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After Attack on Rabbi Lerner's Home: What you Can do to Help?

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The media once again has failed to cover attacks on the Left from the Right. This time it came in the form of an assault on the home of Tikkun Magazine's editor Rabbi Michael Lerner. Lerner had announced that Tikkun would give the prestigious Tikkun Award for Human Rights at Tikkun's 25th anniversary celebration in the Spring of 2011 to Judge Richard Goldstone, whose report on Israeli (and Hamas) violations of human rights and alleged war crimes during Israel's war in Gaza in 2009 has been rejected by Israel and the US government though it had also criticized Hamas. Judge Goldstone was also the person who did similar investigations for the U.N. of human rights violations in Rwanda and then in Bosnia. Rabbi Lerner received death threats on the phone and he and Tikkun received much hate mail. But attacking his home crossed a new line--attacking the individual. So, Tikkun magazine issued the following statement about what people could do in this situation:

Don't feel powerless, there are real steps you could take to bring something valuable out of this assault on Rabbi Lerner's home.

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 we at 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 labeled 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 activites are "self-hating Jews."
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This labeling 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. Please read Anthony Klug's article

on how this mistaken approach helps sustain or even generate anti-Semitism in the May/June 2010 issue of Tikkun magazine.


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 labeled 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 preemptive 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 dont know for sure that his article directly led to the violence. We do know that it contributes to a climate of violence 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 labeling 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.
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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 Israel).

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 foucs on the changes needed to stop Jewish incitement.

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Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun and national chair of the Tikkun Community/ Network of Spiritual Progressives. People are invited to subscribe to Tikkun magazine or join the interfaith organization the Network of Spiritual Progressives-- "both of which can be done by (more...)
 

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