The Antiwar Anti-Semites -
BY MICHAEL LERNER
Wednesday, February 12, 2003 12:01 a.m. EST
SAN FRANCISCO--Imagine my surprise when I found out that I am banned from speaking at a peace rally here this Sunday. As editor of Tikkun, the largest-circulation liberal Jewish magazine in the world, I have been an outspoken critic of the proposed war in Iraq. I have also unequivocally condemned Saddam Hussein's brutality and called for the world community to bring him to justice for crimes against humanity. But we at Tikkun do not believe that this war--in which thousands of Iraqi civilians are likely to die--will bring democracy to the Middle East. Instead, it is bound to increase the threat of terrorism to American citizens and provoke more violence. It will also fuel American fantasies of world economic and political domination.
So why was I being blackballed over the peace rally?
My sin was publicly criticizing the way that A.N.S.W.E.R., one of the four groups sponsoring the San Francisco demonstration, has used the antiwar demonstrations to put forward anti-Israel propaganda. An A.N.S.W.E.R. spokesperson, speaking on the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC, said that they didn't want a "pro-Israel" speaker at their rally.
The other groups have said that while they disagree with A.N.S.W.E.R., they will honor an agreement giving each group an effective veto on speakers. Yet it is inconceivable that these antiwar coalitions would let A.N.S.W.E.R. ban a speaker if he accused that group of racism, sexism or homophobia. Why should anti-Semitism be treated differently, as the acceptable -ism?
It is outrageous that those of us who wish to protest against what we see as a fundamentally unjust war must be subjected to a barrage of slogans and speeches that are one-sidedly hostile to Israel. That is just as outrageous as some in the Jewish community claiming that our opposition to war makes us champions of Palestinian groups which use terror and violence against Israeli civilians.
There is a huge difference between criticism of Ariel Sharon's repressive treatment of the Palestinian people and a refusal to accept the fundamental legitimacy of Israel's existence. For years, those of us who want democratic rights for Palestinians have been dubbed "self-hating Jews" by right-wingers in the Jewish world. Now, some on the left insist that if we support human rights we must also uncritically support the violence of some Palestinian "freedom fighters" who make no secret of their desire to overthrow the Zionist enterprise.
That's why we recently created a new national organization supporting a "progressive middle path" that is both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian. We call for an end to the occupation, the creation of a Palestinian state and reparations for Palestinian refugees. But we also call for reparations for Jews who fled Arab states, and for Israel's admission into NATO--or some other equally powerful military alliance--to give the Jewish state genuine security.
The most painful thing has been watching other antiwar groups make unprincipled compromises with A.N.S.W.E.R. As a result, there is support on the left for self-determination for every group in the world except the Jewish people. Fellow progressive Jews, some anxious to speak at these rallies, have urged me to keep quiet about anti-Semitism on the left. After all, they say, stopping the war against Iraq is so much more important.
Why should we have to choose? Tikkun will be bringing thousands of our supporters to the demonstration Sunday. But just as we fought against the sexism and homophobia that once infected the left, we will challenge anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing on the left, even as we say "no" to a war with Iraq.
Rabbi Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine and www.tikkun.org, is the author of "Healing Israel/Palestine," to be published in July by North Atlantic Books. He is rabbi of the Beyt Tikkun synagogue in San Francisco.