Friday, June 18, 2010

Flotilla Speakers Set to Sail Into New York

Politicker NY

On Monday, a host of New York's electeds held a press conference in Times Square calling on the State Department to investigate survivors of the Gaza flotilla, who are planning to come to the U.S. for a pro-Palestine speaking tour. At the event, the Jewish Community Relations Council presented a petition with more than 23,000 signatures, which was subsequently delivered to the State Department by Congressman Eliot Engel.

But, it seems, the petition hasn't scuttled the speaking tour.

Yesterday afternoon, David Letwin—a member of the pro-Palestinian group Al-Awda, which is hosting an event with three people who were aboard the Mavi Marmara tonight in Brooklyn—told The Observer that two foreign speakers were set to arrive in the U.S. without, to his knowledge, any problems.

Kevin Ovenden, who holds a passport from the United Kingdom, was scheduled to land at J.F.K. last night, and Ahmet Faruk Unsal, a Turkish citizen, was scheduled to arrive early this morning. A third flotilla passenger—Iara Lee, who concealed video footage of the encounter in her underpants during her detainment by Israeli authorites—is an American citizen. [UPDATE: Ovenden arrived last night, without incident, Letwin confirmed by email.]

The State Department did not immediately return a call for comment, and Congressman Engel's chief of staff said he had yet to hear any response to the petition. Congressman Jerrold Nadler—one of the electeds who rallied Tuesday—also wasn't sure of the petition's status, but reiterated his concerns.

"Because of their associations with IHH, the group that sponsored the ‘Freedom Flotilla,' the individuals seeking entry to the United States should be thoroughly vetted by the State Department," Nadler said in a statement. "It is clear that some of the passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara sailed with the intent not of providing humanitarian assistance, but of attacking Israeli soldiers."

A spokesman for Congressman Ed Towns—in whose district the event will take place tonight—did not immediately return an email for comment. At least one pro-Israel group, Stand With Us, is organizing a protest across the street from the event.

Letwin said the event would take place even if the flotilla members were unexpectedly stopped on their way into the country.

"If these speakers are, for whatever reason, prevented entry we'll go on with the forum and try to build on what that would symbolize," he said.

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