One of the tenets of journalism enunciated by Jim Lehrer at the PBS NewsHour is to assume that the people he is covering are “as smart and as caring and as good … as I am.” This seems like a pretty reasonable tenet until one is faced with an ideologue such as Adam Shapiro, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), and a leader of the Free Gaza Movement, which organized a pro-Hamas flotilla where some participants brutally attacked Israeli soldiers.
During his May 31, 2010 appearance on PBS NewsHour host Gwen Ifill challenged Shapiro on some key points about the actions of the Free Gaza movement. Shapiro responded to these challenges with shameless dissembling. Ifill’s first challenge was about the goal of the flotilla itself:
Can I ask you a little bit about what – something you said a moment ago? You said the purpose of this was to break the blockade. But I have also heard that you said that this was a humanitarian mission. Which was it? Or was it both?
Shapiro latched on to the crutch Ifill handed him, and answered:
Yes. It’s both. I mean unfortunately, Israel has made humanitarian assistance to Gaza a political issue. So, Israel keeps a list of items that are permitted into Gaza and items that are not permitted into Gaza…. Some basic foodstuffs are not allowed into Gaza to the Palestinians. And so Israel has taken a very radical policy through its blockade, and made humanitarian assistance a political issue…and so we are challenging the blockade itself and, in doing so, trying to deliver the much-needed humanitarian and reconstruction assistance that Gaza needs.
Apparently, the Free Gaza Movement can’t get its story straight. On her appearance on CNN on June 1, 2010, Free Gaza Movement leader Greta Berlin had made it clear that the mission was not a humanitarian one, but merely a political one. On May 27, 2010 she told the AFP “This mission is not about delivering humanitarian supplies, it’s about breaking Israel’s siege on 1.5 million Palestinians.”
Shapiro’s assertion about the flotilla’s goals is not only contradicted by Berlin’s statements, but is insupportable in light of reports about the contents of the vessels that attempted to run the blockade. On June 1, 2010, The Jerusalem Post reported the following:
In a statement to reporters at the port on Tuesday, Colonel Moshe Levi, commander of the IDF’s Gaza Strip Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA), said that none of the equipment found on board the three cargo ships was in shortage in Gaza.
In fact, Israel facilitates the transport of 15,000 tons of fuel, humanitarian aid, food and other supplies into Gaza every week — far more than the 10,000 tons of cargo on the flotilla. Moreover, Shapiro failed to acknowledge that Israel had offered to escort the boats to Ashdod and ship the material into the Gaza Strip. This process has in fact already begun, and Hamas has reportedly refused to allow these goods into the Gaza Strip.
Ifill did not challenge Shapiro on his assertion that Israel is turning humanitarian aid into a “political issue.” In fact, Israel has imposed the blockade to protect its citizens from attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas, an organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction. In the years prior to the fighting that took place in December 2008 and January 2009, Hamas launched thousands of rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip. Consequently, Israel prevents the passage of a number of supplies into the Gaza Strip that can be used to attack Israel. By challenging the blockade, Shapiro undermines Israel’s efforts to defend itself and undermine’s Israel’s sovereign right to protect its citizens.
Violence Provoked By Free Gaza Flotilla
Ifill also challenged Shapiro about Free Gaza’s role in provoking violence. Shapiro responded by stating:
The Israelis, according to the initial reports that were being fed on our live stream coming off the boat that was attacked, including by international media outlets, were reporting that Israeli soldiers descended onto the boat firing at the passengers as they were descending, and that it is only after our passengers were injured and in fact, one was killed that some of the passengers took up weapons of iron bars and what not and tried to defend themselves.
Here, Shapiro turns truth on its head by stating that “Israeli soldiers descended onto the boat firing at the passengers as they were descending” and by falsely claiming that “some of the passengers took up weapons” only to defend themselves. This flies in the face of the videos of the incident which show passengers of the Mavi Marmara attacking Israeli soldiers as they landed on the deck of the vessel. One video even shows an Israeli soldier being stabbed by fighters on board the Mavi Marmara.
Israeli soldiers, who were equipped with paintball guns, were beaten with sticks, had their sidearms stolen and were stabbed with knives. One soldier was thrown from one deck to another and fell unconscious as a result. Soldiers who were knocked unconscious were brought below decks to be kept as hostages.
In response to Ifill’s gentle challenge to Shapiro about the flotilla’s intentions —“you’re saying there was no intention, no preparation to provoke or to respond with violence heading into this?”— Shapiro avoided directly answering, sidestepping the issue by arguing, “it would be utterly absurd to think we could face down a military with the strength and the kind of technology and weapons that Israel possesses. To even think for a second that we could use violence in any way that would be to our advantage, it’s utterly absurd.”
Shapiro’s response is ridiculous. He is co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement, a group whose raison d’etre is to place young photogenic activists from Europe and North America in harm’s way and then use the drama as a propaganda weapon against Israel. And not only a “propaganda weapon.” As CAMERA has documented, Shapiro himself has gone on record validating and justifying the right “to resist [Israel] with arms.” The Anti-Defamation League reports that in 2003 the ISM called for volunteers to join an anti-security barrier protest organized by the Palestinian National and Islamic Forces, “a group made up of members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the hard-edged wing of Arafat’s Fatah organization.”
The same tactics and affiliations were in play in the most recent confrontation. Even the Free Gaza Movement could not obscure the reality about the fighters on board the Mavi Marmara who chanted slogans that called for the death of Jews. Moreover, a MEMRI special dispatch about the flotilla reports the following about the participants:
In their statements, flotilla participants raised the possibility that Israel would use force to prevent the ship from reaching the Gaza coast, and declared that this would not stop them. Many noted that they would break the siege even if it cost them their lives.
In sum, many of the so called activists on board the Mavi Marmara were trained jihadis using the Free Gaza movement as cover to attack Israeli soldiers and create an international incident “even if it cost them their lives.” This was underscored by IHH leader BÃ¼lent Yildirim at a Hamas rally in the Gaza Strip days after Mavi Marmara attempted to run the blockade. According to a MEMRI translation, Yildirim told the crowd:
Raise your fists to the skies and repeat after me: What can the enemy do to me? I carry Paradise in my heart. If they deport me – it would be a trip. If they imprison me – I will be able to spend some time alone. If they kill me – that is martyrdom for the sake of Allah. Allah Akbar.
This was the goal of the fighters the Free Gaza Movement was helping get into the Gaza Strip. Either Free Gaza organizers knew about the presence and intentions of the fighters on board the Mavi Marmara, in which case the organization is aiding and abetting attacks against Israel, or the organization’s flotilla was somehow infiltrated by the fighters, who according to numerous Ynet were equipped with bullet-proof vests, night-vision goggles and were carrying large amounts of cash. Moreover, they carried no identification with them and have refused food and medical treatment once they got to Ashdod.
Not a Surprise
Many of these revelations about the true nature of the flotilla came out after Shapiro’s presence on News Hour, but given Shapiro’s history as a so-called “peace” activist and the well-known history of the ISM, Ifill should have been better prepared to challenge Shapiro about the actions of the Free Gaza Movement.