Efforts to get Members of Congress to do anything related in any way to the basic human rights of Palestinians that is not slavishly pro-Likud is a prime example of this phenomenon. Many are convinced - not without evidence that makes their position seductive - that it is an immutable law of the universe that all Members of Congress must always express fealty to right-wing views on this topic.
Well, now we have a counterexample. Six Members of Congress have written to Secretary of State Clinton, urging her to do "everything in her power" to work to ensure the safety of the U.S. citizens on board the U.S. Boat to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope.
The actual text of the letter is spectacularly modest. The six Representatives express their concern for the safety of a group of American citizens; urge the Secretary of State to act to protect them (as she is legally obligated to do as part of her job); note that the Israeli government, like any other government, must conform to international law; note that The Audacity of Hope has declared its cargo of letters from Americans to Gazans to be "open to international inspection"; and note the commitment of the passengers on The Audacity of Hope to nonviolence and international law.
In any other arena of contemporary advocacy for peace, getting six Members of Congress to sign on to a letter designed to be spectacularly modest advocacy of basic common sense would not be something to crow about.
But this is not any other arena. The Freedom Flotilla is challenging the Israeli blockade of 1.6 million Gazans, and therefore, in official Washington, the Freedom Flotilla is "radioactive."
So these six Representatives deserve a huge round of applause. There is no question that if it were possible to anonymously sign Congressional letters, this letter would have many more signatures. These six Representatives were willing to publicly sign their names to this basic appeal, knowing full well that there is a dedicated and well-financed crew of pro-Likud activists in Washington determined to punish any deviance from the Likud line.
It will be interesting to see how the pro-Likud activists respond to this letter. Because the letter is so reasonable and modest, it puts the pro-Likud activists in a lose-lose situation. If they attack the six Members for expressing concern for the safety of a group of American peace activists, the Likudniks will be exposed as extremists. But if they let the letter pass, then a precedent will be established that six Members of Congress can speak up for basic decency on an issue related to Palestine without anything bad happening to them. And then maybe next time it will be twelve Members of Congress, and after that 20. On the first vote on the Afghanistan war, only Barbara Lee voted no. When the House voted a few weeks ago, only eight Democrats voted for open-ended continuation of the war.
In this way, the Congressional letter is like the Flotilla itself. By doing something so mundane - bringing humanitarian aid, or in the case of the American boat, letters - the Flotilla puts the Likud authorities in a lose-lose situation. Either they let our boats pass, in which case they concede that they are not politically invincible, or they stop our boats with force, in which case they expose themselves as extremists.
Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy. Naiman has worked as a policy analyst and researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. He has masters degrees in economics and mathematics from the University of Illinois and has studied and worked in the Middle East. You can contact him here.