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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).



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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Blackwater Story Is Exactly Why NYT’s James Risen Must Be Shielded from DOJ Prosecution

Jun30

by: on June 30th, 2014 | Comments Off

Credit: Creative Commons

James Risen of The New York Times, using recently disclosed State Department documents, has written a bombshell-of-a-story chronicling how Blackwater’s top manager threatened to kill the U.S. government’s chief investigator in 2007, thus thwarting an investigation into Blackwater’s operations just weeks before the company’s guards massacred 17 Iraqi civilians.

The story is characteristic Risen: unflinchingly and thoroughly reported. However, Risen may not be able to write such stories in a matter of months. Instead, he may be sitting in a jail cell as a result of a case being prosecuted against him by the Obama administration.

The case against Risen began in 2008. This is when his book, State of War, was published, which contained information on a secret, botched CIA operation in Iran. The Bush administration, furious at the revelations, subpoenaed Risen and demanded that he reveal his confidential source. Risen has steadfastly refused, and if the Obama administration proceeds this summer to prosecute Risen, the NYT journalist may soon be behind bars.


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Colorado’s Crime Is Down and Revenue Up After Six Months of Legal Marijuana

Jun29

by: on June 29th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

After six months of legal marijuana in the State of Colorado, crime has decreased significantly and revenue is up, demonstrating just how beneficial legalization can be and just how wrong prohibition proponents who chirped the sky will fall have been.

As Laura Pegram notes, while it’s too early in the game to make any definitive conclusions about marijuana legalization, the following data points and trends are significant:

  • According to Uniform Crime Reporting data for Denver, there has been a 10.1% decrease in overall crime from this time last year and a 5.2% drop in violent crime.
  • The state has garnered over 10 million in taxes from retail sales in the first 4 months. The first 40 million of this tax revenue is earmarked for public schools and infrastructure, as well as for youth educational campaigns about substance use.
  • The marijuana industry has developed quickly, generating thousands of new jobs. It is estimated there are currently about 10,000 people directly involved with this industry, with 1,000 to 2,000 gaining employment in the past few months alone.
  • Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who opposed Amendment 64, recently compared Colorado’s economy since legalization to that of other states by noting, “While the rest of the country’s economy is slowly picking back up, we’re thriving here in Colorado.” For example, the demand for commercial real estate has increased drastically, with houses in the state appreciating up to 8.7 percent in the past year alone.
  • By removing criminal penalties for certain marijuana-related offenses, thousands of individuals will avoid the collateral consequences associated with a criminal record. The state is estimated to potentially save $12-40 million over the span of a year simply by ending arrests for marijuana possession.


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The NSA Should Be Worried After Supreme Court Ruling

Jun25

by: on June 25th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled today in Riley v. California that digital privacy is protected by the Fourth Amendment, holding that law enforcement must produce a warrant to search an arrestee’s cell phone or mobile device.

While this decision only addresses physical searches of a person’s cell phone, Riley v. California may not-so-subtly be signaling that potential legal thorns exist for the NSA and the intelligence community, particularly after one specific sentence written by Chief Justice John Roberts, who authored the decision. However, before examining this aspect of the court’s decision, first let’s briefly examine how Riley v. California has unmistakably distinguished digital privacy as a Fourth-Amendment-protected entity when it comes to physical searches by police.

One of the most significant aspects of today’s ruling was the court’s distinguishing digital devices from other items a person might have on their person when searched by law enforcement. Justice Roberts wrote that such devices today contain digital records of “nearly every aspect of [one's] life,” and therefore cannot be treated during a search as merely one in a number of items an arrestee might have in her pockets:

Before cell phones, a search of a person was limited by physical realities and generally constituted only a narrow intrusion on privacy. But cell phones can store millions of pages of text, thousands of pictures, or hundreds of videos. This has several interrelated privacy consequences. First, a cell phone collects in one place many distinct types of information that reveal much more in combination than any isolated record. Second, the phone’s capacity allows even just one type of information to convey far more than previously possible. Third, data on the phone can date back for years. In addition, an element of pervasiveness characterizes cell phones but not physical records. A decade ago officers might have occasionally stumbled across a highly personal item such as a diary, but today many of the more than 90% of American adults who own cell phones keep on their person a digital record of nearly every aspect of their lives.


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Israeli Rabbi Evokes Hiroshima to Justify Collective Punishment of Palestinians

Jun22

by: on June 22nd, 2014 | 5 Comments »

The fate of three Israeli teenagers, kidnapped last week by an unconfirmed entity in the West Bank, remains unknown, a deeply concerning truth that has refocused attention on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. However, while their fate remains unknown, what is known is the fate of those Palestinians who have been killed, detained and shuttered with the Israeli military’s search for the missing teens transitioning into a collective punishment of an entire people.

Israeli troops raid Bethlehem as search for missing teenagers enters its eighth day (Credit: Creative Commons)

Since the IDF launched “Operation Brother’s Keeper” on June 12 to search for the missing teenagers, four Palestinian civilians have been killed, hundreds have been detained, and hundreds of thousands in the Hebron region have been confined to their homes. This in addition to over 1,600 sites in the West Bank which have been raided by soldiers, including Palestinian media, government offices and NGO headquarters.

The response has been so striking that the Obama administration has called for restraint, and human rights groups, including Rabbis for Human Rights and Amnesty International, have called upon Israel to cease what has clearly become a strategy of collective punishment which contravenes the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Despite these calls, Israeli officials are becoming explicit that Israel should collectively punish all Palestinians until the kidnapped teenagers are safely returned. Consider these words from Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister Danny Dannon:

“[Israel should] shut off the electricity in the West Bank and Gaza … In my opinion there is room for extensive actions against the civilian population. I am saying something harsh here, but I believe it.”


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Presbyterian Church Votes to Divest from Israel Occupation Profiteers Caterpillar, Motorola & HP

Jun20

by: on June 20th, 2014 | 10 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

In a contentious vote guaranteed to be met with outrage by hawkish U.S. politicians and some Jewish leaders, the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted 310-303 to divest from three major U.S. companies engaged in “non-peaceful pursuits” in Israel-Palestine.

PC(USA) voted on Friday evening at its 221st General Assembly in Detroit to divest from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, three companies which provide equipment and technological implements utilized by the IDF in its military occupation of the Palestinians in the West Bank. The church’s divestment overture focused only on these three companies, and was careful not to align itself with the international BDS movement or with any efforts to divest from the State of Israel (per a passed amendment during the proceedings).

At the General Assembly before the vote, Caterpillar was singled out for providing the IDF with equipment used in home demolitions, the construction of settler-only roads and the uprooting of Palestinian farmlands illegally appropriated by Israel; HP was singled out for providing biometric scanners used on Palestinians at checkpoints and customized software for the Israeli Navy; and Motorola was singled out for providing surveillance systems used by the settlements in the West Bank.


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CNN Host Asks if Hillary Clinton Should Apologize for Telling the Truth About Israel’s Occupation of the Palestinians

Jun10

by: on June 10th, 2014 | 8 Comments »

Monday on CNN’s “Crossfire,” cohost S.E. Cupp prepared the viewing audience to brace themselves for a “doosy” of a statement embedded deep in Hillary Clinton’s new book, Hard Choices.

Curious to know what this controversial statement might be? It’s a sentence from her recollections of a trip taken with Bill Clinton to the Palestinian city of Jericho in 1981. Of that trip, Clinton writes:

“In the West Bank, I got my first glimpse of life under occupation for Palestinians, who were denied the dignity and self-determination that Americans take for granted.”

After reading the above statement, Cupp pointed to Tracy Sefl, a representative of the pro-Clinton super PAC Ready for Hillary, and emotionally reminded her that Chris Christie was forced to apologize to ‘pro-Israel’ groups in America for using the language of “occupation,” emphatically employing air quotes for the word occupation.

She then looked at Sefl and asked the following:

“Is Hillary Clinton going to apologize to Israel for using that same language?”


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