I'm now working in the ROI office, due to move across town in the weeks following the 2010 ROI Summit, but for now, located near that major Jerusalem intersection of Agron Street/King George/Keren Hayesod. It's right near the Fuchsberg Center for Conservative Judaism and that big Supersol that all the buses seem to pass, and also near the Kings Hotel. It's also across the street from the Prime Minister's residence, where there's been a tent set up, usually containing at least one (but seldom more than two) volunteers who sit there as a reminder that it's been nearly four years since Gilad Shalit was kidnapped. The fourth anniversary is Friday, June 25.
Activism on behalf of Shalit has been varied, if ultimately ineffective - everything from Facebook groups to last year's attempt to get #gilad to trend on Twitter, and the chance to "send Gilad Shalit a letter" (with, of course, no guarantee that he'll receive it) plus in-person demonstrations. Now the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations is planning a demonstration of their own, taking a group of boats to sail on the Hudson. According to the CPMJO site, when the boats pass the United Nations, they'll hold up signs to “raise awareness that Gilad Shalit remains in captivity and to call for his release.”
Adam Dickter notes that the effort will be of some comfort to Shalit's family, and help people think about the kidnapped soldier. "It will certainly be meaningful for Gilad's family. There's sure to be good media coverage, and if nothing else, tourists at the pier, on the Circle Line boats that pass, at the Statue of Liberty and, perhaps, even some diplomats at the United Nations will see the signs and spend a moment of their busy day thinking about him. Maybe those under the impression that Gaza is a besieged utopia of wine and roses will even look deeper into the matter."
James Besser, also writing in the Jewish Week, notes that there's something off about it, calling out that the invitation included a mention of the fact that drinks would be served on the boat. One Facebook friend of mine picked up on this, immediately proclaiming the boat a "booze cruise." Later on, it was revealed that the drinks would be soft drinks.
But the worst part of this whole thing? The branding of the initiative as a "Flotilla of Freedom."
I like to call this kind of thing "a Good Idea, in Bad Idea Jeans."* This means that a primary idea has some merit - in this case, a demonstration on behalf of a kidnapped soldier and his family. Good idea. And then, someone came along and - in a moment of inspired madness - said, "why not call it a flotilla of freedom?" Bad idea. In fact, this is the second name-based bad idea stemming from the flotilla madness, the first one being Benyamin Netanyahu's proclamation (at about 5:43) that the flotilla was "not a love boat, this was a hate boat" - leading to the inevitable YouTube upload.
Theoretically, if this initiative had happened three weeks ago, could they have called it a flotilla? Most dictionaries indicate that a flotilla is "a group of small naval vessels, esp. a naval unit containing two or more squadrons," so technically perhaps that's what this naval endeavor is. But to choose this word, today - when most of us non-Navy people didn't know a flotilla from a tortilla - means something different, invokes something painful or disturbing to both right and left, and smacks of keyword bias.
That tent across from my office is a concrete reminder of the days that have passed since Gilad was taken into captivity. The rallies I attended on behalf of Ron Arad, Zachary Baumel and others as a young student still resonate. There are ways to speak up, to speak out, to protest, to demand. And everyone has his or her idea of what kind of activism is the right or most effective kind. But in pursuit of justice, invoking language that - even if it began in an innocuous state - has come to mean something awful, loses its credibility, diminishes its ability to inspire action in others, and dilutes its original strength of goodness. In other words, it becomes a Good Idea in Bad Idea Jeans.
(*People who don't live in Israel can view the original SNL "commercial" for Bad Idea Jeans below.)