The so-called Freedom Flotilla 2, a convoy of about ten ships hoping to break an Israeli naval blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, has been off to an inauspicious start. With two vessels disabled due to alleged “sabotage” and other boats held up in a port in Athens by the Greek government, the flotilla will not set sail for at least another few days and may be called off altogether.
Whatever its fate, the flotilla has considerable public support in Europe, where opposition to Israel often crosses the line into anti-Semitism. Although a handful of Americans, Canadians, and Middle Easterners (as well as a few Aussies and Kiwis) are among the 500 pro-Palestinian activists hoping to sail with the flotilla, the majority of its organizers, supporters and actual participants are from Europe, which has become “ground zero” in the global campaign of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
The Gaza flotilla is, in fact, an integral part of a growing European movement to delegitimize the state of Israel. It is rooted in the program of political warfare to achieve the “complete international isolation of Israel” that was launched at the UN conference against racism in Durban, South Africa in 2001.
European charities linked to left-wing and pro-Palestinian causes have raised an estimated €10 million ($14.5 million) to fund the flotilla. Many European politicians and members of the European Parliament as well as media outlets have expressed strong support for it in public. The flotilla has been organized from Britain and the main operational hub is in Greece.
Eight out of the ten vessels comprising the flotilla are European. They include the “Dignity” and the “Louise Michel” from France, the “Saoirse” (Gaelic for freedom) from Ireland, the “Stefano Chiarini” from Italy, the “Guernica” from Spain, the “Juliano” from Sweden, and two Greek cargo ships carrying 3,000 tons of supplies. The two other ships are the “Tahrir” from Canada and “The Audacity of Hope” from the United States.
The European Freedom Flotilla website has pooled information on flotilla campaigns in the various European countries. Some of these include: Belgium to Gaza, Free Gaza Denmark, Ship to Gaza Greece, Freedom Flotilla Italia, Ship to Gaza Netherlands, Ship to Gaza Norway, Free Gaza Scotland, Ship to Gaza Sweden, and so on.
Other pan-European groups directly or indirectly involved in the flotilla include the Brussels-based European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine, the London-based Palestinian Return Center, and the Oslo-based European Network to Support Rights of Palestinian Prisoners.
Britain has hosted much of the organizing apparatus of the flotilla, which is being coordinated out of London by Mohammad Sawalha, a senior Muslim Brotherhood operative closely linked to Hamas and who was granted asylum by Britain in 1990.
Sawalha — together with Zaher Birawi, another Hamas activist living in Britain — is a director of Britain2Gaza, a coalition of left-wing and Islamist organizations participating in the flotilla that includes groups like: the British Muslim Initiative, the Friends of Al-Aqsa, the Palestinian Forum in Britain, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and the Stop the War Coalition. Sawalha is also the vice chairman of the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza, a British-based group that coordinates the Miles of Smiles land convoys to Gaza.
Britain is also home to the Boycott Israeli Goods Campaign, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (which is working to “build a mass anti-Apartheid movement for Palestine”), Interpal, Freedom for Palestine, A Just Peace for Palestine, Stop Arming Israel, Oxford-Ramallah Friendship Association, Reading-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Viva Palestina, Medical Aid for Palestinians, the Scottish-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and many more.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague says the flotilla is unwise and has advised Britons not to participate in it. But he himself has contributed to the BDS campaign against Israel by his failure to honor a long-standing promise to amend British universal jurisdiction laws in a way that would make it safe for Israeli leaders to visit Britain without the risk of detention on frivolous allegations of war crimes.