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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 Letter to Bob Bergdahl

Jun7

by: on June 7th, 2014 | 25 Comments »

Dear Bob,

I know this is a difficult time for you and your family, which is partly why I’m reaching out, to let you know that I feel a deep kinship with you, despite the many differences in our circumstances and perspectives. While you lean conservative in your political views, I am an unyielding progressive. While you reside in a small town in Idaho, I am composing this from Pittsburgh, the city in which I live. And while your son was held captive for many years by the Taliban – while you struggled to secure his release with the determined focus only a father’s love could generate – I have struggled in a different way, working to move beyond the terror attack which injured my wife in Israel, an attack which has propelled me to fight for the human rights and dignity of my so-called enemy.

Despite these differences, our struggles have shared several fulcrum points, and these points have made it so difficult for me to watch politicians and the media exploit you and your family’s pain. There are moments this past week in which I have trembled with anger, have felt the need to lash out, to grip someone by the throat and scream, ‘Leave them alone’.

But I’m not a violent person. I’m a writer who acts with the pen, not with fists, and as such I’ve chosen to write to you in public as a way to support you in a country where so many want to reflexively do the opposite.

I hope this letter finds you in peace, and so I’ll begin again by saying שלום עלכם (shalom alechem), which is the Hebrew equivalent for the Arabic السلام عليكم (as-salam aleykum).

Peace be upon you.


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John Legend, Anthony Bourdain & Shifting Use of the ‘P’ Word in America

May22

by: on May 22nd, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Growing up, I rarely heard the ‘P’ word uttered in my suburban Atlanta community, and not once did I hear it spoken in my Hebrew school at our family’s conservative synagogue, where teachers spoke of “them” in quick, hushed tones.

And whenever the ‘P’ word was mentioned, whether on CNN or ABC News, it was always accompanied by images of bloodied streets, of people who looked like me grieving, of extremists pointing guns toward the heavens. The message growing up in America, and in the American Jewish community, was clear: Palestinians were a people so evil as to not be named, unless appropriately malevolent images befitting such a people could be simultaneously conjured.

Palestinians were not human, their existence inhumane. This is what I was taught. And this is what I still believed when, in 2002, a Palestinian man planted a bomb at Hebrew University which injured my wife and killed the two American friends with whom she was sitting.

In 2002, in a post-9/11 America fomenting the early stages of a societal, systemic Islamophobia, this is what mainstream America believed as well. The ‘P’ word was used mostly to demonize, not to humanize.

But things have changed dramatically in American discourse in the last few years, mirroring a personal change which has happened within me over the last decade. It is a change which symbolically can be represented by two remarkable moments from this week, both of which happened on May 19.


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On Using ‘Anti-Semitism’ to Promote a Political Agenda in America

May17

by: on May 17th, 2014 | 11 Comments »

Fifteen years ago, on a dirt road in rural Missouri, I was followed by two men in a beat-up Ford pickup for three miles, their middle fingers raised and their faces strained, screaming words I could not hear – words I did not need to hear.

This was during my yarmulke-wearing days. I was a visible, lone Jew out in the country bird watching. A Jew who suddenly found himself being tracked by two men whose hate-fueled rage inspired them to try running me off the road. As sport.

Of course, anti-Semitism exists in America and remains a dangerous, global prejudice which reverberates strongly in the Holocaust’s wake. I’ve experienced it on several occasions in multiple countries, as have family and friends. Which is why it’s troubling to witness individuals and organizations in America make false ‘anti-Semitism’ claims not to point out this real prejudice, but in the service of propaganda intended to demonize Middle-Eastern Muslims in general, and Palestinians in particular.

This week was a big moment for this phenomenon, as much attention was focused on a shocking global survey on anti-Semitism conducted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The survey of over 50,000 respondents claims to reveal that over a billion people – 26 percent of the global population – harbor predominantly anti-Semitic views, with Muslims being the most anti-Semitic religious group and Palestinians the most anti-Semitic nationality. (According to the survey, 49 percent of Muslims worldwide are anti-Semitic, as are 75 percent of Middle-Eastern Muslims and 93 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.)

Those numbers certainly appear shocking.

However, the survey’s problematic metrics reveal this quantitative survey to be less about measuring actual anti-Semitism as defined by the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and more about an occasion to demonize Middle Eastern Muslims in general, and Palestinians in particular, in the service of ‘pro-Israel’ and anti-Palestinian efforts.


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“Sometimes I’m Afraid. Sometimes I Hit.”

May10

by: on May 10th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

When Jenna answers you, she furrows her brow slightly and looks beyond you, into the distance. It might seem as though she’s concentrating hard, but you’re not taxing her seven-year-old intellect. No, you’re making her think of things, you’re making her remember things, that no seven year old should have to remember.

Her voice is quiet, sweet. And as she talks about soldiers breaking into her house at 3:30 am, and the shooting of tear gas outside meant not for crowd control, but to awaken everyone in the village, you feel pain. But then she looks at you and smiles. Happy to be treated kindly, to be helpful, to be cute.

"I think if we just talk with them, then maybe they'll return our land" - Jenna, age 7, in "Sometimes I'm Afraid. Sometimes I Hit."


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Palestinian-American asks about BDS at my book event, and nobody gets hurt

May3

by: on May 3rd, 2014 | 9 Comments »

In a remarkable moment* Wednesday night at my book event in Washington, D.C., I was asked about my views on the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) movement by a Palestinian-American in attendance.

During both the question and answer – which comprised three minutes of an 80-minute event – not a single American Jew was hurt, nor was Israel harmed, by the conversation. This despite dire warnings from American Jewish leaders about the dangers of such “illegitimate” discourse and my inclusion in the Jewish communal tent.

Instead of causing communal damage, the moment elicited nods and applause from a packed house of mostly progressive Jews at the MLK Jr. Memorial Library, where around 200 people braved biblical rains in the District to gather for a book event sponsored by J Street and Americans for Peace Now.

It was a beautiful, moving event. It was also an event that never should have happened.


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White House: Israel Killed the Peace Talks

May2

by: on May 2nd, 2014 | 3 Comments »

One of Israel’s most influential journalists, Nahum Barnea, has written a groundbreaking interview in which U.S. officials blame the Israeli government for the recent, and expected, collapse of peace talks led by Secretary of State John Kerry.

Larry Derfner at +972 Magazine, who translated portions of Barnea’s interview, encapsulated it in this way:

This interview is a comprehensive indictment by the Obama administration of Israel’s handling of the peace talks, and an exoneration of the Palestinians’ conduct. The Americans won’t act on it, of course, but they have set the record straight, they’ve injected a megadose of truth into the story of Israel’s domination over the Palestinians, and thus strengthened the fight to end it.

Indeed, the interview is historic. For unnamed U.S. officials have articulated, in ways never previously before seen, how Israel’s actions and geo-political policies are primary impediments to achieving peace in the region. It is also historic because U.S. officials transparently deflect the blame they know America must own, saying, If only we would have known, we would have done things differently.

This is a really big deal. Witness what U.S. officials say about America dropping its demand that Israel freeze settlement construction:

“We didn’t understand that Netanyahu uses these announcements of settlement construction plans to ensure the survival of his government. We didn’t understand that the continuation of settlement construction allows his cabinet ministers to very effectively sabotage the negotiations. There are a lot of other reasons for the failure of the effort, but people in Israel must not avoid seeing the bitter truth – the biggest land mine was the settlements. The Palestinians don’t believe that Israel genuinely intends to let them create a state when it is building settlements on the land earmarked for that state.”


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Obama Must Fire Kerry for Saying Israel Could Become an “Apartheid State” Demands Kristol Group

Apr28

by: on April 28th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

During a closed door meeting on Friday with influential world leaders, U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, warned that Israel is in danger of becoming an “apartheid state” if the two-state solution is not achieved.

Talking with leaders at the Trilateral Commission on Friday, Kerry said:

“A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens – or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state…Once you put that frame in your mind, that reality, which is the bottom line, you understand how imperative it is to get to the two-state solution, which both leaders, even yesterday, said they remain deeply committed to.”

While President Obama rejected using the word to describe Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians, it’s notable that State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki did not condemn Kerry’s sentiments, explaining that the Secretary of State was simply expressing an opinion shared my many: that the two-state solution is the only way for Israel to exist as a Jewish state.

However, and perhaps predictably, Bill Kristol’s right-wing group, the Emergency Committee for Israel, has called for Kerry to be axed for using the term:

Secretary Kerry’s musings on the Jewish state’s dire future have become a regular feature of his public remarks. His latest prediction follows other statements in recent months that have in effect threatened Israel — never the Palestinians — with a list of disasters should his diplomatic efforts fail: violence, isolation, delegitimization, boycotts — and now “apartheid.”

It is no longer enough for the White House to clean up after the messes John Kerry has made. It is time for John Kerry to step down as Secretary of State, or for President Obama to fire him. And it would go a long way toward repairing the damage Kerry has done if his predecessor as Secretary of State, who is the likely Democratic Party nominee for president, explained why this kind of rhetoric had no place in her State Department and why it will have no place in her presidential campaign.


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Racists Worse Than Cliven Bundy Who Actually Demand Our Viral Scorn

Apr24

by: on April 24th, 2014 | 7 Comments »

Cliven Bundy – the freeloading rancher who hates America – always seemed to be a fairly despicable, self-interested person. Despite this, Fox News and right-leaning conservatives desperately celebrated him as a brave insurgent fighting government overreach. Because that’s what propaganda machines do: claw at hot-button issues and warp them for messaging purposes until they are disfigured beyond recognition.

However, once Bundy revealed his racist side, saying (among other things) that black Americans were “better off as slaves,” conservative supporters such as Sean Hannity ran for the hills as the outrage and scorn for Bundy reached viral proportions.

Now, Bundy deserves to be shunned and his message repudiated.

However, here’s the rub: Bundy is the least repugnant, least dangerous kind of racist in America today. Yes, Bundy’s words are wildly offensive and utterly disgusting, but the man is an ignorant fool who doesn’t have the sense to hide, much less understand, his hate.


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U.S. to Israel: Stop Discriminating Against Palestinian-Americans

Apr22

by: on April 22nd, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Israel has been told by the United States that, unless it stops discriminating against Palestinian-Americans (and Americans of Middle-Eastern descent) trying to enter the country, Israel will continue to be denied entry into its visa waiver program.

Israel would like to gain entry into the program, which grants visitors to the United States from approved countries visas of up to 90 days. However, American officials remain concerned about the high percentage of Palestinian-Americans who are refused entry into Israel.

In March, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister told U.S. officials that Israel would stop discriminating against Palestinian-Americans if the U.S. granted Israel entry into its visa waiver program. However, its seems the State Department is not interested in promises alone, but rather wants to see a pattern of concrete actions.

Per Haaretz:

For years, discrimination against Palestinian-Americans entering Israel has been a main obstacle against Israel’s joining the program … The State Department has repeated this concern a number of times in recent years, including last month.

“The Department of Homeland Security and State remain concerned with the unequal treatment that Palestinian-Americans and other Americans of Middle Eastern origin experience at Israel’s border and checkpoints, and reciprocity is the most basic condition of the visa waiver program,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters at a daily briefing in March.


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How the Progressive D.C. Community Helped Me Defeat the Right-Wing, ‘Pro-Israel’ Silencing Machine

Apr19

by: on April 19th, 2014 | 13 Comments »

On February 6, my inbox was inundated with messages from people I did not know. I’m so disgusted, they read; You’re going to hear from us again, they read; We’re going to fight this, they read.

As someone who has grown accustomed to sporadic bits of hate mail for my progressive views on Israel, I was prepared for the worst.

However, these emails, largely from residents of the D.C. metro area, were messages of support, messages of defiance. They were messages from those who had just learned that the D.C. Jewish Community Center, already under pressure from right-wing organizations and influences on a number of fronts, had quietly cancelled my high-profile book event, at which I was to speak about the themes of reconciliation and dialogue contained in my memior, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?

The story of how my event came to be cancelled is a story being played out repeatedly in America today, a story representing all that is wrong with American political discourse on Israel. It is also the story of how the D.C. community rallied to my side, rallied to create a new book event on April 30 at the MLK Jr. Memorial Library – not for me, but for the sake of dialogue, for the sake of combating efforts to tamp down discussion on issues we must confront in the Jewish community, issues we must confront as a nation.


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