Backgrounder: International Solidarity Movement
Posted: November 29, 2010
The Free Gaza Movement (FGM), launched by ISM leaders in 2007, represents ISM's most ambitious campaign to date. Nine FGM missions have attempted to sail to Gaza since 2008 as part of an ongoing effort to challenge what organizers describe as the "increasing stranglehold of Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine."
Several ISM leaders have organized and helped promote the campaign and its various trips to Gaza—including the May 2010 flotilla during which a confrontation between the Israeli military and passengers aboard one ship, the Mavi Marmara, resulted in nine civilian deaths.
In advance of the flotilla's departure, ISM co-founder Huwaida Arraf, who was aboard one of the other boats, had warned of a possible confrontation with Israeli authorities. In various media interviews about the upcoming mission, Arraf stated that Israel would "have to forcefully stop us," and "should not be under any illusion whatsoever that their threats or intimidation will stop us or even that their violence against us will stop us."
The violence aboard the Mavi Marmara was not the first time that an ISM-initiated campaign resulted in fatalities. Since 2001, at least eight international volunteers, several American, have been seriously injured or killed during protests and actions organized by ISM in the West Bank and Gaza.
ISM augments its efforts abroad by engaging in anti-Israel activity, including rallies, demonstrations and campus events, in the U.S. In response to Israel's military action in Gaza in January 2009, for example, ISM joined with other major anti-Israel groups to sponsor two large protests in Chicago. During the protests, participants expressed support for Hamas and called for "death to Jews and the State of Israel."
Increasingly, ISM also supports boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns targeting Israel. In February 2009, ISM had issued a statement calling for "an escalation" of BDS efforts, citing them as a necessary step toward resisting "the intensification of the collective punishment, imprisonment and ongoing war on the people of Palestine."
By early 2010, ISM had supported an initiative urging the University of Arizona to divest from Israel and an ISM support group at Bard College in New York organized seven different anti-Israel events in conjunction with Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW). IAW is an annual week-long event series aimed at portraying Israel as an "apartheid regime" akin to that of South Africa and promoting BDS efforts as a legitimate and necessary means of resistance.
A significant portion of ISM's involvement in U.S. anti-Israel activity can be attributed to a growing network of support groups around the U.S. that organize events featuring ISM volunteers and promote the group's anti-Israel positions. Many of these support groups further bolster ISM's efforts by raising funds on its behalf during events and on their Web sites. The bulk of ISM's U.S. funding seems to come from individual donations, which it accepts directly and through the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute, a New York-based foundation that provides a channel for tax deductible donations to various antiwar and social justice organizations.