Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) — one of Israel's staunchest defenders in Congress — wants Americans who were aboard the Gaza flotilla ships prosecuted.
On a conference call organized by The Israel Project on Friday, Sherman said that any U.S. citizen aboard the ship should be considered aiding Hamas, an Islamic extremist organization that controls Gaza. The U.S. State Department considers Hamas a foreign terrorist organization.
The online foreign policy publication Lobelog reported:
On a press call hosted by a pro-Israel organization, Rep. Brad Sherman, Democrat of California, told reporters that he intends seek the prosecution of any U.S. citizens who were aboard or involved with the Freedom Flotilla.
“The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 [PDF] makes it absolutely illegal for any American to give food, money, school supplies, paper clips, concrete or weapons to Hamas or any of its officials,” Sherman said on the Israel Project call, conflating Hamas and Gaza’s civilian population. “And so I will be asking the Attorney General to prosecute any American involved in what was clearly an effort to give items of value to a terrorist organization.”
Sherman also said that he plans on working with the Department of Homeland Security to make sure that any non-U.S. citizen involved with or aboard the Flotilla are excluded from entering the U.S.
Hamas, considered a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 and has held de facto rule over the Gaza Strip since it took the area by force in 2007 in anticipation of an impending U.S.-backed coup d’etat by the rival Fatah faction.
The incident has touched off a diplomatic crisis for Israel, with several European nations and Turkey, the nation from which the flotilla was launched, condemning Israel for killing nine members of the flotilla.
One U.S. citizen who was of Turkish descent was among those killed on the flotilla.
The controversy has also sparked a debate in Congress, with pro-Israel lawmakers coming to Israel's defense, arguing that the Jewish state had a legitimate right to board the flotilla to prevent it from breaking its blockade of Gaza.
Sherman's recommendation represents one of the most sweeping actions a lawmaker has suggested to the administration.
On the contrary, two lawmakers who are in the Congressional Black Caucus have called on President Barack Obama to urge Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza, saying it has caused a humanitarian crisis.
The White House has taken a measured approach in the wake of the debate abroad and at home. It has condemned the loss of life, but is waiting to reserve judgment until an international investigation of the incident is completed.