< HOME  Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Forgotten American

TROY, New York — The Dogans were a quiet family little noticed by their neighbors here in upstate New York. Ahmet Dogan had come to the area from Turkey to study accounting at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

He was a serious student; the Dogans did little entertaining. But when their younger son, Furkan, was born in 1991, the family threw a party and a neighbor recalled a toast “to the first U.S. citizen in the family.”

Furkan Dogan would live just two years in Troy, returning to Turkey with his family in 1993. But he was proud of his American passport and dreamt of coming back after completing medical school. Five Israeli bullets — at least two of them to the head — ended that dream on May 31. Dogan was 19.

The young American, who had just completed high school with excellent grades in the central Turkish town of Kayseri, had seen an online advertisement for volunteers to deliver aid to Gaza. The ad, from a Turkish charity called the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or I.H.H, said the goal of the trip was to show that Israel’s “embargo/blockade can be legally broken.”

Little interested in politics, but with an aspiring doctor’s concern for Palestinian suffering, Dogan won a lottery to go.

How he was killed is disputed — as is just about everything concerning the Israeli naval takeover of the six-boat Gaza-bound flotilla — but his father suspects a video camera carried by his son may have provoked Israeli commandos.

O.K., enough said, that’s the start of the story you haven’t read about the short life of Furkan Dogan, an American killed by Israeli forces in international waters on the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara.

In truth I have not been to Troy but I do find the effacement of Dogan since his death almost two months ago at once offensive and instructive.

I have little doubt that if the American killed on those ships had been Hedy Epstein, a St. Louis-based Holocaust survivor, or Edward Peck, a former U.S. ambassador to Mauritania, we would have heard a lot more. We would have read the kind of tick-tock reconstructions that the deaths of Americans abroad in violent and disputed circumstances tend to provoke. (Epstein had planned to be aboard the flotilla and Peck was.)

I also have little doubt that if the incident had been different — say a 19-year-old American student called Michael Sandler killed by a Palestinian gunman in the West Bank when caught in a cross-fire between Palestinians and Israelis — we would have been deluged in stories about him.

But a chill descends when you have the combination of Israeli commandos doing the firing, an American with a foreign-sounding Muslim name, and the frenzied pre-emptive arguments of Israel and those among its U.S. supporters who will brook no criticism of the Jewish state.

This chill is a bad thing. Let’s do whatever it takes to find out how Dogan died — and the eight other victims. The Middle East requires more open debate and the dropping of taboos. It needs the leading institutions of American Jewry to encourage broad discussion rather than, as Peter Beinart put it in an important recent essay in The New York Review of Books, checking “their liberalism at Zionism’s door.”

Let’s face it, without the flotilla outcry that allowed the Obama administration to question Israel’s self-defeating suffocation of Gaza, Israel would still be imposing the blockade that handed Hamas control of whatever was left of the Gaza economy. Now that blockade has been eased.

As this suggests, Israel will, ostrich-like, push policies born of the security mantra way beyond their rationale, only changing course when its critical friends raise their voices. It’s time for the U.S. Jewish establishment to think again — and think openly — or risk losing the many younger Jews troubled by Israel’s course.

I hope every member of Congress read Beinart’s piece. I contacted the office of Congressman Paul Tonko, who represents the Troy area, to ask about Dogan. A spokesman, Beau Duffy, wrote saying that “There really isn’t much of a local connection here” and that Tonko had no comment. Hardly a surprise: Nobody in Congress has had anything to say about this American death.

I called the State Department, where an official said the U.S. ambassador in Turkey has offered the Dogan family assistance. (He also denied reports that the United States plans to designate I.H.H. a terrorist organization.)

Any further action, including a possible F.B.I. investigation of Dogan’s death, will hinge on the results of the inquiry being led by a retired Israeli Supreme Court justice and including two foreign observers. The Dogan family could also request F.B.I. action.

But it seems they have few illusions. Professor Dogan, who teaches at Kayseri University, told the Wall Street Journal’s Marc Champion (who wrote the best piece on Dogan) that he’s been wondering what the U.S. response would have been if his son had been a Christian living stateside. Having lived in America, he said, “I know what people do there when a cat gets stuck in a tree.”

It’s different, however, when an American Muslim male gets stuck in a hail of Israeli gunfire.



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