The Obama administration and the State Department have responded with their usual caution to the Israeli commando attack on a flotilla of pro-Palestinian aid ships bound for the Gaza Strip. The attack, which occurred before dawn Monday while the ship was in international waters, left at least 9 civilians dead and 80 injured.
The incident has stirred an international outcry – and a call from Turkey, the country from which the ship sailed, for a United Nations response. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accused Israel of committing "inhumane state terror" after the attack on a ship carrying 600 aid workers and activists with the Free Gaza movement, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Máiread Corrigan-Maguire, as "inhumane state terror.”
"International law has been trampled underfoot," the prime minister added, as countries around the world condemned the attack on an aid ship carrying medical supplies and construction materials for clinics.
Within Israel, there has been an intensely critical response, with a top columnist for the newspaper Haaretz, summing up sentiments by arguing Monday shortly after the attack that: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must return immediately from North America and convene a national committee of inquiry into Israel's interception of a Gaza aid convoy on Monday, during which at least nine activists were killed.”
On the other hand, the official U.S. response was tepid in the extreme: “The United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy,” said deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton.
Behind the scenes, a mild signal was sent. Netanyahu had been scheduled to meet with Obama at the White House Tuesday to discuss restarting peace talks with the Palestinians.
The meeting was cancelled, logically enough, as the prospects for peace do not look good – and Obama would face rough questioning at the photo op. Netanyahu will now return to Israel, where he will face a firestorm of criticism.
And what of the American response beyond the White House?
For the most part, Congress has been and is likely to remain cautious.
But one key congressional candidate was outspoken – dramatically so.
Veteran California Democratic activist Marcy Winograd, who is mounting a serious challenge to conservative Congresswoman Jane Harman, D-California, in a June 8 primary, bluntly criticized the attack. Winograd and Harman are both Jewish, and they are running in a Los Angeles-area district with a large Jewish population. But their race has served as a reminder of the diversity of opinions within the American Jewish community regarding Irsael.
Winograd has long been associated with the Israeli peace camp – domestically, she’s a co-founder of LA Jews for Peace -- while Harman is tended to groups that are more resistant to negotiation.
Warning that “the killings are bound to heighten awareness about the brutal blockade and to increase pressure to end the imprisonment of over a million people in Gaza,” Winograd declared Monday that:
“Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. Enough, we must stop this, and adhere to the laws that have been established by the international community. Working for peace and human rights for all is the only way forward. As a Jewish woman of conscience, I invite my opponent, Jane Harman, another Jewish woman, and all of Congress to join me in denouncing this kind of barbaric violence, demanding an end to the blockade, and seeking an international investigation into these murders. I recommit myself to working towards a true, just, and lasting peace.”
Unlike in Israel, where there is a rich political discourse, the debate about Middle East issues among U.S. political players tends to be ridiculously constrained in the U.S. -- to the point of being vapid. Winograd is pushing the limits, and seeking the sort of frank and thoughtful discussion that Israel and other countries enjoy. Even those who might disagree with her position should welcome her boldness.