DAVID SHEEN: Biography|
Independent journalist and filmmaker David Sheen, born in Canada, now reports from the ground in Israel*Palestine for a wide variety of local, regional and international outlets. His work focuses primarily on racial tensions and religious extremism, and in recent years, Sheen has lectured on these topics at dozens of US universities and half a dozen European parliaments. In 2017, the Irish human rights group Front Line Defenders recognized Sheen as a Human Rights Defender for his reporting. Sheen's website is www.davidsheen.com and he tweets from @davidsheen.
FILMMAKING: Sheen’s first film The Red Pill (2003) was screened at film festivals around the world, including Artivist (Los Angeles), Planet in Focus (Toronto), and EFFA (Accra). His sophomore film First Earth, a feature-length documentary on ecological architecture, was translated into a dozen languages and published by PM Press in 2010. Sheen gave a TEDx Talk based on the film in Johannesburg, South Africa later that year. In recent years, he has produced hundreds of videos that have earned millions of views on YouTube.
WRITING: Sheen authored a popular personal blog when he first moved to Israel in 1999, but it would be another decade before he would begin paid work as a professional writer, authoring award-winning blogs for firms in Canada and Israel. In 2010 and 2011, Sheen worked as a reporter and editor for the English Edition of the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz. In 2012, Sheen authored a report on racism to the United Nations (Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination). Ever since, he has worked as a freelance journalist, publishing reportage, analysis and op-ed pieces in a variety of local, regional and international publications. Micro-blogging on Twitter, he has built an independent audience of over 22,000 followers.
AREAS OF FOCUS: The focus of Sheen’s writing in recent years has primarily been racial tensions and religious extremism within Israeli society, but has also included women’s issues and LGBTQ issues, among others. The discourses around these topics are heavily policed in the mainstream media, but Sheen’s critical coverage has consistently found courageous publishers. These have included Israeli progressive news sites, such as Hottest Place In Hell and Local Call (the Hebrew-language sister site of +972 Magazine); journals focussed on the Middle East, like Electronic Intifada, Muftah and Al-Araby Al-Jadeed (The New Arab); and African American publications like The Root and the San Francisco Bay View.
A good deal of Sheen’s reportage in recent years has been about African communities in Israel, generally, and about African refugees (mainly Christians and Muslims from Eritrea and Sudan), specifically.
AFRICAN REFUGEES: Now that Netanyahu has given the order to ramp up the expulsion of this community of 40,000 at 40 times the previous pace, this issue is starting to get some traction internationally. But for years, the mainstream media avoided it altogether, since it could not be explained away with a "balanced" or "both-sides" narrative – as often happens with Israel’s wars with Arabs – and many outlets feared to be branded unfairly as "anti-Israel". Throughout this time, Sheen was one of the only journalists reporting on this community and the horrific treatment they are receiving in Israel.
In 2018, Sheen exposed in a series of shocking articles that black lives have come to matter so little in Israel, that at one point the country’s criminal gangs realized that they could kidnap refugees in broad daylight off the streets of Tel Aviv and traffick them back to Africa, where they were then tortured for ransom money – and Israeli authorities would do nothing to stop them.
AFRICAN JEWS: While a second African community in Israel – Jewish citizens of Ethiopian origin – has received slightly more press coverage internationally, that coverage is often filtered through what community activists call the state's "savior narrative" that inverts history on its head. Sheen has produced some of the only English-language reportage on the community’s protests against state racism in recent years. Chief among these was his epic article Operation African Wild Ass, which revealed that in fact, successive Israeli governments had for decades purposely prevented the entry of Ethiopian Jews – actual black people – even while it permitted entry to Ethiopian donkeys – non-human animals.
AFRICAN HEBREWS: A third African community in Israel, almost entirely invisible to the media, is African Hebrew Israelites, African Americans who immigrated to the country in the 1970s and 80s. In 2015-6, Sheen investigated the death of a daughter of the community, Toveet Radcliffe, the first African-American to die while serving in the Israeli army. Sheen’s published reports proved that her death was not a suicide – as the army had claimed in its official report – but rather, was a murder, executed by a fellow soldier, and covered up by army brass. In 2017, on the basis of evidence uncovered by Sheen, the Israeli army ordered a reexamination of the Radcliffe case – the first time that this occurred in over three decades.
PUBLIC SPEAKING: Sheen’s frequent speaking tours were borne out of necessity. By early 2014, it became clear that informing the world about the plight of African refugees in Israel would require leapfrogging over mainstream media gatekeepers and speaking directly to ordinary citizens. Without a book to promote, Sheen single-handedly organized his first coast-to-coast speaking tour across the USA and Canada (including lectures at Ivy League colleges Harvard, Princeton, and Penn).
Drawing upon his craft as both a writer and a filmmaker – as well as the multimedia skills he honed for his 2010 TEDx Talk in Johannesburg, South Africa – Sheen now authors all-new 90-minute slideshows, twice a year on average. Since 2014, Sheen has been invited to speak in a dozen countries and dozens of universities around the world about African refugees, and about other racial and religious conflicts he reports on in Israel. Among the venues he has spoken at have been six European parliaments – those of England, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Norway and the European Union.
RECOGNITION: Unsurprisingly, Sheen’s independent reporting has triggered pushback; patriots and partisans have challenged his professional integrity. In response, journalists and journalist unions from around the world have issued statements of solidarity with Sheen. These include former and present compatriots (from the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate), press unions around the world (from England to India and Bosnia to Bangladesh), and global groups (such as the International Federation of Journalists and the International Press Institute).
In 2017, Sheen was named a Human Rights Defender by the Ireland-based Front Line Defenders, making him the only person in Israel to receive that honor in a decade. At the organization’s 2017 Platform in Dublin, Sheen spoke about the media landscape in Israel*Palestine, and called for the creation of Jewish-Arab ethnically-integrated media outlets – where none currently exist.
Sheen's website is www.davidsheen.com and he tweets from @davidsheen.
You can contact him by email at realdavidsheen [at] gmail [dot] com.
TESTIMONIAL: Click here to hear and read from CUT OFF FROM THE TRIBE, a short segment from Max Blumenthal’s book GOLIATH: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, published by Nation Books in 2013. GOLIATH is interspersed with interviews that Blumenthal and Sheen conducted in 2010 with Members of Knesset, Israel’s parliament. In CUT OFF FROM THE TRIBE, Blumenthal describes how he first met Sheen while doing research for the book.