When Carole Zawatsky, CEO of the Washington, DC Jewish Community Center (DCJCC), informed me that my March book event had been cancelled due to my political views, I was stunned. However, when she explained that one view in particular precipitated her decision – my position that Palestinians’ use of nonviolent opposition (boycotts) is legitimate – I was no longer just stunned. I was deeply saddened.

After all, my book event at the DCJCC, part of its “Embracing Democracy” series, was to focus on the narrative of reconciliation embedded in my memoir, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? The entire narrative is a treatise on the power of nonviolence, a narrative Zawatsky found wildly compelling when she invited me to speak.

That is, until I embraced Palestinian nonviolence. Suddenly, my narrative was no longer so compelling, and I was no longer welcome to speak in the community, despite being a Jewish educator (I teach biblical and rabbinic texts to 4th-8th graders) and a progressive Zionist.

While saddened by the lost opportunity for dialogue in DC, what most upset me was how this cancellation fit into a larger crisis within the American political landscape and, more specifically, the American Jewish community, where honest discourse on Israel is being constricted by high-profile politicians and Jewish institutional leaders alike. I articulated as much in my response to the DCJCC, published in Israel’s Haaretz.

To my great surprise, that piece set of a firestorm within the DC Jewish and political communities. My inbox began filling with messages of support from people I did not know, and my voicemail from individuals and organizations who wanted to create an alternate book event in DC – an event which will likely become official next week.

Much of the outrage expressed by these people, both privately an in public, shared my dismay at the communal damage being done by Jewish institutions, which are shrinking the communal tent by excluding progressives for political views which “stand outside the bounds of legitimate discourse,” as Willam Daroff, head of the Jewish Federation’s DC office, articulated recently.

However, I was surprised by a particular trope which began to appear in published pieces opposing the DCJCC’s cancellation. In The Washington Post, Sharon Jacobs wrote:

Among us, Harris-Gershon – a man whose [wife] survived a Palestinian terrorist bombing – is uniquely qualified to discuss nonviolent resistance as an alternative to bloody attacks.

Jabobs’ view that my encounter with violence lent credence to my voice, and made its muzzling all the more troubling, began to be echoed by others. In The Forward, Mira Sucharov wrote:

Harris-Gershon is not a “one-stater.” He is a self-declared liberal Zionist who seeks an end to the occupation. This by its very nature puts him well within the mainstream. He is simply a clearly and understandably fatigued member of the mainstream.

Reading Harris-Gershon’s actual book, one quickly realizes that he has endured his share of fatigue: deep, personal, unyielding and terrorizing fatigue. His wife had her body torn apart by a Palestinian suicide bomber while eating lunch at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He helped nurse her to recovery, in a slow, sad, heavy process. They lost two of their close friends in that bombing.

If anyone deserves to be fatigued by the lack of current political options, it is Harris-Gershon.

Sharna Marcus, a friend and blogger, wrote:

David has over and over clarified his position on the issue [of BDS - Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions]. He has most recently written in Haaretz after being banned by the DCJCC that he “views economic sanctions as a legitimate form of nonviolent protest for Palestinians to use, despite my opposition to some tactics used by the BDS movement and its implicit goal of a bi-national state.”
I don’t see why any Jewish organization or Jewish leader would not be okay with that statement, especially given the fact that when Palestinians used a violent form of protest, his wife paid a high price and their friends were murdered. He is saying, “Go ahead, use a non violent form of protest to make your point.”

And on Reddit, a user posted my Haaretz article under a unique title which echoed Marcus’ view:

When Palestinians used violence as a form of opposition, an author’s wife paid the price. So now he’s championing Palestinians’ use of nonviolent opposition (boycotts). For this, his book events are being cancelled. In America.

Now, I have never viewed my wife’s trauma, and in turn my own, as giving my voice more legitimacy than others when it comes to political discourse in America, whether that discourse be U.S. policy with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the conflict itself. However, I have viewed my experience and research as giving me the ‘credentials’ to offer how nonviolent initiatives might play into solving the conflict.

And others have recognized this as well. After all, I have been speaking around the country, and was invited to do so by the DCJCC and Santa Barbara Hillel – two venues to cancel my book events – specifically to talk about how my narrative might be a microcosmic example for how to achieve a national reconciliation.

I suppose I thought that my experience with Palestinian violence would, in turn, reveal how reasonable (and obviously unimpeachable) a preference for nonviolent initiatives is over violent ones. In truth, the opposite has turned out to be the case. Fear has taken over the institutional Jewish community and larger political landscape. Officials fearing the BDS movement, with its implicit vision of a bi-national state, now view Palestinian nonviolence as an existential threat to Israel’s very existence, and have thus come to fear me – and the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of progressives like me in America.

It is a fear that must be countered by dialogue. And it’s a dialogue which will be had, whether communal and political leaders like it or not.

 

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What Do You Buy For the Children
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

 


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