LA Weekly: "Lerner... had not requested to speak"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Fri Feb 14 07:22:39 MST 2003

(Since Marc Cooper has a regular column in this newspaper which he has 
used to lambaste ANSWER, it is remarkable that they have published this 
piece that debunks the claims of Rabbi Lerner despite the usual canards 
about ANSWER being "extremist".)

LA Weekly
Furor in Frisco
Left takes up cause of rabbi who had criticized anti-war group
by Howard Blume

A SKIRMISH OVER THE SOUL of the peace movement — and not the looming war 
against Iraq — briefly took center stage just before the start of this 
weekend’s massive coast-to-coast peace rallies.

The salvo came from San Francisco, when progressive listservs reported 
that Rabbi Michael Lerner, a peace activist, had been "banned" from 
speaking at this Sunday’s rally in San Francisco because he is 
"pro-Israel." Pro-Israel, in this sense, means that Lerner supports 
Israel’s right to exist. Lerner, in fact, is such a noted critic of 
Israel’s right wing — and so approving of Palestinian statehood — that 
he is unwelcome in some Jewish circles.

The ban was purportedly the work of International ANSWER, an anti-war 
group whose intensity and organizational skills have made it a major 
player in the peace movement. Critics from the right and the left assail 
the group as extremist — and thus unfit and unable to lead an anti-war 
movement that, to be successful, must appeal to the suburban mainstream.

But the story that raged around the Internet was not precisely what 

The first version of events apparently came from Lerner and his Tikkun 
organization, which asserted that he’d been "blackballed and banned" by 

The Nation’s David Corn quickly took up the cause, pummeling ANSWER and 
telling online readers that Lerner was "the" progressive Jew. Marc 
Cooper, another member of The Nation’s brain trust as well as an L.A. 
Weekly senior editor, said in an e-mail: "It should also be noted that 
Lerner was one of the original signers of the Not in Our Name manifesto, 
but apparently that ain’t good enough for the commisars at ANSWER."

Cooper and Penn State professor Michael Berube circulated an online 
petition declaring that "We, the undersigned, protest ANSWER’s refusal 
to let Rabbi Lerner speak at this Sunday’s rally. At a time when the 
anti-war movement needs as broad a platform and as broad an appeal as 
possible, ANSWER has chosen instead to put the interests of sectarianism 
ahead of the interests of all those who oppose this foolish and 
unnecessary war. We believe this is a serious mistake, and that it 
exemplifies ANSWER’s unfitness to lead mass mobilizations against war in 
Iraq." An impressive list of left luminaries signed on.

Corn reminded readers that ANSWER’s leadership has included "socialists 
who call for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, who support 
Slobodan Milosevic and Kim Jong II, who oppose U.N. inspections in Iraq 
(claiming they are part of the planning for an invasion aimed at gaining 
control of Iraq’s oil fields), and who urge smashing Zionism." He also 
referenced a January 28 appearance by an ANSWER media coordinator who 
reportedly said, "I know that the ANSWER coalition would not have a 
pro-Israel speaker on its platform." Corn added that ANSWER would not 
return his call.

When the Weekly called ANSWER, which stands for Act Now To Stop War & 
End Racism, a foot soldier handed the phone directly to Richard Becker, 
an event organizer who talked at length.

Becker insisted that there was no Israel litmus test for speakers, and 
noted that the rally would include elected officials, labor leaders, 
Native Americans and veterans from recent American wars — culminating in 
an ecumenical service made up of Christian, Islamic, Jewish and Buddhist 
voices "at the very least."

He said that 250 people had requested to speak and that time limitations 
compelled organizers to limit the list to 50.

Lerner, he added, had not requested to speak.

Lerner acknowledged as much in an interview with the Weekly. Of course, 
that does not entirely absolve ANSWER, but it means that petitioners had 
taken on the quixotic mission of restoring a speaker who’d never asked 
to speak in the first place and who, as it happens, has a speaking 
engagement in Los Angeles this weekend.



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