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 more than 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.
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 over 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.
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 23,000 followers.
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 Middle East Eye, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed (The New Arab) and Electronic Intifada; 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.
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 receive 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.
While Jewish citizens of Ethiopian origin – another African community in Israel – has received slightly more press coverage internationally, that coverage is often filtered through what community activists call the state's "savior narrative" which inverts history on its head. Sheen has produced some of the most in-depth English-language reportage on the community’s protests against state racism in recent years. Chief among these was Sheen's long read for Ventures Africa, Operation African Wild Ass, which revealed that for decades, successive Israeli governments purposely prevented the entry of Ethiopian Jews – actual black people – even while it permitted entry to Ethiopian donkeys – non-human animals.
A third African community in Israel, almost entirely invisible in the media, is the 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, 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. The latest on the case.
As Israel headed for national elections in 2019, Prime Minister Netanyahu labored to rehabilitate the most racist political movement in Israeli history, the Kahanists, and include them in his government. Realizing that this move broke a decades-long taboo, and deserved more media attention than it was getting, Sheen conducted a deep-dive investigation into Kahanist history. In The Intercept and in The Link, Sheen revealed that two of the movement's members long suspected by the FBI of murdering Palestinian-American activist Alex Odeh outside Los Angeles in 1985 continue to live openly in Israel and to advocate for Israel to become an ethno-theocracy.
One of Sheen's most significant contributions towards a better understanding of Israeli politics has been in the field of data journalism. By using data visualization tools to crunch numbers supplied by the Israeli government itself, Sheen has been able to convincingly demonstrate that the dozens of parties competing in national elections actually fall into four political camps, and that this four-sided schema can serve as a powerful tool to help decode the country's complex political system, and to predict voting results in the future. Moreover, a modified version of Sheen's four-sided schema is also proving to be a useful tool for understanding and analyzing the past century-and-a-half of Jewish political thought.
Sheen’s frequent speaking tours were borne out of political necessity. By early 2014, it had become clear that informing the world of the plight of African refugees in Israel would require leapfrogging over mainstream media gatekeepers, and speaking directly to ordinary citizens. So Sheen independently organized his first coast-to-coast speaking tour across the USA and Canada, with dozens of dates, including lectures at Ivy League colleges Harvard, Penn and Princeton.
Then in that summer of 2014, Israel launched a military campaign against the Gaza Strip, killing over 500 Palestinian children. In the wake of the war, Sheen was invited to give testimony at an extraordinary session of the Russell Tribunal in Brussels, Belgium. Although the tribunal heard from weapons experts and trauma doctors about the horrific human cost of the war, Sheen’s presentation on the racist incitement from top Israeli officials that shored up support for the war on the home front elicited the most shock from the tribunal.
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 seven European parliaments – those of England, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands and the European Union.
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. 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 d [at] davidsheen [dot] com.