A challenge…

Recently author David Harris Gershon posted on both Daily Kos and at Tikkun Daily that he was being forced to make a statement regarding Israel and his allegiances before they would allow him to speak there regarding his new book.

According to Mr. Harris Gershon, he was told by University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) Hillel:

Make a political statement clarifying your position on the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel, and you may enter our building. Otherwise, you are not allowed within our walls.

As a result of this Mr. Harris Gershon responded to UCSB Hillel via his post on DKos and Tikkun by saying the following:

I am a progressive Zionist who believes firmly in the idea that Israel should be a Jewish, democratic state, despite the inherent challenges and contradictions such an existence presents. I am also one who fully supports a two-state political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which each side is able to live within defined, secure borders.


I believe that economic sanctions, such as boycotts, are legitimate forms of nonviolent protest, in contrast to, say, violence or vandalism. I do not, however, subscribe to the BDS movement or its implicit vision of a single, bi-national state as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While I am saddened by the fact that Palestinians do not have full academic freedoms, I do not support the academic boycott of Israeli universities and institutions as a productive tactic. And while I have written extensively on the suffering Israel’s continued occupation has brought upon Palestinians living in the West Bank, and while I support pressure being brought to bear upon Israel to reject its settlement enterprise and push toward a final peace agreement, I reject those anti-Semitic streams which unofficially surface within the BDS movement.


In short, when I endorsed the concept of boycotts and sanctions in 2012, my intention was not to join the BDS movement or endorse its outcome (as Haaretz noted). Rather, it was to express the idea that economic sanctions are a legitimate, nonviolent method for countering undesirable policies and change behavior, regardless of the country being targeted. (It’s a position U.S. politicians understand intimately with regard to Iran, and a position I knew would be difficult within the Jewish community.)

Immediately, myself a few others found ourselves challenging Mr. Harris Gershon in his statement for inconsistencies throughout his blogging within the last few years.

So with this, I challenge Mr. Harris Gershon (both at the Progressive Zionist and at Times of Israel) to clarify a number of his positions which up until now, he has not and seemingly will not clarify. AND following that,

I would challenge him to offer up solutions for discussion / debate. In this, I would happy to have him challenge my assertions that I laid out in my article at Times of Israel almost two months ago.

To start off with I will echo UCSB Hillel’s concern, that a noted seemingly anti-Zionist author would want to use their venue as a place to advertise his book. Now David, claims that not only is he not anti-Zionist but that he is rather fully within the “Zionist Camp”. SO with that in mind and given his statement above, I would like to know how he “squares the circle” with this commentary from 2012 where he stated:

”And so we come to the confession, to the coming out: 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 (emphasis mine)


“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.

Now I, like many others find the fact that David claims that this statement was meant to only accept BDS as a “legitimate form of resistance” rather than for the Movement itself highly unbelievable. After all, David’s twitter account features re-tweets from Omar Barghouti, Ali Abunimah, and Stephan Walt. Moreover, David knows the subject well and for him to say that he embraced BDS without realizing it was a movement is simply too much to believe.

But in any case I would ask Mr. Harris Gershon the following:

1. If you are indeed not a proponent of the BDS Movement, which of it’s goals do you specifically not agree with?

2.Also regarding BDS here do you stand on the issue of Palestinian Right of Return?

I am asking specific questions that I believe should have specific answers.

Again, so that we may have a fruitful discussion where each of us knows our base positions I would ask that you please let us know the following:

1. You stated in the Daily Kos Article in the comments section that you had not written anything regarding what you see as to a solution (or way forward towards a fair and real Two State Solution), but that you had written many things regarding Israel’s trouble with Democracy. Why is that? Don’t you have an eye towards a solution or are you just playing “the scold”

2. You often claim that you support the Two State Solution and that you would like to see Israel as a Jewish State, yet all you do is continuously criticize Israel and it’s polity. Do you have anything positive to say about Israel and if so what would that be?. In other words can you articulate to us just WHY you think Israel should continue to exist?

3. David, you have a sig. line at Daily Kos quoting Judith Butler regarding Israel. Now, keep in mind that Dr. Butler has stated that Hamas and Hizbollah are actually “Progressive” movements. Do you endorse her point of view here?

4. Do you feel that AIPAC actually rules the United States or that the “Jewish Lobby” is an un-American force? After all, you stated (and I quote exactly):

The reason for this disproportionate, obsessive focus on Israel with no regard for U.S. troops in Afghanistan? Simple: AIPAC and the “pro-Israel” lobby’s ill-founded concern about the Hagel nomination coupled by the lobby’s disproportionate influence on our representatives (emphasis added) to echo that concern.


But when the hawkish, “pro-Israel” lobby in America can influence our representatives to sound as if they – well – are representing Israel’s citizens more than our own?


We have a problem. A problem that must be discussed openly and honestly

5. You stated in a positive article regarding Germany’s “moving on from the Holocaust” this little gem:

However, the painful truth is this: while Germany as a country and a societal entity has largely (though not entirely) moved beyond the historical atrocities committed by the Nazis, the same unfortunately cannot be said for Israel. (emphasis added)

Of course, there’s ample reason for this. Created in the wake of an unspeakable trauma and bordered by hostile nations, Israel (and Jewish Israelis) have perpetually been afraid for the country’s existence. The country has been obsessed by security concerns for over 60 years. And it is my view that, because of these factors, Israel has never had a chance to recover from a national, post-Holocaust PTSD that continues to fuel a self-perceived sense of collective victimhood despite its overwhelming military.

It is a collective sense of victimhood that has compelled Israel’s leaders to perpetually have their fingers on the trigger, and has been partially responsible for the human rights abuses and atrocities Israel continues to commit against the Palestinians.

It seems that you are suggesting that it is time for Israel to “Get over the Holocaust”? Can that be true?

Anyhow, answering these questions in a clear and concise manner would go a long way towards creating dialogue. Myself and others are asking you clear up some possible misconceptions regarding your positions (if indeed they are misconceptions). Once we see these answers (particularly your ideas regarding Palestinian RoR – something you don’t seem to want to discuss though I can’t for the life of me figure out why), then we can have a forward seeing discussion on what possible solutions to the conflict in the Middle East.

So I challenge you to address these issues and from there move forward. Are you willing to take me up on that challenge and are you willing to discuss/debate possible policies and their outcomes?

About the Author
Jon Segall is creator of the blog The Progressive Zionist. Jon has lived in Israel and studied Israeli and American Policy in the region. Currently Jon, is re-learning Hebrew, and is an active practitioner of the Israel Self Defense Martial Art Krav Maga.