In the grand scheme of things, Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky is one of my favorite members of Congress: progressive, smart, articulate, willing to stand up for what's right even when the pressure is on from the party leadership to go along with injustice, as when she worked to block the president's deficit commission from recommending cuts to Social Security.
But when it comes to US policy toward Israel and the Palestinians, Representative Schakowsky not only fails to be progressive; she seems to go out of her way to sign onto the most outrageously right-wing “pro-Israel” initiatives imaginable, when she could just say: “let's let this one pass us by,” as the vast majority of Democratic members of Congress do, when confronted with the most outrageously right-wing initiatives of the “pro-Israel lobby.”
This past week, Representative Schakowsky signed a letter to the Turkish government “Urging Turkey to Stop Another Flotilla from Departing for the Gaza Strip.” The letter slammed the upcoming Gaza freedom flotilla as a provocation.
Anyone who knows anything about the region knows that a letter from these members of Congress urging Turkey to stop the flotilla is likely to have about as much influence in Turkey as a group of Turkish parliamentarians would have in Washington if they urged President Obama not to veto a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank.
The feedback that Turkey got from the region following last year's flotilla was: you rock. Arabs were coming to demonstrations carrying pictures of the Turkish prime minister. Not only was this high praise for Turkey, it was an obvious reproach to all the Arab leaders: Turkey is doing something about the blockade of Gaza, and you're not doing anything. Even the slavishly pro-US Mubarak government in Egypt got the message right away and moved to ease the blockade by partially opening the Rafah crossing. For these members of Congress to tell Turkey to stop the flotilla is like telling someone that they should give up acting because they are no good at it, right after they won an Academy Award.
So, if the letter's authors have any sense at all, they are trying to do something else with their letter besides move the Turkish government. Presumably, they are hoping to discredit the flotilla politically, so that if Israeli authorities use violence against the flotilla, their supporters will feel free to say: “they had it coming.”
I have a direct interest in Representative Schakowsky's signing of this letter. When she participates in trying to discredit the flotilla by characterizing it as a “provocation,” as this letter does, she helps put its passengers in danger, because when something is characterized as a “provocation,” the implication that many will draw is that violent repression of the “provocation” is justified.
And I have a direct interest in that, because I am a passenger in the flotilla.
So, Jan, I have to ask you: do you consider me to be a “provocation”?
If Israeli authorities kill me, will you say that the action was justified?