Mike Lumish’s recent blog post, “Rabbi Michael Lerner promotes an anti-Semite,” epitomizes one of the most troubling dynamics within discourse on Israel/Palestine today: the use of sensationalistic, ad hominem attacks to silence those who offer political critiques of Israeli government policies, rather than addressing the substance of the critiques themselves.
I was deeply saddened to read the sloppy allegations in Lumish’s post, which appeared Feb. 5 on the The Times of Israel’s “Ops & Blogs” page. Here are the facts of the situation: a blogger named David Harris-Gershon put up a post on Tikkun Daily in which he concluded that “the two-tiered Justice system applied in the West Bank” is accurately characterized as apartheid. Later, in a post on Daily Kos, the same blogger wrote that “as a Jew and proponent of the (quickly fading) two-state solution, I agree Israel’s security is both important and a legitimate U.S. foreign policy issue” but expressed concern that Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearing focused so much on Israel that the issue of U.S. troops in Afghanistan was shunted to the side.
Somehow, Lumish managed to contort and whip those facts into his sensationalistic title about Michael Lerner promoting “an anti-Semite.”
Let’s take a look at the claim of anti-Semitism first. Lumish justifies this hurtful slander with the argument that “Anyone who calls Israel ‘apartheid’ is trying to murder that country…. After all, if Israel is an apartheid state then, like the apartheid regime in South Africa, the world community must come together to bring about it destruction” (sic).
This argument is wrong on many levels. I have met so many principled young Jewish activists who worry about the well-being of Israeli friends and family members and would never wish murder upon them, but have nevertheless come to see “apartheid” as an accurate term for the legal and spatial mechanisms of control associated with the Occupation. It’s important to note that the end of apartheid in South Africa did not involve the murder of all whites in that country, nor did it signal the end of South Africa as a nation-state. Rather, it involved significant changes in the legal regime governing the residents of that land. Thus there is no reason why the acceptance of a descriptive political term such as “apartheid” has anything to do with a desire to murder Israelis.
I yearn for the day when people may debate issues such as whether the term “apartheid” is accurate in relation to the Occupation without immediately being silenced with the personal attack of “anti-Semite” or “self-hating Jew.”
Lumish should be ashamed of his irresponsible decision to make this story personally about Michael Lerner. Tikkun’s print magazine, web magazine, and lively blog site host a diversity of ideas. In fact, Tikkun often prints head-to-head debates between writers with clashing views. If Lumish had taken ten seconds to read the “About” page of the blog on which Harris-Gershon’s post appeared, he would have seen that the Tikkun Daily blog, unlike the carefully edited print magazine and web magazine site, is a spontaneous, open forum to which volunteer bloggers directly post their ideas. Most posts that appear on Tikkun Daily have not been seen or read by Tikkun editors before publication, so it is absurd for Lumish to imply that every word spoken by every blogger on Tikkun Daily expresses the personal views of the magazine’s executive editor.
Rabbi Lerner has stated that he personally does not believe that the treatment of Palestinians constitutes apartheid, at least not as it operated in South Africa, in part because those Palestinians who live inside Israel have full voting rights, representatives in the Knesset, attend Israeli universities, attend the same movie theaters as Israelis, and swim on the same beaches and have the legal right to live wherever they choose. But he has argued that the severe restrictions faced by Palestinians who live in the West Bank are often far worse than those faced by black South Africans living under apartheid.
He has also argued that the occupation of the West Bank and the oppression of Palestinians is in fact the greatest threat to Israeli security because the Occupation is an immoral violation of the Jewish Torah-based principle of “thou shalt love the stranger (the other).” He opposes the occupation of the West Bank, the imprisonment of Palestinians without a trial, the harassment of Palestinians at checkpoints, the Wall, and much else, but does not support delegitimation of the State of Israel. Readers who are interested in hearing more about what Rabbi Lerner has to say about the use of the term “apartheid” and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more generally should read his editorials and his book Embracing Israel/Palestine rather than assume that every Tikkun Daily blogger speaks for him personally.
Tikkun is unique because it seeks to open up space for respectful, humanizing discussion and disagreement about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Within Tikkun’s large community of editors, volunteer writers, readers, and supporters, there is wide difference of opinion on many issues, including on the accuracy and usefulness of employing the term “apartheid” in relation to Israel/Palestine. We feel that the insights that come out of debate within our community on this issue are a valuable part of our work to heal the world. It is vital to be able to speak and work with others who feel differently about this and other issues, rather than jump to the conclusion that they are “anti-Semites.”