Free Gaza Movement: Anti-Israel Boat Campaign Challenges Israel's "Siege of Gaza"
Organizers & Funders
Posted: June 3, 2010
Initially conceived as a domestic group with an international mission, the Free Gaza Movement (FGM) has evolved into an international campaign that attracts support, endorsement and organizational assistance from a wide array of organizations in the U.S. and abroad.
As a member of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, the organizing body of the May 2010 and June 2011 flotillas to Gaza, FGM regularly collaborates with multiple international groups that share its goal of challenging Israel's "siege" of Gaza.
The five other groups that comprise the coalition are the European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza and the International Committee to Lift the Siege on Gaza, both broad coalitions of anti-Israel groups; Ship to Gaza Greece and Ship to Gaza Sweden, regional boat campaigns launched in advance of the May 2010 flotilla; and Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), an Istanbul-based Islamic charity that was outlawed in Israel in May 2008.
IHH was the main sponsor of the Mavi Marmara, the ship at the center of the violent confrontation with the Israeli Defense Forces in May 2010 that left nine civilians dead. Many of the ship's passengers, including some of those killed and injured, and others who were indicated a willingness to engage in martyrdom, were members of IHH or its affiliates.
The willingness of IHH members to engage in violence on the Mavi Marmara—as well as the preparation the group had done for a confrontation, documented in IHH materials recovered from the ship—is consistent with the group's radical nature. IHH plays a significant role in the global fund raising operations of Hamas, the terrorist group that governs the Gaza strip, and openly expresses support for Hamas and its tactics, including armed warfare against Israeli civilians. IHH is also an affiliate of the Union of Good, a U.S.-designated terrorist entity that supports Hamas.
FGM has received support from other radical elements of the international community, including the Malaysian-based Perdana Global Peace Organization (PGPO). PGPO is an initiative of Perdana Leadership Foundation (PLF), a tax-exempt non-profit organization that was launched in 2003 with official backing from the government of Malaysia which seeks to "champion peace and global understanding" through its campaign to "criminalize war."
Mahathir Mohamed, the PGPO chairman and former Malaysian Prime Minister who has at times voiced anti-Semitic views, announced during an August 2009 press conference that he would establish the Gaza Fund to raise money in support of the FGM, following a visit with FGM officials the prior month. By June 2010 PGPO had reportedly donated $366,000 to the FGM, funding among other things three ships for the May flotilla, making it the campaign's largest contributor.
Matthias Chiang, a PGPO leader and former secretary of Mahathir Mohamed, was on board one of the ships and had worked with FGM officials to plan for the flotilla. Chiang, a known Holocaust denier, also has a long record of promoting anti-Semitic views.
During a July 2010 conference that PGPO organized in response to the Mavi Marmara incident, Mohamed made several anti-Semitic comments and commended the passengers who died in support of the cause. "We are gathered here today not only to honor the Turkish martyrs who were brutally slaughtered by Israeli commandos on the Mavi Marmara," he said, "but also to counter the lies and propaganda by Israel and the Zionist controlled international mass media." At the conference, PGPO announced its intention to explore legal actions against Israel for its conduct on board the ship.
Another financial backer of FGM is Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, first lady of Malaysia. She has not only donated money to PGPO's Gaza Fund, but reportedly financed FGM through the another fund, called the Palestinian Humanitarian Fund.
Much of FGM's early success may be attributed to the active role of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a grassroots movement that spreads anti-Israel propaganda and misinformation and voices support for those who engage in armed resistance against Israel.
In advance of and during the first several missions to Gaza, ISM made its media team available to FGM and posted FGM's press releases on its own Web site. As a result, FGM was able to reach an established audience of ISM activists and supporters. In addition, several notable ISM figures were heavily involved in organizing the campaign and the various missions, and many other ISM activists have shown particular interest in supporting and participating in FGM.
Most notably, Huwaida Arraf,
a co-founder of ISM, continues to serve as FGM's chairperson. She has led several of the trips to Gaza and is the primary organizer of the group's efforts, including sending out frequent press releases and updates to the group's listserve, traveling around the world raising money for the flotilla and providing interviews to the media.