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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/4/10

Why I Disagree with Hedges and Nader on Obama

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Inside the West Bank and Gaza there's a totally different story, and there the conditions do resemble apartheid. Jews who settle on the West Bank have a totally different set of laws, roads, water, and much else. But again, that discrimination is not based on being Arabs so much as being part of a society that has tolerated violent attacks on Israeli civilians. I do not think that that argument is sufficient to justify Israeli behavior, but neither do I think that the Israeli behavior stems from racism as much as from fear.

How could they fear when they are so much more powerful than the Arabs they dominate? Well, if you were part of a people who had been traumatized by 1800 years of discrimination, oppression, murder and rape, and then had 1 out of every three of you murdered in the twentieth century, you too might have a difficulty in seeing things straight and recognizing yourself as the powerful one. If the US can have a majority of its citizens think that the outrageous and immoral attack on the Twin Towers provides evidence that the US itself is in danger of being destroyed by terrorists, when the US is the most powerful military force in the world, how can you doubt that the Jews could be so traumatized by our history to be acting out of Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder rather than out of racism and a desire to dominate others for the sake of domination and lust for power?

My point is that it doesn't help move things toward peace to be demeaning the Jewish people, or the State of Israel, though it is perfectly legitimate to oppose its policies and do what we can to change them (including using the full power of the US to do so). We at Tikkun fully support the call by the Goldstone report for an international inquiry into Israeli and Hamas war crimes if each party does not itself engage in such an inquiry in an objective and credible way. And we believe it fully appropriate for the peoples of the world to do what they can to end the Occupation of the West Bank, as long as they also use similar methods to end the occupation of Tibet by China, the end of repression in Iran, the end of the occupation of Chechnya by Russia, the end of the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan by the US, the end of the genocide in Darfur, and other such moral outrages. For a fuller discussion of this issue, please read my book Healing Israel/Palestine.

4. It is not a mistake for people to be demanding of Obama that he BE the Obama they voted for. But what would be a mistake is to think that such a demand is going to be given credence until we form a powerful movement of our own that is ready to take action and bring people into the streets and into nonviolent civil disobedience against the policies of the Obama Administration that are most abhorrent (e.g. the escalation of war or the funding of the banks and investment companies or its willingness to allow foreclosures on homes to continue or the give-aways to pharmaceuticals and health insurance profiteers). The huge mistake is to have treated Obama as a messiah and then expected him to deliver for us. Obama never named or targeted corporate power, and we need to do so, not just by saying what we are against, but by fighting for what we are FOR-e.g. the Global Marshall Plan and the Environmental and Ethical Amendments to the Constitution about which you can read at We need to be more self-critical about not having built such a movement, and not as much at Obama who, facing the corporate power structure without the help of such a movement, could have been predicted to have caved as he did.

5. It is a mistake to allow Obama to face the wild charges of the right-wingers and Republican opportunists (who will oppose everything Obama calls for because they believe that his failure will bring them electoral victory in 2010) without the support and defense from people in the liberal and progressive world. Chris Hedges is correct in saying that the intensity of that assault has been aided by the failure of Obama and Congressional Democrats to passionately advocate for a different ethical vision, but instead to seem to be in bed with the corporate interests. But we should also acknowledge that at least some part of the anger against Obama stems from the same racism that has led many Americans to hate Obama with passionate intensity far out of proportion to anything he has done or failed to do. I do not minimize the impact of the humiliation that many faced who hoped for a different set of possibilities and Obama's betrayal of that hope, but I also do not believe that that accounts for all or even a majority of those who ruthlessly and unceasingly and irrationally attack everything he does.

None of this is to challenge the importance of this discussion, a discussion that will also take place at our conference in DC June 11-14 (details at we will also focus on the creation of a Constitutional Amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's decision empowering corporations, and on an Amendment that requires corporate environmental and ethical responsibility (please see various versions we are considering-at the Current Thinking section of Nor will it prevent us from demonstrating at the White House on June 13th with the call to Obama: BE the Obama We Voted For, not the inside-the-beltway pragmatist/realist whose compromises have lost support for liberal and progressive causes and aided the upsurge of Tea Party conservatives.

And by the way, we don't mean to be disrespectful to all Tea Party people either-some of them have a righteous anger at the way government has served the interests of the powerful, and they are responding to a right wing populism because they have not encountered enough of a progressive populism, and certainly not a progressive populism that has let go of the relgio-phobia that often cripples progressive movements from being heard by masses of Americans who might otherwise agree with them.

So I hope Chris will still come to our conference, and that others who agree or disagree with him but understand the importance of discussing this in a comradely and caring way among those of us committed to peace, social justice, ecological sanity, love, generosity, and caring for others do also sign up for the conference before it fills up and closes registration as did our San Francisco conference two weeks ago. Sign up now at


Rabbi Michael Lerner

(responses to this letter may be published on our website or in our magazine unless you specifically state that you do not wish to have your response made public)

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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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