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Originally published in Tikkun Daily

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).

So, what it is, exactly, that drives the likes of Daroff to place me outside the normative Jewish community's gates? Apparently, this:

I am one who views Palestinians' use of economic sanctions as a legitimate form of nonviolent opposition, and believes that the BDS movement is exactly the type of peaceful resistance observers have long been clamoring for Palestinians to use. (I don't share the movement's vision of a bi-national state, nor agree with some of its tactics.)
And it is this particular political view on this narrow issue which, as we now see, prompted Daroff to write the following:
"I just do not support giving communal hecsher to those who are outside the bounds of legitimate discourse ... Your refusal to state your categorical opposition to the BDS movement place you outside our communal tent."
And it is this issue which has similarly prompted Eric Fingerhut, President of Hillel International, to affirm the organization's right to ban all Jews from speaking who harshly critique Israel or support, in any fashion, BDS, and to reject Swarthmore Hillel's move to open its doors to all Jews, regardless of their political leanings.

If someone like me should be placed outside the Jewish communal tent based upon my progressive political views with regard to Israel, consider the hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of liberal or progressive Jews who would similarly be banned or exiled, since they too would be standing "outside the bounds of legitimate discourse."  

To be clear: this is not an issue of free speech. This is a crisis of paralysis. An institutional Jewish community which is afraid to engage with some of its most difficult and pressing issues, willing instead to cast aside valuable members in the service of 'pro-Israel' stances which are anything but.

For such stances do nothing but cause internal communal damage while ignoring a very real, and expanding, phenomenon which is causing Israel real economic distress: international sanctions against and growing isolation of Israel due to its geo-political policies.

The Rabbis of the Talmud understood the need to engage in difficult discussions on issues of importance, and were able to recognize nuanced distinctions within oppositional views.

It's an example Daroff and other Jewish institutional leaders would do well to follow.


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.

*A hechsher is a rabbinic seal of approval that something is Kosher.

Originally posted to David Harris-Gershon (The Troubadour) on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 04:33 PM PST.

Also republished by Writing by David Harris Gershon, Street Prophets , and Kitchen Table Kibitzing.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (49+ / 0-)

    "If the Jew who struggles for justice for Palestine is considered anti-Semitic, & if Palestinians seeking self-determination are so accused...then no oppositional move can take place w/o risking the accusation." - Judith Butler

    by David Harris Gershon on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 04:33:39 PM PST

  •  Oy. (19+ / 0-)

    Just an observation. When they pull out words like hecsher to explain their "position," you know you're going to be kicked out.  Not just you. Me, and hundreds of thousands of others who want answers to hard questions and are not satisfied with the received pablum.

    Be strong. This is going to get better as more and more people realize that those who purport to have all the answers are afraid of questions.

    •  That applies to so much more than just this... (9+ / 0-)
      This is going to get better as more and more people realize that those who purport to have all the answers are afraid of questions.
      I'm hopeful that it will apply to those who are still members of the Republican Party, who need to start asking some hard questions.

      We who are Progressive Democrats need to do the same.

      Perhaps we all need a bigger tent?  Or a different tentmaker?

      No matter what, we need to be principled, honest, and strong.


      We cannot call ourselves a civilised society if we refuse to protect the weakest among us.

      by The Marti on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 04:48:57 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I agree with you about the significance of the (10+ / 0-)


      When rabbinic language of what is permissible or approved is used to describe progressives, we're in trouble.

      "If the Jew who struggles for justice for Palestine is considered anti-Semitic, & if Palestinians seeking self-determination are so accused...then no oppositional move can take place w/o risking the accusation." - Judith Butler

      by David Harris Gershon on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 04:51:05 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'm sorry to hear this David. It's sad when a (15+ / 0-)

      group of people are discriminated against and subjected to rejection, ostracism, and other repercussions based on their beliefs.  

      I read a few years back that Prime Minister Netanyahu instructed both the Ministry of Defense, as well as Intelligence to expand their "hasbara" operations (did I spell that correctly) to include keeping lists of all critics of Israel, especially those involving BDS and taking counter-measures against them.  It wasn't exactly clear what that meant.

      AIPAC's recent attack on DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Scultz was also discouraging, although I understand they may have back pedaled some on this.

      It seems as if elements within the right-wing Likud-Shas have not only declared war progressives, but also the Democratic Party and the right of the President of the United States to lead the national security interests of the United States (with the support for the Iran sanctions bill.)

      How sad that those leading such efforts to not see the potential for a self-fulfilling prophecy where their own actions produced delayed side effects which will create more of the exact kinds of prejudice they legitimately fear and are trying to prevent.  

      Can you imagine the howls of protest if any group were to attempt to exclude their viewpointssd with the same tactics?  

      But, we progressives will need to react more aggressively to prevent our own national politics from being pushed to the right. It isn't clear to me exactly how to do this effectively and fairly. When I read your posts I try to convince myself that you've got this covered so the rest of us can work on other challenges.

      Please continue to have courage and keep up the good work.

      The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

      by HoundDog on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 04:58:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Ah. So Daroff has removed the beam from his eye (7+ / 0-)

    and is thereby ready to criticize the mote in yours? I think I have that straight, or perhaps he has the first stone to cast? Does he have a certificate verifying "plays well with others." From his kindergarten teacher?  It is so sad.

    "The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe it." Neil deGrasse Tyson

    by pvasileff on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 04:48:36 PM PST

  •  Well, David, I think that this kerfuffle (19+ / 0-)

    is good for the light it brings to the issues, despite the harmful heat it generates.

    At this moment, 1.) UCSB Hillel's decision to bar you from speaking for reconciliation between Israel and Palestine, and

    2.) Scarlett Johansson's decision to be a spokesperson for
    Soda Stream, inspite of the fact that the factory is located on stolen land, and

    3.) Bill de Blasio's secret meeting with AIPAC, where he states that the job of a NYC mayor is to defend Israel

    and the attention being paid to all three instances, seems to presage an opening for clearer discussion on I/P issues--something that has eluded us for so long.

    It's *Gandhi*, not Ghandi

    by poco on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 04:53:55 PM PST

  •  It's my guess that they object to the entire (12+ / 0-)

    tone of your memoir, and to any other creative approach to the Israel-Palestinian issue which is the issue which, above all, is very much key to a wider peace in the Middle East and around the world.

    Sometimes I think that both sides of this issue have some very vested interests in not ever resolving this conflict, and I think you have seen an example of some people who fall firmly into that camp.

    Pope Francis: the Thumb of Christ in the eyes of the Pharisees.

    by commonmass on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 05:00:51 PM PST

    •  The way that people respond, one might think (7+ / 0-)

      that there indeed is such a vested interest.

      Mostly, I think it's fear.

      "If the Jew who struggles for justice for Palestine is considered anti-Semitic, & if Palestinians seeking self-determination are so accused...then no oppositional move can take place w/o risking the accusation." - Judith Butler

      by David Harris Gershon on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 05:03:26 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Pardon me for being so cynical, but I think it's a (14+ / 0-)

        similar reason--for both Israeli and Palestinian politicians and advocacy groups--that many Democrats and many Republicans don't want the controversy over abortion to go away: fundraising and money. As long as this conflict remains unresolved, power and money comes in support of both sides of the issue and drives a great deal of the foreign policy of nearly every nation in the world. Think about that.

        What would the Arab world do without this ongoing conflict? What would Americans talk about, or donate to, without this ongoing conflict? Where would radical Islamic terrorists be without this ongoing conflict?

        Too many people have too much politics and too much money invested in this fight for it to be resolved.

        And that, to my way of thinking, is morally reprehensible.

        Pope Francis: the Thumb of Christ in the eyes of the Pharisees.

        by commonmass on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 05:08:38 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Exactly. Did you see the looks on the (12+ / 0-)

          Generals' faces last night when Obama said he did not want this country on a "Permanent War Footing"?

          "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

          by zenbassoon on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 05:42:48 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I noticed the bloated generals too (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            War is a part of our economy.

             Look how many states have military projects or sites that they are economically dependent on. "Jobs!" They got used to two wars.

            We have it within our power to make the world over again ~ Thomas Paine

            by occupystephanie on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 06:51:33 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  Not only Jewish and Muslim demagogues (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          but also the anti-Semitic pseudoZionist pseudoChristians who claim to be Israel's BFFs so that they can push Israel into a war with all Muslims, starting with Iran, in order to promote their sick, perverted vision of Armageddon.

          As that nice Jewish boy once said,

          For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world [or, one supposes, Greater Israel], and lose his own soul?
          Mark 8:36

          Or all of those other nice Jewish boys who said things like

          6 Thus saith the Lord; For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes;

          7 That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek:

          Amos 2

          Good man, Amos. You should read what he says about Gaza, and Damascus, and Tyre in Lebanon. You would think that nothing had changed in the 2800 years or so since.

          There was a time when I was donutted (HRed) to death here on dKos for pointing out that Tanakh (Jewish scripture: Torah, Prophets, Writings; not the Old Testament) says such "anti-Semitic" things in profusion.

          [Israeli Foreign Ministry:] G-d is an anti-Semite

          Fortunately the I/P bullies of the time were either made to see reason over the years or eventually banned for going too far.

          I foresee, and it needs no gift of prophecy to do so, that both Israel and American Jewry will go through the same generational shifts as Evangelical Christians in the US, or Protestants in Northern Ireland, or Afrikaners in South Africa, from hatred based on fear and ignorance to outreach to negotiations to peace and beyond. But I also predict that the resistance to good will will temporarily get louder and nastier as its base shrinks. See the "Real" IRA after the Provisional IRA laid down its arms, and the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging violence after Nelson Mandela's release from prison and the start of negotiations to end Apartheid.

          Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

          by Mokurai on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 07:03:33 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Also occasionally outright blatant racism. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Anastasia Castro, wu ming, poco, Sylv

        When the church I was attending at the time arranged a visit to a local reform temple for some of us who were curious, I got to witness an argument between Mr. "I Am An Israeli" and a young mother quite possibly half his age with a child no older than ten with her.

        Not kidding, that was his comeback to every single thing she said. "You don't know them! I am an Israeli!"

        I'd say he was being dehumanizing, but that word honestly isn't strong enough for what I was hearing.

        He didn't care that visitors were there and trying not to stare. He didn't care that the kid was huddled behind her mother for protection and clearly terrified of how he was acting. He didn't care that it was Friday night and sunset was already coming on very fast or past, that he was doing this on the edge of the Sabbath in a room where candles would be lit and Torah passages would be read in under thirty minutes.

        He just wanted to bully her into agreeing that Palestinians shouldn't be treated like humans in some very specific and terrifying ways. (And she was standing up to him remarkably well trying to get it into his head that her faith and her morals meant she would never agree with him, even if none of it had a hope of ever getting through.)

        No reason to be as cruel as he wanted to be to them for any reason but simple racism. No justification possible but racism.

  •  Seems like a power grab. (6+ / 0-)

    The CONservative factions consolidating what power they can.

    If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

    by CwV on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 05:25:55 PM PST

  •  This does not auger well for peace... (3+ / 0-)

    for them to hold such rigid views. However there seems to be some hope.

    I understand that the group of people who are being put outside the community is rather large. Sounds like a movement in itself or a partner to the BDS.

    We have it within our power to make the world over again ~ Thomas Paine

    by occupystephanie on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 06:43:26 PM PST

    •  Offtopic nitpick : probably just a typo but (0+ / 0-)

      Sorry to be peevish...
      Auger vs. Augur

      Iron sharpens Iron. Normal is a dryer setting. STOP illegal immigration NOW! -- Make it LEGAL. If Corporations are People--Let's draft them.

      by benamery21 on Thu Jan 30, 2014 at 12:28:45 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you (5+ / 0-)

    I commend you for speaking out so clearly for so many of us, and for following  up so consistently.  I look forward to reading your diaries.
    For many of us who grew up in the American Jewish community after World War II, the closed minded values, censorship, and condemnation of debate, are simply inconceivable.  The Jewish political values I was raised with are open-mindedness, respect for diversity, respect for intelligent argument.
    I am grateful for your voice, and that you have taken on these issues.  For me, they are central, they are the soul of the beliefs and values I was raised with by the Jewish teachers and intellectuals of that time, which I would have thought was for all times.

  •  Those that are against nonviolent means of change (0+ / 0-)

    are for violence and continued oppression to maintain the apartheid status quo. That guy sounds like a real loser.

    I'm still waiting for mainstream Zionists to propose a way for a two state solution in which the regime in Israel, out of the kindness of it's heart, gives the people of Palestine back it's lands/resources and respects their human rights.  

    Instead, what we hear from the Zionist mainstream is arguments whining about the "tone" of the opposition.  It's as if they think that it's a blessing to be occupied by an apartheid state.

    If the fallacies that mainstream Zionists used to justify Israeli apartheid against Palestinians where used against any other group of people, it would be called out as KKK levels of racism.  It's a shame that since the occupation began, mainstream Zionists have dehumanized Palestinians to a point in which horrendous racism is acceptable and respectable discourse.

  •  This diary is a bunch of crap (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Angryallen, charliehall2

    ONE person is named and Hillel can do whatever they hell they want.  This is no way expresses Jewish views on progressives and to suggest it does is completely dishonest.  You continue to dance around the goals of the BDS movement - specifically about their goal of a one state solution.  I don't blame Hillel for showing you the door.

  •  A limited defense of UC Santa Barbara Hillel (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Simply put, it's entirely normal and acceptable to expect a keynote speaker to be in harmony with the relevant views of the organization for which the speaker is keynoting. The keynote speaker, after all, is in an important sense representing the organization. When it was discovered that you were not in harmony with the Israel Committee's and UC Santa Barbara Hillel's views on BDS, you became unacceptable to them as their keynote speaker. And now, like Captain Renault, you profess to be "shocked, shocked to find gambling going on here"? Give me a break.

    According to the news story in the Forward, you were invited to be the keynote speaker at theIsrael Committee of Santa Barbara's annual Israel education event. It should be entirely understandable and noncontroversial that someone who was discovered to have endorsed BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel), would be unwelcome as the keynote speaker of an organization that, so far as one can tell from its website, strongly opposes BDS. Imagine, if you will, an organization supporting progressive political candidates  discovering that its invited keynote speaker had endorsed the American Legislative Exchange Council.

    There's also a certain incoherence in your position. In your "coming out" article, you wrote:

    I have no choice but to formally endorse and embrace BDS.
    The BDS movement, as is well known, is an effort to do away with Israel in any recognizable sense. As Ha'aretz's Mira Sucharov pointed out to you, BDS "is a 1-state thing."

    Having "formally endorse[d] and embrace[d] BDS," which aims at ending Israel, you then equivocated by saying you support BDS without supporting the goal of the BDS movement, which you mischaracterize as bi-national state.

    Again, it's normal and understandable that you would not be welcome as the keynote speaker for the annual Israel teach-in of a strongly pro-Israel organization being hosted by UC Santa Barbara Hillel.

    Your effort to make yourself out as some kind of martyr is risible.

    Your endorsing and embracing a movement to, for example, make Israeli academics pariahs in the global academic world is unfortunate, to say the least.

    Shalom v' salaam; peace and wholeness

    by another American on Thu Jan 30, 2014 at 08:54:47 AM PST

  •  My synagogue has hosted (0+ / 0-)

    Beinart and Gorenberg.

    But they aren't as strident as you.

    They aren't as one-sided as you.

    And they don't whine like you.  

    •  God forbid someone be strident (0+ / 0-)

      in the pursuit of peace and justice. Thank goodness there's people keeping the community safe from these horrible things he says.

      If knowledge is power and power corrupts, does that mean that knowledge corrupts?

      by AoT on Thu Jan 30, 2014 at 05:18:59 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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