About David Harris-Gershon

David Harris-Gershon is the author of What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? His work has appeared in The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

Israeli Human Rights Group B’Tselem Urges Soldiers to Refuse Orders Demanding They Fire on Unarmed Palestinian Protesters

In the wake of last Friday’s violent response to protests along the Gaza border, in which at least 17 Palestinians were killed by IDF snipers and hundreds more wounded, Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem is urging soldiers to refuse “illegal orders” to fire upon unarmed protesters.

The campaign, which is called, “Sorry commander, I cannot shoot,” comes at a critical time. More protests are scheduled for this coming Friday, and many more will occur leading up to May 15, which is the 70th anniversary of Israel’s establishment, referred to as the Nakba (catastrophe) by Palestinians. May 15 is also the date the Trump administration hopes to move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move which promises to further intensify already growing tensions and frustrations.

B’Tselem’s campaign also comes on the heels of Israeli officials publicly reaffirming the military’s firing policies, further warning that any Palestinians who come within 100 meters of the Gaza fence will be risking their lives, even if they are unarmed.

A part of B’Tselem’s statement on its campaign, which will appear in newspapers across Israel, reads:

An order that permits live gunfire at unarmed civilians is blatantly unlawful. As Justice Benjamin Halevy ruled in the Kafr Qasem case back in the 1950s, the illegality of such orders “is not a question of form, nor is it imperceptible, or partially imperceptible.” On the contrary, it is a case of “unmistakable illegality patently evident in the order itself, it is a command that bears a clearly criminal nature or that the actions it orders are of a clearly criminal nature. It is an illegality that pains the eye and outrages the heart, if the eye be not blind and the heart be not callous or corrupt.”

The responsibility for issuing these unlawful orders and for their lethal consequences rests with the policy makers and – above all – with Israel’s prime minister, defense minister, and the chief of staff. They are also the ones who bear the obligation to change these regulations immediately, before this Friday’s planned protests, in order to forestall any further casualties.

That said, it is also a criminal offense to obey patently illegal orders. Therefore, as long as soldiers in the field continue to receive orders to use live fire against unarmed civilians, they are duty-bound to refuse to comply.

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Why I Refuse to Be Silent After Israel’s Violence in Gaza

Israeli jets strike car, killing Palestinian in Gaza. Image Courtesy of moigovps

Much remains unknown about Israel’s violent response to mass protests along the Gaza border on Friday, and as far as Israel’s leaders are concerned, that’s just fine – officials have made clear they have no interest in learning any of the details. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, after commending soldiers for killing at least 16 and injuring hundreds more, stated there will be no inquiry into the army’s actions. And the army itself won’t be changing its firing policies, even after disturbing videos emerged of unarmed Palestinians being shot while praying, smoking, rolling a tire.

All of this (and I say this painfully) is expected for a country which has come to accept that “control over another people requires days of killing and slaughter.” It’s why Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu publicly congratulated soldiers after killing unarmed protesters. It’s why Israel’s Foreign Ministry had the chutzpah to publicly blame Palestinians themselves for making Israel kill them, calling the protests a “murderous spectacle” without a hint of irony or empathy. It’s why the IDF justified shooting a protester in the back by noting he was rolling a tire, as though such an action naturally demands the death penalty.

Again, as shocking as these responses have been, they’re not entirely unexpected. Israel’s right-wing leadership has increasingly expressed in public how little regard they have for Palestinian lives or hopes for self-determination.

What should not be expected, however, is silence from those who claim to still be invested in the “Jewish State” as a democratic project where civil and human rights – much less the right to live – are granted to all, regardless of race or creed.

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U.S. Jews prepared to register as Muslim if Trump creates a national database

While campaigning in Iowa during the primary season, Donald Trump told a cheering crowd that he would establish a national database upon which all Muslim-Americans would be legally obligated to register. The guiding principles underlying such a registry were clear to everyone: Muslim citizens are suspect, and should be tracked and monitored both transparently and with frightening ease.

Those who might have otherwise dismissed Trump’s proposal as a vote-whipping device were forced to confront that his words should be taken literally this week, for as surrogates renewed talk of such a registry, Trump named Michael Flynn as his national security advisor, a man who once wrote that “fear of Muslims is rational.”

This prompted Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), to tell a crowd gathered on the topic of anti-Semitism that, should such a registry be created, he would sign up as Muslim:

“If one day Muslim Americans will be forced to register their identities, then that is the day that this proud Jew will register as a Muslim.”

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Want democratic institutions to hold? Stop pretending there’s a “campaign Trump” and prepare to fight an autocrat

The following refrain has been heard repeatedly since the course of American history forever shifted on Tuesday night: Maybe President Trump will be different than candidate Trump.

It’s a refrain which has been uttered by pundits, politicians, NBA commentators and everyday Americans hoping that Trump’s fascist rhetoric was nothing more than a vote-whipping device. It’s a refrain which has been repeated by those who believe the dignity of the office of the presidency, indeed the Oval Office itself, somehow has the power to humble and shape those who hold it. It’s also a refrain which has been spoken by those who never believed Trump could win the presidency in the first place.

Many of those who were living in a fantasy world before Trump’s victory are now doing so after it, assuming that things will be okay. That everything will work out. That those authoritarian words spoken during a campaign cannot possibly reflect the man’s true intentions.

This is a grave mistake, and is precisely how fascism takes root.

We must come to understand that things are not necessarily going to be okay. And I’m not talking about domestic policy, which will see a disastrous unraveling as healthcare, environmental regulations, LGBTQ rights, immigration policies and more crumble. Nor am I talking about foreign policy, which will see alliances strained, diplomatic agreements gutted and global anti-democratic institutions emboldened. Nor am I talking about the Supreme Court, which will soon be lurching wildly to the right.

I’m talking about constitutional democracy itself, both those institutions established and those rights enshrined.

This is serious. Our country isn’t just facing an existential crisis, it’s facing a constitutional crisis as well. “Campaign” Trump expressed a desire to weaken our democratic institutions and then target the vulnerable. Do not assume he was being insincere, that he was just seeking votes.

Believe him. Believe every word he’s uttered.

  • Believe that president-elect Trump wants to institute a national stop-and-frisk targeting minority populations, giving police the ability to interrogate and search black and brown people at will.
  • Believe that president-elect Trump wants a deportation force to round up millions as immigration legislation is gutted, leaving children and families vulnerable.
  • Believe that president-elect Trump wants to ban Muslims from this country and seal off our borders completely.
  • Believe that president-elect Trump wants to torture people and do things which are in his own words “unthinkable.”
  • Believe that president-elect Trump wants to punish women who get an abortion and medical professionals who perform them.
  • Believe that president-elect Trump wants to limit press freedoms by cutting off access to reporters, threatening those who critique him and weakening their right to anonymous sourcing.

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Trump using black lives to gain white votes fits America’s long tradition of exploiting black bodies for profit

Donald Trump’s latest pitch to black voters is not actually an effort to make inroads in the African-American community, or to convince more black voters he’s an attractive option. Instead, the effort is about wooing white voters embarrassed by his past racism and bigotry. It’s about giving white, suburban voters the rhetorical cover they need to vote for Trump in November.

It’s why Trump made his appeal to black voters before a mostly white crowd in the mostly white, suburban town of Lansing, Michigan. And it’s why his appeal included the following words:

“What do you have to lose? You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?”

Denigrating all black Americans as poor, uneducated and unemployed is not a serious recruitment effort. It is, however, a way to paint the African-American community as wholly blighted before a white audience inclined to nod. A white audience which might appreciate Trump’s reaching out to African-Americans as they think, Yeah, why not try something new, you destitute blacks?

Their not voting for Trump becomes their own fault, rather than a response to Trump’s history of racism and bigotry.

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Democrats join GOP by refusing to recognize Israel’s military occupation of Palestinians in the West Bank

On July 9, at the DoubleTree Hotel in Orlando, Florida, the 187-member Democratic Party Platform Committee considered an amendment to the draft platform’s Middle East plank. Submitted by Maya Berry of the Arab American Institute and championed by Cornel West, the amendment sought for the Democratic Party to acknowledge ― finally ― Palestinian suffering and territorial concerns alongside lengthy mention of Israel’s security concerns and traumas. It sought for Democrats to recognize, officially, what every U.S. administration has in recent memory: that a military occupation exists in the West Bank, and that settlements are an impediment to Palestinian sovereignty.

It read (in part):

Palestinians deserve “an end to occupation and illegal settlements so that they may live in independence, sovereignty and dignity.”

As Berry noted during her explanation of the amendment, passing it should neither have been controversial nor contested. For not only has President Obama recognized Israel’s military occupation and Palestinian suffering, so too has Hillary Clinton. Indeed, she wrote this in 2014:

Despite Clinton’s past words and beliefs, Berry knew better than to think consideration of the amendment would be anything but contested. After all, AIPAC had already enlisted black leaders to help Clinton defeat a similar motion when the draft platform was being created. It did so via a letter written by Bakari Sellers and signed by over 60 black leaders – a letter intended to counter West’s support. (See my recent investigative essay exploring this in depth.) It was a letter which also mirrored testimony given on Clinton’s behalf by Robert Wexler, President of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, who argued Democrats should not include mention of the occupation or settlements in the party’s platform.

Indeed, before debate on the amendment even commenced, Governor Dannel Malloy – for the first time while chairing proceedings – acknowledged that things might get heated, and reminded everyone that, should there be a close vote, delegates from U.S. territories would have their votes count proportionally rather than fully.

He knew what he was talking about. After passionate words from West, Clinton delegate Mayor Stephen Benjamin of Columbia, South Carolina, who has long been associated with AIPAC, rose to oppose. He argued that adopting the amendment would overturn the hard work of the Drafting Committee, upon which West sits, despite the fact that such is the nature and purpose of amendments.

Although he said little substantively, it didn’t matter. Clinton and AIPAC had won before the debate began, and the amendment failed 95-73. The Democratic Party would deny the occupation through omission, refusing to recognize its existence and the horrific abuses it levies against Palestinians. It would also explicitly oppose Palestinian civil society’s nonviolent movement, Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS), denying a recognition of Palestinian suffering while also denying them nonviolent recourse.Protests and cries immediately erupted. The anger among party progressives was clear as security stepped in.

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How AIPAC used black leaders to erase Palestinian suffering from the Democratic Party Platform

This is the story of how a powerful lobbying organization enlists black Americans – victims of oppression and state violence for centuries – to mask the suffering of another oppressed people. It is the story of how the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) strategically recruits and educates black leaders to defend Israel from critique. And it is the story of how Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation suffer in ways that reverberate upon America’s streets – where black bodies are bruised, bloodied and destroyed under the weight of police violence, mass incarceration, and disenfranchisement.

It is a story which begins – for our purposes – on June 9 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC, where a public hearing on the Democratic Platform convened for two days of discussion and debate in advance of the Drafting Committee’s work in St. Louis at the end of June.

At this hearing, the DNC’s 15-member Platform Drafting Committee heard public testimony on and debated many aspects of the platform, working through domestic policy and foreign policy and finally arriving at Israel. When they did, Robert Wexler, President of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, sat before the committee and presented Hillary Clinton’s version of what the DNC platform should look like, making sure to list Israel’s legitimate security concerns while neglecting to articulate the suffering Palestinians endure. Needless to say, absent from Wexler’s testimony were the words “occupation” and “settlements.” Though he did make sure to condemn Palestinian civil society’s nonviolent Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, noting that Democrats must oppose outside forces pressuring Israel.

Sitting opposite Wexler was Cornel West, a prominent author, academic and BDS supporter, who resides on the Drafting Committee as one of five members appointed by Bernie Sanders. (Six were appointed by Clinton.) When Wexler finished his testimony, West had this to say:

“I think both of us can agree that a precious Palestinian baby in the West Bank has exactly the same value as a precious Jewish baby in Tel Aviv … A commitment to security for precious Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel can never be predicated on an occupation of precious Palestinians. If we’re concerned about security, it seems to me we’re going to have to talk seriously about occupation. I don’t know if you would allow the use of that word … but occupation is real. It’s concrete.”


“For too long, the Democratic Party has been beholden to an AIPAC that didn’t take seriously the humanity of Palestinian brothers and sisters. We’re at a turning point now, though of course it’s going to be a slow one in the Democratic Party … So my first question would be: one, would you argue for the use of the word occupation in the platform? And two, how would you respond to those who say for so long the United States has been so biased toward Israeli security and has not accented the humanity of Palestinians, such that to talk about evenhandedness is always a version of anti-Semitism as opposed to a struggle for justice?”

Wexler responded, saying “what you refer to as occupation” should be absent from the DNC platform. Why? To include mention of occupation and settlements would be to litigate sensitive issues which must be negotiated by Israelis and Palestinians themselves, not the Democratic Party. An absurd answer made even more so given Wexler, on Clinton’s behalf, advocated minutes before for Jerusalem to be recognized by Democrats as Israel’s capital, one such ‘sensitive’ issue.

When the public hearing had concluded, the Clinton camp’s position was known: it opposed West’s proposal to acknowledge Palestinian suffering in the Democratic Party Platform, as well as the nonviolent movement he champions. What wasn’t known was just who would prevail on this issue. What also wasn’t known at the time was that in a matter of days, AIPAC would quietly aid Clinton by enlisting black politicians and church leaders to counter West’s efforts on the Drafting Committee, as though the only natural way to counter a black intellectual is with other black intellectuals.

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Bernie Sanders wants Israel’s occupation to end, and these young American Jews are actively pursuing his vision

Last Monday, 18,000 Jews shamefully applauded a man backed by neo-Nazis at AIPAC’s annual policy conference. However, while Donald Trump was pandering to and being cheered by an unrepresentative segment of the American Jewish community willing to ignore his fascism and hate, something much different was happening 2,000 miles away in Salt Lake City.

This is where Bernie Sanders, the only Jewish presidential candidate and sole contender to skip AIPAC’s conference, delivered a speech he wrote with AIPAC in mind, a speech which likely would have been ill received by an unforgiving and hostile audience.

Sanders, among all candidates, was the only one to mention Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinians. Not only that, he called for its cessation as well:

Peace will mean ending what amounts to the occupation of Palestinian territory, establishing mutually agreed upon borders, and pulling back settlements in the West Bank, just as Israel did in Gaza – once considered an unthinkable move on Israel’s part.

That is why I join much of the international community, including the U.S. State Department and European Union, in voicing my concern that Israel’s recent expropriation of an additional 579 acres of land in the West Bank undermines the peace process and, ultimately, Israeli security as well.

Sanders ruffled the feathers of some institutional Jewish leaders loathe to even mention the word “occupation,” much less acknowledge it as an obstacle to peace. However, he actually represents the majority of American Jews who see critiquing Israel, namely its settlements and the occupation, as not just compatible with being Jewish, but an essential part of what it means to be a Jew.

Sanders also echoed the desires of a small cadre of young, American Jews who are actively working to oppose the occupation through The Center for Jewish Nonviolence via an activist campaign called “The Occupation is Not Our Judaism.” These American college students are organizing and raising funds for the type of trip one imagines Sanders would have joined as a youth and might even publicly support today:

We are a group of American college students, and we believe that occupation is not our Judaism. As part of the student wing of the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, we will join Jewish activists, rabbis, community leaders of all ages from around the world in the West Bank this July for ten days of nonviolent solidarity work with Palestinian partners. Our commitment to Jewish history, texts, and community compels us to work toward a day in which the shared humanity and full equality of Palestinians and Israelis alike will be realized. We, as consistent with the values of the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, are unequivocally opposed to the occupation and committed to the practice of nonviolent resistance.

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The First Jewish President

In 2011, New York magazine called Barack Obama “the first Jewish president” for his tough-love support of Israel. It was not only a ridiculous statement at the time, bombast intended to counter the exaggerated attacks coming from right-wing hawks, but it was an offensive statement for many American Jews who understand that backing Israel does not make one Jewish.

That was five years ago. Today, for the first time in American history – just seventy years after U.S. forces liberated Buchenwald – we have the opportunity to intone those words in actuality: “the first Jewish president.” In Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Party has a viable, Jewish candidate inspiring young Americans across every divide imaginable, using the language of morality just as much as that of populism. Given this, it’s worth exploring just what being ‘Jewish’ means for Bernie Sanders, and why his Jewishness is meaningful.


I recognize Sanders, see much of my family and myself in him, as do millions of eligible voters.

Like most American Jews, Sanders is not religiously observant, if to be observant means faithfully practicing Jewish rituals, engaging with organized Jewish institutions, and adhering to Jewish law. He does none of this. And yet, his cultural identity and his ethical compass are deeply Jewish, coming from a long tradition of American Jews who have eschewed theism and organized religion while culturally and politically embracing the core tenets of justice echoed within Jewish texts.

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To Fully Fight Islamophobia, U.S. Jews Must Confront How Pro-Israel Organizations Foment Anti-Muslim Hate Now Spreading Across America

Originally published in +972 Magazine

Anti-Muslim rhetoric coming from American lawmakers and presidential candidates reached a fevered pitch earlier this month when, standing before a cheering crowd aboard the USS Yorktown in South Carolina, Donald Trump called for a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering the United States. This call came on the heels of Trump and Ben Carson calling for mosques to be monitored, Senator Marco Rubio suggesting that places where Muslim-Americans gather be shut down, and hundreds of lawmakers voting to turn away Syrian refugees.

These anti-Muslim policies, and the Islamophobia at their core, no longer reside on the fringes in America. They have seeped into the mainstream. Today, a majority of conservative voters support them, and poll numbers often rise for those Republican politicians who choose to double down by exploiting anti-Muslim sentiments. Such policies – and the hateful incitement politicians use when proposing them – are inspiring horrific hate crimes against Muslim-Americans. In the week after Trump’s Muslim ban comments, a California mosque was torched, an Arizona mosque was vandalized, two Muslim women in Florida were violently attacked, a Muslim deli owner in New York was beaten, and a Muslim child in Georgia was asked by a teacher, “Do you have a bomb in your backpack?”

I have been heartened in recent weeks to see many Jewish leaders and pro-Israel institutions, shocked by the historical reverberations, stand up for Muslims under attack. After all, in 1939 it was Jews fleeing Hitler who were demonized and blocked from reaching America’s shores. This stuff hits close to home for American Jews. Which is why 11 Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), recently signed a letter to Congress declaring that “to turn our back on [Syrian] refugees would be to betray our nation’s core values.” It is also why the ADL was quick to blast Trump last week.

However, such public pronouncements, as wonderful as they have been, conceal a troubling truth which the institutional Jewish community and U.S. Jews invested in Israel must confront if we are to root out anti-Muslim bigotry: in the post-9/11 era, pro-Israel donors, institutions and the Israel lobby have often fueled the very Islamophobia now suddenly catching fire in America, doing so as a strategy for smearing Palestinians. Continue reading