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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.



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.

a

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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Netanyahu tells Arab-Israelis protesting police brutality to leave Israel

Nov10

by: on November 10th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

Imagine for a moment that President Obama, during the height of Occupy Wall Street protests, suggested that activists move to Canada. Better yet, imagine that he invited Ferguson protesters demonstrating against police brutality to leave the United States.

Such irresponsible, anti-democratic incitement from our nation’s leader would have had only one result: an intensification of unrest across the country.

This is precisely what has just occurred in Israel during a time of incredible volatility, unrest and violence. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has “invited” Palestinian citizens of Israel engaged in ongoing protests to move to the West Bank or Gaza during a meeting of Likud leaders.

“To all those who demonstrate against Israel and in favor of a Palestinian state, I say something simple: I invite you to move there; we won’t give you any problem.”

To give a sense of how irresponsible and wanton Netanyahu’s words are, consider this: for the past three days, Arab-Israelis across northern Israel have been protesting the police killing of a 22-year-old Palestinian citizen, a killing which was caught on video and shows officers shooting the man in the back while fleeing.

kfar

Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets on Sunday and clashed with police after video surfaced of the killing of a 22-year-old Arab-Israeli citizen in Kfar Kanna.


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Ferguson Just Happened Again

Nov8

by: on November 8th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

The fatal police shooting of a 22-year-old minority last night, this time caught on video, has once again brought angry community members into the streets to protest in dramatic fashion. This time, however, it’s not the streets of St. Louis which are burning, but those in the Arab village of Kfar Kanna near Nazareth in Israel, where Jesus turned water into wine in the Gospels. Today the streets are running red with blood and rage.

On Friday night, Israeli police entered the village to arrest someone involved in a family dispute. After the arrest, an angry family member, Khayr al-Din al-Hamdan, emerged from a house and began hitting a police van with a small metal object, which residents claim was a bar and police claim was a knife. Soon after, al-Hamdan was dead, shot several times in the back by police.

Law enforcement claimed afterward that their lives were in danger, and that they fired warning shots before shooting the Arab youth. However, CCTV video footage shows none of these claims to be true. Instead, officers broke protocol by by emerging from the van, their lives not in danger, and immediately shooting al-Hamdan, who was backing away and fleeing when he was shot in the back several times. Officers then drug al-Hamdan’s body to the police van rather than calling for medical personnel to treat the victim at the scene.

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This Absurd & Offensive Story Represents How U.S. Jewish Institutions Often Misrepresent U.S. Jews

Nov7

by: on November 7th, 2014 | 6 Comments »

This is a strange and deeply revealing story.

It is the story of how a major American (and global) Jewish organization attacked Teresa Heinz Kerry and the Heinz Foundation as an expression of “pro-Israel” support. It is the story of how food wrappers used by a tiny restaurant in Pittsburgh, Conflict Kitchen, became the launching pad for this attack. And it is the story of simultaneous silence and complicity when a top Israeli politician effectively embraced Apartheid in The New York Times.

The Story of Conflict Kitchen

To begin, we must tell the story of Conflict Kitchen. Established in 2010 by Carnegie Mellon University art professor Jon Rubin and Pittsburgh artist Dawn Weleski, the take-out restaurant was begun as an experimental, cultural project. Its vision: introduce local citizens to the foods of those peoples with whom the United States is in conflict. Here is how the restaurant articulates this vision:

Conflict Kitchen is a restaurant that only serves cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict. Each Conflict Kitchen iteration is augmented by events, performances, publications, and discussions that seek to expand the engagement the public has with the culture, politics, and issues at stake within the focus region. The restaurant rotates identities every few months in relation to current geopolitical events.

It’s a beautiful, noble project – the type of initiative which should be replicated across the United States. So what’s the problem, or faux problem? Conflict Kitchen’s newest iteration is Palestinian cuisine, which Pittsburgh Jewish organizations immediately assailed as anti-Israel and illegitimate. The argument being that “Palestine” is not technically in “conflict” with the United States, despite the fact that many Palestinians feel otherwise, since America is Israel’s principal military backer – the same military which supports Israel’s decades-old occupation of Palestinians in the West Bank and repeatedly attacks Gaza.

The “controversy” which resulted after Conflict Kitchen was labeled as anti-Israel has created two outcomes. First, Conflict Kitchen’s newest iteration, Palestinian cuisine, has become its most popular, and has garnered the tiny pop-up restaurant national attention (not to mention hundreds of new customers who never would have known about the restaurant’s existence). Second, this national attention Conflict Kitchen garnered placed it in the crosshairs of a major Jewish institution intent on cutting off its funding.

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Major American Jewish Institutions Endorsing Single-State Solution for Israel/Palestine

Oct26

by: on October 26th, 2014 | 6 Comments »

one state solution

Credit: Creative Commons/ Salaam Shalom

For the last two decades, the largest and most influential Jewish institutions in the United States have publicly supported the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, otherwise known as the two-state solution. From communal entities, such as the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), to political lobbying organizations, such as AIPAC, support for the two-state solution has been a consistent, publicly-articulated dogma.

This support has also been in line with both U.S. foreign policy directives and the majority opinion of those American Jews (seven in ten) who are either emotionally or politically invested in Israel.

However, over the last several months, major U.S. Jewish institutions have, one-by-one, revealed their effective endorsement of a one-state solution, moving away from U.S. interests as well as those of their constituents. This began subtly over the summer, when in June Israel chose its latest President, Reuven Rivlin, a right-wing, one-state proponent whose ideas on bi-nationalism and democracy are complicated. Oddly, not a single major Jewish institution in favor of two states expressed concern over or spoke out against the decision.

Now, perhaps Jewish leaders didn’t find the presidency to be important enough to merit comment, being a symbolic position. Or perhaps they foresaw that Rivlin would unexpectedly become a leading voice in Israel slamming widespread racism against Arabs, calling its society “sick” and in need of treatment. Interestingly, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, published an open letter to Rivlin expressing concern upon his election. However, it wasn’t concern for Rivlin’s one-state vision which was the topic, but rather Rivlin’s disdain for progressive streams of Judaism.

Whatever the reason, Jewish institutions’ silence over Rivlin could have naively been viewed as an anomaly. However, soon after Rivlin’s appointment, Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, explicitly rejected the two-state solution on July 11, saying that Israel could never relinquish sovereignty over the West Bank. Once again, not one major Jewish organization supporting two states said a word, much less condemned Netanyahu’s position. Perhaps this silence, as with Rivlin, could also have been excused, as Israel was in the midst of its “war” with Gaza, and Jewish leaders had circled the wagons in support.


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