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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).



Winners of Prestigious Journalism Award Afraid to Travel to U.S. to Accept It

Feb17

by: on February 17th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald have both won the prestigious George Polk Award for their investigative work in revealing the NSA’s mass surveillance, both at home and abroad. However, both Poitras and Greenwald, U.S. citizens who respectively live in Germany and Brazil, are afraid to accept their awards in person, fearing prosecution from the U.S. government for exposing documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Let’s unpack this for a moment: two prominent American journalists, winners of one of the most prestigious journalism awards in the U.S., are hesitant to set foot upon U.S. soil for fear of being prosecuted. This fear is in line with Reporters Without Borders dropping the U.S. to 46th place in its World Press Freedom Index for 2014, behind Botswana and Romania, for its prosecution of investigative journalists and whistleblowers. This drop in America’s press freedom ranking isn’t arbitrary, nor an international dig. It’s due to the U.S., in 2013, being a prominent example of a country willing to erode its press freedoms for the sake of national security, surveillance and secrecy.


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U.S. Falls to 46th in World Press Freedom Due to War on Whistleblowers

Feb12

by: on February 12th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Reporters Without Borders, in its 2014 World Press Freedom Index, has dropped the United States below Romania, Papua New Guinea and Botswana due to the Obama administration’s targeting of both whistleblowers and those journalists who report on leaked information.

In noting a disturbing world trend of countries sacrificing press freedoms for surveillance and national security interests, Reporters Without Borders cited the U.S. as its prime example:

This has been the case in the United States (46th), which fell 13 places, one of the most significant declines, amid increased efforts to track down whistleblowers and the sources of leaks. The trial and conviction of Private Bradley Chelsea Manning and the pursuit of NSA analyst Edward Snowden were warnings to all those thinking of assisting in the disclosure of sensitive information that would clearly be in the public interest.

US journalists were stunned by the Department of Justice’s seizure of Associated Press phone records without warning in order to identify the source of a CIA leak. It served as a reminder of the urgent need for a “shield law” to protect the confidentiality of journalists’ sources at the federal level. The revival of the legislative process is little consolation for James Risen of The New York Times, who is subject to a court order to testify against a former CIA employee accused of leaking classified information. And less still for Barrett Brown, a young freelance journalist facing 105 years in prison in connection with the posting of information that hackers obtained from Statfor, a private intelligence company with close ties to the federal government.


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“When Palestinians used violence, a U.S. author’s wife paid the price. Now he’s championing Palestinians’ use of nonviolent opposition (boycotts). For this, his book events are being cancelled. In America.”

Feb8

by: on February 8th, 2014 | 16 Comments »

When Carole Zawatsky, CEO of the Washington, DC Jewish Community Center (DCJCC), informed me that my March book event had been cancelled due to my political views, I was stunned. However, when she explained that one view in particular precipitated her decision – my position that Palestinians’ use of nonviolent opposition (boycotts) is legitimate – I was no longer just stunned. I was deeply saddened.

After all, my book event at the DCJCC, part of its “Embracing Democracy” series, was to focus on the narrative of reconciliation embedded in my memoir, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? The entire narrative is a treatise on the power of nonviolence, a narrative Zawatsky found wildly compelling when she invited me to speak.

That is, until I embraced Palestinian nonviolence. Suddenly, my narrative was no longer so compelling, and I was no longer welcome to speak in the community, despite being a Jewish educator (I teach biblical and rabbinic texts to 4th-8th graders) and a progressive Zionist.

While saddened by the lost opportunity for dialogue in DC, what most upset me was how this cancellation fit into a larger crisis within the American political landscape and, more specifically, the American Jewish community, where honest discourse on Israel is being constricted by high-profile politicians and Jewish institutional leaders alike. I articulated as much in my response to the DCJCC, published in Israel’s Haaretz.

To my great surprise, that piece set of a firestorm within the DC Jewish and political communities. My inbox began filling with messages of support from people I did not know, and my voicemail from individuals and organizations who wanted to create an alternate book event in DC – an event which will likely become official next week.


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Kerry: “I’m not going to be intimidated” by Israeli Critiques & Distortions

Feb5

by: on February 5th, 2014 | 12 Comments »

Secretary of State John Kerry, in his effort to broker a Middle East peace agreement, has faced a barrage of verbal attacks from high-ranking Israeli officials in recent weeks.

Kerry was cast as an anti-Semitic mouthpiece by Israel’s Economy Minister for observing the existence of the international boycott movement against Israel, and the economic danger it presents should peace talks fail. And he was branded as obsessive and messianic by Israel’s Defense Minister, who said, “The only thing that can ‘save’ us is that John Kerry will get a Nobel Peace Prize and leave us alone.”

On Wednesday, Kerry fired back on CNN:

“I’m not going to be intimidated and back down … I’ve been attacked before by people using real bullets, not words… No one should distort what we are saying because they are opposed to the peace process.”

For America’s top diplomat, currently engaged in an impossible diplomatic task, these words were uncharacteristically stark and blunt.


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John Kerry Is an Anti-Semite?

Feb2

by: on February 2nd, 2014 | 13 Comments »

At a security conference in Germany this weekend, Secretary of State John Kerry noted that if the status quo persists in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, boycotts against the country will likely grow.

This objective observation from Kerry was met with blindingly offensive attacks by Israeli government officials, who tarred Kerry as an anti-Semite interested in Israel’s demise for legitimizing the international boycott movement by … noticing it exists.

Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Economy Minister and member of the extreme-right Jewish Home party, stated:

“We expect of our friends in the world to stand by our side against the attempts to impose an anti-Semitic boycott on Israel, and not to be their mouthpiece.”

Adi Mintz, a high-ranking official in the Settler’s Council, accused Kerry of an “anti-Semitic initiative” and stated:

“The anti-Semites have always resorted to a very simple method – hit the Jews in their pockets.

And Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s Intelligence Minister, accused Kerry of holding a gun to Israel’s head by stating that the boycott movement could grow if a peace accord is not reached:

Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a gun to its head when we are discussing the matters which are most critical to our national interests.

Even Netanyahu critiqued Kerry for mentioning the boycotts, though in softer terms. Needless to say, the Obama administration is apoplectic, and rightly so. Israel’s closest and most important ally, the United States, is having its highest-ranking diplomat slurred as an anti-Semite. This is the man responsible for trying to broker a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a man who has bent to nearly every Israeli demand in the process.


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Imagine being told you’re “too poor” to deserve help

Jan31

by: on January 31st, 2014 | 4 Comments »

Thanks to the tag-team efforts of the GOP and the Supreme Court, millions of Americans are learning that they are technically “too poor” for Obamacare. And the personal tragedies resulting from this fact are too painful to bear as destitute, sick and dying citizens are being turned away with these words, “We can’t help you.”

How is this possible, considering that one of the principle goals of the Affordable Care Act was to provide health care to those unable to afford it? The two-pronged answer is as simple as it is maddening:

1) The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that states could opt out of expanding Medicaid coverage “to anyone making less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $15,300 a year for a single person.”

2) 24 states with Republican governors have chosen to opt out, including Florida.


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Top Jewish Leader: Many Progressives No Longer Welcome in the Jewish Communal Tent

Jan29

by: on January 29th, 2014 | 10 Comments »

The story of me being barred from speaking about my book at a university student center (UCSB Hillel) gained national attention this week. And with this exposure came American Jewish leaders who exposed their desire for Hillel International, and Jewish organizations at large, to bar progressives such as myself from being allowed to stand within the communal tent.

Such expressions served to further concretize the existence of a true crisis facing the American Jewish community: a crisis over Jewish institutions deciding who should, and should not, be considered legitimate members of the community on the basis of their political views.

The most prominent among them was William Daroff, Senior Vice President for Public Policy & Director of the Washington office of The Jewish Federations of North America, who wrote in support of UCSB Hillel banning me:

“I just do not support giving communal hecsher to those who are outside the bounds of legitimate discourse … Your [political views] place you outside our communal tent.”

Now, one might think, based upon this, that I’m a horrendous individual with wildly offensive views to be cast outside a vast, nondenominational tent. So, who am I? Brace yourself: I’m a Jewish educator who teaches biblical and rabbinic texts at a North American day school. I’m an author whose memoir focuses on my reconciliation with a Palestinian family. And I’m a progressive Zionist who would like to see Israel thrive as a Jewish, democratic state resulting from a finalized two-state agreement.

Clearly, I’m a vile anti-Semite who should be banned from ever speaking within an Jewish building (save the classroom where I teach daily, I suppose).


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Scarlett Johansson vs. Oxfam

Jan25

by: on January 25th, 2014 | 49 Comments »

A high-profile controversy bubbled over this week into the mainstream over actress Scarlett Johansson’s endorsement of the carbonate-it-yourself company, SodaStream. While the controversy itself is rather narrow, its meaning and implications are far-reaching, as I’ll explain in a moment. But first, allow me to explain the controversy …

Johansson has become the celebrity face of SodaStream, an Israeli company which has its factory in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. This week, SodaStream made a promotional push in advance of her upcoming Super Bowl ad for the company, which considers Johansson a “brand ambassador,” going so far as to describe the relationship between the two as a “love story” between a socially conscious company and a passionate consumer.

The only problem is that, aside from being SodaStream’s “brand ambassador,” she is also an “Oxfam Ambassador” for the global charity organization, Oxfam International. This week, Palestinians and international boycott advocates challenged either Johansson to leave SodaStream, or Oxfam to end its relationship with Johansson, given the conflict due to Oxfam’s political position on Israeli settlements.


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AIPAC Is Self-Destructing

Jan24

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

While the fate of the Senate’s Iran sanctions bill remains uncertain, one thing appears clear: AIPAC is alienating allies on Capitol Hill with its intense and self-destructive lobbying efforts.

That alienation has reached peak volume as a result of AIPAC’s bitter, partisan attack against DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, one of the lobbying outfit’s most reliable allies in the House.

Why is she being attacked? Wasserman Schultz has yet to make a public pronouncement as to which way she leans with regard to the sanctions bill. And behind the scenes, it has been reported that she’s trying to dissuade Democrats from supporting the bill, which, given her appointment by President Obama to head the DNC, seems more than expected.

But it’s not so much that Wasserman Schultz has become an AIPAC target. It’s how ugly and partisan AIPAC’s attack against her has become for an organization which takes great pains to appear non-partisan. So what did AIPAC do? It sent out an action letter to her constituents in Florida which used, in its attack, a denigrating and speculative article by the right-wing Washington Free Beacon.

Even though AIPAC declined to comment for a Foreign Policy story on the matter, current and former AIPAC operatives and activists – alarmed by what’s transpiring – are speaking out:

In the 40 years I’ve been involved with AIPAC, this is the first time I’ve seen such a blatant departure from bipartisanship,” said Doug Bloomfield, AIPAC’s former chief lobbyist.

[...]

Michael Adler, an AIPAC activist and prominent Democratic donor, said targeting Wasserman Schultz for not supporting new sanctions legislation is misguided given her value to the pro-Israel community. “The bill is only a litmus test for the unsophisticated in the pro-Israel community,” he said. “People can disagree on tactics, but Debbie is in a unique position as DNC chair and has the pro-Israel agenda deeply-rooted in her.”


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A Nation Awakening: Boycott Against Israel Is the Top Story in … Israel

Jan20

by: on January 20th, 2014 | 23 Comments »

Something remarkable has happened in the last 24 hours in Israel, with two of the country’s most popular media outlets, one television and one newspaper, making the growing effectiveness of boycotts against Israel as their top stories.

Perhaps more remarkable? Neither outlet sought to demonize those leading the European and Palestinian boycott efforts as anti-Semitic, as so often happens in America. Instead, the focus was on these boycotts’ growing impact on Israeli businesses and their root causes: Israel’s settlement enterprise and continued conflict with the Palestinians.

It all started on Saturday night with an in-depth, primetime expose by what is easily Israel’s most watched news program: Channel 2′s “Weekend” (סוף השבוע). This is how Larry Derfner at +972 Magazine described the moment:

On Saturday night the boycott of Israel gained an impressive new level of mainstream recognition in this country. Channel 2 News, easily the most watched, most influential news show here, ran a heavily-promoted, 16-minute piece on the boycott in its 8 p.m. prime-time program. The piece was remarkable not only for its length and prominence, but even more so because it did not demonize the boycott movement, it didn’t blame the boycott on anti-Semitism or Israel-bashing. Instead, top-drawer reporter Dana Weiss treated the boycott as an established, rapidly growing presence that sprang up because of Israel’s settlement policy and whose only remedy is that policy’s reversal.


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