Did the State Dept cave to pressure in denying flotilla activist entry to U.S.?

When a near-capacity crowd of New Yorkers sat down in their seats to hear testimonials on June 18 from survivors of Israel’s attack on an aid flotilla trying to break the blockade of Gaza, they expected to hear from three different activists. Instead, they only heard from two at the House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn.

Days after a June 14 press conference, called by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC-NY), that demanded a State Department investigation into the visa applications of two of the three speakers, a former Turkish politician named Ahmet Faruk Unsal was not allowed into the United States.

The denial of entry to the politician who is also an activist with IHH, the humanitarian organization that was a main force behind the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, raises the question of whether the State Dept. caved to pressure from the JCRC-NY, an umbrella group of local Jewish organizations, and New York politicians who backed the JCRC’s call.

The press conference was attended by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Representatives Jerry Nadler, Anthony Weiner, Carolyn Mahoney, Charles Rangel and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. JCRC-NY gathered thousands of signatures on a petition that was delivered to the State Dept. The petition detailed the group’s allegations that IHH was linked to “terrorist” organizations.

JCRC-NY counts some influential Zionist groups as members of their organization, including the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League and B’nai B’rith.

“It is the responsibility of our government to ensure that terrorists, and those who support terrorist activities, not be allowed to enter the United States,” said Nadler, who is known for his ardent support for Israel, at the press conference.

However, others have cast doubt on the accuracy of linking IHH to “terror” groups. IHH has worked recently in New Orleans and in Haiti at a time when the United States military took a leading role in directing relief efforts there. No government in the world considers IHH a “terrorist” organization other than Israel. Furthermore, according to Andy Pollack, an activist with Al-Awda NY: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, the group that organized the Brooklyn event, Unsal’s visa was valid until 2011, and had been used to travel in the U.S. two times before he was denied. “But now all of a sudden he was told it was only a transient visa and no longer valid for US travel,” wrote Pollack in an email.

Marsha B. Cohen, an expert on the Middle East and a contributor to Inter Press Service’s Lobelog, detailed in an article on Mondoweiss how the evidence linking IHH to “terrorism” was dubious at best. And an “think tank with ties to Israel’s Defense Ministry, the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center,” reports the Washington Post, has stated that there is “‘no known evidence of current links between IHH and ‘global jihad elements.’”

A State Dept. spokesperson reached by phone said she didn’t have any details on Unsal, and that decisions regarding individual visas are confidential.

Unsal, a former MP with the ruling Justice and Development Party in Turkey, was aboard the Mavi Marmara when the Israeli Navy raided the ship in international waters and opened fired on activists, killing 9 and injuring dozens. He was scheduled to speak along with filmmaker and activist Iara Lee, whose video of the attack aboard the Turkish ship was seen around the world, and Viva Palestina activist Kevin Ovenden.

”The JCRC was gratified to learn that IHH activist and former Turkish MP Ahmet Faruk Unsal was denied entry when he attempted to enter the United States,” Michael S. Miller, the CEO of JCRC-NY, said in a statement. “We have been advocating for an investigation of IHH and its members for their ties to terrorism and terror organizations and we hope that this level of scrutiny continues.”

You can decide for yourself: was the State Dept. cowed into not allowing Unsal to share his story?

This article originally appeared at the Indypendent, a free, NYC-based newspaper.

Posted in Gaza, Israel Lobby, US Policy in the Middle East

{ 22 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. lysias says:

    The Supreme Court’s decision earlier this week approved classifying the PKK Kurdish rebels in Turkey as a terrorist group and of crimininalizing merely associating with them. If — as seems likely — Israel is now coordinating attacks with the PKK, what are the legal implications for Israel?

    • potsherd says:

      No implications at all. Not for Israel.

      No more than for the Pentagon contractors who pay off the Taliban in Afghanistan, or whoever is running the MEK terrorist organization that operates in Iraq against Iran.

  2. cvillej says:

    “Did the State Dept cave to pressure in denying flotilla activist entry to U.S.?”

    I assume it’s a rhetorical question.

  3. annie says:

    this is disgusting news. JFC.

  4. Oh, this one is a gimme if ever there was one – “do wild bears….?”

  5. Mooser says:

    At the House of the Lord Church? Not at a synagogue? Or a Jewish Center or some such thing?

  6. morris says:

    Not the Arutz7 news – in simpleton hebrew – english subtitles

    (Sound fixed) Not rhetorical (@cvillej) 3 mins

  7. Despicable. Total contempt for open debate and freedom. Get these people out of power, they’re only good at siphoning in the dollars, nothing else.

    • syvanen says:

      One of the damn fool musicians in that piece says:

      why should you mix politics – the dirtiest thing on earth, with music – the purest thing?”

      Politics is dirtier than the Nakba? Demolishing Palestinian homes? Aggressive war? I fear an entire life inside the warrior state has turned the citizenry into stupid. But then musicians are not really noted for their analytical abilities.

  8. ahmed says:

    Wanted to point out a fabulous op-ed by Omar Kurdi on the UC Irvine Muslim Student Assn banning.

    • David Samel says:

      Ahmed, thanks for the link. I must say I am not as impressed as you are with the editorial. There are some very thorny issues here, and Omar Kurdi seems to skirt some of them. First, I agree that Oren is a detestable man whose main talent seems to be to lie with conviction and bogus sincerity. I also agree that he is defending utterly indefensible actions. However, the first question is whether UC Irvine should punish the offenders at all, and if so, should it punish the individuals or the MSU. Kurdi suggests that any punishment would be chilling free speech.

      While I have great respect for the students who jeopardized their academic positions to disrupt Oren, I have trouble with what they actually did. It seems to me that if we endorse a demonstration against Oren that actually prevents him from speaking to an audience that wants to hear him, that would authorize pro-Israel groups to do the same to Norman Finkelstein or Ali Abunimah. I’m not saying it is impossible to articulate a reasonable position that would protect speakers you or I might want to hear, and not Oren, but I can’t think of such position and Kurdi does not seem to try. He talks about the right to criticize Israel, but this group did more than criticize; they actively disrupted a speech.

      Kurdi is on sounder ground when he complains that the administration intends to ban the entire MSU rather than the individuals involved, and that the one-year suspension is disproportionate to the offense. But he does not really go into details. I just think this entire issue of the free speech of demonstrators versus the free speech of invited speakers and audiences is more complicated than Kurdi makes it out to be. No doubt the other side would make the mirror-image arguments.

    • hayate says:

      “History will surely absolve the 11 UC Irvine students and condemn those who legitimize war criminals. Today as I write, hundreds of activists across the country and world are preparing for another flotilla to break the illegal siege on Gaza. Similarly, Muslim and non-Muslim students at UC Irvine and nationwide will not be intimidated by McCarthy-era tactics. They will continue to fight for justice and speak truth to power no matter the price they may have to pay.”

      Thanks for posting that ahmed. The uc has no business inviting war criminals like oren. This is another example of the damage that bigoted zionists are doing to the usa with their sick prejudice and corrupt control freak tactics. In fact, these zionists need to be cleaned out of the public funded education system completely. What they have been doing is grotesque.

  9. Patrick says:

    The following is off topic, but still I think still of interest to this blog.

    Richard Fadden, the head of the Canada’s spy agency, CSIS, made national news in Canada today when he stated that CSIS believes some Canadian politicans are under the influence of a foreign country. He mentioned that this included two provincial cabinet ministers, as well as people at the municipal level. The province with the two cabinet ministers was not identified, nor was the foreign government, although China is suspected.

    As reported: “Fadden described how a few foreign governments are seeking out Canadian politicians from the diaspora of those countries and are offering free trips to the homeland or access to business contacts.”

    The reaction to Fadden’s comments has been one of considerable alarm. In later remarks he stated that “The Service has been investigating and reporting on such threats for many years. Foreign interference is a common occurrence in many countries around the world and has been for decades.”

    It’s clear that CSIS views it as a threat to national security when a foreign government gains influence among the diaspora who are active in politics.

    link to cbc.ca

    • lysias says:

      Toronto Sun: PM never warned about CSIS allegations:

      OTTAWA — The head of Canada’s spy agency said he never warned the prime minister about allegations he made on CBC that foreign spies were infiltrating municipal and provincial politics.

      In a rare interview with CBC’s The National, Richard Fadden, the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said CSIS was worried foreign states such as the Chinese were recruiting public servants early in their careers and, that in some cases, provincial politicians had developed “quite an attachment to foreign countries.”

      “All of a sudden, decisions aren’t taken on the basis of the public good but on the basis of another country’s preoccupations,” he said.

      Fadden told Peter Mansbridge, in an interview taped Monday, that CSIS was “in the process of discussing” with the Privy Council Office, the prime minister’s department, how they were going to inform the provinces implicated.

    • lysias says:

      Interesting blog commentary on the CSIS charge: Charlie Smith: CBC helps CSIS change the lead story from the Air India bombing to foreign espionage:

      The Canadian media are in an uproar over comments on CBC by Richard Fadden, the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

      Fadden told interviewer Peter “Bilderberger” Mansbridge that CSIS is aware of municipal and provincial politicians who have come under the influence of foreign governments.

      This will send reporters on a chase to find out which municipal politicians have accepted free trips to China.

      Mansbridge didn’t ask Fadden about MPs who’ve accepted free trips to Israel, Taiwan, and other countries.

      Some cynics might wonder if Mansbridge himself was acting on behalf of a foreign government when he conducted a softball interview with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in late May.

      Lower-level CSIS and RCMP officials have raised the spectre of Chinese espionage in the past, most notably in the Project Sidewinder investigation, which was derailed by their superiors.

      What I find curious about the whole affair is the timing.

      CSIS chose to make this revelation and CBC chose to broadcast it the day before the 25th anniversary of the bombing of Air India Flight 182 off the coast of Ireland. The attack killed 329 passengers and crew.

      CSIS’s shameful conduct in the period before and after the bombing was thoroughly chronicled in retired Supreme Court of Justice John Major’s recently released report following a lengthy inquiry.

      The 25th anniversary of the bombing will generate a great deal of media attention, as it should.

      But somehow, CSIS has managed to change the lead story on newscasts across the country by making an unsubstantiated claim that puts a cloud over many politicians.

      As a result, CSIS will come under less scrutiny from the media over its contribution to the largest mass murder in Canadian history.

      During the 1980s, a great many security experts, politicians, and media commentators were questioning the competence of CSIS.

      Journalist and author Richard Cleroux would tell tales of how RCMP and CSIS officers would refuse to share the same elevator.

      Years later, the Globe and Mail carried a shocking report explaining how CSIS burned surveillance tapes from the Air India investigation on top of a building on West Broadway in Vancouver.

      It’s clear that since those sorry days, the security service has become far more adept in one important area: media relations. The proof was on display in Fadden’s interview with Mansbridge.

    • Les says:

      The Federal Government does not object to Israeli citizens, especially if they also have US citizenship, from making policy decisions about Israel and the Middle East. Does the same apply citizens from other countries of the world, especially if they also have US citizenship? Putting Israel’s Dr. Lani Kass in charge of a test run of a surprise nuclear missile attack by the US against Iran gives new meaning to the term “open government.”

      link to original.antiwar.com

  10. Keith says:

    PATRICK- “…some Canadian politicians are under the influence of a foreign government.” This is news? Harper is so pro-Israel that, in comparison, he makes Netanyahu seem almost anti-Zionist. Years ago, Israel Shahak wrote that Canada is much more staunchly pro-Israel than the US, and that is saying a lot.

    • lysias says:

      Jews are only 1.1% of the population of Canada. What does this reflect, the power of the Bronfmans?

      • Keith says:

        LYSIAS- “What does this reflect, the power of the Bronfmans?”

        Is this a red herring? I am unaware of the activities and political leanings of the Bronfmans, owners of Seagrams. I am more concerned with Israel Asper, owner of CanWest, a powerful Canadian media company. Asper is a supporter of Likud, who does not tolerate any criticism of Israel on his editorial pages, and has bragged about it to his Zionist friends. Also, Canada follows the lead of the US Empire, which is staunchly pro-Israel. As for why Canada should be more pro-Israel than the US, I have no idea and have raised the question on previous comments on previous threads.

  11. Avi says:

    Meanwhile, the Hebron Fund is allowed to hold fundraisers in NYC.

    Seeing close to 300 million Americans do nothing in response to the multi-billion dollar bailouts that have robbed the US taxpayer blind, doesn’t inspire hope that change in the hypocrisy of politicians like Nadler, Weiner, Mahoney or Rangel is near.