WFS Panel Discussion 7/22/16

Part 1 Alan Levine

Part 2: Donna Nevel

Part 3: Questions and Answers

Forgetting the Liberty

 

 

Gov. Cuomo — forgetting the Liberty

 
Gov. Cuomo celebrating Israel on Fifth Avenue after signing an executive order to protect it from  a boycott movement.
Gov. Cuomo celebrating Israel on Fifth Avenue after signing an executive order to protect it from a boycott movement.
Today is June 8, the 49th anniversary of an event that has been all but erased from the national memory, that is, the attack on the American naval vessel the USS Liberty by our great partner in peace and democracy, Israel, killing 34 American servicemen and wounding 171. It’s an occasion that this year has been marked by Gov. Andrew Cuomo — accidentally, and incongruously — with an executive order requiring New York State agencies to divest from any companies that participate in the growing boycott of Israel. “If you boycott Israel, we’ll boycott you,” the governor declared at a signing ceremony on Sunday, which was Celebrate Israel Day, before marching in the Celebrate Israel parade on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

The governor thus put himself at the service of Israel’s international campaign to quash the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement, known as BDS, that was launched in 2005 by leaders of Palestinian civic organizations and that has been growing ever since. Quash it Israel must, if it is not to go the way of South Africa and transform itself from an ethnically exclusivist state to a state of equal rights for all. A boycott, after all, was a major factor in South Africa’s makeover.
Israel has committed $26 million to the anti-BDS effort, and American Jewish potentates led by Sheldon Adelson have committed another $50 million. The effort involves getting institutions of higher learning, like the University of California, to link criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism and pressuring state legislatures, like New York’s, to pass laws punishing organizations that participate in BDS. The New York State Senate graciously obliged, but the bill it passed is hung up in the Assembly, so Gov. Cuomo boldly acted on his own, explaining that legislation “can often be a tedious affair.”
 
Now the state Office of General Services will be required to draw up a blacklist of companies and organizations that participate in the boycott of the Jewish State, and state agencies will have to pull out any money they have invested in those companies. The practical effect might not be great: How many companies boycott Israel? Probably not many. Boycotters tend to be religious, labor and academic organizations. But the politics for Cuomo is irresistible, meaning the play for the Jewish vote, to put it baldly, and the audience for his order-signing reflected that — a small sea of yarmulkes. The Jewish persons of my own acquaintance tend to be dismayed at Israel’s continuing military occupation of 2.8 million Palestinians in the West Bank and blockading of 1.7 million more in Gaza, but the most prominent Jewish organizations, like the regional Jewish Federations and the Hillels, not to mention prominent donors and politicians, tend to be cheerleaders for Israel, and they are all in a lather about BDS, so the governor surely made the correct calculation.
 
I bet he didn’t give a moment’s thought to the USS Liberty. As far as that goes, I wouldn’t be surprised if he never heard of it.
 
The USS Liberty was a state-of-the art surveillance ship that the Navy parked off the coast of Israel, in international waters, during the Six Day War, in 1967, to monitor electronic communications as Israel flattened the Egyptian air force and prepared to storm the Golan Heights of Syria. It was clearly marked in large letters, fore and aft, and flew a 5-by-8-foot American flag.
 
The USS Liberty, shot up and scorched, the day after being attacked by Israeli planes and gunboats.
The US Liberty, shot up and scorched, the day after being attacked by Israeli planes and gunboats.
On June 8, at the height of hostilities and in clear weather, Israeli jets overflew the ship several times before attacking it with rocket fire and napalm. The aerial attack continued for half an hour, at the end of which Israeli gunboats came in for the kill, firing torpedoes as sailors attempted to lower lifeboats. American rescue aircraft were twice dispatched from Sixth Fleet carriers and twice were called back, leaving the Liberty to its fate. When the assault was over, Israel said, whoops, it was all a mistake, we thought the ship was Egyptian, and apologized. The U.S. accepted the apology along with $6 million in compensation plus a similar amount for the families of the dead and wounded, and that was the end of the matter. Gone and best not talked about.

Dean Rusk, secretary of state at the time, later wrote: “I was never satisfied with the Israeli explanation. Their sustained attack to disable and sink Liberty precluded an assault by accident or some trigger-happy local commander. Through diplomatic channels we refused to accept their explanations. I didn’t believe them then, and I don’t believe them to this day. The attack was outrageous.”
 
George Ball, under-secretary of state, summed it up: “American leaders did not have the courage to punish Israel for the blatant murder of its citizens.”
That was forty-nine years ago today, and if you see a mention of it in any newspaper or hear a mention of it on any television news show, please let me know. What we have instead is an executive order to punish anyone who dares not to do business with Israel, along with a promise by New York’s Sen. Chuck Schumer to introduce comparable legislation on the national level.