Organizer of German Jewish Flotilla: We Aren't Betraying Israel

German Jewish Voice organization plans to send an aid ship to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza in July.

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An organization of German Jews that wants to send an aid ship to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza says that its intentions are no betrayal of the Jewish people.

In an interview with the German Press Agency dpa in Berlin, Kate Katzenstein-Leiterer, a leader of the German Jewish Voice organization said instead that they wanted to help preserve the state of Israel by showing that its current policies were wrong.

Israel Navy forces approaching the Mavi Marmara bound for Gaza, May 31, 2010.Credit: Reuters

"We want Israel to behave in a way that it can be recognized as a democratic state. Now it is recognized as a criminal state. That is not what we want," she said.

On May 31 nine people were killed when Israeli naval forces boarded ships in a flotilla carrying aid and activists - some of whom Israel says were armed - bound for the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

The event caused international outrage, and has prompted Iran to say it will send its own fleet, threatening more confrontation in the Mediterranean.

"Some see what we are doing as a betrayal. But the question is, what do they really know about the whole thing. Some people don't want to be educated," Katzenstein-Leiterer said.

Jewish Voice plans to fill at least one vessel with educational materials donated by German schoolchildren for Gazan kids, and sail it from a Mediterranean port in mid-July.

"We don't want any confrontation with the Israeli navy. We have informed the (Israeli) ambassador in Berlin, and if they find it necessary to stop and check us, we will let them do that."

"And when they don't find any material that could be a security risk, we want them to let us go into Gaza. We won't unload our cargo in any Israeli or Egyptian port," she says.

Katzenstein-Leiterer grew up in the former East Germany, to where her committed Communist parents returned after fleeing Hitler's regime in World War II.

Her organization is part of the European Jews for a Just Peace movement, a ten-country peace-activist network.

Jewish Voice in Germany says that it has gathered the funds for its aid ship project from personal donations, loans, and a donation from the Left Party, a small political grouping with strong support in the former East.

"Normal people here don't understand very much what is going on in Israel and Palestine," Katzenstein-Leiterer says.

"The German press doesn't show what is going on. People think all Gazans are terrorists, like West Germans used to think that all East Germans were informers for the Stasi (secret police).

Katzenstein-Leiterer says that her group's stance has caused them to be ostracized by the mainstream German-Jewish community, which numbers a little over 100,000.
"Most of the Jews in Germany are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and they are not on our side. The other members of the community are not on our side either. They say that everything that Israel does is OK, and they close their eyes to what is going on."

A senior activist in the Jewish Voice movement, Rolf Verleger, was reportedly expelled from his position in the Central Council of Jews in Germany because he initiated a petition saying the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon was "not in our name."

However, Katzenstein-Leiterer says that there are now a small group of German Jews who, despite the weight that Germany's history places on the Jewish community, want to speak out against a Israeli blockade policy - brought in after Hamas took control of the sliver of territory in 2007 - that they see as wrong.

"The whole blockade, the whole siege of Gaza is illegal. It is against international law and human rights," she says.

"We want to deliver musical instruments and school material. The children and deprived of every kind of school material; clothes, shoes, candies. We don't see that that is any kind of safety risk."

On Thursday the Israeli cabinet was expected to make a decision on scrapping the so-called "positive" list of items that they allow into Gaza in favor of a more relaxed "negative" list of prohibited items that could be of use to militants.

"We just see that a Jewish state is occupying Palestine, laying a siege, and depriving children of the things that they need. We as Jews are saying, 'not in our name.' We want to show that there are Jews in the world that are on the side of these deprived people," she says.



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