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

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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.

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