Mike Lumish

Lerner’s Disgrace: My Response to Alana Price

In a recent post at the Times of Israel entitled, Rabbi Michael Lerner promotes an anti-Semite, I argue that lambasting Israel as an “apartheid” state is anti-Semitic and promotes violence toward the Jewish people.  I also argue that suggesting that the American government is so enthralled to the “pro-Israel lobby,” or “the Jewish lobby” as Chuck Hagel called it, that it considers Israeli-Jewish interests above American interests, is likewise anti-Semitic and reminiscent of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

In either case, both insidious notions are false and both tend to whip up hatred toward the Jewish people.

Michael Lerner’s Tikkun magazine publishes David Harris-Gershon who regularly defames the Jewish state, and thus the Jewish people, with both of these toxic charges and does so not only in Tikkun, but in a variety of places including Daily Kos, one of the foremost progressive-left political blogs in the United States.  Alana Price, a managing editor of Tikkun, has complained in these pages about that characterization in her piece, How to avoid real dialog on Israel/Palestine: A response to Mike Lumish.

Price suggests that calling Harris-Gershon’s anti-Semitism “anti-Semitism” is an ad hominem attack whereas I tend to think that calling anti-Semitism “anti-Semitism” is only right and proper.  But whatever one calls it, it is what lead to the ongoing persecution of the Jewish people and eventually to the Holocaust.  We must therefore be vigilant against it, whatever the source and whatever the alleged reason for it, particularly since it is rising prominently in both the Arab world and within the western left today.

Former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky has given us what I consider to be a reasonable guide to anti-Jewish bigotry, which he calls the 3D Test.  If one is demonizing Israel then one is engaging in anti-Semitism.  If one is delegitimizing Israel then one is engaging in anti-Semitism.  And if one holds Israel to a double-standard to which other countries are not held then one is engaging in anti-Semitism.

Harris-Gershon gleefully does all three.  Furthermore, it’s not just a matter of the two specific articles that I cited, but his entire body of work is riddled with similar material as any pro-Israel Daily Kos participant, or ex-participant, could attest.

The term “apartheid,” much like the term “Nazi,” is particularly egregious when applied to the Jewish State of Israel because the “apartheid” defamation, much like the “Nazi” defamation, embeds the assumption that the country must be eliminated.  When people call Israel a “Nazi state” what they are saying is that like Nazi Germany, it must be destroyed.  Likewise, when people call Israel an “apartheid state” they are saying precisely the same thing.

In truth, it is defamation of a genocidal nature.

This is precisely why the BDS crowd, a crowd friendly with Harris-Gershon, use it.  And although Price helpfully reminds us that “the end of apartheid in South Africa did not involve the murder of all whites in that country,” (what a comfort), she entirely ignores the fact that the “apartheid” smear is not only false, but demonizes Israel, delegitimizes Israel, and holds that country to a racist double-standard.

Apartheid is about a dominant group oppressing and exploiting another people within a system of political racial prejudice, but this has nothing to do with Israeli-Jewish security measures in the territories of Judea and Samaria. The security fence and the check-points and the various other measures that the Jews of the Middle East use to protect themselves are not because of Jewish racism towards Arabs, but because of Koranically-based Arab genocidal racism toward the tiny Jewish minority in the Middle East.

In this way people like Harris-Gershon turn the truth entirely on its head in a manner that defames his own people, a people who represent a long abused minority among a much larger, and generally hostile, majority population who still tend to resent Jewish freedom on historically Jewish land.

What Lerner and Harris-Gershon and Price fail to acknowledge is that the Jews of the Middle East lived as second and third class citizens, as dhimmis, under the boot of Arab-Muslim imperialism for thirteen centuries and now they simply refuse to go back to it.  Israel is, thus, the dhimmi that got away. What they call “apartheid,” in their smear campaign, is nothing more than Jewish self-defense, a concept which many people continue to have a hard time accepting.

Finally, suggesting that the Jews have an undue influence within the United States government should ring bells for Jewish people everywhere.  This is, in fact, the very notion that was peddled in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  There is not the slightest question that such a notion is deeply, classically anti-Semitic and Price should cease white-washing anti-Jewish racism as mere criticism.

It isn’t “criticism.”  This charge is a very old one.  This notion that the Jews control sovereign governments, with the obvious exception of Israel, does nothing but create hatred toward us.  It is both false and malicious and Michael Lerner should be entirely ashamed of himself for promoting a writer that spreads this kind of hatred towards his own people.

Harris-Gershon wrote this:

This is why people who characterize the reality of life for Palestinians in the West Bank as apartheid are correct. For the two-tired justice system applied in the West Bank – military rule for Palestinians and democratic rule for Israeli Jews – is exactly that.

They are not correct to call Israel “apartheid” and Harris-Gershon spreads malice toward the Jewish people and toward the Jewish state when he claims otherwise.

The cold and flat way that Price characterizes Harris-Gershon’s defamation reminds me of some words by Harvard Professor of Literature and Yiddish Studies, Ruth Wisse, who in a recent talk said something quite along these lines.  I paraphrase.

She said, imagine if your front yard needed a trim and perhaps a little upkeep and that a concerned neighbor dropped by one day to suggest, for the benefit of the neighborhood, you take care of it.  Would that be wrong?  Surely our neighbors have some stake in the condition of our own home and they therefore have a reasonable right of inquiry and criticism if we are responsible for lowering property values in the neighborhood.

Imagine, however, if the rest of the houses in the neighborhood were in far, far worse condition and that, out of religious prejudice, the other neighbors did not want you living there and made that quite clear to you by perpetually throwing rocks and garbage through your front windows and through threatening the lives of your children.  Imagine if every time you stepped from your home you heard cries of Achtung Juden or Alahu Akbar ringing in your ears.

Just what would you think of your neighbor’s mere criticism under those circumstances?

These are the circumstances under which Harris-Gershon “criticizes” the state of Israel.  The truth is, whether anyone likes it or not, the man is spreading hatred, not honest criticism, and Lerner, to his shame, is promoting that hatred.

There is nothing the least little bit liberal about it and saying so does not chill discussion.  What really chills discussion is the suggestion of Jewish “apartheid” or Jewish control of sovereign governments.

If Harris-Gershon wants a real discussion of Israeli policy in the territories then he needs to stop spreading anti-Semitism among non-Jews within progressive-left American outlets.

Harris-Gershon is Lerner’s disgrace.


Mike Lumish is the editor of Israel Thrives.

About the Author
Mike Lumish is a PhD in American history from the Pennsylvania State University and has taught at PSU, San Francisco State University, and the City College of San Francisco. He regularly publishes on the Arab-Israel conflict at the Times of Israel and at his own blog, Israel Thrives ( He has in recent years given conference papers on American cultural and intellectual history at The International Society for the History of Behavioral and Social Sciences in Dublin, Ireland, as well as at the Western Historical Association in Phoenix, Arizona and the American Cultural Association in New Orleans, Louisiana. Lumish is also the founding editor of the scholarly on-line discussion forum H-1960s. He can be contacted at