So many people have written to Rabbi Lerner to ask what they
could do to help that we decided to develop a coherent answer.
In our view, the only protection one has from hateful people is to publicize and
critique their demeaning of others, their incitement, and/or their violent acts.
As right-wing Zionists proved by assassinating peace-oriented Israeli Prime
Minister Yitzhak Rabin who sought to end the Occupation, there is no way to
protect anyone in this world from fanatics bent on hurting others.
In the specific case of the vandalizing of Rabbi Lerner's home, the lasting
physical damage was slight, and the hate messages were not different from the
dozens of emails he and Tikkun have been getting weekly for twenty-four years.
Even the death threats he received by phone were not unusual. Rather, it was the
fact that these things now intruded into his own home that was a new level.
Understandably his wife and his family are very concerned about their safety
should the people with hate messages seek to escalate from assaults on his house
to assaults on him or his family, and whether they can continue to live where
they do with any sense of security.
So what can you do? You can help us demand of the media that they publicize this
incident and, equally importantly, the meaning of the incident for Americans and
for American Jews. .
And you can demand of the Jewish world that they stop encouraging incitement by
allowing people or groups to be labelled as anti-Semitic or "self-hating Jews"
when the only evidence for those charges is disagreeing with the policies of the
State of Israel or supporting strategies like boycott, divestment or sanctions
against the State of Israel or against products produced by settlers in the
Occupied Territories, or calling for an end to US military aid to Israel,
publicizing the human rights violations taking place in Israel. or taking other
non-violent but confrontational approaches to changing Israeli policy.
While Rabbi Lerner has written a book called The Socialism of
Fools--anti-Semitism on the Left and is well aware that this phenomenon is real
and needs to be struggled against, his book takes pain to distinguish legitimate
criticism or non-violent action against Israeli policies that are done in a
spirit of respect for the humanity of the Jewish people. on the one hand, and
actions and criticisms that reflect a double standard toward Jews or a
determination to demean Jews or Israel that is not applied to other human rights
violating states, on the other hand. So, yes, there is anti-Semitism among some
on the Left and some who criticize Israel, but, NO, the criticisms of Israel's
policies or the advocacy of non-violent tactics of the sort mentioned above are
not in and of themselves either anti-Semitic or prima facie evidence that Jews
who support these activities are "self-hating Jews."
This labelling as "anti-Semitic" or "self-hating Jews" of those who seek to
challenge Israeli policy is increasingly emptying those words of serious
negative meaning, which is a big mistake. If everyone who challenges Israeli
policy is anti-Semitic (which would include a majority of American Jews but not
a majority of those one encounters in most synagogues or official Jewish
institutions) then it may (mistakenly) appear to people that it's no big thing
to be anti-Semitic. And that is very dangerous for the Jewish people.
To take a classic case of this rhetoric that can incite people to violence,
consider Alan Dershowitz's op-ed piece in the Jerusalem Post on April 29th in
which he labelled as "Rabbis for Hamas" all the 39 rabbis who had signed a
statement urging South African Jews to allow Judge Goldstone to attend his
grandson's bar mitzvah. He went on to say: "And Michael Lerner is the worst of
them (and that's saying a lot)." Everyone knows that Hamas is a violent
terrorist group, and that Dershowitz has publicly championed the notion that the
US and Israel have the right to take pre-emptive strikes to kill through
"targeted assassinations" those who they "suspect" of being terrorists. So here,
two days before the vandalism at Rabbi Lerner's home, Dershowitz associates
Lerner and the others with Hamas and terrorism. We don't believe that Dershowitz
ever explicitly intended a violent outcome and we don't know for sure that his
article directly led to the violence in this case. We do know that it
contributes to a climate of intimidation of those who wish to speak a truth
different from that of the right-wing Zionists and that the Jewish world should
be doing what they can to isolate and restrain this kind of language and
demeaning of fellow Jews and of Jewish-friendly non-Jews who criticize Israeli
policies or support non-violent means to change its policies.
In that respect, the response of the Jewish world has been misleading. Some of
the Jewish institutions have issued statements like the following that came from
the San Francisco Jewish Federation and the local chapter of the Anti-Defamation
League (ADL): "We unequivocally condemn criminal acts perpetrated against Rabbi
Lerner's home. Political disagreements must be resolved in a civil manner, and
not by resorting to violence. Our communities are especially disturbed that this
crime targeted Rabbi Lerner at his home, thereby conveying to him the message
that he may not be safe there. We are encouraged by the responsiveness of the
Berkeley Police Department to this incident, and we urge its officers to
investigate this crime as thoroughly as possible. The entire community must send
a message to the perpetrators that we reject violence and criminality as a means
to express our political opinions."
This is at once a step in the right direction and yet an evasion of the central
issue. We didn't expect that they would endorse violence. What we must demand is
that these Jewish organizations publicly and repeatedly make attempts to stop
the incitement to violence that happens on a daily basis inside the Jewish
community and towards tens of thousands of Jews and non-Jews who speak out about
Israeli treatment of Palestinians or who organize to try to change Israeli
policies. The Jewish world needs to stop labelling those people as "self-hating"
and or "anti-Semitic," unless they have other grounds besides their strong
and/or repeated advocacy of political positions about the State of Israel that
critique Israeli policies or seek non-violently to change them. If we can get
some change in the Jewish world in this direction, we can transform this attack
on Lerner into a moment of repentance and transformation that would be good for
the Jews, good for Israel and the Palestinians, and good for the U.S.
Until that happens, these attacks may increase, not just again Lerner but
against others who speak out, and may even spread to attacks against non-Jews
who support Obama (since many of the more extremist elements in the Zionist
movement believe that Obama and his Administration seek to destroy Israel or to
render it powerless in the face of hostile enemies, and hence could easily start
manifesting the incitement or even violence toward Obama or his supporters that
they have been willing to champion against peace activists in this country or in
Meanwhile, we should also make clear our opposition to similar kinds of
incitement that we sometimes hear coming from Palestinian circles or Arabic or
Muslim circles toward Jews--and we must similarly demand that the leadership of
those communities take the same steps of isolating and preventing incitement in
their communities just as we should be asking that of the Jewish world--for
example on university campuses or in public debates about
boycotts/divestment/sanctions. When, for example, Jews are told that they have
the blood of innocents on their hands because of the activities of some members
of the IDF (Israeli army) in Israel, thereby blaming all Jews for the activities
of some, this is racism straight out, just as it was when Blacks were blamed for
the criminal activities of some Blacks. The Jewish people never voted in a
referendum to give the State of Israel or its army the right to speak or
represent all Jews around the world, despite their desire to do so, and Jews
must not be blamed for the actions of that State unless the freely join
organizations or synagogues that do in fact claim to be supportive of Israel's
policies and its Occupation of the West Bank. So when liberals or progressives
stand by passively while these kinds of statements are made by Palestinians or
by Jews whose desire to prove themselves "true allies" to the Palestinian people
leads them to extreme and distorted statements of this sort, understandably
wanting to not interfere with the event happening at the moment, they actually
are doing a great disservice to the cause of peace and justice for both
Palestinians and Israelis--not only because these statements are racist and
should on moral grounds be condemned at the time they are being made, but also
because they are then used by the Jewish establishment to discredit the peace
forces and to raise the level of fear in the Jewish world against anyone
critical of Israeli policies.
But at this particular moment in early May, the issue that has made itself
apparent in the attack on Lerner's home is the hate-language and permission to
demean and incite that takes place in many (not all) corners of the Jewish
world, and so it is appropriate now to focus on the changes needed to stop
So here is what you can do: write and call people in the media to urge them to
do a news story (no national American or European media have picked up on this
yet), to interview Rabbi Lerner, and to write editorials condemning incitement.
Similarly, letters should be sent to national Jewish organizations asking them
to challenge the free use of the charge of anti-Semitism or self-hating Jews
among Jews in their communities who are unhappy when they hear others
criticizing Israeli policies or behavior.
And where would you find those addresses? Click
here. We've listed lots of media people. Pick a few from different media and
in your own words tell them why you think they should let the American people
know about this assault, about the potential danger to Americans if these
dynamics continue in the Jewish world and spread to American politics, ask them
to contact Rabbi Lerner either at
RabbiLerner@tikkun.org or through his assistant
email@example.com 510 644 1200. And ask
them to raise the larger question of how to preserve freedom of conscience for
people to challenge Israeli policies without being demeaned or facing this kind
of vandalism of their own private homes.
And then please write to one of the Jewish organizations (you'll find them
listed also at that same location, at the very bottom of the media lists. Ask
them to make a public statement that goes beyond condemning the injury to Rabbi
Lerner and directly condemns the labelling as "anti-Semitic" or "self-hating" of
those who challenge Israeli policies or seek non-violent methods to change those
And yes, there is another thing you can do. You could yourself join the Network
of Spiritual Progressives (for non-Jews as well as Jews, for atheists as well as
theists) and help support Tikkun Magazine! And you could urge everyone you know
to do so. Nothing would make Rabbi Lerner feel more supported and less scared of
the haters if more of the people who believe in a world of love would support
the organization that has been out there seeking to put forward the notion that
love and generosity are the real paths to peace and security than a significant
new members (who also automatically receive Tikkun as part of membership).
Contacts: NATALIE WOLNER firstname.lastname@example.org
or WILL PASLEY email@example.com
510-644-1200 Mailing address: 2342 Shattuck Ave, Box 1200, Berkeley, Ca. 94704
Meanwhile, Rabbi Lerner asked us to include his own deep thanks for everyone who
has written to him--he has read those notes and they have meant a great deal to
him. But, he doesn't want the focus to be on him, nor even on Dershowitz and his
attempts to discredit Lerner and Tikkun, but on what we can together do to
change the dynamics in the world so that no one has to feel insecure in their
homes for articulating their ethical and political views. And that's why the way
to support him is to follow the path being suggested in this email.
Contents Copyright 2010 Tikkun Magazine
2342 Shattuck Ave. #1200, Berkeley , CA 94704 Phone: (510)-644-1200 Fax:
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web:
Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun (www.tikkun.org), author of the 2006 NY Times best-seller The Left Hand of God (Harper San Francisco), and national chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives (www.spiritualprogressives.org). RabbiLerner@tikkun.org