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Jewish World Review July 29, 2002 / 20 Menachem-Av, 5762

Jonathan Tobin

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Anti-Israel Green cranks belong on the fringes of American politics and Jewish life | PHILADELPHIA What's the difference between being mainstream and marginal in American politics?

Money is certainly essential.

But giving voters the idea that you will not succumb to extremist urges is also necessary. Which is why the Green Party's pretensions to national prominence and mainstream acceptance are more humorous than dangerous. The Greens were here in this past week for their national convention and managed not to attract much attention. The national press' flirtation with the environmentalist Greens appeared to have ended in November 2000. Though their presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, failed to win more than 2 percent of the vote in the election, he may have attracted just enough left-wingers away from the Democrat ticket to help elect Republican George W. Bush.

That is something for which many liberals may never forgive the once-iconic consumer advocate.

Where once many openly spoke of the Greens as an attractive alternative to the more corporate Republicans and Democrats, two years away from 2004 it appears that the Greens are now firmly ensconced in the fever swamps of the far left of American politics, probably never to rise again to threaten liberal politicians.

One aspect of their radicalism was on display when a Green platform committee gathered to discuss the party's foreign policy, if you can actually dignify their ravings with such a term.

Far from restricting their opinions to the more familiar "earth day" mantra of alternative energy sources and more mass transit, the Greens also have something to say about Israel.

In fact, the party has issued a number of statements over the past two years identifying themselves with radical leftist critics of the Jewish state. In particular, they helped sponsor a rally in Washington last year in favor of the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees, a measure tantamount to calling for the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. Considering the coalition of cranks, malcontents and radicals that make up this would be "progressive" alternative party, this is no surprise.


What was interesting was the fact that among those speaking at the convention on the question of Israel was Tikkun magazine editor Michael Lerner. And even more curious is that in this crowd, Lerner is what passes for an advocate of Israel.

Lerner has come a long way since his days as a 1960s' radical leftist who advocated violence. Migrating to the ranks of the Jewish Renewal movement, he now sports the title of rabbi, and went through a brief moment of celebrity in 1993 when he was identified as then first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's "politics of meaning" guru. Clinton soon dropped Lerner as a publicity-hungry hot potato, and Lerner had to content himself with his campaign to position himself into an "alternative" voice for American Jewry.

He eventually expanded Tikkun (where he once admitted to writing the letters to the editor!) into the "Tikkun Community," which he appears to hope will serve as a leftist opposition group to the pro-Israel consensus that has solidified among most American Jews in the wake of the failure of the Oslo peace process and the Palestinian terror war against the Jewish state.

The Tikkunists claim to be Zionists who love Israel, but are not above calling it an "oppressor" reminiscent of "Pharoah" (as they termed it in a full-page ad in The New York Times last Passover. While opposed to Arab terror, they wrongly place equal responsibility for the current war on Israel, and believe the United States must pressure it to accept a peace that will give the Palestinians a generous reward for two years of bloodshed. They've even attempted to set up a left-wing alternative to the mainstream America Israel Public Affairs Committee to lobby in Washington against Israel, all of which places them to the left of even the Israeli Peace Now movement and its American supporters.

Tikkun's radicalism naturally places it in the company of the worst elements of the American left - such as those in the Green Party who are, at best, neutral about Israel's survival and seemingly indifferent to the rise of international anti-Semitism.

But just as Lerner has been urging left-wing Jews not to leave criticism of Israel to the anti-Semites, such as those "human-rights activists" who gathered last year at Durban, South Africa, Lerner is urging the Greens to stop calling Israel an "apartheid state," and to take a stand that is both "pro-Israel" and "pro-Palestinian." He claims that if they don't, they'll alienate potential allies.

He's right about that point, but the advice applies just as easily to his own extremist stands as to the even more radical positions of his Green buddies, who applauded him warmly after his speech.

Lerner and company would like American Jews to send Israel a message that it can't count on our support as they wage a lonely and costly battle against Yasser Arafat's terror principality. That won't fly, because all but the most extreme left-wingers understand that there is no such thing as neutrality between the Palestinian drive to destroy Israel and the right of Israel to defend itself.

The overwhelming majority of American Jews know that anyone who is isn't outraged by Arab lies about a Jenin "massacre" - as Lerner said he was not during the Green's Philadelphia conclave - is not someone who is worth listening to.


Meanwhile, back in the real world of mainstream politics, radical congressional leftists suffer for their contempt for Israel. In Alabama, the defeat of Israel foe Rep. Earl Hilliard at the hands of another African-American Democrat who supports Israel (and was supported by pro-Israel groups) sent the country a message.

A similar fate may be in store for Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), a loony leftist Israel-hater who canceled her appearance at the Green convention at the last minute. But while friends of Israel around the country are ardently hoping for her defeat, Lerner has issued a call for Jews to support her!

And that, in a nutshell, sums up the utter futility of attempts by Tikkunists and the Greens to masquerade as mainstream players. Just as the Luddite anti-globalist Greens are a hopeless cause, Lerner's attempt to position a basically anti-Israel movement within American Jewry is bound to fail as a hopeless contradiction in terms.

For all of the noise they make, he and others like him will remain where they belong --- on the margins with the rest of the crackpots.

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JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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