Op-Ed: Jane Gazman, Reflections on David Harris’ Visit
My opening version of “It was a dark and stormy night” is “All day I debated whether to go.”
Welcome to my life. So far I have been grateful when I have taken the leap and gone to events hosted by the Metro Detroit Jewish community. The AJC/JCRC night featuring David Harris is no exception.
If to you, like I imagine to many people around the world, the name David Harris means a lot, you are kicking yourself right now that you missed the opportunity to hear this brilliant, fiercely dedicated, leader in the Jewish and global community speak in the intimate smaller sanctuary of Temple Beth El.
Well you should be because his passion and pure genius blew me away. That said, prior to seeing his name on the event invite I had never heard of him. And prior to one of my colleagues that same day telling me going would be well worth it, I had not Googled him.
Not only had I not heard of David Harris, I was lukewarm on the subject of his presentation. It seemed too narrow — “Defending Jewish Communities at Home and Abroad.” Yes, geographically the focus is all encompassing, but the population is singular. In the U.S., if we are going to create demographic categories, I can write a long list just in the state of Michigan that I am more concerned about the wellbeing of than specifically just the Jewish people. And I suspect this type of thinking by a Jewish person, even more so a Jewish person that directly benefited from the Jewish community being concerned about Soviet Jews, is problematic. And while I recognize this, it is not the subject of this reflection.
Something David Harris raised, that clearly unsettled him in recent events, did not sit right with me. That is what I want to reflect on and pose my respectful disagreement.
David expressed outrage that The New York Times published an op-ed by Marwan Barghouti without an editor’s note of the man being in prison for terrorism and the specific crimes. I had not read the article. I am sure you can guess that if I have not heard of David Harris, I not only had not heard of Marwan Barghouti, I had to figure out how to search for the article after the event without remembering the name. It wasn’t hard. Search: New York Times, op-ed, prisoner. So why did Mr. Harris’ position bother me?
Let me give you a little context of my education. My BA is from the University of Michigan in sociology focused on criminology, law and deviance. My JD is from the University of Minnesota. And my two key issues with Mr. Harris’ suggestion of the newspaper editor identifying an author as a criminal and listing their crimes is precedent and abuse, especially in the United States.
If you have not yet read “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson, I encourage you to do so to recognize just how grossly flawed the delivery of criminal justice is in the United States. This book will make you think twice even about who you consider a criminal. Men and women who are on the radar of the criminal justice system lose rights that are fundamental to US Citizens in the United States. And if you think criminal justice enforcement in the United States is blind, I challenge you to read books written by the men and women who disagree. If in the United States, crime and punishment is so grossly skewed, it is in no way appropriate to make sure that the op-ed of people with criminal records are followed by an editor’s note stating the crimes the individual committed. And it certainly should not be done for some and not others at the discretion of whose outrage the newspaper finds valuable.
Well The New York times caved. They did add a subsequent editor’s note. And I think it is a shame. It is an op-ed. They did not have to publish it at all. They could have presented an article curated by a journalist, quoting Barghouti. Their initial editor’s note stating that Barghouti is a Palestinian leader and parliamentarian is incomplete. I agree. But it is not appropriate for the most read publication in the United States to start a practice of identifying the crimes of individuals submitting op-ed pieces.
What I loved most about David Harris’ presentation is when he talked about all the times the AJC stood up for non-Jews facing devastation. It was what I needed to hear, to look up more about AJC/JCRC and want to get involved.
Mr. Harris was integral in rescuing the Soviet Jews. I thought about raising my hand and saying thank you. That I am a Soviet Jew. That I am from Moscow like his mother. That I am grateful. But I totally would have cried. So I hope he sees this article and knows he is making a difference and I am deeply grateful.