Book Review on BDS Advocate Harris-Gershon


David Harris-Gershon’s, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? is a fascinating read.

Harris-Gershon is a progressive-left American Jew who supports the anti-Semitic BDS movement and spends much of his time bashing Israel before a non-Jewish left-leaning audience.

I, as a matter of public disclosure, have been highly critical of his writings in the past.

Nonetheless, I would say that the first one hundred pages of Harris-Gershon’s book are terrific.  There is no question but that the man can write and that this is a quirky and sad and heart-felt page-turner.

In 2002 Harris-Gershon’s wife, Jaime, sat in the cafeteria of Hebrew University atop Mount Scopus in northeastern Jerusalem, speaking with fellow students, when Mohammad Odeh ignited a bomb killing nine people and injuring Jaime, among numerous others.

This, needless to say, was a cause for celebration in Gaza City, where they presumably handed out cakes and candies to children in joy upon this great victory over the “Zionist entity.”

Harris-Gershon’s book was written, therefore, as part of a healing process.  It is deeply personal and demonstrates a braveness of character.  It is not everyone, after all, who has the strength to bare oneself to the world in the way that Harris-Gershon does, as he tries to understand the motivation of the killer and what that means not only to himself and his wife, but to the State of Israel, if not the Jewish people, as a whole.

As someone familiar with Harris-Gershon’s writings on Israel I expected an anti-Israel narrative in his book and, through the first third, was pleasantly surprised to find none of the usual malicious insinuations, self-righteousness chest-beating, acidic implications of Jewish-Israeli racism, or the kind of general contempt one usually finds within a Harris-Gershon Daily Kos “diary.”

Slowly, however, mid-way through the book, the narrative becomes increasingly negative not toward the people responsible for nurturing a culture of hatred toward their Jewish neighbors over the course of fourteen centuries, but toward the Jews, themselves.  For reasons that he never makes entirely clear, at least not to my satisfaction, Harris-Gershon comes to relate to the Palestinian narrative of pristine victim-hood while blaming his fellow Jews, or at least those in the Israeli government, for the bombing at Hebrew University and the conflict with Arabs, more generally.

Harris-Gershon’s turn against Israel, a country that he claimed to love, begins with an apology.

Apparently after his capture Mohammad Odeh apologized for the lives he destroyed and that apology loomed large for Harris-Gershon.

He writes:

“But those words – he was sorry – backlit everything, threw shadows upon the walls which the darkness had concealed.  I saw myself.  I saw Mohammad.  I saw the destruction.  And for the first time, I felt an intense need to speak with Mohammad, to understand him.”

For some reason it does not occur to Harris-Gershon that perhaps Odeh apologized in order to help ease his situation as much as possible.  While it is true that good Jihadi ideologues are not likely to apologize for anything, it is also true that good Jihadi ideologues are human beings many of whom, under duress, will say almost anything to keep their interrogators at bay.

Due to this apology, genuine or not, Harris-Gershon contacts the Israeli government out of a desire to meet with the murderer.  In my estimation, there is nothing particularly unusual about Harris-Gershon wanting to meet the man who injured his life and almost killed his wife.  Had I been in his situation I might have wanted to meet Odeh as well… although, perhaps not to have a heart-to-heart conversation.

Harris-Gershon writes:

“I had no interest in reconciliation, had no interest in some granola-caked forgiveness trek toward Mohammad.  I just wanted to square the words ‘terrorist’ and ‘sorry’ so that I might be able to, once again, sleep through the night.”

That seems more than fair, although I have to wonder why throughout the book he refers to the Jihadi murderer by the familiar first name?  This may sound like a rather strange criticism, I suppose, but imagine that Charles Manson almost killed your husband or wife.  In reference to the guy would you likely call him “Charles” or “Manson”?  I am pretty sure that most people would not use the familiar and friendly term “Charles” under such circumstances, yet throughout the book Harris-Gershon refers to Odeh as “Mohammad.”

It was just one of those little things that raised an eyebrow for me as I read.  It is clear that Harris-Gershon sought to humanize the murderer in order to understand his motivation and that is, I suppose, an admirable inclination.

There were, however, two other little eyebrow raisers toward the middle of the book.

The first is concerned with a discussion of apartheid South Africa seemingly out of nowhere.  What Harris-Gershon claims is that in his Google investigations into the experiences of others who have faced “perpetrators” the term “reconciliation” kept coming up.  This, allegedly, led him to the example of apartheid South Africa which he therefore felt a need to discuss in the middle of the book.

There is no reason to include a discussion of apartheid South Africa in this book unless one wishes to plant into the mind of the reader a highly unjust, malicious, and dangerous comparison.

Yet another eyebrow raiser was Harris-Gershon’s assumption that because Israel turned down his request to visit with Odeh in prison, on the grounds that Odeh did not want to see him, that the Israelis were obviously up to no good.

“I began to suspect that the Israeli government might not have given my request any consideration, that Ruti Koren, Bureau Manager, Ministry of Public Security, might have used Mohammad’s refusal as easy cover.”

Easy cover for what is entirely unclear.

At this point Harris-Gershon turns to left-wing anti-Israel activists who are willing to help him meet with Odeh and it is among them that he discovers his true soul-mates.

“As I sought the assistance of these peace activists, I began to sympathize with their mission: working for the human rights of both Palestinians and Israelis.  Things were not black and white, as I had been led to believe.  It was not good versus evil.”

Just who it was that deceived Harris-Gershon is entirely unclear.  Was it his parents?  His teachers?  The Israeli government?  His rabbis?  Random Jews on the street?  Someone apparently led him to believe that Arabs are “evil” and Jews are “good” and he was rather shocked to discover, as a full-grown adult, that others disagree.  This led to a great opening of the soul to such an extent that he wrote the following to the family of the murderer.

“If you can find it in your heart, I ask that you speak with Mohammad and let him know why I would like to speak with him.  And if you find my motivations pure, I humbly ask that you encourage him to agree to speak with me.”

I have to say, it is not everyone who is quite so pious as to grovel before the family of the man who hospitalized and almost murdered his wife.

{As anyone who knows me can tell you, I am not nearly so holy… you can be sure.}

The final third of the book is essentially a repetition of Arab complaints concerning Jewish malfeasance in that part of the world and Harris-Gershon’s success in bringing presents to the children of the murderer.

It took professor Mordechai Kedar from Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv to make that happen through his sympathy with Harris-Gershon’s desire to meet with the killer.  It should also be noted that Dr. Kedar has recently been defamed by people on Harris-Gershon’s own Daily Kos blog who shamelessly and falsely claim that he favors rape as a tactic in war.

One would think that since this allegation is absolutely outrageous nonsense meant to undermine the integrity and reputation of the Jewish Israeli scholar that helped Harris-Gershon, he might come to his patron’s defense in the defamatory “diaires” published at his home blog.

He did not, however, neither here nor here nor here..

At the end of the day, I feel bad for Harris-Gershon.  There is no doubt that he and his wife, Jaime, went through a traumatic experience that altered their lives and his book is a well-written testament to that fact.  I find nothing the least bit dishonest in Harris-Gershon’s memoir.  On the contrary, I have little doubt that he means every word that he says.

Where he fails to convince, however, is in his explanation for his transition from pro-Israel ideologue to anti-Israel ideologue.  There is little in his story that accounts for this beyond the fact that the Israeli government refused to give the man permission to visit a murderer in prison.

Certainly, his brief dipping of the toes into Israeli history for a few pages toward the end of the book is little more than a repetition of the so-called “Palestinian narrative,” which is actually a negation of Jewish history in the sense that it refuses to acknowledge thirteen hundred years of Jewish subjugation under Arab-Muslim imperial rule within the system of dhimmitude.

That Harris-Gershon is an anti-Israel ideologue is beyond doubt.  Even pro-Israel people who despise my own contribution to the discussion, and who are familiar with the man’s blogging, would agree that Harris-Gershon is a toxic individual when it comes to Israel.

gershonHe even casts a gimlet eye upon the Balfour Declaration which he considers unjust toward the local Arabs.

There is no doubt that he and his wife went through something horrific and life-altering.

In my opinion, however, he would have done better to spend that money on a gift for his own kid, rather than the kid of the guy who tried to murder his wife.

I know where my loyalties lie, but not all of us can be – or should be – quite so saintly as David Harris-Gershon.
First published at the Elder of Ziyon

Michael Lumish is the editor of Israel Thrives , a regular contributor to the Times of Israel and the Elder of Ziyon.

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2 comments

  1. ummh….keeping up with the motivations of self doubting Jews would appear to be a full time undertaking….both within Israel and Internationally. Perhaps I am to base in my thinking…with treachery being treachery, regardless of the cloth it is wrapped in.

  2. Morry Sztainbok

    Good read. Thanks Michael. I have often found myself wondering what it is that makes so many Jews and Israelis turn on their own. Some, I realise, is misplaced and poorly informed ideology. But, especially for Israelis, I have to wonder if there isn’t an element of Stockholm Syndrome, where the sense that another has the power, and controls your destiny, holds you emotuionally hostage for a long period, leads to a very sick kind of “love” and support. I had the same feeling about Harris-Gershon as I read the review.