A Jewish Voice for Peace responds to clash over Rabbi Lerner

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Thu Feb 13 16:43:40 MST 2003

Following are an exchange of letters from a leader of A Jewish Voice for
Peace and David McReynolds and aa statement from A Jewish voice for Peace
around the controversy that has followed the decision of the four coalitions
organizing the February 16 march in San  Francisco.

The incident has been used to revive the redbaiting campaign against the
antiwar movement, taking the form of denunciations of ANSWER, which has been
pursued for some time by various liberals and to which the pages of the
Nation magazine have been repatedly thrown open.  The campaign is
exclusionary -- it is aimed in fact at silencing the great majority in the
movement who have unconditionally to oppose the bombing, sanctions, and
planned invasion of Iraq.  Those disagreeing with them, favoring a more
partial and conditional criticism of administration policy,  have regularly
leveled charges of "anti-Americanism" against the movement for not agreeing
with them.  Now this brew is being spiced with false charges of

In his letter, McReynolds recognizes that things were more complex and less
"black and white" than he imagined. The Jewish Voices for Peace statement
explains that Lerner was not excluded for his views on Israel but because
"he had criticized one of the coalition  partners (ANSWER)." This was not a
stand taken by ANSWER alone.  Rather it was a political standard that all
four groups in the coalition  had  adopted: that noone who had criticized
one of the coalitions would speak.

McReynolds writes, however, that "I remain absolutely stunned at the
decision that no one who had criticized any of the sponsoring groups would
be an invited speaker.

Basically, I agree with David McReynolds on this one.  I believe that this
standard is a purely exclusionary political standard that has no place in
the selection process, and that lends itself to score-settling and
ingroupishness, and turns away from genuine inclusive (in the "mainstream"
of the population-- whose politics are much misunderstood and underestimated
by  Cooper, Gitlin, the Nation, and the like -- and out).

By stumbling -- probably out of completely justified opposition to and
outrage over the redbaiting campaign around  ANSWER -- into a form of
poltical exclusion, the four coalitions  have somewhat strengthened the hand
of the right-wing exclusionists who aim to disrupt and quiet down the whole
movement.  And why?  To prrotect the injured amour propre of one or more
participating coalitions or perhaps all of them?  Hardly worth the price.

The coalitioins cannot place themselves beyond criticism as a condition of
speaking at the rally.  It is reasonable to ask that factional attacks on
participants in the march be kept out of the rallies themselves -- not to
protect the not-all-that-thin skins of coalition leaders but to assure the
right antiwar and antigovernment spirit at the rally.  People should express
their varied views without denouncing other participants.  This is a modest
standard which should not exclude anybody (with  the possible exception of
the Spartacist League).

Lerner's criticism of ANSWER was directed at their  positon on the Middle
East -- thus creating the possibility that his exclusion would be construed
as based on this position.  He criticized the Workers World Party, the main
political force in ANSWER, as a "communist sect" which favored dismantling
the state of Israel.  I agree with Workers World rather than Lerner on this
point.  I think the Israeli state must be replaced by a democratic, secular,
unitary Palestine.  But Lerner has a perfect right to critiicize ANSWER or
Workers' World as sharply as he likes on this question, and they have a
right to respond in kind.  This should not disqualify hijm from speaking for
those in the antiwar movement who agree with him  on Feb . 16 or at any
other protest,

Just one historical reference.  Back in the early 1970s, a dispute
basically, as I remember,  over whether to  orient toward the developing
McGovern movement in Democratic Party electoral politics split the broad
antiwar coalition into two parts:  the National Peace Action Coalition and
the People's Coalition for Peace and Justice. The split was accompanied by
some pretty sharp disputes.  The two coalitions, however, united to build
some actions such as the April 24, 1971, protest in DC and the January 20,
1973, protest against the last and most massive wave of bombing of the
Democratic Republic of (north) Vietnam.  If we had adopted the standard
adopted in San  Francisco -- that noone who had publicly criticized either
coalition could speak -- there actually might not have been any speakers at
these events.

At any rate, great and powerful actions are upon us.  For now, we will have
to live with our mistakes.  But for future reference, let's learn from them.
Fred  Feldman

Letters from and to David McReynolds and the statement from A Jewish Voice
for Peace:
Thanks Bruce,
I will post this (and perhaps another post) which may confuse things but may
also encourage the folks at the Nation to slow down and refocus. Your post
confirms an off the record kind of note I'd had earlier suggesting things
were not so black and white.

I remain absolutely stunned at the decision that no one who had criticized
any of the sponsoring groups would be an invited speaker. But it now seems
this was not a condition laid down by ANSWER.

David McReynolds


 I thought you would like to know JVP's response to the Lerner flap.  Also
 you should now that Lerner thinks Israel should be offered membership in
 NATO.  The purpose would be to assuage Israeli fears. It sure would not
 assuage Arab fears or change Israel's life from the arms treadmill.  I can
 send some correspondence I had with Liat Weingart, the JVP contact below,
 when she was working for Tikkun or you can contact Tikkun.  I also
 understand this NATO business was written up in NYT recently.  Lerner is
 just ego-tripping.  There will be several specifically Jewish speakers at
 the rally.  So Lerner was simply not selected.  And if Tikkun is the major
 liberal Jewish magazine in the world, I am sorry for the Jewish people.
 However dynamic one confused and unreliable rabbi happens to be we should
 not easily toss around the charge of anti-Semitism.   --Bruce

 A Jewish Response to Rabbi Lerner Flap

 Rabbi Lerner has accused the peace movement of excluding him from speaking
 at the February 16 demonstration in San Francisco because of his views on
 Israel, and he has labeled the anti-war movement, "anti-war anti-semites."
 In our participation in the anti-war movement, A Jewish Voice for Peace has
 found that Jews have close and staunch allies in the movement.  We have
 found that our opinion is sought time and time again and that our stance in
 support for a truly just peace between Israelis and Palestinians and
 for Israeli human rights as well as Palestinians' been respected and
 represented in the speakers that have been chosen. At the upcoming
 demonstration, Mitchell Plitnick, Director of Administration and
 Communication for A Jewish Voice for Peace, will speak, along with Israeli
 refusenik Ofer Shorr, Kate Raphael from San Francisco Women in Black.  In
 addition, three rabbis with views similar to Rabbi Lerner's will speak at
 the February 16th demonstration, Rabbi Steven Pierce, Rabbi Pam
 Frydman-Baugh, and Rabbi David Cooper.

 Rabbi Lerner's views are welcomed in the coalition. He is an important
 spokesperson for the movement for peace and justice in Israel and
 But because he criticized one of the coalition partners, ANSWER, in the New
 York Times and over TikkunMail, the coalition, including the Tikkun
 representative present at the meeting, decided that we were capable of
 finding another speaker with views similar to his who did not openly attack
 a coalition partner.

 We stand in unity with Tikkun in calling for a joint Jewish anti-war,
 anti-occupation contingent. We stand in unity with the coalition of
 organizations who are sponsoring this march in opposing the attack on Iraq.
 We intend to continue working with both groups to oppose war on Iraq and to
 stand for the human rights and dignity of both Israelis and Palestinians.

 Director of Campaigns and Programs
 A Jewish Voice for Peace
 1611 Telegraph, Suite 500
 Oakland, CA 94612
 Phone: 510-465-1777
 Fax: 510-465-1616
 Email: liat at JewishVoiceForPeace.org
 Web: www.JewishVoiceForPeace.org

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