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David Harris-Gershon
David Harris-Gershon
David Harris-Gershon's work has appeared in The Jerusalem Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and elsewhere, and his memoir, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, is forthcoming from Oneworld Publications (September, 2013).



White House to Snub AIPAC Conference Over Netanyahu Speech Before Congress

Feb21

by: on February 21st, 2015 | 1 Comment »

A significant development in the ongoing rift between the Obama administration and Israel’s government: it appears White House plans to snub AIPAC’s upcoming policy conference are intensifying over Binyamin Netanyahu’s March 3 address before Congress.

AIPAC officials have known for weeks that neither President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, or Secretary of State John Kerry would likely attend, already a notable and unprecedented snub. Now, the Associated Press is reporting that the Obama administration may not even send a Cabinet-level representative to the conference:

The White House is mulling ways to undercut Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming trip to Washington and blunt his message that a potential nuclear deal with Iran is bad for Israel and the world in what has become a nasty grudge match.

[...]

Among them … a pointed snub of America’s leading pro-Israel lobby, which is holding its annual meeting while Netanyahu is in Washington.

The administration has already ruled out meetings between Netanyahu and Obama, saying it would be inappropriate for the two to meet so close to Israel’s March 17 elections. But the White House is now doubling down on a cold-shoulder strategy, including dispatching Cabinet members out of the country and sending a lower-ranking official than normal to represent the administration at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the officials said.


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Netanyahu Suggests Leaking U.S.-Iran Negotiations After White House “Limits” Information Sharing with Israel

Feb16

by: on February 16th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

The Obama administration has begun to limit the information it shares with Israel regarding America’s ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran. The reason? White House officials fear that Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, may leak details both for his own political gain and to railroad delicate talks.

Barak Ravid at Haaretz reports:

As a result of the recent tension between the United States and Israel, the White House has begun to limit the scope, quality and depth of the information it shares with Jerusalem about the progress of the talks with Iran about its nuclear program, senior Israeli officials involved in the issue have told Haaretz.

The administration apparently believes that Israel and the U.S. now have a conflict of interests regarding the Iranian issue, the source said. While U.S. President Barack Obama wants to make every effort to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran, Netanyahu is doing everything he can to block one.

One of the main reasons for the decision to limit the information the U.S. shares with Israel on the nuclear talks is a fear of leaks. The Americans fear that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make use of the information given to Israel for his own political needs, and will try to undermine the talks between Iran and the big powers.

Now, in a thinly-veiled message directed at Washington, Netanyahu is suggesting exactly what Obama administration officials fear: his leaking of such information for all the world to see. Again, via Barak Ravid:


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Obama’s stunning & growing silence on shooting of Muslim-Americans in Chapel Hill

Feb12

by: on February 12th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

 

There’s no specific reaction from the White House.”

These stand as the only words which have been uttered by the White House after the murder of three Muslim-Americans in what seems to be a hate crime (if not a lone-wolf terrorist attack). There’s no specific reaction from the White House.

We are now approaching 48 hours since that heinous crime. The innocent victims’ bodies have already been laid to rest before thousands of mourners. Muslim-Americans I know are shaken, scared and enraged, part of a vulnerable minority community made all the more vulnerable since American Sniper hit theaters, setting off a spate of Islamophobic attacks.

Yet, these are the number of words uttered by President Obama: zero.

The White House’s apparent excuse for not saying anything about the shooting – not even to express words of sympathy or sadness for the victims – is that there is an ongoing investigation, and that the results must be in before Obama speaks.

However, this excuse holds absolutely no value. Indeed, President Obama (rightly) made immediate statements of sympathy and support in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing, and the shooting at the Kansas City Jewish Community Center (to name just a few). All of these statements were made well before any investigations had been concluded or clear information had been determined regarding motivations or even perpetrators.

To amplify this, consider: this summer Obama immediately condemned the killing of three kidnapped teenagers in Israel before anyone knew who or why they had been killed.

Why then has Obama not made a simple statement of support for the families of what by all accounts were three incredible Americans in Chapel Hill? Why has he not uttered a single word of condolence? Of sadness? Of support for a Muslim-American community feeling the reverberations of bigotry and fear in the wake of this crime?


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No, you will NOT be speaking for me or “the entire Jewish people” before Congress, Netanyahu.

Feb9

by: on February 9th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said yesterday that he will be speaking for “the entire Jewish people” in his controversial speech before Congress on March 3, anointing himself as leader and representative of all Jews – including the majority of American Jews who oppose his politics on Iran.

Witness the chutzpah:

“I went to Paris not just as the prime minister of Israel but as a representative of the entire Jewish people,” Netanyahu said, during a conference for French-speaking Likud activists. “Just as I went to Paris, so I will go anyplace I’m invited to convey the Israeli position against those who want to kill us.”

There is much to unpack here, and I will attempt to do so in a point-by-point response below:

1) From a purely political perspective, Netanyahu’s claim to be the voice for world Jewry, by virtue of being Israel’s leader, is preposterous. In Israel alone, only 23 percent of the 6.1 million Jews who live there voted for Netanyanu (Likud), while the world’s remaining 7.7 million Jews did not cast a ballot for the man as citizens of other nations. For those keeping score, that’s 1.3 million Jews out of the world’s 13.8 million who voted for Netanyahu.

On the issue of Iran – the issue Netanyahu will speak upon before Congress on behalf of “the entire Jewish people” – 52 percent of American Jews embrace President Obama’s diplomacy with Iran and reject Netanyahu’s approach, including those Jewish members of Congress who will be boycotting Netanyahu’s address. Not only that, more global Jews (4.6 million) voted for President Obama than global Jews (1.3 million) who voted for Netanyahu.

In other words, this (via Occupy Judaism) if you’re feeling snarky:

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Civil Rights Hero John Lewis (D-GA) Boycotting Netanyahu’s Congressional Speech

Feb5

by: on February 5th, 2015 | 5 Comments »

The Democratic revolt over Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress continues to grow. Indeed, more Democratic representatives have stated that they either will be boycotting Netanyahu’s speech or are undecided about their attendance than those who have stated they will be attending.

This is being punctuated by the fact that John Lewis (D-GA), civil rights icon and an elder statesman in the Democratic caucus, has now publicly pledged to skip Netanyahu’s speech. As of this writing, he is the fifth Democratic representative to do so, with the others being Jim McGovern (D-MA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Jim McDermott (D-WA), and head of the Congressional Black Caucus, G.K. Butterfield (D-NC).

This in addition to a handful of representatives, including several Jewish members of Congress, who have admitted that they have not yet decided if they will attend. This includes John Yarmuth (D-KY), Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Alan Lowenthal (D-CA). Of these, Yarmuth made waves last week when, during a radio interview, he expressed outrage at John Boehner’s invitation of Netanyahu, calling it “close to subversion” of the President.

As I wrote last week, what Boehner and Netanyahu have actually done is subvert bi-partisan support for Israel:

The irony here is that, instead of subverting Obama, Boehner has ended up subverting bipartisan support for Israel on the issue of Iran. Indeed, Boehner and Netanyahu together have done the unthinkable: they have turned Israel into a political wedge now dividing Democrats and Republicans. For in response to the Netanyahu invitation, Democrats in Congress who supported the Iran sanctions bill, including some of its critical backers, have currently pulled such support.


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Rep. Yarmuth (D-KY): ‘As a Jew in Congress, my first obligation is to the United States, not Israel.’

Jan30

by: on January 30th, 2015 | 6 Comments »

An unusual moment occurred on the Stephanie Miller Show last Friday. That’s when Representative John Yarmuth, a Democrat from Kentucky, spoke with rare candor about the tension – and anger – he feels regarding American politicians, influenced by AIPAC “fundraising,” seemingly deferring to Israel at times over the United States on matters of foreign policy.

“You know, I’m a Jewish member of Congress, I’m a strong supporter of Israel, but my first obligation is to the Constitution of the United States, not to the Constitution of Israel. And unfortunately, I think, some of the demands that are made of members by AIPAC and some strong Jewish supporters are that we pay more attention – I guess we defer – to Israel more than we defer to the United States.”

[...]

“And you know, a lot of it has to do with fundraising.”

Representative John Yarmuth standing at a podium.

"I'm a strong supporter of Israel, but my first obligation is to the Constitution of the United States, not to the Constitution of Israel." Credit: Greater Louisville Medical Society

Now, nevermind that Israel does not have a constitution, but instead has a legal framework constructed around basic laws. Yarmuth’s point was clear: hawkish ‘pro-Israel’ institutions in America, such as AIPAC, often inspire politicians to take foreign policy positions which are sometimes in direct opposition to or even harm U.S. initiatives. Such is the case with the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015, partially written and strongly pushed by AIPAC. This is legislation which would severely harm President Obama’s diplomatic inroads with Iran. It is also legislation Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, will trumpet before Congress come March.

And this is precisely the occasion for Yarmuth’s remarks: Speaker John Boehner’s now infamous backdoor invitation to Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who just weeks before his own election will stand before Congress and serve up the Republican rebuttal to Obama’s signature foreign policy initiative.

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Dear President Obama: Please Invite Me to the White House During Netanyahu’s Congressional Speech

Jan24

by: on January 24th, 2015 | 14 Comments »

Dear President Obama,

You don’t know my name, though you know the names of those who represent hundreds of thousands of American Jews who, like me, publicly support your diplomatic efforts with Iran.

And while you don’t know my name, you know that I and those like me represent 52 percent of U.S. Jews who support your diplomatic efforts over those presented by Congressional Republicans and Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who are now shamelessly working in concert, behind your back, to undermine your administration’s historic gains.

As the leader of Israel, Netanyahu often claims to speak for all Jews, absurdly conflating his political ideals with those of American Jewry. But he does not speak for most of us. Indeed, there are over three million American Jews for whom he does not speak. Over three million voices in the American Jewish community who reject current efforts to scuttle historic nuclear negotiations with Iran. Who reject efforts to undermine peaceful diplomacy. And who reject John Boehner’s outrageous breach of protocol by inviting a foreign leader to deliver a response to your State of the Union address.


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Jews Across America are Standing Against Police Violence This Hanukkah

Dec16

by: on December 16th, 2014 | 7 Comments »

As Jews throughout the world light candles this evening, many across America are simultaneously shining a light upon police violence and affirming that black lives matter in protests and social action efforts in over seventeen cities.

From Boston to San Francisco and Albany to Durham, Jews are committing themselves over the next eight days during Hanukkah to not just mark a historical moment in which the shackles of occupation and oppression were overthrown by ancient Jews, but to illuminate the racism and state oppression ripping America apart.

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Hundreds of Jews and allies in Boston block traffic and affirm that Black Lives Matter. Image via Michelle Weiser.


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On Obama Quoting the Book of Exodus: ‘We shall not oppress a stranger’

Nov22

by: on November 22nd, 2014 | 11 Comments »

Obama addressing nation

Credit: Creative Commons/CreoFire

A powerful moment in President Obama’s immigration reform speech came when, after telling the emotional story of a young immigrant, he quoted a verse from the Book of Exodus to bookend his case for empathy.

This was not only a significant moment in Obama’s speech, but a significant moment in the panoply of presidential speeches. For while presidents sometimes allude to biblical texts or their ethical principles, it’s rare for verses to actually be quoted in full. This, of course, predictably set FOX & Friends into a fiery rage, a rage which has placed Obama’s quotation into sharper focus.

Since this is a fascinating verse I regularly teach to Jewish day school students in the original Hebrew, I thought it would be instructive to a) briefly examine the actual verse, b) examine Obama embedding this verse into the immigration reform debate, and c) examine the contemporary reality of the place and people to whom the verse was originally directed: Jews entering the Land of Israel.

Obama’s Quoting of Exodus 23:9 – Don’t oppress the “stranger”

Below is the moment, after telling the story of Astrid Silva, in which Obama invokes the Book of Exodus:

Scripture tells us, “We shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger. We were strangers once, too.”

My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forbearers were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like or what our last names are, or how we worship.

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Jon Stewart’s Perfect Response to Criticism He is ‘Self-Hating’ for Israel Critiques

Nov13

by: on November 13th, 2014 | 55 Comments »

Jon Stewart The Daily Show

Credit: Creative Commons/U.S. Navy

“Go f-ck yourself,” Jon Stewart said in a moment of perceptible anger.

This wasn’t the usual, lighthearted barb during a satirical segment, nor a playful expression of ire diluted by audience laughter. It was sincere and seemingly raw, uttered during an interview with Canada.com’s Jon Dekel and directed toward those Jews who have called him anti-Semitic, self-hating, or a kapo for critiquing Israel on The Daily Show.

The verbal barb didn’t come out of left field during Dekel’s interview, conducted in advance of the release of Stewart’s movie, Rosewater. It came near the end of a series of focused questions posed to Stewart on the topic of attacks he’s withstood from the American Jewish community. Attacks he’s suffered for treating Israel honestly on his show, for having the temerity to highlight its misdeeds.

They are the same attacks I have felt repeatedly, both for my own critiques of Israel and for my reconciliation with a Palestinian family after an encounter with terrorism. They are the same attacks an increasing number of committed Jews are feeling – Jews invested in Israel who are willing to speak out about Israel’s misdeeds. Of course, anyone who critiques Israel these days is subject to such attacks, from Steven Salaita to Conflict Kitchen.

However, as a Jew, Stewart passionately focused on those attacks which have been made against him by fellow Jews. In doing so, he crafted a rebuttal so on-point that I felt as though he were speaking not just for me, but for the countless other Jews who have critiqued Israel and paid a price for doing so.


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