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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).



12 Years Ago Today, Hamas Tried to Kill My Wife. I’m Marking that Day by Opposing the Gaza War and Attacks on All Civilians

Jul30

by: on July 30th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

In the weeks since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, nearly 1,000 Palestinian civilians have been killed in unspeakable violence visited upon Gaza by Israeli missiles, while in Israel three civilians have been killed by Hamas rockets which have steadily fallen, fortunately harming few.*

Every death has been tragic, each loss amplified by the fact that this violence, this ‘war,’ did not have to be. Every innocent life, taken by the hands of leaders on both sides who have acted criminally, calls out to us for this conflict to end.

Twelve years ago today, my wife almost became another civilian tragedy in this ongoing conflict when a Hamas attack nearly took her life. The two friends of ours with whom she was sitting in a university cafeteria on July 31, 2002, when a remotely-detonated bomb went off, were not as fortunate.

Today, as happens every time this day rolls around, I mourn those friends we lost, just as I mourn the pain my wife endured in her recovery. But today, twelve years later, feels different than the previous eleven. As I watch scenes of innocent people being injured and killed in hospitals, schools, open-air markets and in their own living rooms, I shudder.


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Letter to My Community: How I’m Pro-Israel

Jul28

by: on July 28th, 2014 | 11 Comments »

I don’t cry.

It didn’t used to be this way – I was a somewhat sensitive kid growing up, and often wore my emotions openly, crying naturally when the world demanded tears. I’m now 40, and haven’t cried in 12 years. Maybe more. I admit that, during the past month, I’ve written the words “I weep” for the loss of life in Gaza and the loss of life in Israel. But such words have just been a metaphor for what, in reality, can no longer be conjured.

Credit: Creative Commons

Why am I starting out by telling you this? Because in writing this letter, I can feel the faint hint of tears, can feel the sensation of what it feels like to cry. It’s a familiar feeling, but one which will spill out into words. Words of sadness. Words of love. And possibly, words of hope.

Many of you know me as an active member of the community. You are my friends and my colleagues. You are Jewish community leaders and community activists. You are Americans and Israelis. You are people I care about, and during this difficult time, some of our relationships are being strained. Which is why I’m writing and sharing some thoughts, hoping that in doing so, the distance created between myself and some of you might be bridged during this difficult time.


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

Jul25

by: on July 25th, 2014 | 12 Comments »

On the ground in Gaza, Israel’s war against Hamas has been devastating. Online and in the public sphere, a different sort of war has been taking place – a broad initiative to delegitimize those who raise questions about and critique Israel’s actions.

This initiative is being carried out both by so-called ‘pro-Israel’ individuals as well as student volunteers enlisted by Israel’s government in its ‘social media war.’ The result: those who merely express empathy for the suffering in Gaza, where over 800 people have been killed and 5,000 injured, are tainted as anti-Semitic or pro-Hamas, and those who offer dissenting opinions are labelled as enemies who seek Israel’s destruction.

The goal is to shut down dialogue and debate, something Jon Stewart nailed in a recent bit in which he attempts to discuss Israel, only to be shouted down as a self-hating Jew. It is not a new phenomenon or initiative, though it has become much more intense and widespread as emotions run high over the ongoing violence in Gaza and continued rocket attacks in Israel.

It seems to be affecting everyone who publicly offers critical opinions about Israel’s Gaza offensive, whether celebrities, journalists or anonymous individuals.

The horrible irony is that, as propagandists try to defame dissenters by slandering them as anti-Semitic, thus diluting its meaning, real anti-Semitism is rearing its head in Europe. Anti-semitism is still a real danger, and that danger is being made graver by those who are participating in this online initiative to falsely tar concerned voices as enemies of Israel.


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TNR: For a moral world to exist, Israel must kill innocent Palestinians

Jul22

by: on July 22nd, 2014 | 15 Comments »

On Sunday evening, a four-story house in Gaza was decimated by an Israeli missile. At the moment of impact, 25 people belonging to four families, including 19 children, were gathered together to break the day’s Ramadan fast. All of them were killed.

Also eating with the families was, according to relatives, a guest who was likely a Hamas militant, ostensibly the strike’s target. (Israel’s military has refused to comment.) He died as well, buried the the rubble of a collapsed building along with the 19 children and six adults with whom he was eating.

What happened on Sunday isn’t an isolated incident. To date, over 3,000 Palestinians have been injured and over 600 killed in Israeli strikes, 75 percent of whom the U.N. estimates have been innocent people unconnected in any way to the violence. And many of these civilians have been killed in strikes which have either completely or nearly destroyed entire families.

According to Israel, such strikes are considered to be both necessary and unfortunate, given the unspeakable loss of innocent Palestinian lives. However, Israel claims it is not to blame for such tragic deaths, instead insisting that Hamas is responsible, not its own missiles.

It’s true that Hamas has used schools to house weapons, fires rockets from urban areas and clearly places civilians at risk with the ongoing violence. Here’s the rub, though: there is no safe space in Gaza for people to flee. Indeed, many have been killed by missile attacks in areas Israel told residents would be safe. These are not “human shields.” They are human tragedies.

The New Republic’s Yishai Schwartz agrees with Israel that, despite all this, such strikes are necessary and must continue. However, he also performs some moral gymnastics to stunningly argue that such strikes are an absolute moral imperative. That the killing of innocent Palestinians, including children, is necessary to protect a just world.

No, I’m not joking.


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Not in My Name, Netanyahu

Jul20

by: on July 20th, 2014 | 17 Comments »

As I write these words, my hands tremble from the unspeakable images and stories I’ve witnessed in Gaza. They tremble with worry that those young Israeli soldiers losing their lives, casualties in a war they did not create, will be among those families I know, and that their numbers will grow.

My hands also tremble because, during all this, Israel’s leader – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – has repeatedly claimed to represent me, and all Jews, as Israel continues its brutal assault on Gaza, an assault which, as history shows, will neither achieve its strategic goals nor reap anything but heartache.

No, he does not speak for me.

When Netanyahu said on CNN that Palestinians benefit from “telegenically dead” civilians killed by Israel, that images of carnage helped Hamas because journalists would then ask about Israel’s actions, he did not speak for me.

A doctor cries while standing among the bodies of dead children at Shifa Hospital's overflowing morgue. [Note: journalists have captured countless disturbing images today, though I've chosen not to show them here.


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Why Israel Is a Progressive Issue, Not a Fringe U.S. Foreign Policy Matter

Jul18

by: on July 18th, 2014 | 12 Comments »

As a Jew, I admit to being uniquely invested in what’s occurring in Israel and Gaza – an investment sometimes cited to paint political discourse on Israel as niche. However, as an American citizen and a self-avowed progressive, I not only reject such notions, but hold that Israel is a core progressive issue which demands our broad attention.

There are many arguments made amongst progressives which seek to deflect discourse on Israel, and which echo arguments made across the political spectrum. Two of these arguments I’d like to counter below in an effort to show why Israel indeed stands as a principle progressive issue.

1) Why Single Out Israel?

One of the most consistent arguments I encounter for why Israel need not be discussed prominently is one I would categorize as a red herring. Here is how the argument goes: yes, horrible things are happening to the Palestinians, but there’s a lot of bad in the world. Try focusing on Syria or Russia or Sudan for once.

This sort of logic simply doesn’t hold any weight. Would I be unjustified in writing about water shutoffs in Detroit (as I’ve done) when land grabs in Africa are intensifying water scarcity crises for local communities? Of course I would.

It is impossible for me, or anyone else, to tackle an issue of importance without being presented with a myriad of other issues worthy of focus. But that’s the nature of taking any moral stand or championing any cause: it is done knowing selectivity is inherent, natural and unavoidable.

Mehdi Hasan, political director for The Huffington Post (UK), put it most articulately when he wrote regarding his publication’s current focus on Israel, Palestine and the intense suffering in Gaza:

On what grounds did we “single out” apartheid South Africa in the 1980s for condemnation and boycott? Weren’t there other, more dictatorial regimes in Africa at the time, those run by black Africans such as Mengistu in Ethiopia or Mobutu in Zaire? Did we dare excuse the crimes of white Afrikaners on this basis?

Taking a moral stand inevitably requires us to be selective, specific and, yes, even inconsistent.


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My Head Is Spinning as Gaza Burns: The Most Timely Book Review I’ve Ever Written

Jul12

by: on July 12th, 2014 | 26 Comments »

I was sitting in Philadelphia’s airport recently, awaiting a flight back home, the book I had been reading turned face down in my lap. Intentionally. I didn’t want anyone to see the cover. Didn’t want anyone to associate its cover with my views – these people I didn’t know, people I would never know.

I had just opened to the book’s second chapter – “Does Israel Have a Right to Exist as a Jewish State?” – and had closed it quickly. Shocked by the question. Shocked by my imagined (and false) notions of what a chapter with such a title might contain, by the prospect of a stranger seeing me reading it.

So I shut the book – Ali Abunimah’s The Battle for Justice in Palestine, which argues that only a bi-national state can justly end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – and quickly hid it from those milling about.

It was an absurd scene, particularly considering this: I was returning from my book event at one of Philadelphia’s largest synagogues, an event local, right-wing Jews had tried to cancel due to my progressive views on Israel. During the event, a hulking, armed guard watched the crowd as I spoke about the humanity of both Israelis and Palestinians. A staff member sheepishly told me just before things commenced, “We’ve never hired police for a book event before; please forgive us.”

The security was present because a handful of community members had, with unusual vehemence, demanded the synagogue not allow me into the building. Why? Because I believe that Palestinians’ nonviolent opposition to Israel, including the use of boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS), is wholly legitimate. These people wanted me out of the building despite the fact that, as a progressive Zionist, I disagree with the BDS movement’s ideal of a single, bi-national state as a viable solution to the conflict, instead holding onto the dwindling hope of two states for two peoples.

However, the recent, unspeakable events of the past two weeks have begun to make me question whether a two-state solution is even remotely possible anymore, particularly as Israeli officials begin embracing various one-state solutions.

Such internal questioning reached a climax on Friday, when Netanyahu explicitly stated that he wanted Israel to control the West Bank indefinitely, marking his first-ever public rejection of the two-state solution and Palestinian statehood.

My jaw dropped.


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As a Jew living in America, the past week has changed me forever

Jul5

by: on July 5th, 2014 | 54 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

Growing up outside of Atlanta, I learned to crawl with Bob Dylan’s “Only A Pawn In Their Game” as my soundtrack, anti-war posters hanging on the walls, beckoning me and my raw knees forward. I was weaned with the voice of Martin Luther King, Jr. reverberating down the narrow halls of my parents’ apartment, formed my first words as though delivering a soliloquy on equality.

In first grade, I asked the teacher if the ‘Indians’ still celebrated Thanksgiving. When she asked why I wanted to know, I responded, “Because the people they ate with took their land,” something I’d learned from an honest mother. During a Little League game, my father intervened when coaches tried to initiate a prayer circle, wanting us to give thanks in Jesus’ name. He fiercely believed in the separation of church and, well, everything.

As an American Jew, I was mostly instilled with progressive values as a child. Rather, I was instilled with progressive, American values – particularly those which aligned with liberal, Jewish ones. A love of social justice, human rights, equality. A disdain for racism, fundamentalism, colonialism. Sure, I attended Hebrew school, but my scripture was more the Bill of Rights than the Torah, and my anthems came from hip-hop and rock, not the Book of Psalms (תהילים).

Despite this, my early love for progressivism was accompanied by a love for the State of Israel. As a short, Jewish kid who wanted to be an NBA star, I was naturally inclined to root for the underdog. And at synagogue, we were taught that Jews were the ultimate underdogs, miraculously surviving the Holocaust and a history of oppression to create a contemporary “light unto the nations” which fought with dogged determination against evil and had a cool flag. And I was taught that I was vulnerable, that there were people who wanted me dead, and that Israel was a safe haven, a beacon, a garden to which I could always escape.

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I am being tracked by the NSA

Jul3

by: on July 3rd, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Today, I learned that my IP address is being tracked by the NSA, and that – as a law-abiding citizen – it’s likely both the metadata and the actual content of my internet traffic is being analyzed and stored as well.

I know this because of a stunning investigation just published in Germany, which may have been furthered by a second, secret whistleblower, rather than documents released by Edward Snowden.

In this investigation, Jacob Appelbaum, Lena Kampf and John Goetz reveal some of the actual source code and rules for XKeyscore, one of the NSA’s most powerful and comprehensive deep-packet inspection programs. In short, XKeyscore can analyze and store both the metadata and the full internet content of individuals being targeted.

So who is being targeted? According to the investigation, anyone globally who has done an internet search for any number of popular privacy software tools – including Tor and Talis – as well as anyone who has visited either of those sites or been determined to utilize their programs.

Not only are IP addresses automatically tracked by XKeyscore for anyone who might have done so much as search for a web privacy tool, but XKeyscore’s code reveals that the metadata and the actual content of emails and web traffic may be analyzed and stored as well.

Like millions of Americans, I have searched for and used a number of popular privacy programs, including Tor, which I use daily. (Tor is a volunteer-operated initiative, funded by the US government, which annonymizes the internet traffic of users, and is particularly important for journalists and human rights activists.) And like millions of Americans, it’s now clear that my IP address is being tracked by the NSA, and based on the XKeyscore rules published in the investigation, there is a very good chance that deep-packet analysis and storage of my emails and the content of my web traffic has occurred as well.


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The Melding of “Corporate Personhood” and “Embryo Personhood”

Jul2

by: on July 2nd, 2014 | 2 Comments »

In 2009, using the already-created legal fiction of “corporate personhood,” Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission established that corporations as “people” have First-Amendment rights which, however unintended, have practically diluted the democratic rights of an entire electorate. Now, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, closely-held corporations as “people” have been granted religious freedoms which essentially trump the reproductive rights of women.

This melding of “corporate personhood” with religious fundamentalism reveals a real threat to women’s reproductive rights in this country. If a corporation, with its religious beliefs and court-mandated personhood, can invoke The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to deny female employees a narrow range of contraceptive options, there’s no reason to think that such “personhood” won’t be invoked in the future to undermine women’s reproductive rights more comprehensively.

While troubling, what’s even more concerning about this melding of corporate interests and religious fundamentalism is that it reveals the potential for this legal concept of “corporate personhood” to expand and dilute any conceivable, protected right.


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