Early this morning, Israel began deporting more than 680 people detained aboard the Gaza-bound “Freedom Flotilla” to their home countries, from Australia to Yemen. According to Israeli authorities, more than half came from Turkey, but they were joined by contingents from Britain, France and the U.S.—and, in the case of bestselling author Henning Mankell, Sweden. It’s not clear how many Jewish activists, if any, took part in the convoy itself—85-year-old
Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, who escaped Europe before the Holocaust, decided at the last minute to remain behind in Cyprus—but American Jews were certainly represented in the crowds who took to the streets in Jerusalem yesterday to protest the Israeli government’s decision to raid the convoy. Among them: Emily Henochowicz, a 21-year-old student at New York City’s Cooper Union, who lost an eye after being hit in the face with a tear gas canister.
Maybe it’s the Beinart effect, but we haven’t heard anyone publicly call Henochowicz a self-hating Jew, or any of the nastier names that have been used over the years. It’s a long way from 2002, when New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser declared one Adam Shapiro the “Jewish Taliban” after he spent the night with Yasser Arafat in Ramallah at the height of the Second Intifada. Shapiro’s parents, both schoolteachers, were subsequently harassed at their Brooklyn home and targeted by fliers denouncing their son as a traitor to America and the Jews.
As it happens, Shapiro was among the flotilla’s organizers, along with his wife, Huwaida Arraf, the American-born daughter of an Arab Israeli Christian. (Shapiro stayed in Washington, where he made TV appearances, while Arraf, who was aboard the largest ship, was featured by telephone on CNN.) Shapiro told Tablet Magazine yesterday that while he grew up celebrating Seders, he hasn’t considered himself Jewish since he was a teenager. “I consider Judaism to be a religion and not an ethnic identity,” Shapiro, now 38, explained. He hasn’t yet read Beinart’s much-discussed essay about American Zionism, but was glad to hear of American Jews wrestling with the occupation. “It seems like it’s shaking things up, and that’s good,” Shapiro told Tablet Magazine. “Obviously the American Jewish community has a role to play—if you want to engage as Jews, think about what it means to be Jewish, to follow the traditions of the Jewish people.”
However, he added, he was less concerned about the response of American Jews than of the American government, which he felt hasn’t been firm enough in condemning Israel for jeopardizing the safety of its citizens. “I identify as an American citizen, and that’s where my concern is,” he said. So was the flotilla a victory for the Free Gaza movement, at great cost to Israel’s image, as analysts across the board have declared? “I wouldn’t call this a success,” Shapiro told us, “because it’s a huge tragedy.”