Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Jewish Organizations are making terrible decisions re David Harris-Gershon

I’m very disheartened, dismayed and pretty much disgusted over the recent cancellations by Jewish communal organizations that had previously reserved my friend David Harris-Gershon to speak about his book.

David’s book is about a process of reconciliation that he went through with the family of the terrorist who tried to kill his wife.

To make a really long story short, the reason that they have cancelled his speaking events is because in July 2012 he wrote an article in Tikkun entitled: Today, I’m coming out in Favor of BDS (Boycott,Divestment, & Sanctions against Israel.)

Some of you might jump up and say, “Great, ban his ass.”

But I’m going to tell you why that’s not the right answer.

David has over and over and over and over clarified his position on the issue. He has most recently written in Haaretz after being banned by the DCJCC that he “views economic sanctions as a legitimate form of nonviolent protest for Palestinians to use, despite my opposition to some tactics used by the BDS movement and its implicit goal of a bi-national state.”

I don’t see why any Jewish organization or Jewish leader would not be okay with that statement, especially given the fact that when Palestinians used a violent form of protest, his wife paid a high price and their friends were murdered.  He is saying, “Go ahead, use a non violent form of protest to make your point” and I am adding, rather than setting off bombs and killing innocent civilians.

Why David felt the need to write that article in the first place, I really don’t know. But find me a politician who hasn’t changed his or her mind about something, or clarified a position, since July 2012.  Remember Barack Obama’s red line? Remember Netanyahu’s not-so-subtle support of Mitt Romney?  It happens all of the time, and I don’t know why executive directors or donors feel the need to ban someone like David from speaking about his book – which has nothing to do with BDS.

As David keeps reminding us, he is a Zionist and he is a Jewish studies teacher. I knew David and his wife during a period when they were becoming more observant. I hung out with David while he was at the West Bank Yeshiva. I went to their hippy Jewish wedding. I visited them a few months after the bombing in Jerusalem. I saw them when they lived in DC. David stayed at my place in Chicago a couple of times, once to visit a sick relative and the other to attend a conference on teaching Israel in the classroom. His wife came to my wedding reception 18 months ago. I can tell you with absolutely no hesitation that David has no inclination to destroy the state of Israel or the Jewish people. He will not convince the college students at Hillel to boycott Israel or Federation donors to stop giving their dollars to campaigns.  He will not make JCC members not want to attend a Yom Haatzmaut celebration.

He will tell the story of his book, sign a few copies, and offer a unique, tragic and hopeful perspective to the Israeli-Palestinian narrative.

I am finding it hard to swallow the bitter pill that the power players in the American Jewish community, a community in which I worked for 12 years as a Jewish educator sending thousands of people to Israel, can be acting so reprehensibly to one of its own.  It’s also just a big mistake. Every Jewish communal organization talks about “engagement, engagement, engagement.” No one, especially not Millenials, wants to be engaged by organizations resembling dictatorships with 501(c) (3) designations.

And the excuse of “unwavering for support for Israel” or “campuses are under attack” just doesn’t cut it when you are essentially ostracizing someone based on your own ignorance, rhetoric bulimia and lack of nuance rather than a true threat.

David is not harming Israel. Just ask the first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion who said the following: The test of democracy is freedom of criticism.