A Jewish ‘progressive’ delivers fuel for the Iranian bomb

The relentless attacks on Israel by “progressive” post- and anti-Zionists of the Jewish persuasion have often prompted the following question: Do they ever think about the interconnectedness of the following three elements — their depictions of Israel as the devil’s own laboratory, the tightening of the international noose about Israel’s throat by boycotts, and the almost daily calls by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his cadre of gloomy fanatics to “wipe Israel off the map”?

Does it ever occur to these “progressives” — people like Tony Kushner, Peter Beinart, Jacqueline Rose, Judith Butler — that they may have made themselves accessories before the fact to a second Holocaust by painting Israel black as Gehenna and the pit of hell? Michael Lerner, himself a diligent defamer of Israel, has brought this interconnectedness to the fore by openly linking Israel’s alleged misdeeds and general nastiness to Iran’s genocidal ambitions.

Lerner’s “Network of Spiritual Progressives” is currently soliciting money to publish ads exhorting President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu to refrain from attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities. Among the “arguments” Lerner will propose in the New York Times and Ha’aretz are the twin ideas that Iran has “done nothing more than engage in bombastic and offensive speech” and that “Israel could actually work out peaceful relations with Iran… if Israel were to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza… (and) support Palestinian membership in the UN.”

Lerner seems not to  have noticed  Iranian “engagement” in non-verbal attacks from Lebanon and Gaza, or any link between Iran’s nuclear and genocidal aspirations. In fact, to listen to Lerner, you might conclude that Israel might simply slake Iran’s thirst for Islamic justice by large servings of “open-hearted generosity toward the Palestinian people.”

Who would have thought that the day would arrive when we would find ourselves in debt to Michael Lerner, one of the great obfuscators in the Jewish world, for unwittingly shedding light on the relation between Israel’s defamers and Iran’s aspiration to genocide?

This is the same  Lerner whose motto has always appeared to be “Nothing anti-semitic is alien to me.” In the fall of 1969, Lerner commenced his open battle with what he called “the Jewish establishment” of “fat cats and conformists” in an article entitled “Jewish New Leftism at Berkeley” in Judaism Magazine that also blamed Jews for being under attack:

Black anti-semitism is a tremendous disgrace to Jews; for this is not an anti-Semitism rooted in hatred of the Christ-killers but rather one rooted in the concrete fact of oppression by Jews of blacks… an earned anti-Semitism… This anti-Zionism [of young Jews] is irrational in its conclusions [that Israel should be destroyed]… [but] correct in its fundamental impulses.

His article, which expressed views hard to distinguish from those of non-Jewish anti-Semites, led to the resignation of several editors of the journal.

This is by no means the first time that Lerner has taken it upon himself to urge American presidents to get tough with Israel (and American Jewry). He lavished praise upon George Bush (the first) for complaining that, although president, he was nearly overwhelmed by “powerful political forces“ consisting of “a thousand (Jewish) lobbyists.”

For his oily sycophancy, Lerner was lauded by Patrick Buchanan as the only Jew worthy of honor alongside Israel Shahak. In May 1993, Lerner actually insinuated himself into the Clinton White House as a kind of Rasputin offering spiritualized political counsel — “the politics of meaning” and also of “caring and sharing” — to the former first lady, now the American Secretary of State. Mrs. Clinton sought nourishment from Lerner’s “ideas,” untroubled by the fact that his language is redolent less of ideas than of treacle and corn mush.

By 1986 he had founded his own magazine, Tikkun, through which he argued the Palestinian cause within the Jewish community. He and his acolytes could always be relied on to blame Israel and not the Arabs for the absence of peace, and to liken Israeli defense against Arab violence to “medieval Christian mobs… organizing pogroms against the whole Jewish community.”

When the intifada began in December of 1987, Lerner blossomed forth as the gentile-appointed voice of the progressive Jewish community. On February 14, 1989 he held forth in the New York Times about the way in which the voice of enlightened Jews like himself, “the silenced majority,” “appalled by Israel’s brutal repression of the Palestinian uprising,” had been “stifled” by the “establishment leadership.” Rarely had a stifled voice been heard by so many millions, or been trumpeted with such metronomic regularity. Even more absurdly than before, Lerner pictured himself as both the true voice of the people and a lonely knight, a sensitive soul sallying forth to confront a mob of thick-skinned louts who would eat him alive if only they could.

Meanwhile, this self-proclaimed dissenter consented to the prejudices of at least half the world in blaming Israel for the state of war forced upon her by the Arabs. For good measure, he suggested (in American Journal of Sociology, 1988) that Israel’s existence, and Diaspora Jewry’s identification with it, were creating anti-Semitism in the Third World. Not content to aid the Palestinian cause in the temporal realm alone, Lerner went on that year to instruct the Tikkun faithful to devote Yom Kippur to contrition for Jewish mistreatment of the Palestinian Arabs. This prompted long-time Labor Zionist Marie Syrkin to make the following observation just two months before her death:

The “progressive” Jewish magazine, Tikkun, recently exhorted the Jewish people to observe the Day of Atonement (remember Yom Kippur 1973?) with an orgy of confession of “collective guilt.” What sanctimonious chutzpah if not accompanied by the breast-beatings of far greater sinners!

And so he persists, on and on, through the years, ad nauseam. In 1991, about two months after Iraqi Scud missiles had ceased to rain down on Israel, Lerner betook himself and the Tikkun entourage to Israel to preside over a conference entitled “How to End the Occupation.” Its manifesto displayed that openness to debate he had picked up in Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement:

To create a safe space for this discussion, we invite you only if you already agree that Israel enter negotiations aimed at creating a demilitarized Palestinian state.

The conference’s overriding purpose was to recommend ways to disturb what Lerner disparaged as the “quiet daily life” of Israelis, “protected from having to confront the moral outrage of…Israeli oppression of Palestinians.”

Surveying Israeli life from the (distant) perch of his ethical superiority, Lerner had concluded that Israelis were too much at ease in Zion. Apparently dissatisfied with the little disturbances visited upon them by Iraqi missiles, bombs exploding in nurseries, schools and supermarkets, as well as stabbings and shootings carried out in buses and streets, Lerner recommended “bringing the war home” by ”disrupting the daily operation of Israeli society” (The Jerusalem Post, July 13, 1991).

One of the best ways to do this, according to Lerner, would be for Israelis to refuse military service if assigned to serve in the disputed territories. But before the Israeli authorities could decide whether this meddlesome foreigner should be prosecuted for incitement and sedition, he was back in Berkeley, because “I have to be here. Berkeley is the center of the world-historical spirit.”

And so he continued to struggle with the unquiet life of a prophet,  claiming in the LA Times of July 30, 1991 that his remarks on Israel had been intended only for “internal discussion” and had been ripped from context. Although the conference brochure announced that “We Will Be Asking the Tough Questions,” Lerner and  his acolytes seem to have overlooked the distinctly ethical (if not very tough) question: how can an American Jew be justified in advocating, and working to force upon Israel, concessions that bring risks to be borne by Israeli Jews alone.

In fact, Lerner does merit some kind of congratulation for the extraordinary consistency of his guiding principles (or primal instincts) during his decades-long public career of “repairing the world.” He was speaking the truth when he said in an interview for the East Bay Express in November 1989 that ”I’ve been on the same path all along. I haven’t shifted since I was twelve years old as far as I can see.”

Lerner has in fact given a new meaning to Emerson’s dictum that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” In the Sixties, he had been an insurrectionary, insisting that “the synagogue as currently established will have to be smashed.” Decades later, as a rabbi of sorts (ordained “privately” long after he had dropped out of Jewish Theological Seminary), he invited Cindy “My son died for Israel” Sheehan to address his synagogue of world-betterers on Yom Kippur of 2005; then he provided a platform for Hezbullah camp-follower Norman Finkelstein; then he embraced the Walt-Mearsheimer version of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

The mainspring of his career has been the abandonment of his own people when they are under attack from groups driven by so-called “earned anti-Semitism” — rioters in Oakland, terrorists in Eretz Israel, political desperadoes in the Oval Office — and currently Persian religious fanatics acting in concert with technically competent barbarians. One might have hoped that, faced with the Iranian mullahs’ illustration of the truism that every denial of the Holocaust harbors a desire to repeat it, Lerner would at last abandon the idols of his “progressive” tribe. So far, he has been proving the ancient rabbinic dictum that “He who is merciful to the cruel will end by being indifferent to the innocent.”

About the Author
Edward Alexander taught English at the University of Washington 1960-2004 and was the first chairman (ten years) of UW's Jewish Studies Program. He has been a visiting professor at Tufts, Hebrew University, Tel-Aviv, and Memphis State U. He has his MA and PhD from University of Minnesota and BA from Columbia College. Edward Alexander was born in 1936 in Brooklyn, NY. He is the author of numerous books, starting with MATTHEW ARNOLD and JOHN STUART MILL (Columbia UP, 1965). HIs most recent book is JEWS AGAINST THEMSELVES (Transaction Publishers, 2015).