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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.



Bernie Sanders wants Israel’s occupation to end, and these young American Jews are actively pursuing his vision

Mar27

by: on March 27th, 2016 | Comments Off

Last Monday, 18,000 Jews shamefully applauded a man backed by neo-Nazis at AIPAC’s annual policy conference. However, while Donald Trump was pandering to and being cheered by an unrepresentative segment of the American Jewish community willing to ignore his fascism and hate, something much different was happening 2,000 miles away in Salt Lake City.

This is where Bernie Sanders, the only Jewish presidential candidate and sole contender to skip AIPAC’s conference, delivered a speech he wrote with AIPAC in mind, a speech which likely would have been ill received by an unforgiving and hostile audience.

Sanders, among all candidates, was the only one to mention Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinians. Not only that, he called for its cessation as well:

Peace will mean ending what amounts to the occupation of Palestinian territory, establishing mutually agreed upon borders, and pulling back settlements in the West Bank, just as Israel did in Gaza – once considered an unthinkable move on Israel’s part.

That is why I join much of the international community, including the U.S. State Department and European Union, in voicing my concern that Israel’s recent expropriation of an additional 579 acres of land in the West Bank undermines the peace process and, ultimately, Israeli security as well.

Sanders ruffled the feathers of some institutional Jewish leaders loathe to even mention the word “occupation,” much less acknowledge it as an obstacle to peace. However, he actually represents the majority of American Jews who see critiquing Israel, namely its settlements and the occupation, as not just compatible with being Jewish, but an essential part of what it means to be a Jew.

Sanders also echoed the desires of a small cadre of young, American Jews who are actively working to oppose the occupation through The Center for Jewish Nonviolence via an activist campaign called “The Occupation is Not Our Judaism.” These American college students are organizing and raising funds for the type of trip one imagines Sanders would have joined as a youth and might even publicly support today:

We are a group of American college students, and we believe that occupation is not our Judaism. As part of the student wing of the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, we will join Jewish activists, rabbis, community leaders of all ages from around the world in the West Bank this July for ten days of nonviolent solidarity work with Palestinian partners. Our commitment to Jewish history, texts, and community compels us to work toward a day in which the shared humanity and full equality of Palestinians and Israelis alike will be realized. We, as consistent with the values of the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, are unequivocally opposed to the occupation and committed to the practice of nonviolent resistance.


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The First Jewish President

Feb7

by: on February 7th, 2016 | Comments Off

In 2011, New York magazine called Barack Obama “the first Jewish president” for his tough-love support of Israel. It was not only a ridiculous statement at the time, bombast intended to counter the exaggerated attacks coming from right-wing hawks, but it was an offensive statement for many American Jews who understand that backing Israel does not make one Jewish.

That was five years ago. Today, for the first time in American history – just seventy years after U.S. forces liberated Buchenwald – we have the opportunity to intone those words in actuality: “the first Jewish president.” In Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Party has a viable, Jewish candidate inspiring young Americans across every divide imaginable, using the language of morality just as much as that of populism. Given this, it’s worth exploring just what being ‘Jewish’ means for Bernie Sanders, and why his Jewishness is meaningful.

***

I recognize Sanders, see much of my family and myself in him, as do millions of eligible voters.

Like most American Jews, Sanders is not religiously observant, if to be observant means faithfully practicing Jewish rituals, engaging with organized Jewish institutions, and adhering to Jewish law. He does none of this. And yet, his cultural identity and his ethical compass are deeply Jewish, coming from a long tradition of American Jews who have eschewed theism and organized religion while culturally and politically embracing the core tenets of justice echoed within Jewish texts.


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To Fully Fight Islamophobia, U.S. Jews Must Confront How Pro-Israel Organizations Foment Anti-Muslim Hate Now Spreading Across America

Dec25

by: on December 25th, 2015 | Comments Off

Originally published in +972 Magazine

Anti-Muslim rhetoric coming from American lawmakers and presidential candidates reached a fevered pitch earlier this month when, standing before a cheering crowd aboard the USS Yorktown in South Carolina, Donald Trump called for a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering the United States. This call came on the heels of Trump and Ben Carson calling for mosques to be monitored, Senator Marco Rubio suggesting that places where Muslim-Americans gather be shut down, and hundreds of lawmakers voting to turn away Syrian refugees.

These anti-Muslim policies, and the Islamophobia at their core, no longer reside on the fringes in America. They have seeped into the mainstream. Today, a majority of conservative voters support them, and poll numbers often rise for those Republican politicians who choose to double down by exploiting anti-Muslim sentiments. Such policies – and the hateful incitement politicians use when proposing them – are inspiring horrific hate crimes against Muslim-Americans. In the week after Trump’s Muslim ban comments, a California mosque was torched, an Arizona mosque was vandalized, two Muslim women in Florida were violently attacked, a Muslim deli owner in New York was beaten, and a Muslim child in Georgia was asked by a teacher, “Do you have a bomb in your backpack?”

I have been heartened in recent weeks to see many Jewish leaders and pro-Israel institutions, shocked by the historical reverberations, stand up for Muslims under attack. After all, in 1939 it was Jews fleeing Hitler who were demonized and blocked from reaching America’s shores. This stuff hits close to home for American Jews. Which is why 11 Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), recently signed a letter to Congress declaring that “to turn our back on [Syrian] refugees would be to betray our nation’s core values.” It is also why the ADL was quick to blast Trump last week.

However, such public pronouncements, as wonderful as they have been, conceal a troubling truth which the institutional Jewish community and U.S. Jews invested in Israel must confront if we are to root out anti-Muslim bigotry: in the post-9/11 era, pro-Israel donors, institutions and the Israel lobby have often fueled the very Islamophobia now suddenly catching fire in America, doing so as a strategy for smearing Palestinians.

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Why I’m rejecting Donald Trump’s Hanukkah wishes

Dec7

by: on December 7th, 2015 | Comments Off

On Sunday afternoon, as Hanukkah was about to commence, Donald Trump sent out a greeting to his “Jewish friends,” of which he has few. In this obligatory greeting, Trump wished me and my fellow tribe mates health and happiness, gave a lesson on how not to use the comma, and – most importantly – inspired the ire of many Jews across America by offering us wishes in the first place.

Why? American Jews recognize Trump as the contemporary incarnation of George Wallace and Joseph McCarthy. We reject his hateful incitements against Muslim-Americans, drawing upon the same fears which inspire those anti-Semites who would like to do us harm. And we remember 1939, when the United States, full of fear and bigotry, refused to take us in as we fled Nazi Germany. We remember those who were murdered in Europe, and find Trump’s rejection of Syrian refugees to be both monstrous and dangerous.

It is for these reasons that, when Trump offered his Hanukkah greeting, I immediately rejected it, as did scores of Jews across the country:


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On receiving anti-Semitic threats as GOP leaders’ anti-Muslim incitements swell. Hate inspires hate.

Dec1

by: on December 1st, 2015 | Comments Off

As an American Jew who often critiques U.S. policy, particularly when abuses or injustices are systematized, I occasionally see anti-Semitic comments pop up by those who take offense. While such comments are always concerning, they have typically been both veiled and infrequent over the past eight years while writing for various progressive outlets.

However, in the last month, during which Republican leaders’ anti-Muslim incitements have reached a troubling cacophony, I’ve have seen a marked shift, both in tone and frequency. Indeed, I’ve been receiving an alarming number of anti-Semitic threats and attacks on Twitter and elsewhere ― most of which are coming from supporters of the very Republicans who are inspiring a fear of Syrian refugees or inciting a hatred of Muslims in general.

I’m not alone in this.

I offer my example (below) not to generate sympathy, but as anecdotal testimony. For the public hatred being directed toward the Muslim-American community by Republican leaders was inevitably going to filter to other communities as well. For hate inspires hate. And today, this is what I’m seeing personally.

Anti-Semitic Threats

After the Planned Parenthood terrorist attack in Colorado Springs, which followed white supremacists shooting Black Lives Matter protesters in Minneapolis and masked, armed men stalking a mosque outside of Dallas, I composed the following Tweets. The obvious intention was to twofold: 1) to highlight GOP leaders’ bigotry toward Muslims, and 2) to expose a stark reality: white terrorists are among the most dangerous threat Americans face:


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Would Representative Steve Israel (D-NY) – a ranking Jewish House member – have rejected Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis in 1939?

Nov19

by: on November 19th, 2015 | Comments Off

Today, Representative Steve Israel (D-NY) voted, along with 46 other House Democrats, to suspend the acceptance of all Syrian refugees fleeing terror. It was a shameful vote for the 289 members of Congress who chose fear and callous bigotry as expedient political tools. Even more so for the 47 Democrats who joined their fear-mongering Republican counterparts in an attempt to keep desperate Syrian refugees out of our country.

However, the most shameful vote was that cast by Israel, who understands intimately how Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis were turned away by the United States in 1939. See, Israel is somewhat of an expert on the Holocaust. In fact, as Director of the Touro Law Center in the late 80s, he created the Institute for Holocaust Law and International Human Rights. It’s mission reads:

The Institute For Holocaust Law and International Human Rights aims to understand, explore and evaluate contemporary mechanisms for protecting human rights and the role of law in view of the lessons of the Holocaust and its aftermath.

This bears repeating: it’s mission is to evaluate “contemporary mechanisms for protecting human rights and the role of law in view of the lessons of the Holocaust and its aftermath.”

Apparently, Israel did not fully explore “the lessons of the Holocaust” when he voted today to block Syrians fleeing horrendous violence from finding refuge upon our shores. He did not remember how Jewish refugees turned away by the United States were murdered by Hitler’s genocidal machine. He did not evaluate how those Syrian refugees unable to seek shelter within the world’s richest country will likely be murdered as well.


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Replace “Syrian” with “Jewish” and we’re back to 1939

Nov17

by: on November 17th, 2015 | 8 Comments »

American Jews across the United States, repulsed by Republican leaders turning their backs on Syrian refugees fleeing terror, are mobilizing with uncommon unity to support them. That’s because as a community, we collectively remember what happened before the Holocaust, when many of us were murdered by Germany’s genocidal machine after being refused entry into the United States.

In the year 1939, a majority of Americans opposed admitting Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. Some feared there would be Nazi infiltrators amidst the desperate Jewish masses. Others lamented that we couldn’t handle the burden. And too many expressed anti-Jewish sentiments to bolster their rejection of Jews fleeing violence in Europe.


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Hillary Clinton Endorses Netanyahu in Deeply Problematic Op-ed (Annotated)

Nov5

by: on November 5th, 2015 | Comments Off

Hillary Clinton has published an op-ed in The Forward entitled, “How I Would Reaffirm Unbreakable Bond With Israel – and Benjamin Netanyahu.” The problems with it are so profound and numerous that I have no choice but to present some of her words and annotate them, which I’ll proceed to do shortly.

However, before beginning, it must be noted from the outset that Clinton, in this piece, not only “reaffirms” her commitment to Israel, but to a man whose transgressions are at the root of nearly every problem Clinton enumerates in her op-ed. This piece does not bode well for her leadership on matters of foreign affairs in the Middle East, as it points to a continuing or broadening of support for the most hawkish elements standing against reconciliation.

In her opening paragraph, Clinton writes:

We have recently marked the 20th anniversary of the assassination of then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, a good friend, a courageous warrior and a great statesman. This somber anniversary, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington on November 9, is an opportunity to reaffirm the unbreakable bonds of friendship and unity between the people and governments of the United States and Israel.

Missing is that Netanyahu bears responsibility for this somber anniversary―the assassination of Rabin. For what Clinton fails to remind us, and which American Jews invested in Israel remember all too well, is that Netanyahu’s incitements against Rabin stoked the very hatred which killed her “good friend.” Indeed, such dangerous incitements leading to bloodshed have become a signature of Netanyahu’s leadership.

But no matter, this is just Clinton using Rabin’s memorial as the occasion to write an op-ed. On its own, it would be more than forgivable, until one reads on.


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Washington Post op-ed by US professors destroys idea Jews who boycott Israel are self-hating or anti-Semitic

Oct24

by: on October 24th, 2015 | 42 Comments »

The Washington Post has published one of the most important pieces ever to appear in a mainstream American publication dealing with the bounds of Israel political discourse in America and within the American Jewish community.

The op-ed, written by Steven Levitsky (Harvard) and Glen Weyl (University of Chicago), is entitled “We are lifelong Zionists. Here’s why we’ve chosen to boycott Israel.” Within it, Levitsky and Weyl painfully conclude that, with Israel’s occupation and oppression of the Palestinians now a permanent fixture―something which threatens Israel’s very existence―pressuring Israel to change via economic boycotts has become a last, necessary resort.

These two men will likely be called self-hating Jews as a way to discredit their position. They will be smeared as seeking Israel’s destruction by those who believe supporting Israel means shielding its geo-political policies from rebuke, no matter how destructive. The problem they will face is this: Levitsky and Weyl have presented their case in such a way that these attacks will immediately reveal themselves as hollow and reflexive. As having no substance other than the fear and zero-sum tendencies which produce them.

Writing on the permanence of Israel’s occupation, on its undemocratic denial of basic human rights which Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin stated has become a “fact of modern Zionism,” Levitsky and Weyl write:

This “basic fact” poses an ethical dilemma for American Jews: Can we continue to embrace a state that permanently denies basic rights to another people? Yet it also poses a problem from a Zionist perspective: Israel has embarked on a path that threatens its very existence.

[...]


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

Sep23

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.


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