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‘Washington Post’ runs article denouncing gross censorship by JCC

Israel/Palestine
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David Harris-Gershon, at the Moth radio hour site

Banned in D.C.: David Harris-Gershon, at the Moth radio hour site

We missed this. The Washington, D.C., JCC, has canceled an appearance by an author who is a Jewish day-school teacher in Pittsburgh, because he has supported boycott of Israel. And the Washington Post has picked the story up. File this one under, the self-inflicted stupidity of the Jewish community.

Last week in Haaretz, author David Harris-Gershon wrote about the cancellation. He said Washington JCC ceo Carole Zawatsky called him just before his fourth-grade class to tell him he was a “mensch” and

that my political views are so untenable that the DCJCC could no longer host my “Authors Out Loud” book event, at which I was to talk about the power of reconciliation and dialogue embedded in my memoir, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?

The event was cancelled because, apparently, I had crossed a red line for Zawatsky.

Harris-Gershon doesn’t say what day the event was to take place. But journalist Sharon Jacobs has opined about the matter in the Washington Post, February 7: “A voice the JCC doesn’t think we should hear.” Notice how she speaks of American Jewish privilege:

On Tuesday, I got an e-mail from the Washington DC Jewish Community Center: The JCC was refunding me for a ticket I had purchased to an event in its “Authors Out Loud” series. I had paid to hear David Harris-Gershon, whose memoir, “What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?,” traces his emotional journey following his wife’s serious injury in a Jerusalem bombing….

I wanted to ask whether Harris-Gershon’s mind-set about Palestinian society had changed gradually or all at once. I wanted to hear about what sort of resistance he encountered from his Jewish community as his perspective changed and he began to seek reconciliation with the perpetrator of such a bloody attack…

Thanks to the JCC, I know what Jewish resistance to Harris-Gershon looks like. And it’s ostensibly unrelated to his memoir. Instead, the resistance focuses on a blog post Harris-Gershon wrote advocating boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

When I called the JCC to ask why I was getting a refund, I was told Harris-Gershon’s talk had been canceled. “The DC JCC has a policy that we do not do events with people who have endorsed BDS,” associate executive director Joshua Ford told me. Apparently the JCC had wanted to hear about Harris-Gershon’s harrowing experience in Israel — until it found out that he had drawn the wrong conclusions from it.

The University of California at Santa Barbara’s chapter of the Jewish campus organization Hillel also canceled a talk by Harris-Gershon last month because of his political views….

I don’t think American Jews — privileged to be able to reflect on Harris-Gershon’s experience and to think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from afar — can take our privilege and then hide our heads in the sand, refusing to look at the ugly mechanics of conflict and resistance…

We need writers like Harris-Gershon at our Jewish community centers to tell us what life is like beyond the Green Line, in the areas Israel controls but doesn’t quite claim as its own. We also need to discuss how we might fix the problems inherent in such a situation. The D.C. JCC has an obligation to me, to my peers and to my entire community to let all kinds of Jews in, especially those who challenge us with informed perspectives.

Harris-Gershon was featured on NPR last weekend. He is a liberal Zionist who supports a form of BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) in an effort to save the Israel he loves. Inspired in part by Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf, he wrote a blogpost in favor of BDS in 2012, at Tikkun magazine:

Israel’s internal process alone will not end the occupation….

as an American Jew invested deeply in Israel’s success and survival — which in turn drives my investment in stopping one of the greatest moral challenges of my generation: the occupation — I have no choice but to formally endorse and embrace BDS…

As it is, I have long been uncertain about supporting such measures, afraid of the long-term damage a sustained BDS movement might do to Israel, and concerned about the anti-Israel motivations of segments who push to sanction Israel.

However, I know this for a fact: those who claim in Israel that there is no occupation have only one goal in mind: a single-state solution, a Jewishly-controlled Israel stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.

In Haaretz last week, Harris-Gershon writes about the damage that the JCC is doing to the Jewish community:

If someone like me should be placed outside the Jewish communal tent, consider the hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of liberal or progressive Jews who would similarly be exiled, since they too would be standing “outside the bounds of legitimate discourse.”

I want to be clear: This is not an issue of free speech. The DCJCC has a right to host whomever it likes. The issue is the communal damage being done by Jewish institutions that, out of misplaced or irrational fear, are refusing to engage with some of our most difficult and pressing issues, content to cast valuable members from the communal tent rather than expand that tent.

At its site, the JCC has a very defensive mission statement:

The Washington DCJCC stands firmly in support of Israel as an independent Jewish state. We support open, balanced and respectful dialogue that engages a broad community in meaningful conversation. We choose our partners and affiliations to ensure that all programming supports the DCJCC’s mission to preserve and strengthen Jewish identity, heritage, tradition and values. We oppose “Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions” of Israel (BDS) and all efforts to delegitimize the right of the State of Israel to exist.

Methinks you doth protest too much, JCC!

But then, the JCC is taking the radical step (irony alert) of staging a play that touches on the Nakba later this year: The Admission. I am told that a lot of its pro-Israel programming, including an event with the liberal Zionist journalist Dahlia Lithwick and the Zionist-revivalist Ari Shavit, are efforts to cover its hinder against criticism for even mentioning Palestinian dispossession.

P.S. The Post also ran a letter

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24 Responses

  1. lysias
    lysias
    February 13, 2014, 12:11 pm

    Last week in Haaretz, author David Harris-Gershon wrote about the cancellation. He said Washington JCC ceo Carole Zawatsky called him to tell him just before his fourth-grade class to tell him he was a “mensch” and

    that my political views are so untenable that the DCJCC could no longer host my “Authors Out Loud” book event, at which I was to talk about the power of reconciliation and dialogue embedded in my memoir, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?

    So now it’s bad to be a Mensch? Huh?

    • Rusty Pipes
      Rusty Pipes
      February 13, 2014, 3:23 pm

      In Israel, “A Serious Man” was advertised as “The Mensch.” Perhaps, among hardline Zionists, “mensch” is now taking on the meaning of “bleeding heart liberal,” “pushover” or “freier.”

      • ziusudra
        ziusudra
        February 15, 2014, 12:52 am

        Greetings Rusty Pipes,
        In German, Mensch und Menschlichkeit.
        In Jiddisch, Mensch and Menschkeit
        both mean Empathy.
        We, in English, would realize the nuance, if
        one says,
        Oh, he’s such a lovely person.
        Deutsch,
        Der ist soooo Menschlich.
        Jiddisch intention,
        Oy, Weh, he’s such a Mensch.
        ziusudra

  2. HarryLaw
    HarryLaw
    February 13, 2014, 12:45 pm

    In its mission statement…”The Washington DCJCC stands firmly in support of Israel as an independent Jewish state”. One question I would like to put to them is.. where are the borders of this independent state?

    • Philip Munger
      Philip Munger
      February 13, 2014, 1:33 pm

      One question I would like to put to them is.. where are the borders of this independent state?

      I ask a version of that question to Zionist friends and acquaintances, when it becomes central to what they try to defend. Few have been able to comply. Maybe I should carry around a map of the West Bank, with details of the wall, settlements, military zones, etc, with a couple of colored pens, to help them in the process.

      Has anyone published a survey in which they offered so-called “Liberal Zionists” a chance to draw a map of the Israel they hope to have?

      • RoHa
        RoHa
        February 13, 2014, 8:17 pm

        I thought the borders were supposed to be along the Nile and the Euphrates.

  3. annie
    annie
    February 13, 2014, 12:47 pm

    a couple years ago (i think) ruet put out their ‘red line/how to be in the big tent’ instructional. appropriating lingo like ‘big tent’ when the manual actually addressed the constriction applied to prevent entrance into the tent was not lost on me or, one assumes, any thinking person. they laid down the gavel on BDS and like lemmings the good hasbrats or israel supporters lined up to follow the instructions.

    note how the growth of BDS appropriates the opposite agenda of embracing those willing to boycott only an egg.

    think of how expanding the pro israel club would be if the only requirement for entrance was a willingness to empower the idea of israel as a free and democratic state. (which i presume would be considered a good thing by lots of people).

    one aspect of this i find interesting is the instinct by people to accept these constrictions as normal. my instinct would be to resist constrictions or rules so confined or severing. but that has to do with how i was raised. what good is it to be taught to question everything if, at the same time, you are conditioned to accept this sort of restrictive mindcrunching? it’s cultural, is it not? i can’t quite figure it out. how is it all these pro israel hardliners people accept these conditions.

    obviously, not all pro israel activist jews are going to line up behind this kind of thinking which is why we’re seeing so many distance themselves and stand up for what they believe in (seth morrison from the DCJCC community comes to mind). but it’s still very amazing so many comply.

    kudos to Sharon Jacobs for squawking about it. and harris gershon is a good egg. definitely not a radical by any stretch of the imagination.

  4. Les
    Les
    February 13, 2014, 1:20 pm

    Should it be called the SJC, that is, the Some Jewish Center, to better make clear it does not pretend to represent all Jews?

  5. hophmi
    hophmi
    February 13, 2014, 1:56 pm

    Even though I personally would not care if this guy came to speak at the JCC, I’m still not clear on why the Jewish community owes anyone a platform. I’m not aware of the BDS movement giving mainstream Israelis a platform to explain their views. I’m not aware of Islamic organizations extending invitations to dissidents like Ayaan Hirst Ali or Irshad Manji. I’m not aware of civil rights organizations extending invitations to anti-affirmative action activists. I’m not aware of Evangelical Christian organizations extending invitations to Richard Dawkins. I’m not aware of environmental organizations extending invitations to people who deny climate change. The organized Jewish community, like any social or political community, has a perfect right to make rules about who they will invite and who they will not invite.

    • Pamela Olson
      Pamela Olson
      February 13, 2014, 3:50 pm

      Did you even read the article? This point was specifically addressed.

      Not to mention it’s stupid to compare people who love Israel and want to help it with a little tough love to people who hate or are against something. Israel “vs.” David Harris-Gershon is hardly comparable to Muslims vs. Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Evangelicals vs. Richard Dawkins. Or do you honestly not realize that?

      • DaBakr
        DaBakr
        February 13, 2014, 11:19 pm

        ” not aware of the bds… giving mainstream Israelis a platform….”
        I think he honestly does realize.

        also-that DH-G realizes there are “elements” of the BDS movement that are out for the destruction of the Jewish Nation makes his so-called ‘love’ for Israel suspect to many in the . It is NOT an element of BDS. It is in there primary manifest. Why shouldnt JCC look upon him (as interesting as his story might be) as hostile to its primary principles. Nobody is stopping him from getting another gig. NPR had him.

    • Light
      Light
      February 13, 2014, 3:55 pm

      I want to be clear: This is not an issue of free speech. The DCJCC has a right to host whomever it likes. The issue is the communal damage being done by Jewish institutions that, out of misplaced or irrational fear, are refusing to engage with some of our most difficult and pressing issues, content to cast valuable members from the communal tent rather than expand that tent.

    • Light
      Light
      February 13, 2014, 3:59 pm

      I’m not aware of civil rights organizations extending invitations to anti-affirmative action activists. I’m not aware of Evangelical Christian organizations extending invitations to Richard Dawkins. I’m not aware of environmental organizations extending invitations to people who deny climate change.

      The fallacy in your argument is the assumption that opposing the occupation is somehow anti-Jewish.

      • DaBakr
        DaBakr
        February 13, 2014, 11:25 pm

        BDS does more then oppose the occupation. It advocates for an end to Zionism and an end to Israel as a Jewish Nation. Stop playing games. At least admit, like the cancelled author/mensch, that “elements” of bds advocate for the destruction of israel.

      • amigo
        amigo
        February 14, 2014, 8:52 am

        “BDS does more then oppose the occupation. It advocates for an end to Zionism and an end to Israel as a Jewish Nation.”Dabakr

        Zionism needs to be put to the sword before it brings an end to Israel.

        You are deluded and a liar as BDS calls for none of what you claim.

        Go read their mission statement.

      • Light
        Light
        February 14, 2014, 1:25 pm

        Begun in 2005 by the largest trade union federations and organizations in Palestinian society, B.D.S. calls for ending Israel’s 1967 occupation, “recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality,” and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the homes and lands from which they were forcibly displaced and dispossessed in 1948. – See more at: http://www.bdsmovement.net/2014/why-israel-fears-the-boycott-11710#sthash.EnU2IDjI.dpuf

        BDS advocates for equal rights of all people.
        Ending segregation in America did not destroy America.
        Ending apartheid in South Africa did not destroy South Africa.

      • Talkback
        Talkback
        February 14, 2014, 8:53 pm

        Israel as a Jewish Nation

        “Jewish” is not a nationality. Israeli is.

        DaBakr: … that “elements” of bds advocate for the destruction of israel.

        This may be. But it is ok for you. You don’t have a problem with the destrution of Palestine since 1948. So go back to sleep.

      • eljay
        eljay
        February 14, 2014, 10:50 pm

        >> BDS does more th[a]n oppose the occupation. It advocates for an end to Zionism and an end to Israel as a Jewish Nation.

        And so it should. Zionism is a supremacist ideology and “Jewish State” is a supremacist construct.

    • gamal
      gamal
      February 13, 2014, 4:08 pm

      ” I’m not aware of Islamic organizations extending invitations to dissidents like Ayaan Hirst Ali or Irshad Manji.”

      You should get out more, it may help with that limited awareness you are describing, which is called bigotry, and is treatable.

      “Members of Banser NU, a youth wing of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, guarded an event featuring Canadian author Irshad Manji on a rainy Saturday evening amid complaints from the hardliner Islam Defenders Front (FPI) group.

      Some 50 Banser members protected the writer’s book discussion, which was held at the office of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Jakarta branch in Kalibata, South Jakarta.

      Despite being monitored from a distance by more than 100 FPI members, the organizers managed to run the event from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. as scheduled. Manji, a liberal Muslim activist born in Kenya from an Indian father and Egyptian mother, was quickly escorted out of the venue afterward.

      Abdul Mufid, deputy chief of the Banser Jakarta branch, told reporters that his team had convinced FPI members to not disrupt the discussion, adding that there “must not be a fight between the two Muslim groups”.

      http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2012/05/06/banser-nu-shield-irshad-manji-s-jakarta-second-book-launch.html

  6. James North
    James North
    February 13, 2014, 2:49 pm

    David Harris-Gershon. A moral giant.

  7. David44
    David44
    February 13, 2014, 3:15 pm

    David Harris-Gershon agrees with you: if you read his final paragraph above, you will see that he fully accepts that the JCC does not owe him a platform, and that they are perfectly entitled to invite or not invite whomsoever they wish. If you think he was saying otherwise, you have misunderstood his case.

    But the comparisons you offer inadvertently make his case for him. The problem, as he (rightly) presents it, is NOT that the JCC chooses not to invite people who are in fact their fundamental enemy, the way an environmental organization would reasonably exclude a climate change denier, or a Christian organization Richard Dawkins. The problem is precisely that the JCC treats someone like Harris-Gershon, an active, committed Jew who cares about Israel, as if he WERE that sort of fundamental enemy, simply because they disagree with his approach to the West Bank and how one should best address the injustices there. As Harris-Gershon says, all that does is fragment and undermine the Jewish community as a whole, by placing a large proportion of it beyond the pale.

  8. Kathleen
    Kathleen
    February 13, 2014, 4:22 pm

    :Harris-Gershon was featured on NPR last weekend. He is a liberal Zionist who supports a form of BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) in an effort to save the Israel he loves”

    I listened to his interview on NPR and wondered about his intentions? Going to listen again at some point. Definitely seemed driven by his love for Israel not real compassion for the Palestinians. A fellow traveler with Peter Beinart. Noticing which way the wind has shifted.

    But bs that the JCC cancelled his talk.

  9. Les
    Les
    February 13, 2014, 7:04 pm

    Linda Gradstein who spoke at zionist fundraisers while working as NPR’s Israel correspondent, will speak at the DC JCC as part of its “Embracing Democracy” series.

    http://washingtondcjcc.org/center-for-arts/israel.html

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