For whom did John Kerry write a 2009 Gaza letter?

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In today’s Maariv, Ben-Dror Yemini reports (in Hebrew) that John Kerry, now the U.S. secretary of state, in 2009 issued a letter asking that “every courtesy be given” to a group of Americans interested in visiting Palestinian areas.

Yemini writes that Kerry, then a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, wrote the letter, addressed “to whom it may concern,” on behalf of pro-Palestinian activists Jodie Evans, a Code Pink founder, and Ali Abunimah. Both are supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign targeting Israel.

Yemini likens this to Avigdor Liberman hypothetically handing a similar letter to the hilltop youth –  hardline West Bank settlers  — asking to tour the Temple Mount. Yemini suggests this letter tells us a lot about recent tensions between Kerry and the Israeli government. He promises more on Friday. Meanwhile, the Algemeiner has seized on the report and it is swirling around social media.

There’s a problem: Nothing in the letter suggests that Kerry knew that it was going to be used by Abunimah and Evans.

Their group, Evans confirms to me via Twitter, did present the letter at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, when they sought the ambassador’s assistance in persuading Egyptian authorities to allow a mass march into the Gaza Strip to protest the Israeli blockade of the territory.

But the letter describes a “delegation from Massachusetts” that is “committed to the peace process.” Abunimah is from Chicago, and opposes any “peace process” (as Kerry would understand it) leading to two states; Evans is from California, and her group does not take a stand on one state or two states.

Abunimah describes the encounter with the embassy in a January 2010 blog post. He does note that the letter refers to Massachusetts residents but leaves out its reference to the designated group’s commitment to the peace process.

Here are some outstanding questions:

  • Who solicited this letter from Kerry? Did they present themselves as backers of the peace process as Kerry would have understood it, culminating in a two-state solution? Evans says she is trying to remember who brought the letter, which suggests that she did not solicit it herself. Was this person affiliated with the group that solicited the letter?
  • If the group that received the letter was indeed affiliated with the Gaza Freedom March (Kerry several times describes the group as a “humanitarian delegation”), was the senator or his staff made aware of the march’s plainly political agenda? If not, what due diligence did Kerry’s staff apply to researching the background of those requesting the letter?
  • Why did Abunimah and Evans use a letter designated for a Massachusetts delegation to seek passage for a mass march?

UPDATE: I asked Ali Abunimah, via Twitter, whether he and Evans had presented themselves at the embassy as being from Massachusetts and committed to the peace process. He replies:

Of course not. It was an example of the support people in our group received. Others had letters from others reps too. People had been encouraged to contact their elected reps prior to Gaza Freedom March.

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