I received a circular email from Michael Lerner of Tikkun Magazine with comments on the Rosenfeld controversy, asking me if I would “bring this to the attention of your community and to the media?” It represents more of the “they’re trying to gag us” complaint, with a particularly disturbing dual theme: as the title states: “there is no New Antisemitism” on the one hand, and the not-even implicit threat that not acting as he and his fellow progressives advocate — more concessions from Israel — will really lead to the new antisemitism. I think Michael’s thinking is seriously misguided, so I am fisking his piece below. I hope that Michael will respond.
There is no New Anti-Semitism
by Rabbi Michael Lerner
That’s quite a title. So since 2000, the outburst of virulent hostility to Israel, and beyond that to Jews, especially in Europe, unprecedented since the Holocaust is not “new”? But it does exist, no? Or has Michael been reading The Nation? Presumably we will immediately get evidence supporting the article’s title.
The N.Y. Times reported on January 31 about the most recent attempt by the American Jewish Community to conflate intense criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.
Alas no. No discussion of on what basis Lerner thinks this new Antisemitism is non-existent; apparently an assertion in the title is enough. Instead we get the opening chords of the claim that bad people are trying to silence criticism of Israel by calling them antisemites. At least Lerner’s concedes that it’s “intense” criticism (apparently his version of Judt’s “harsh” criticism).
This is the issue guys. Just when does “harsh, intense” criticism of Israel become irresponsible, especially when joined to a troubling silence about (or pro-forma denunciations of) Palestinian/Arab/Muslim behavior (suicide terrorism), attitudes (Judeophobia), and beliefs (paranoid conspiracy theories), far more vicious than anything Israel has mustered — including the delirious cutting edge of the new Antisemitism? Let’s address that, please, rather than claim you’re being conflated, smeared, or gagged.
In a neat little example of slippery slope, the report on “Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism” written by Alvin H. Rosenfeld moves from exposing the actual anti-Semitism of those who deny Israel’s right to exist—and hence deny to the Jewish people the same right to national self-determination that they grant to every other people on the planet (the anti-war group International Answer is a good example of that, though Rosenfeld doesn’t cite them)—to those who powerfully and consistently attack Israel’s policies toward Palestinians, see Israel as racist the way that it treats Israeli-Arabs (or even Sephardic Jews), or who analogize Israel’s policies to those of apartheid as instituted by South Africa.
I’d say that’s a poor if not misleading presentation of Rosenfeld’s essay. He has plenty of Jews (i.e., he doesn’t need to go after Ramsey Clark and International ANSWER), not only saying Israel shouldn’t exist, but that Israel is almost as bad as, as bad as, worse than the Nazis. And this comparison to the Nazis is precisely a key component of the “new anti-Semitism.”
Moreover, there is a direct connection between those Jews who make that kind of grotesque comparison — a kind of moral masochism to match the moral sadism of hostile outsiders who make that accusation — and other Jews who use violent prophetic rhetoric to accuse Israel of crimes that, given the behavior of other governments, peoples and nations, are ludicrously exaggerated. Nor is it a stretch to say that these Jews who are willing to compare Israel to the Nazis share in common certain traits with other Jews who “merely” use such inflated terms as racism and apartheid and genocide, who think that Israel was “born in sin” (unlike democratic Europe, for example), or should be turned into a single, bi-national state. They all share the same aggressive post-colonial paradigm, insisting on the most stringent Israeli obligations to Palestinian “human rights;” and they all participate in discussions where others involved — Saïd and his epigones — have no problem making the comparison to Nazis. And these Jews, whether or not they use the Nazi comparison or call explicitly for the destruction of Israel, all aim their remorseless moral indignation at Israel in a world drowning in human rights violations about which they have curiously little to say.
How can anyone but a moral perfectionist accuse his own people of “racism,” “apartheid” and [slow] “genocide” while there are real genocides (Sudan), real apartheid (Saudi Arabian gender and religious apartheid), and real racism (Arab slave trade)? There is definitely a connection here between the “prophetic perfectionists” who use such inflated language to chastize Israel — “I don’t care what anyone else does, it’s what Jews do that concerns me!” — and the anti-Semites who use the same language to defame Israel before an audience that doesn’t understand how inaccurate this inflated rhetoric of self-flagellation really is.
Indeed it’s the Moebius strip of cognitive egocentrism: earnest high-minded Jews get systematically manipulated by zealous haters. Demopaths and their dupes. Rosenfeld’s argument does not strike me as a “slippery slope” to “conflation,” but a serious warning which you, Michael, need to address.
What comes across from your defense (and Judt’s and Wolfe’s and Posluns’) is the covert message that it is unacceptable to direct severe and intense criticism at “progressive Jews” even as they feel free to criticize Israel as harshly as they want. Is that even-handed? Rosenfeld is talking about the slippery slope that takes Jews from moral outrage at the behavior of their “fellow Jews” to accusations that Israel is a racist, apartheid, fascist, even Nazi state, at a time when the forces of genocide and totalitarianism grow strong on these very accusations. Now isn’t that a slippery slope to watch out for? How long have you been going down its slopes? To judge from the rest of this essay, I’d say far too long.
The Anti-Defamation League sponsored a conference on this same topic in San Francisco on Jan.28, conspicuously failing to invite Tikkun, Jewish Voices for Peace and Brit Tzedeck ve Shalom, the three major Jewish voices critiquing Israeli policy yet also strong supporters of Israel’s security.
I’m not going to get into the details of this snub by the ADL or the nature of these “progressive” organizations. I will, however, say that it’s something of shock to hear that the latter are “strong supporters of Israel’s security.” On the contrary, I would have thought that people who lobby Washington to force Israel to make more concessions on the basis of the profound belief that it will make the Palestinians more peaceable, no matter how counter-indicated such a move is, especially after the lessons of this summer, while they may think they’re helping, cannot seriously claim to be concerned primarily (or even secondarily) with Israel’s security. On the contrary, they think Israel should gamble its short-term security for a long-shot at long-term peace . And to frame that wild leap of fantasy as a solid concern for Israel’s security strikes me as misleading at best.
Meanwhile, the media has been abuzz with stories of Jews denouncing former President Jimmy Carter for his book Palestine: Peace or Apartheid. The same charges of anti-Semitism that have consistently been launched against anyone who criticizes Israeli policy is now being launched against the one American leader who managed to create a lasting (albeit cold) peace between Israel and a major Arab state (Egypt). Instead of seriously engaging with the issues raised (e.g. to what extent are Israel’s current policies similar to those of apartheid and to what extent are they not?) the Jewish establishment and media responds by attacking the people who raise these or any other critiques–shifting the discourse to the legitimacy of the messenger and thus avoiding the substance of the criticisms. Knowing this, many people become fearful that they too will be labeled “anti-Semitic” if they question the wisdom of Israeli policies or if they seek to organize politically to challenge those policies.
I don’t know what Michael Lerner spends his time reading, but I’ve seen lots of substantive critiques of Carter’s book (maybe he doesn’t go to CAMERA), as well as of the grotesquely applied apartheid analogy. Now I know that to some — apparently Lerner? — the analogy works. But if apartheid is your concern — legal systems rendering populations inferior before the law — then why is Saudi Arabia a legitimate state or Islam a legitimate state religion? Why are the apartheid tendencies of Palestinian culture — people who make life miserable for Christian Arabs and insist on a Judenrein state for themselves before they have it — not a matter of highest concern? How can responsible Jews call for Israeli Jews to share a state with the Palestinians when they can’t even live with each other? Why the shrill moral denunciations of Israel, while they are at war with some pretty nasty neighbors, for not living up to standards few do even in a state of peace, and none do in the Middle East?
Yet there is nothing “new” about this or about this alleged anti-Semitism that these mainstream Jewish voices seek to reveal. From the moment I started Tikkun Magazine twenty years ago as “the liberal alternative to Commentary and the voices of Jewish conservatism and spiritual deadness in the organized Jewish community” our magazine has been attacked in much of the organized Jewish community as “self-hating Jews” (though our editorial advisory board contains some of the most creative Jewish theologians, rabbis, Israeli peace activist and committed fighters for social justice).
Once again, Lerner asserts his claim, “nothing ‘new’ about… this alleged anti-Semitism.” Alleged? Is he saying that this isn’t happening around the world, and at levels not seen since in sixty years? Is a book published in March 2000, entitled The Death of American Anti-semitism, just a bit jarring? Didn’t you yourself warn about anti-Semitism on the Left all the way back in 2003?
Instead of addressing such issues, Lerner turns immediately to his own struggles getting Tikkun. And I do think that describing the political place of Tikkun as a liberal alternative to Commentary, when there were plenty of those (virtually the entire range of Jewish publications are “liberal”), is naive at best, dishonest at worst. Like Patricia Cohen’s article, this is once again trying to claim the label “liberal” when, from the beginning, Tikkun reveled in giving voice to radicals, including people like Joel Kovel, who claims the mantle of a radical revolutionary. And unless one understands the revolutionary logic that underlies much of this non-liberal thinking, one can’t understand — can’t fathom — how people with this agenda could use liberal notions like “human rights” in ways destructive of the very phenomenon it invokes.
The reason? We believe that Israeli policy toward Palestinians, manifested most dramatically in the Occupation of the West Bank for what will soon be forty years and in the refusal of Israel to take any moral responsibility for its part in the creation of the Arab refugee problem, is immoral, irrational, self-destructive, a violation of the highest values of the Jewish people, and a serious impediment to world peace.
This is the classic PCP logic of Oslo. It’s the logic that permitted so many well-intentioned liberals to gag any warnings of the fact that the Palestinians never saw Oslo as a “peace process,” but as a Trojan Horse?
And after the horse was taken in, the warriors came out, and a new stage of the war declared in October 2000, we get no reconsideration, no self-criticism from the earnest beleivers in concessions and confessions, and apologies? Just more of the same. Should we have to take seriously voices that we first heard in the 1990s, so discredited by subsequent events? Isn’t there more serious thinking going on in those circles. Or is this classic post-apocalyptic cognitive dissonance: “We can’t have been wrong! We were just wrong about the timing. We’ll do it again. This time, you’ll see. It’ll work.”
Imbedded in this list of reproaches to Israel, we find, I think, the key to the moral distortion that characterizes Jewish hyper-“self-criticism” of Israel: a violation of the highest values of the Jewish people. This is Lerner’s overriding concern, his Jewish moral perfectionism. Let the rest of the world stew in Jihadi hatreds that he encourages with his verbal incontinence in lashing Israel with the whip of his prophetic critique. Nothing will stop him from denouncing Jews even getting close to “apartheid.” So what if places like Brazil and India have grotesque imbalances between their elites and their commoners. Israel must be vastly better, or he’ll denounce her to anyone who will listen. That others don’t understand what he’s up to, and some of the nastiest among them start ranting about Israeli sins against mankind, is not the issue for him. Moral purity overrides all.
And hence, the rest of Lerner’s adjectives — irrational, self-destructive, and a serious impediment to world peace — just possibly best describe the behavior of the “progressive left.” That’s Rosenfeld’s contention, I think, and certainly mine.
What the Jewish establishment organizations have done is to make invisible the strong roots in Judaism for a different kind of policy. The most frequently repeated injunction in Torah are variations of the following command: “Do not oppress the stranger (the ‘other’). Remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Instead, the Jewish establishment has turned Judaism into a cheer-leading religion for a particular national state that has a lot of Jews, but has seriously lost sight of the Jewish values which early Zionists hoped would find realization there.
Well there is also the biblical phrase, “a time for peace, a time for war.” And if you pursue the generous concessions of peace in time of war, you may be walking out in your bathing suit into a blizzard. Are you so sure of your path, so sure of the response from the Palestinians, that you can council such a dangerous gamble so aggressively? And how can you be so willing to do terrible damage to Israel’s image in the eyes of the world, in your dogged pursuit of so arrestingly simple-minded a strategy?
You wouldn’t know from Lerner’s comments that Zionists have expended Herculean efforts, many inspired by the same ideals mentioned here, to find a peaceful solution. (On one level, one might argue the whole nation embarked on a collective delusion with the Oslo Peace Process, hoping that concessions would bring peace. Even I hoped. But now?)
Now Oslo has run aground on the rocky shoals of Jihad.
You wouldn’t know that the remorseless, primitive, tribal violence (that now also haunts Europe and the rest of the world) has forced the Israelis to resort to both offensive and defensive measures that virtually every Israeli wishes they did not have to employ. You wouldn’t know that, between the Palestinians and their Arab/Muslim peer group and the Israelis a vast gap exists in which the former yearn for peace and the latter — at least the leaders, and most of the brainwashed population, especially the alpha males — yearn for a war that will avenge their lost honor. And that, having been raised with an addiction to violence, when they can’t kill Israelis, they kill each other.
Not something that would interest the MSM. No, it would be racist to point out such invidious stuff, and patronizing to suggest that this people needs tutelage, perhaps a long one, before they are ready for statehood. (Especially in a world where Israeli sins are sufficient to have the privilege taken away.)
This aggressive insistence on PCP long after it has backfired is pure Masochistic Omnipotence Syndrome: It’s our fault, we must do more, then everything will be alright.
(It’s not coincidental that I first recognized this syndrome while writing at Michael Lerner’s invitation in Tikkun in 2003 a response to Joel Kovel’s formal declaration of anti-Zionism). Kovel was writing in response to the decision by International ANSWER to ban Lerner from participating in an “anti-war” rally because Lerner believed — inexcusably — that Israel had a right to exist. Kovel wasn’t interested in mediating the dispute, but he did have a bone to pick with Lerner, who had had the nerve, in his own self defense, to identify worrisome elements of anti-Semitism appearing on the Left.
This particular demonstration from which Lerner was excluded was also famous for one of the more delirious products of “left anti-semitism.”
“Anti-War” Rally in San Francisco, February 16, 2003).
And that demonstration participated in a world wide wave of “peace demonstrations” organized by radical left and Islamist movements, working from the model laid out at Durban, to claim the mantle of the ’60s peace movement and mobilize the generation. It marks, among other things, the point at which Nick Cohen woke up.
The impact of the silencing of debate about Israeli policy on Jewish life has been devastating. We at Tikkun are constantly encountering young Jews who say that they can no longer identify with their Jewishness, because they have been told that their own intuitive revulsion at watching the Israeli settlers with IDF support violate the human rights of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank or their own questioning of Israel’s right to occupy the West Bank are proof that they are “self-hating Jews.” The Jewish world is driving away its own young.
And how many are responding to the images that they, like their Muslim brethren, see on their TV screens? And those images, which turn previously “moderate” Muslims into Jihadis, and previously secular intellectuals into supersessionist Christian Judeophobes, determined to dismantle the criminal state of Israel, also turn unsuspecting liberal Jews into troubled and self-disliking anti-Zionists. (This is not to say that Israelis are sinless and don’t cause the Palestinians suffering. It’s the sense of proportion that seems to be utterly lacking in the “progressive” critique.)
Who wins in this battle where Pallywood images inform the West precisely the inverse of what’s really going on, and the press can turn the ghoulish scenes from Qana into an orgy of Israel recrimination? Certainly not liberal forces of civil society. Certainly not any ability to brake the headlong drive of an allegedly great and noble religion into its darkest corners, its savage desires to conquer and dominate the world in the name of Allah. And, in this particular Jewish corner of this vast canvas of unraveling civil society (Europe), preparation to avoid the fate of Europe, whatever happens (Anglophone world), tribal massacres (Africa and Asia) and life-and-death resistance (Israel), we have people like Michael Lerner, who continue to insist that we pursue the logic of Oslo in the name of a moral Zionism, into the vortex of battle. And then he complains, that when people tell him to be careful about what he says, they’re trying to silence a perfectly legitimate discourse.
But the most destructive impact of this new Jewish Political Correctness is on American foreign policy debates. We at Tikkun have been involved in trying to create a liberal alternative to AIPAC and the other Israel-can-do-no-wrong voices in American politics. When we talk to Congressional representatives who are liberal or even extremely progressive on every other issue, they tell us privately that they are afraid to speak out about the way Israeli policies are destructive to the best interests of the United States or the best interests of world peace—lest they too be labeled anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. If it can happen to Jimmy Carter, some of them told me recently, a man with impeccable moral credentials, then no one is really politically safe.
I find this a very revealing paragraph. I can imagine both the strategy (go for the progressives), the discourse (we’re reasonable, the other Zionist organizations are “Israel-can-do-no-wrong” types who are not working in the best interest of mankind), the Washington “no” (we’d love to help you but, our hands are tied), and the complicit conclusion (we’ll work together to stop that too-powerful lobby from destoying America). So when the political interlocutor speaks of Carter’s impeccable moral credentials, Lerner apparently neither knows of Carter’s deeply problematic ties to Arab oil and the dictatorial types with whom he somehow gets on quite well, nor, if he does, would he dream of mentioning that.
No, his political agenda overrides any commitment to informing his political interlocutor of relevant information that might undermine that agenda. I’m not sure I’d call that reliable. If anyone is selling America down the European primrose path to submission, it’s people like Carter. Shouldn’t our elected officials be brought up to date on what a profoundly troubling dossier this man presents?
When this bubble of repression of dialogue explodes into open resentment at the way Jewish Political correctness has been imposed, it may really yield a “new” anti-Semitism.
Wow. So if I understand correctly, Rabbi Lerner: There is no new antisemitism… yet. What has devoured the Arab and Muslim world, the explosion of increasingly high-tech media renderings of the worst of pre-Holocaust Europe, now with a global and Islamic twist that makes it at once powerful and terrifying, is not something new or alarming. But there may be some (“real”?) anti-semitism coming, when America wakes up to how Israel and her choir have betrayed America (an attitude he is, by the way, encouraging with his lobbying).
In other words, when Rabbi Lerner should be introspecting deeply on how he could have gotten Oslo so wrong six years and running since it blew up in all our faces and launched the latest and most terrifying stage of global Jihad, he’s busy pushing a continuation of that disastrous policy of further Israeli concession on the American government. And if that means branding pro-Israel lobbies as enemies of the true interests of the United States, and indirectly contributing to the growth of anti-Semitism in the USA, then that’s just a price we’ll all have to pay.
To prevent that, the voices of dissent on Israeli policy must be given the same national exposure in the media and American politics that the voices of the Jewish establishment have been given.
So you Jews had better tame your increasingly rogue mainline NGOs, and as a sign of good faith, you need to give us — the “sane,” “progressive” alternative — equal time. I hope, Michael, that you can understand that at least some of the people who have a sense of what we’re dealing with here — that “alleged” New Antisemitism — might think you reckless in your intellectual and practical directions, and might want to warn the Jewish community that you may well have stepped down one of the most dangerous and attractive slippery slopes of our era — high-minded appeasement of the dark forces of Jihad.
We hope that the creation of our INTEFAITH Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP at www.spiritualprogressives.org) can provide a safe context for this kind of discussion among the many Christians, Muslims, Unitarians, Hindus, Buddhists and secular-but-not-religious people who share some of the criticisms of Israel and who will eventually try to challenge the kind of anti-Semitism that might be released against Jews once the resentment about Jewish Political Correctness on Israel does explode.
Again, wow! So this coming, “real” antisemitism in America will be explosive. And you’re creating a religious network of high-minded and spiritual souls who will protect the Jewish people from the hatred they, in their misguided patriotism for Israel, brought upon themselves. I sure hope that in those high-minded circles, the Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Jews, Unitarians, etc, are giving the Muslims — who are surely univocally declaring Islam a “Religion of Peace” — a very hard time about how they can draw primary inspiration from a sacred text that so readily inpires great hatred and great violence?
But somehow, I doubt it. Because if a real discussion took place there, in which the most spiritual Muslims around — committed to God’s sovreignty, not Islam’s — were forced to confront the profound hatred and violence that Muslims around the world justify with their sacred texts and their traditions, then maybe you could really help. Maybe you could help contribute to what the world needs more than anything right now — a form of Islam that is resistant to anti-Semitism, that can live in peace with its neighbors, that’s ready for the global community of the 21st century. Then you, Rabbi Lerner and your friends at the cutting edge of Western spirituality, might be able to promise us not “protection for Jews when the coming explosion occurs,” but protection for all of us from a Jihadi Islam whose vicious hatemongering and delirious paranoia make the new anti-Semitism so explosive.
Even better if we could succeed in creating a powerful alternative to AIPAC. Unfortunately, that path is not so easy. When we approached some of the Israel peace groups to form an alliance with us to build the alternative to AIPAC we found that the hold of the Jewish Establishment was so powerful that it had managed to seep into the brains of people in organizations like Americans for Peace Now (NOT the Israeli group Peace Now which has been very courageous), Brit Tzedeck ve’Shalom and the Israel Policy Forum or the Religious Action Center of the Reform movement–and as a result these peace voices are continually fearful that they will be “discredited” if they align with each other and with us to create this alternative to AIPAC. Meanwhile, while they look over their right shoulders fearfully, the very people that they fear will “discredit” them for aligning with each other and with us are ALREADY discrediting them as much as they possibly can.
Okay, we have Lerner’s definition of manliness. It’s taking your policies — based on the latest innovations in moral perfection — into a suicidal battle no matter how many people tell you this is not a good idea. This is the logic of millennial revolutionaries, from the Cattle-Killing Xhosa to the terrorists Robespierre and Lenin. We’re not far from the politics of the Life of Brian, except it’s not a joke. Lerner may not be a formal “anti-Zionist,” but “objectively, he’s pretty damn close. For someone with the spiritual insights of the author of Jewish Renewal to become to unwitting tool of such dark forces, is nothing short of a tragedy.