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Jewish World Review Feb. 12, 2003 / 10 Adar I 5763

Sam Schulman

Sam Schulman
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'Politics of meaning' guru confronts reality --- and is Left a pariah

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com |
In the last few days, a flurry of activity has erupted among the anti-war movement. The pro-Saddam, pro-North Korean, pro-Pol Pot organization behind most of the big anti-war demos, ANSWER, has banned Rabbi Michael Lerner from speaking at the San Francisco demonstration this Sunday. Why? Because he's pro-Israel.

Lerner's supporters are rightly incensed about this smear. How can such a man be regarded as pro-Israel? A group of largely Jewish writers, intellectuals, poets and other publicity-seekers argue, furiously, that he cannot be called pro-Israel: "Rabbi Lerner has been an outspoken critic of Israeli policy in the occupied territories, has endorsed ANSWER's antiwar rallies in the past, has signed the Not in Our Name petition against the war, and is widely known to be among the most progressive of American rabbis."

Lerner's friends don't nearly do him justice. When, in response to an attempt to give the Palestinians a West Bank state, the Palestinian Authority launched the latest Intifada in the fall of 2000, Lerner spoke out. He deplored the fact that fewer Israelis were killed by PA terrorism than were Palestinian terrorists by Israel's army. Were more Israelis to die, he felt, there would be more sympathy for Israel.

His friends also should have remembered Lerner's statement in the days immediately following the destruction of the World Trade Center towers, in which he blamed America - and "the way that we are living [and] organizing our societies" - for motivating the terrorists to destroy thousands of innocent lives.

But these efforts, commendable as they were, are not enough. In the eyes of purists like the folks at ANSWER, it's not enough to wish Israel harm. According to David Corn of The Nation, Rabbi Lerner has suffered the ultimate punishment because, on some level, he accepts that Israel might, even if in a physically impossible form, be permitted to exist. But the leaders of the pro-Saddam movement at ANSWER have a purer vision. For them, Israel ought to be dissolved and its people scattered, killed, or forced to convert.

Well, chacun a son gout. One expects anti-Semites to be anti-Semitic - as most revolutionaries have been in the 19th and 20th centuries. It's part of their charm.

But what's really staggering is the reaction of other Jews and friends of Lerner to this well-deserved snub. About 150 have signed a statement that humbly begs the leaders of the antiwar demonstrations to let Lerner speak. The signers include such Jewish luminaries as Jack Newfield, Professor Howard Zinn, Ariel Dorman, Michael Berube of Penn State, Ariel Dorfman, Katha Pollitt, Eric Alterman, Jon Wiener, Matthew Rothschild, Editor ot The Progressive, Stanley Aronowitz, Bogdan Denitch, Phyllis Cheslerl, Andrew Gumbel, Dr. Aryeh Cohen, University of Judaism, Los Angeles, Terrence McNally, Marge Piercy, Sean Strub, POZ Magazine, and Larry Gross (and please forgive me if I have stigmatized any of these people as Jews if they are not). This petition bravely urges the rally organizers to let this "Anti-War Rabbi" - as they style him - speak. They want Lerner to address this rally, backing a cause that is fundamentally, unavoidably, and gloriously anti-Semitic.

I urge ANSWER and its lackeys to stick to its guns. Yes, they are supporters of mass murderers, and would, if given power, imitate the "class" liquidations carried out by their heroes Stalin, Pol Pot and Kim Jong-Il. Yes, they support Saddam and give a platform to those creeps who claim that Israel and world Zionism conceived and carried out the September 11 atrocities. But ANSWER has a fundamental dignity and self-respect that Rabbi Lerner and his supporters lack. They know what they're doing - even if what they're doing is evil. Poor Rabbi Lerner, on the other hand, runs about wildly looking for approval from his enemies. No wonder ANSWER rather despises him.

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JWR contributor Sam Schulman is a New York writer whose work appears in New York Press, the Spectator (London), and elsewhere, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University.You may contact him by clicking here.

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© 2000 by Sam Schulman