Dear Mr. President,
This week I'll be applying to join the US Boat to Gaza, (the ship you probably recall is named after your book.) It may not be the most conventional way to spend spring break, but I think that it's exactly as self-indulgent as I'm willing to be. I have no idea what the odds are of me being selected to actually go, but I suspect that I'll always regret it if I don't at least apply.
Even if I don't make it to Gaza in 2011, the discussion of the gaza blockade has taken to the sides of city buses right here in Seattle. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this. While I wholeheartedly agree with the message and support the intentions of those running the ads, I don't know how effective this is as a strategy. Is $1794 better spent on an ad campaign that might not change any minds, or would it have been better used to send help to the people affected by the policies being protested? The awareness created might be considerable, but I'm not sure it will lead to the public outcry necessary for any substantive policy change.
When I lived in DC, the metro tunnels were routinely home to issue ads. One was the picture of a baby (presumably Palestinian( wearing a pro-hamas headband, and said "This child could grow up to be a: ( ) Doctor ( ) Lawyer (x) Terrorist" (The ad can be seen here thanks to flickr user louko.) The ad made my blood boil. I have visceral reactions every time I passed by it. Targeting the blameless children of this conflict seemed especially sickening, and to have it shouting at me from every wall every day of my commute ensured that I began and ended each work day so angry I could barely speak. The very nature of advertising made discussion or argument or dissent with the people placing the ads impossible. I think my intense reaction to these ads has made me hesitant to feel any joy at seeing ads supporting my views. I understand that the very effective (and well-financed) tactics of the Israeli lobby and PR organizations need to be balanced somehow, but I don't feel great about sinking to their methods.
The most I can hope for is conversation. If it gets people talking, thinking, questioning the policies supported by their taxes (often without their knowledge) I will swallow my objections and applaud the efforts of the organization purchasing the ads. The argument that a controversial, thought-provoking ad like this one is at least better than another Macy's ad is not lost on me, either. Do you think this is a helpful or appropriate forum for foreign policy conversations?
I should probably go work on my application. I know you don't agree with the mission of the US boat to Gaza and you could certainly never support it publicly, but I hope that, even if it is only in private, you find a moment to consider your own responsibility for the people who end up on this ship and for the policies that have made such an organization necessary.
I encourage all of my readers interested (and fully aware of and prepared for the risks) to apply to the US Boat to Gaza. If you don't want to go yourself, a financial donation will help purchase supplies to deliver to the people of Gaza, as well. Other great gift ideas for those concerned with social justice can be found in Nicholas Kristof's latest New York Times column, or on etsy.com