent State moment”? (FPIF blog)

An important coalition that aims to end world poverty, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, might lose funding. (Pambazuka)

Split This Rock director Sarah Browning on why Langston Hughes is her role model. “Why do I, a straight white woman, choose Langston Hughes, a queer Black man, as literary father? Because Hughes chose me, a dreamer.”

Is the UN the Right Place to Talk About Climate?

UN Climate Change conference, Bonn Germany.BONN, GERMANY – When I told my friends that I was heading to Bonn, Germany for a session of the UN climate talks, they bemoaned the general lack of anything interesting to do here. Why not go to a city with verve, like Berlin — or at least one with some culture, like Munich?

But Bonn has at two compelling things going for it.

1) There is a killer museum honoring the life and work of Ludwig von Beethoven.

2) The world’s governments are gathered here for two weeks deciding how to carve up the atmosphere — one of the greatest remaining global commons.

The meeting here in Bonn is a follow-up to the better-known climate negotiations that took place in Copenhagen last December, where little consensus was reached within the official UN spaces.

At the same meeting, President Obama pushed through what has become known as the Copenhagen Accord — a statement that largely reflects U.S. positions and interests, which has gained signatures, if not support, from a growing number of countries.

But the accord’s very existence, the secretive manner in which it was drafted and the process for getting governments’ endorsement, have generated fierce debate about the efficacy of the UN as the forum in which to solve the climate crisis.

On one side of the debate are developed countries and NGOs that tow their line (invoking the need to remain politically relevant in battles over domestic climate and other legislation back home). These guys are generally of the belief that it’s impossible to get consensus among 192 countries, and so the UN is at best irrelevant and in the worst case, fumbles any hope of an effective negotiating process (as evidence they recount the image of long lines of freezing delegates locked outside conference halls in Copenhagen).

The proposal by this camp is to pull the key issues — targets, money, legal commitments — out of the UN and into smaller group discussions whose outcomes could be fed into the official negotiations — or not.

On the other side of the spectrum are many of the social movements from the anti-corporate globalization struggle calling for an overhaul of the way we think about climate change and its solutions. This camp sees the UN as a space where political positions are easily swayed by business lobbyists and undemocratic global institutions like the World Bank. They reject the UN as an illegitimate space in which to make decisions on the behalf of those most impacted by climate change — very often the same people who are marginalized by their own governments.

These movements are calling for peoples solutions manifested on the ground in each community, woven together in networks of solidarity and social justice.

But there’s a sweet spot between these two poles. While recognizing the UN’s limitations as a facilitator of negotiations with so much at stake, and that the process which they are attempting to facilitate is between parties that are not truly representative (or necessarily democratic) — the UN is the only forum were all countries that have signed the Framework Convention on Climate Change have equal representation. And as the People’s Conference on Climate Change recently hosted by the Bolivian government in Cochabamba shows, civil society can ally itself with progressive governments to make political and substantive policy interventions in these multilateral processes.

The question that still lingers is whether the chairs of the relevant UN working groups will incorporate people’s proposals — in the form of official party submissions — into the global discussion this week in Bonn.

Arkansas and America’s Future Now

I’m spending the time I can spare while not editing OtherWords’ upcoming commentaries at America’s Future Now, which runs through Wednesday. This annual progressive summit fittingly coincides this year with Arkansas’ Democratic primary runoff. Speaker after speaker bemoaned the Obama administration’s timidity and called on the Democratic-controlled Congress to become more unified and assertive. “We have to stop waiting for Obama,” said Bob Borosage, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, which organizes this massive Washington gathering. “We have to stop taking the President’s temperature.”

The heated battle between incumbent Blanche Lincoln, backed by former President Bill Clinton and mounds of corporate money, and challenger Lt. Gov. Bill Halter may be the first of many. Lincoln has loudly protested the support that Halter’s gotten from organized labor, yet he’s gotten only seven percent of his campaign contributions from PACs, vs. 38% for Lincoln. Watch developments in this race on the Daily Kos blog as Arkansas voters go to the polls today. “We need to go to the mat for the real deal,” is how Ilyse Hogue, MoveOn.org’s campaign director put it. “We’re going to take the imposters out.”

So many influential progressives are publicly venting their frustration with the Obama administration at this conference that prominent media outlets are finally noticing this hardly new trend. Good examples include Politico‘s Glenn Thrush and Philip Rucker at the Washington Post. This strikes me as a good thing. I’ve attended this conference, formerly known as Take Back America, off and on for seven years, and often seen major media outlets give this key conference short shrift—focusing on comments made by political candidates and politicians at the expense of reporting the pulse of progressive America.

Twitter fans can follow the debate with the #AFN hashtag. Even if you’re not big on Twitter, check out the top tweets from the conference’s first day on Campaign for America’s Future website.

Will the Flotilla Attack Be Our “Kent State” Moment?

The offensive by the Congressional Democratic leadership against the Gaza humanitarian aid flotilla has now moved beyond just rhetorical support for the Israeli attack on the unarmed convoy. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee’s subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation and trade, has called upon U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute U.S. citizens who were involved or on board the flotilla.

Israelis demonstrate in front of the Turkish embassy on June 3, 2010 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Because the Gaza Strip is currently ruled by Hamas, according the Sherman, any humanitarian aid to the people of that territory is “clearly an effort to give items of value to a terrorist organization,” which is prosecutable under the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. Despite the active support of the humanitarian aid effort by a number of pacifist organizations in the United States and Europe, Sherman insists that the organizers of the flotilla have “clear terrorist ties,” dismissing critical analysis of such charges as part of the ideological agenda of “the liberal media.”

Sherman also announced he would be working with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that the more than 700 non-U.S. citizens who took part in the flotilla would be permanently barred from ever entering the United States. This would include European parliamentarians, Nobel laureates, as well as leading writers, artists, intellectuals, pacifists, and human rights activists, virtually none of whom are in the least bit sympathetic with Hamas or with terrorism.

Given the very real threat of terrorism from Al-Qaeda and other groups against the United States, it is very odd that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic Party leaders would choose — out of 255 Democrats in the House of Representatives — a paranoid right-winger like Sherman to chair the critically important terrorism subcommittee. Rather than focus on the real threats from Al-Qaeda and other dangerous organizations, it appears that Sherman is putting his energy into going after the motley group of Quaker pacifists, left-wing Jews, and other like-minded activists who boarded the ships attempted to bring medicines, school supplies, toys and other humanitarian aid to children of the Gaza Strip.

Indeed, it raises serious questions about whether the Democratic Party Congressional leadership is really concerned about international terrorism or, like the Bush administration, is attempting to use the threat of terrorism as an excuse to suppress nonviolent dissent against the policies of the U.S. government and its rightist allies.

Organizers and endorsers of the flotilla include such reputable American peace groups as Code Pink, Jewish Voice for Peace, Pax Christi, the American Friends Service Committee, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the Resource Center for Nonviolence, War Resisters League, Women in Black and others. Supporters of this nonviolent effort to bring humanitarian aid to the people of the Gaza Strip also include such Israeli groups such as Yesh G’vul, Coalition of Women for Peace, New Profile, and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, among others.

Despite this, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), insists that these groups are “pro-Hamas people.” Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) claims that the organizers of the flotilla have “links to Hamas and reportedly played a role in the attempted Millennium bombing in Los Angeles.” Rep. Ron Klein D-FL) insists that the real agenda of these peace and human rights organizations is “to bolster the terrorist Hamas government in Gaza.” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) argues that Israel’s attack on the unarmed flotilla laden with humanitarian supplies part of an effort to “defend herself against terrorism.”

When prominent Democrats — including the head of an influential House subcommittee concerned with national security — begin implying that leading America and Israeli peace groups are linked to terrorism, it is no longer simply an issue of over-heated rhetoric in support of an allied right-wing government, but a McCarthyistic attack on nonviolent dissent. Indeed, it could only be a matter of time before we see Medea Benjamin, Mitchell Plitnick, and other leading nonviolent activists who have supported the flotilla hauled before Sherman’s subcommittee regarding these alleged ties to terrorism.

In many respects, however, Israel’s attack on the unarmed flotilla last weekend could be a “Kent State moment.” At the time of the 1970 shootings, National Guardsmen and police had been killing African-Americans and Hispanics with some regularity for years. When white middle class students were gunned down on a college campus, however, it woke up a whole new segment of American society, goading them into active resistance. Similarly, while the Israeli military has been killing Arab civilians for years, now that they have attacked European and American peace activists — with the support of Congressional leaders — it has created a whole new dynamic, one I witnessed personally this past Friday evening, at the annual dinner of the Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz, California.

Roughly 150 people gathered in the fellowship hall of a local Congregational Church this past Friday evening, including prominent liberal members of the city council and county board of supervisors, area clergy (including a local rabbi), professors, small businesspeople and other community leaders. The main speaker was Nomika Zion, founder of kibbutz Migvan in Sderot, Israel, a community which had suffered from relentless bombardment for many months from Qassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. Zion — a leader of the Sderot-based peace group Other Voice, which opposed Israel’s war on Gaza — argued that it was the ongoing siege of Gaza which was the biggest threat to the security and called for an end of the Israeli blockade RCNV staffperson and former Santa Cruz mayor Scott Kennedy then called on the city to come together to organize a boat to send relief supplies to Gaza Strip in an effort to end the siege, adding that he would write Rep. Sherman and Attorney General Holder and dare them to investigate and prosecute the hundreds of people in this coastal community who would support such an effort.

Israel’s rightist government and their allies in the U.S. Congress have clearly miscalculated. By claiming that the hundreds of dedicated peace and human rights activists on board those ships — most of whom in no way support Hamas or any terrorist group — as supporters of terrorism, they are mobilizing what could become a major backlash. It is a particularly bad calculation for the Democratic Party, which is going to need the support of the peace and human rights community — a key constituency of the party’s base — going into the mid-term election this fall. There are already plans for additional ships to try to run the blockade, most of which will have active participation from nonviolent activists here in the United States. We’ll see if Rep. Sherman and other Congressional leaders can stop them.

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