Kirsten Gillibrand United States Senator for New York

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Gillibrand, Senate Colleagues Urge Obama Administration To Investigate Gaza Flotilla Group Ties To Terrorists, Determine Whether Group Should Be Added To Foreign Terrorist List

Senators: ‘We Fully Support Israel’s Right to Self-Defense’

June 23, 2010

Washington, DC – After last month’s Israeli naval blockade, which intercepted a six-ship flotilla to Gaza, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), along with more than 80 senators, affirmed their support for Israel’s right to self-defense, questioned United Nations bodies which unfairly criticized Israel before all of the facts are known, and called on the Obama Administration to determine whether or not an organizer of the flotilla, the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), should be placed on a list of foreign terrorist groups. Senator Gillibrand worked with Senate leadership to draft the letter to President Obama, which has strong bipartisan support.

Senator Gillibrand said, “Extraordinary threats to Israel’s security are real and they are mounting. It is in our national security interest to stop groups that seek to breach international law and threaten our allies’ security. We must be vigilant of all ties to terrorists and expose such connections, so that groups cannot hide their support for terrorism behind charitable claims. The United States remains committed to show unyielding support for our nation’s strongest ally in the Middle East.”

In a letter to President Obama, the Senators wrote, “We fully support Israel’s right to self-defense.  In response to thousands of rocket attacks on Israel from Hamas terrorists in Gaza, Israel took steps to prevent items which could be used to support these attacks from reaching Gaza.  Israel’s naval blockade, which is legal under international law, allows Israel to keep dangerous goods from entering Gaza by sea.  The intent of the measures is to protect Israel, while allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza.”

The Senators urged the Obama administration to investigate whether or not the Turkish Humanitarian Relief (IHH), owner of one of the six ships in the flotilla and a member of a group of Muslim charities, which both the U.S. Treasury and State Departments have deemed as a foreign terrorist organization, ought to be added to the list of foreign terrorist organizations.

The bipartisan group also applauded the Administration’s action in blocking the unfair UN Security Council resolution that would have established a commission to probe Israeli’s response, condemned the United Nations Human Rights Council for singling out Israel, and requested the President stand firm on future resolutions.

Full text of the letter is below:

Dear Mr. President:

            We write to affirm our support for our strategic partnership with Israel, and encourage you to continue to do so before international organizations such as the United Nations.  The United States has traditionally stood with Israel because it is in our national security interest and must continue to do so.

Israel is our strongest ally in the Middle East and a vibrant democracy.  Israel is also a partner to the United States on military and intelligence issues in this critical region.  That is why it is our national interest to support Israel at a moment when Israel faces multiple threats from Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the current regime in Iran.  Israel’s opponents have developed clever diplomatic and tactical ploys to challenge its international standing, whether the effort to isolate Israel at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference or the recent effort to breach the naval blockade around Gaza.

We fully support Israel’s right to self-defense.  In response to thousands of rocket attacks on Israel from Hamas terrorists in Gaza, Israel took steps to prevent items which could be used to support these attacks from reaching Gaza.  Israel’s naval blockade, which is legal under international law, allows Israel to keep dangerous goods from entering Gaza by sea.  The intent of the measures is to protect Israel, while allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Late last month when Israel learned that groups operating in Turkey wanted to challenge its blockade of Gaza, Israel made every effort to ensure that the humanitarian aid reached Gaza without needlessly precipitating a confrontation.  Israeli forces were able to safely divert five of the six ships challenging the blockade.  However, video footage shows that the Israeli commandos who arrived on the sixth ship, which was owned by the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (the IHH), were brutally attacked with iron rods, knives, and broken glass. They were forced to respond to that attack and we regret the loss of life that resulted.  

We are deeply concerned about the IHH’s role in this incident and have additional questions about Turkey and any connections to Hamas.   The IHH is a member of a group of Muslim charities, the Union of Good, which was designated by the US Treasury Department as a terrorist organization.  The Union of Good was created by, and strongly supports Hamas, which has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the US State Department.  We recommend that your administration consider whether the IHH should be put on the list of foreign terrorist organizations, after an examination by the intelligence community, the State Department, and the Treasury Department.

We commend the action you took to prevent the adoption of an unfair United Nations Security Council resolution, which would have represented a rush to judgment by the international community.  We also deplore the actions of the United Nations Human Rights Council which, once again, singled out Israel.  Israel has announced its intention to promptly carry out a thorough investigation of this incident and has the right to determine how its investigation is conducted.  In the meantime, we ask you to stand firm in the future at the United Nations Security Council and to use your veto power, if necessary, to prevent any similar biased or one-sided resolutions from passing.

Finally, we believe that this incident should not derail the current proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We hope that these talks will move quickly to direct negotiations and ultimately, to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.