Israeli students plan "Kurdish freedom flotilla"

The self-righteous effort to counteract the negative global backlash may backfire

Published June 8, 2010 9:45PM (EDT)

O Jerusalem! Perhaps it's something in the water, but it looks as if Israeli society, so often accused by its critics of moral myopia and cultural narcissism, is suddenly turning righteous and discovering a soft spot for downtrodden peoples of Muslim background. Does this mean the Messiah is at the gates?

Just one week following Israel's bloody raid on the "Free Gaza Flotilla," which ended in the deaths of nine Turkish activists, Israel's National Student Union announced that it was forming its own "freedom flotilla" that it would fill with humanitarian items and steer in the opposite direction. Boaz Toporovsky, the organisation's chairman, told the press yesterday that "we thought of an idea of sailing to Turkey or to the northern part of Cyprus, or to southern Turkey, where there is a concentration of Kurds." The mission already has a captain: Israeli navy veteran and businessman Arik Ofir. The group is looking for an appropriate ship and plans to sail for Turkey as soon as it has found one and organized a crew.

Toporovsky is planning his Kurdish flotilla as a direct response to the global public's negative response to the Free Gaza fiasco. "The whole world saw the flotilla and thought Israel is a terrible state, which comes to shoot people who call themselves peace activists," he said. "It's absurd that they always put the Israeli occupation in the headlines and don't talk about extreme Islamic terror. There's a lot of hypocrisy in the world. Turkey, which leads the campaign against Israel and makes all sorts of threats, is the same Turkey that carried out a holocaust and murdered an entire nation of Armenians, and oppresses a minority larger than the Palestinians -- the Kurds -- who deserve a state, who have demanded a state for longer than the State of Israel has existed."

Toporovsky sees no barriers to his mission. "For the flotilla to work, we need three elements: Money, logistics and balls," he said. "We're bringing the balls and some of the logistics, but we need lots of money."

What sounds like a diabolically clever public relations coup starts sounding too clever by half when you listen to people in the region. As one reader remarked to the Israeli news source Ynet, "Israeli ignorance is hilarious. Kurds are the most extreme Islamists in Turkey. Most of the Erdogan cabinet are Kurdish. Most of Erdogan's voters are Kurds. Kurdish mosques are full of Hamas and Hezbollah posters. I really want to watch Israelis meeting the Kurds, that will be a scene to watch." An exaggeration, perhaps, but there is no doubt the operation will hit one or the other snag. For one thing, no one seems to have informed poor Toporovsky that Kurdistan -- unlike Gaza -- is not only free of naval blockades but does not even possess a seaport.

The Student Union is also planning another "peace fleet" that could be ready to go in two weeks. This time, a vast fleet of small ships would head into the Mediterranean to intercept the next Free Gaza mission. "Our wish is to talk with the members of the [Gaza] flotilla, to see if they want to talk to us, and to ask them why the problems of Israel, in Gaza and Palestine, are disturbing them," Toporovsky told Haaretz yesterday. "We would ask why they are not talking about the Kurdish minority or the Armenians that were murdered or many other problems? We want to expose the truth, this hypocrisy and the absurdity." 400 Israeli yacht owners have already expressed interest in taking part.

It seems the waters of the eastern Mediterranean will be awash in self-righteous flotillas this summer. Generous Israelis are shipping humanitarian aid to oppressed Muslim and Christian communities -- everywhere except to Gaza. According to the Jerusalem Post, yet another ship -- packed to the gunwales with humanitarian supplies -- is about to head from Israel to Cyprus. On board will be Pinchas Har-Zahav of the progressive Meretz Party and his son Haim. Mr. Haim Har-Zahav told the newspaper yesterday that the goal of the voyage was to "remind the world that Turkey is not innocent. If Uruguay or Iceland were the ones criticizing us so harshly, it might be a different story," he said. "But we're talking about a country that only seven years after [the Six Day War and the beginning of Israeli control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank] began occupying Cyprus," he said. "We're talking about a country that has systematically killed the Kurds and refuses to acknowledge their role in the Armenian Genocide. And so no, we will not accept this. The hypocrisy has to stop here."

"We feel that it's important for us to show and remind the world that Turkey is not a righteous country, but a near-rogue state, and that we, the Israeli people, are not suckers."

So now the truth is out: Israel hearts Muslims. But if I were a Gazan, I wouldn't start celebrating quite yet.

By Judy Mandelbaum

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