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David Harris-Gershon
David Harris-Gershon
David Harris-Gershon is the author of What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? His work has appeared in The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

The Origin of ‘Scapegoat,’ Donald Trump & Ta-Nehisi Coates: A Thought for Progressives on Yom Kippur


by: on September 23rd, 2015 | 4 Comments »

Along with many Jews sitting in synagogue this Yom Kippur, I read what I consider to be one of the more fascinating biblical narratives: that of the scapegoat. And as I read, seated in a cavernous sanctuary, analyzing rabbinic commentary in the shadow of stain-glass-adorned walls, a strange thought surfaced. Or rather, a name: Donald Trump.

Allow me to explain.

First, for those unfamiliar with the biblical origin of the ‘scapegoat’ concept, hold on to your hats. This is fantastic. Here’s my synopsis:

The Israelites are camped in the wilderness, and Aaron, Moses’s brother who serves as the High Priest, is instructed to select two goats to be sacrificed. These “sin offerings” are meant to somehow spiritually atone for the collective transgressions of the entire nation. Only, something strange occurs. Aaron is commanded to hold some type of lottery for these two goats, with one being sacrificed as normal, and the other becoming the ‘scapegoat.’

So what happens to this scapegoat? Aaron places both hands upon this goat’s head and verbally confesses the collective sins of all the Israelites, with the goat metaphorically becoming the embodiment of everyone’s individual and collective transgressions. This ‘scapegoat’ is then cast into the wilderness, never to be seen again.

Now, we didn’t cast lots on two goats this morning in synagogue, watch our rabbi hold its head while articulating our unsavory deeds, and then send one of them into the streets of Pittsburgh. Thankfully, that Yom Kippur ritual no longer holds. Instead, we verbally articulated some of the things we’ve done wrong – both as individuals and as a community.

No matter how fascinated I am by the ‘scapegoat’ narrative, I look upon it as conceptually archaic, and am glad it no longer exists. However, I realized while reading the narrative this morning that I have not escaped the narrative’s grasp. Indeed, I unknowingly enact the ritual constantly, creating scapegoats in my political life. A principle one at this moment is Donald Trump.


U.S. Jewish community’s needed apology to Muslim Americans on Yom Kippur


by: on September 22nd, 2015 | 32 Comments »

In the past week, Republican presidential candidates have turned hatred for Muslims into a principle campaign platform. Donald Trump gave sanction to a questioner calling for the United States to “get rid of” all Muslims, and Ben Carson said Muslims are inherently unfit to lead this nation, a notion with which 40 percent of Americans agree.

That these two figures are leading in the polls – and that a call to get rid of all Muslims is actually reverberating in America – reveals just how normative Islamophobia has become within large swaths of our society.

As a Jew whose surviving family sought shelter in America after the Holocaust, I shudder at the hatred being directed today at Muslim Americans. Last night around the dinner table, we all shuddered at this question:

Can you imagine if they were talking about Jews?


The silent “also” in Black Lives Matter: The story of our yard sign in a mostly white neighborhood


by: on September 14th, 2015 | No Comments »

We live in an old, urban neighborhood in Pennsylvania. Each house sits inches from the next, and all are situated quite close to the sidewalk and street. Yards are tiny, which makes for intimate pedestrian traffic. Waves and greetings are common, if not obligatory.

It’s a mostly white area, and we’re white. Or rather, as Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, we’re among those who believe themselves to be white within America’s manufactured system of dominance and subservience based upon race. We’re actually Jews primarily of Eastern European descent.

While there is one black family on our block, it’s not exactly a diverse area, though being urban, it is more so than one might find in your average American suburb. And it’s amidst this physical backdrop that we decided, a few weeks ago, to place a Black Lives Matter sign in our front yard. The decision came after powerful responses to a piece I’d written on the way Left Bank Books in St. Louis beautifully responded when a customer blasted their own signs.

We purchased several from Left Bank Books and, upon their arrival, I placed one in our front yard, doing so with slight hesitation. After all, neighborly interactions on such a street happen easily, and I feared the inevitable “All Lives Matter” response. Or worse. And so we created a handmade sign to accompany our “Black Lives Matter” declaration, a sign intended as both pedagogic and a preemptive strike:

"Black Lives Matter" sign next to a handmade sign reading, "Black Lives Matter has a silent "also." It refers to the idea that black lives are sometimes not treated like they matter as much as everyone else's."


Empathizing with Palestinians does not make me anti-Semitic, it makes me Jewish


by: on September 12th, 2015 | Comments Off

Originally published at Jewschool

As missiles fell in Israel and bombs obliterated portions of Gaza last summer, I awoke each morning with a jolt, as though remembering some pressing task nearly forgotten. That jolt felt from afar – from across the Atlantic – was unmitigated fear. A fear that when I swept the crust from my eyes, fired up my laptop and scanned Twitter, I’d either find that an Israeli soldier I knew had died or bear witness to more images of bodies piling up in Gaza. While the former fear was never realized (despite 66 soldiers and six civilians dying in Israel), the latter was actualized with a nauseating consistency.

Every morning, the casualty totals in Gaza grew. Every morning, new images of homes and apartment complexes turned to rubble revealed themselves. Every morning, reporters on the ground wrote of unspeakable traumas, of entire families lost in the blink of eyes once open. And as Palestinian suffering grew, so too did my public expressions of empathy. Expressions which were attacked so forcefully, one might have thought, absent all context, that I was a skinhead seeking Jewish blood.

Finally, awoken to images of a U.N. shelter shelled by Israel, killing 16 civilians hiding in a location promised to be safe, I wrote the following on July 25, 2014:

“Empathizing with Gaza does not make me anti-Semitic, nor pro-Hamas or anti-Israel. It makes me human.”


A powerful moment as Palestinian girls & women stop an Israeli soldier from detaining an injured boy


by: on August 29th, 2015 | Comments Off

There are visual moments which have the capacity to shift perceptions and increase awareness in ways that are unmatched by words or data. Moments captured on film which are fleeting, but remain indelible long after they’ve passed. Such a moment occurred on Friday in the West Bank, the images of which are spreading rapidly.

Israeli soldier roughly detaining Mohammed Tamimi, 12, during an anti-occupation protest in Nabi Saleh. Credit: Reuters

As seen in the image above, it is a difficult moment which occurred during Friday’s weekly anti-occupation protest in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. An Israeli soldier chased down twelve-year-old Mohammed Tamimi, whose arm had been broken in a previous demonstration and who was accused by the soldier of throwing stones. As Mohammed was being dragged away, his fifteen-year-old sister, mother, aunt and members of the Tamimi family began screaming to the soldier that he’s a minor, and that his arm is broken, before physically tearing the soldier off of Mohammed during a struggle.

An image of this difficult moment can be seen below, and video of the incident in its entirety here:

aaCredit: Reuters.


Israel sends shot across US bow, hinting it will resume assassinations of Iran’s nuclear scientists


by: on August 16th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Veteran Israeli analyst, Nahum Barnea, has penned a piece entitled “On the edge of the abyss” which details how Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is desperate to do whatever must be done in order to kill passage of the Iran deal in Washington.

According to Barnea, this includes threatening the Obama administration, or more accurately, those members of Congress still weighing their decision on the Iran deal. The threat? That a passed nuclear agreement will result in one thing: a last-resort war launched by Israel to save itself. Here is Barnea:

Israel is willing to invest quite a lot in putting the military option back on the table. Defense Minister Ya’alon threatened last week in the media that Israel will resume targeted assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. It was strange, because in the past, Israel didn’t make its threats in the media – according to foreign reports, it conducted its assassinations in secret. Ya’alon’s comments were not for Tehran’s ears, however, but for Washington. There were other moves, more concrete ones. It’s important to Israel to create the impression in Washington that approving the agreement would lead to war.

On the matter of Iranian nuclear scientists, Barnea is referring to an interview last week Defense Minister Ya’alon granted Der Spiegel. In that interview, Ya’alon hinted that Israel was responsible for a series of targeted attacks which killed five Iranian nuclear scientists, and boldly implied such targeted assassinations may be resumed along with the bombing of Iranian facilities if the deal passes.

According to a CBS news report in 2014, the Obama administration pressured Netanyahu last year to order a cessation of such targeted killings by Mossad. Now, with the nuclear agreement being weighed by Congress, the Netanyahu-led government is making not-so-veiled threats to Washington that it will act if the deal passes.


Solidarity between blacks and Jews in America being damaged by Israel


by: on August 15th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

I’m an American Jew who is a conscious ally of the black community and happens to also be a supporter of President Obama’s Iran deal. Neither of these things make me unique. Indeed, most US Jews, politically liberal and socially progressive, are allies in the fight against bigotry – 64 percent of Jews think blacks still face and lot of discrimination – and support Obama’s diplomacy with Iran.

This is why it pains me to see racist attacks against President Obama emanating from Israel beginning to shake the foundational relationship between the Jewish and black communities in America. For despite attempts by Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to posture himself and Israel as representing “the entire Jewish people,” the reality is that Israeli and American Jews are very different. Indeed, Israel cannot be conflated with all Jews, and Jewish Israeli politicians in turn do not represent American Jews. This also extends to most institutional Jewish leaders in this country, who are out of step with the Jewish community.

However, for black Americans who see Jewish leaders in America supporting Israeli attacks against President Obama, it’s easy to understand how a conflation might take place. And yes, there is a reason many in the black community view recent attacks against President Obama’s Iran deal emanating from Israel to have racist undertones.

It’s because they do.

A scan of social media in Hebrew shows this to be painfully clear. Unfortunately, also clear are visible, public expressions in English from politicians and high-profile figures. Take for example, this Tweet sent out by Judy Mozes, the wife of Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom and a popular radio personality:


Israel’s new UN ambassador rejects two states, wants to annex the West Bank “with the minimum number of Palestinians.”


by: on August 14th, 2015 | 16 Comments »

Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has just appointed a man to represent Israel on the international stage who rejects Palestinian statehood and wants to annex most of the West Bank. The move simply confirms that Netanyahu’s true geo-political goal is for Israel to gain sovereignty over the West Bank and create a ‘Greater Israel.’

Yes, Netanyahu recently tried to backtrack from statements indicating that he wants to occupy the Palestinians indefinitely; however, this appointment shows Israel’s current leader has always rejected and will continue to reject any peace agreement which grants Palestinians a sovereign state.

Lest anyone question the extremist politics of Danny Danon, the man who will now diplomatically represent Israel, he has explicitly rejected the two-state solution, remarking when he was Deputy Defense Minister that he would go so far as to block Palestinian statehood if it were to come up for a vote. This is also a man who has expressed a desire for Israel to “gain sovereignty over the majority of the [West Bank] … “with the minimum number of Palestinians” as possible. As for the Palestinians themselves? Danon would rather Jordan figure out their ‘status’ rather than Israel burden itself alone with such matters.

Just to reiterate, Israel’s new U.N. ambassador, the country’s highest-ranking diplomat, is a one-stater who cares little about the rights of Palestinians, and certainly doesn’t think such rights should be Israel’s concern. Indeed, the only thing which differentiates Danon from those proponents of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement who seek a bi-national, democratic state, is that the latter seem to be the only ones who care about democracy.



My response to Jeffrey Goldberg’s claim that “Jewish supporters of the Obama administration are beginning to feel scapegoated.”


by: on August 11th, 2015 | 29 Comments »

In The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg today questioned whether President Obama truly understands “Jewish anxiety” about the Iran deal. He did so despite Obama’s clear acknowledgement of the Iranian regime’s anti-Semitism and unequivocal validation of the fears some Jews have about the deal.

So what sparked Goldberg to question Obama’s “understanding” of such fears? He believes the Obama administration’s advocates are “empower[ing] actual anti-Semites” by singling out AIPAC and Israel-lobby hawks for their opposition to the deal, and that Obama doesn’t see how targeting “Jewish special interests” might lead to an increase of anti-Semitism in America.

As a result, Goldberg writes, “Jewish supporters of the Obama administration are beginning to feel scapegoated” – at least, according to some people showing up in his email inbox.

I’d like to tackle both of these notions Goldberg puts forward, and as a Jewish Obama supporter, hopefully put them to rest.


Obama Is NOT Anti-Semitic for Calling Out the Israel Lobby’s Warmongering


by: on August 8th, 2015 | 6 Comments »

This is rich. In a Weekly Standard op-ed written by Elliot Abrams and trumpeted by Karl Rove and Bill Kristol, President Obama has been accused of promoting anti-Semitism for calling out the Israel Lobby’s influence and warmongering.

The logic behind this ugly, slanderous charge goes as follows:

  • 1) President Obama called out AIPAC and the Israel lobby as being a powerful force, backed by millions of dollars, hoping to topple the Iran deal.
  • 2) President Obama then identified this force, which was also behind the Iraq war, as advocating for a war which is against the United States’ best interest, arguing that he, as President, must do what’s right for the U.S., not Israel.
  • 3) Thus, President Obama has accused American Jews of placing Israel’s interests over America’s, which is to accuse American Jews of “dual loyalty,” the most nefarious and dangerous of anti-Semitic tropes.

Here is Abrams concluding this anti-Semitism charge in his own words:

Why would these people opposing the deal be [advocating for war]? It’s their “affinity for our friend and ally Israel.” But we have to resist their arguments: “as president of the United States it would be an abrogation of my constitutional duty to act against my best judgment simply because it causes temporary friction with a dear friend and ally.” It is implicit, and very close to explicit, here that the other side wants the U.S. president to act not on our own country’s behalf but on Israel’s. This is an echo of the old “dual loyalty” charge that has been lodged against American Jews since the day the State of Israel was established.

The president is not ignorant (the accusation he lays against his opponents) and must know he is here feeding a deep line of anti-Semitism that accuses of American Jews of getting America into wars.

What chutzpah! No, I’m not talking about Abrams’ history with the Iran-Contra affair, which is a different matter all together. What’s incredible and maddening is that Abrams has, in accusing Obama of anti-Semitism, actually employed a REAL anti-Semitic trope in his accusation. For Abrams has conflated AIPAC and all Jews together, as if they are one and the same, something only the ugliest anti-Semite would dream of doing.