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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.

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


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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


by: on October 24th, 2015 | 40 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.



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 | 33 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 | Comments Off

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.