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


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.


Past its entrance and a casually-staffed security station, the MLK Jr. Memorial Library opens into a cavernous, rectangular hall illuminated by the hum of florescent bulbs stretching overhead. Light reflects off of cappuccino-colored brick walls, speckled marble floors, and colorful murals of black Americans. Computer keyboards click. Elevators ping open and shut. Shoes shuffle on the shinny floor.
It is a space where the homeless seek refuge, children skip with books underarm, and adults stroll with purpose. It is a communal space. In other words, it is not your typical location for a book reading or speaking engagement. But for the one which occurred on Wednesday night – an event focused on reconciliation and the importance of dialogue with the ‘other’ – there could not have been a better setting.
Perhaps this setting contributed to making it an event unlike any I’ve experienced while on ‘tour.’ Over the past year, my book appearances have typically followed the same pattern: I tell the reconciliation narrative from my book – What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? – and rather homogeneous crowds ask fairly predictable questions.
But Wednesday night in D.C. was different. Sitting on a low stage, I watched a diverse range of people fill the hall with purpose as chairs were hastily configured to accommodate the unexpected numbers. I smelled the rain upon those who approached. I listened to a cacophony of voices, picking out fragments from the din, the topics supposedly unspeakable, the words supposedly dangerous. The occupation … / Reconciliation will never … / They banned him for boycotts …
Everyone in the room knew we should not have been there, knew that we had gathered together because the DCJCC had cancelled my previous event due to the ‘pro-Israel’ politics of fear, had chosen for all of us to gather somewhere else, under a different roof. And so those seated in the library’s cavernous hall seemed simultaneously grateful to be gathered together and perplexed by the circumstances which had brought us to this place.
Eventually, I began speaking, as I always do. And eventually, I ended, as I always try to do in under 30 minutes.
And then came the questions.


Now, at none of my book events had the topic of BDS ever come up. Never had an audience member brought it up. After all, it has little to do with my book. However, when I had completed my narrative, when it came time on Wednesday night for those in the crowd to rise, grasp the microphone and probe, we all knew it was going to come, that it was unavoidable. That someone was going to ask. Not because it was natural to do so, but because the institutional Jewish community had made it a focus of attention, had brought us together because of such attention.
When several questions in, a gentle, soft-spoken man in his sixties rose and pressed his mouth to the metal mesh of the microphone, we knew it was time. So did he. And so I was asked about my views on BDS, was given the chance to address the elephant in the room.
And so I did, reiterating my nuanced support, as a progressive Zionist, for Palestinians’ right to nonviolently oppose Israel’s geo-political policies via economic sanctions. Reiterating my view that, as one who still clings to the two-state solution, I honor such nonviolent efforts to affect policy change in the region.
And when I said the following, spontaneous applause echoed through the hall:

“This is exactly the type of nonviolent initiative critics of BDS have been clamoring for Palestinians to embrace. ‘Move away from violent resistance,’ they said. ‘Embrace peace,’ they said. Well, guess what? That nonviolent movement is here. And it’s something that must be addressed, not ignored.”

And that was it. We moved on to exploring, together, the limits of reconciliation, the power of dialogue, the need – or lack thereof – for forgiveness. We discussed Israeli politics and the psychology of fear and the efficacy of restorative justice. We discussed and discussed and …
… after many hands shaken, many hugs given, many conversations concluded, we exited the great hall, leaving it to those who inhabited it before our arrival.
As I walked out with a friend, a young child dropped a book, the smack of its impact echoing off the stone walls. Rather than pick it up, she looked up at her mother, worried about what had just happened. “It’s okay,” she said. “It’s not broken, everything’s fine.”
And it was.


What Do You Buy For the Children
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.


<strong>*</strong> This is sarcasm, of course. As anyone who’s read my book or writing knows, I can’t write anything without infusing at least some part of it with sarcasm. It’s a personal flaw. I know that.

9 thoughts on “Palestinian-American asks about BDS at my book event, and nobody gets hurt

  1. Actually it is not true that “we should not have been there.”
    J Street regularly provides platforms for advocates of views that are contrary to those of the organization. To that end, it was very appropriate for J Street to host you.
    The DCJCC, on the other hand, explicitly opposes BDS, and held this view before you came on the scene. And you are not the only BDS advocate who was declined a platform there. There is nothing wrong with an organization deciding not to provide a platform for advocates of views they find abhorrent.

    • JIm, BDS is an organization that calls for Israel to be replaced with a Palestinian star. That’s not criticism, it’s destructive.

  2. The DCJCC does not refuse to allow criticism of Israel. For instance, its theater (Theater J) presented “The Admission” and “Return to Haifa,” both of which were critical and controversial productions with plenty of dialogue and discussion that followed.

  3. I’m with you all the way, David. Hooray for everyone who wants to give peace a real chance. When I was young, I dreamed of living in a Jewish country, a country where I wouldn’t have to hold my breath everytime I told a stranger that I was Jewish. If my dream requires that others are denied a chance to realize dreams of their own, then I renounce my dream. I do this with great sadness. I have always taken pride in Jewish devotion to justice and compassion. It is our greatest strength. May Israel rediscover that strength soon. Until then, I support BDS. When hearts turn to stone, money talks.

    • The Israeli govt rarely dinees Jews any Jews entrance to the country. Norman Finkelstein was recently banned from Israel for a decade. A number of years back, Adam Shapiro (a founder of the International Solidarity organization) was banned from Israel. And LONG long ago, the gangster Meyer Lansky was denied entrance to Israel. (If you want to see a fictionalized version of the last incident, recall Hyman Roth in The Godfather. In the movie, Roth was gunned down at Ben Gurion Airport attempting to immigrate. In real life, Lansky immigrated to Israel to avoid tax evasion charges in the US, but Israel deported him two years later. Lansky later died of natural causes in Miami.)

  4. If Israel/Palestine becomes a democratic country composed of Jews, Palestinians and naturalized citizens of all ethnicities all of whom are equal, then Israel/Palestine will be recognized by all.

  5. yonira!DO YOU UNDERSTAND Hamas aren’t the occupying power in Gaza? They are the eleetcd government.DO YOU UNDERSTAND Israel are the occupying power in the West Bank & Gaza, with particular responsibilities to the occupied population under the Geneva 4? Are Israel’s house demolitions legal under international law?No. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention Occupying Powers are prohibited from destroying property or employing collective punishment. Article 53 reads: “Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons…is prohibited. Under this provision the practice of demolishing Palestinian houses is banned, as is the wholesale destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure. Israel doesn’t have the right to determine what Palestinians do or don’t build on their own land and territory.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *