Code Pink, the left-wing, anti-war group that made themselves famous by heckling senior officials at committee hearings, took their show on the road to Foggy Bottom on Thursday on behalf of activists planning to launch a flotilla to Gaza.
The American ship Audacity of Hope, part of the Freedom Flotilla II, will depart from Greece with 50 passengers in late June headed for Gaza. In total, the flotilla will include roughly ten boats carrying 1,000 passengers, and will set sail on June 25. They are billing their voyage as a sequel to the Freedom Flotilla, which was intercepted by Israeli authorities on its way to Gaza last May in an incident that resulted in nine deaths.
Code Pink staged a small press conference on Thursday morning outside the State Department's C Street entrance that featured speeches by Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin, who will be a passenger on the flotilla, former CIA analyst and passenger Ray McGovern , activist and flotilla passenger Missy Lane, Palestinian-American lawyer Noura Erekat, and Gazan activist Amer Shurrab.
This year's flotilla occurs in a drastically altered atmosphere as compared to last year's. The Israelis have eased restrictions on some goods and Egypt has opened up the Rafah Crossing. Regardless, the activists at the State Department stressed that the people of Gaza still live under harsh conditions and need international advocacy.
Benjamin, naturally dressed all in pink, said she is hoping that the American presence aboard the flotilla will lessen the risk of a violent encounter with the Israel Defense Forces, and called on the State Department to express its support.
"We, as Americans, who are going on the boat that is a U.S. flag ship, that is carrying U.S. passengers...this is the time for our State Department to come forward and say ‘we recognize our responsibility to U.S. citizens and we will put pressure on the Israeli government to make sure that no harm comes to our citizens,'" she said.
McGovern, who donned an "Audacity of Hope Flotilla" t-shirt and a Palestine rubber bracelet (not exactly the attire he wore for 27 years at the CIA) invoked his time in the U.S. government to argue that the economic situation in Gaza -- a recent UN report said unemployment was near 50% -- was hurting the U.S. effort to combat international terrorism.
"As an intelligence analyst, I'm saying this is a national security problem. It's making the number of terrorists much longer in those long lines to be recruited by al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations," he said.
This was not McGovern's first encounter with the State Department in his capacity as an activist. He was arrested in February during a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at George Washington University when he silently stood with his back toward her and refused to follow instructions by security officers to sit down. He was dragged screaming out of the auditorium.
The turnout today was low, with only a handful of supporters showing up. The five activists held a poster of the nine flotilla passengers who died as a result of the skirmish on the last flotilla. State Department employees walked past the group of activists without so much as a second glance, in what one sympathetic observer said seemed like a metaphor for the broader apathy toward the situation in Gaza.
Sophia Jones / Foreign Policy
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.