new Counterpunch article on "Lernergate"

John M Cox coxj at
Fri Feb 14 16:22:22 MST 2003


February 14, 2003

None of this Helps Kids in Iraq, But It Sure Got Michael Lerner Air Time
By CounterPunch News Service

The story begins when Michael Lerner demands 15 minutes, a larger chunk
than other scheduled speakers, to speak at the January 18 antiwar march in
San Francisco. The organizers, IAC-ANSWER decline to give him the extended

Michael Lerner put out a letter on the internet in which he wrote that the
position "... the Tikkun community have put forward is that the
mobilizations have been run by a group called ANSWER, itself dominated by
a communist sect group which is filled with hate toward Israel and wishes
to see it dismantled. It has used anti-war demonstrations to demean Israel
and to picture the war in Iraq as a war for Israeli interests. "

Of course speakers at peace demonstrations have denounced the appalling
conduct of the Sharon government towards Palestinians. And many have noted
that Sharon and before him Netanyahu have been pressing for a US attack on
Iraq, which would indeed vastly benefit Israel.

Feb. 10: Lerner's Tikkun website announced that "Rabbi Michael Lerner can
not speak at the peace rally in San Francisco, February 16th. That was the
response given when various groups proposed Rabbi Lerner, thinking it
logical to have him speak since he is one of the most prominent peace
voices in the Jewish world.

"But Rabbi Lerner was blackballed and banned by A.N.S.W.E.R., one of the
four organizing committees for the S.F. demonstration expected to attract
hundreds of thousands. The reason: Lerner had been critical of the way
that A.N.S.W.E.R. has used the anti-war demonstrations to put forward
anti-Israel propaganda...."

Feb. 10: An article appear on the Nation magazine website by its
Washington correspondent David Corn, which coincided with Lerner's
announcement and echoed his accusations, charging that "the peaceniks
pulling together the San Francisco march and rally may have tainted their
efforts by allowing the banning of Rabbi Michael Lerner as a speaker."
"Lerner is the progressive Jew," Corn wrote.

David Corn earlier wrote in the Nation website a disgusting piece of
red-baiting about ANSWER, as had another Nation writer, Marc Cooper.

Feb. 11: A call for a national Tikkun Conference against the war went out
to Tikkun's mailing list in the morning that made no specific mention of
his disagreements with the February 16th coalition, which said, in part:

"The war with Iraq and the re-election of Ariel Sharon make it imperative
that we become mobilized for nonviolent peaceful activity--and to promote
a more sophisticated (and not tinged with anti-Israel sentiments) critique
of the war, and a balanced, progressive middle path that is both
pro-Israel and pro-Palestine on the Middle East.

"The large anti-war coalitions are a step, but they need the kind of help
that you and I can give them by bringing into public discourse and into
the media the more nuanced and persuasive perspective which you and I can

"To do that, we need to recognize what is legitimate in the fears of many
Americans post 9/11 and what is legitimate in the fears of many Israelis
about terror from some Palestinians...".

"Nuanced" essentially means, Keep Israel's name out of this.

Feb. 11: The Tikkun website announced that it had "received ...[a] letter
from Marc Cooper at The Nation magazine..[who] has taken the lead in
organizing a public response to the irresponsible actions of those who
have sought to keep Rabbi Lerner from speaking at the anti- war
demonstration in SF this weekend."

It reads, in part, that, "We, the undersigned, protest ANSWER's refusal to
let Rabbi Lerner speak at this Sunday's rally. At a time when the antiwar
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.'

The letter contains the signatures of many media activists, including at
least a dozen who write for The Nation.

Feb 11: The letter co-authored by Cooper and Michael Berube, professor of
American literature at Penn State, is posted on the Common Dreams website
and on David Horowitz's Front Page website, under the heading, Peace
Demonstration Bares its Anti-Semitic Teeth, by The Nation and Tikkun
Magazines." On February 7, Berube participated in forum on the anti-war
movement, hosted by Horowitz for his website. His fellow panelists were
regular red-baiters Sean Wilentz, of Princeton, and Ron Radosh, of the
Hudson Instititute

The trap is sprung by a coalition of people who have either slandered the
existing peace movement (Cooper, Berube et al) and straightforward
Bombardiers for Bush, like Horowitz, with whom Cooper and Berube appear to
beentirely comfortable. The protest letter is signed by many people , such
as the well respected Howard Zinn, who have spared themselves the
convenience of raising even the mildest bleat about the oppression of
Palkestinians down the decades.

Feb. 11: A four-part mailing is sent out by Tikkun that contains: "I.
Banning of Lerner--background; II. Op-ed by Rabbi Lerner (that will appear
two days later in the Wall Street Journal; III. Article [by Corn] from The about Banning of Lerner; IV. Letter Being Circulated Nationally
by The Nation (sic) protesting the banning of Lerner from speaking at the
anti-war rally."

So now Lerner has found his podium in the the most fervent advocate of war
among all US newspapers, the Wall Street Journal.

Feb. 11: The February 16th organizing coalition (Bay Area United Against

War, Not in Our Name Project, International A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, and
United for Peace & Justice) issued a statement refuting Lerner's
allegations, explaining that it was not Lerner's politics but his prior
public criticism of A.N.S.W.E.R. that led to him not being asked to speak.
According to the statement:

"One of the first agreements that was made between the groups organizing
the Feb. 16 anti-war protest was that none of the coalitions would propose
rally speakers who had publicly attacked or worked to discredit one of the
coalition groups. When members of the Tikkun Community, who have actively
participated in the organizing meetings for Feb. 16, suggested to Bay Area
United for Peace and Justice that it propose Michael Lerner as a speaker,
it was explained by members of UPJ that since he had publicly attacked
A.N.S.W.E.R. in both the New York Times and Tikkun community email
newsletters, his inclusion in the program would violate the agreement
among the Feb. 16 organizing groups. At that time, Tikkun representatives
expressed that it would not be a problem if Michael Lerner was not
proposed as a speaker."

The gullible organizers failed to see the trap being baited, right before
their very eyes.

Feb. 11 Lerner is interviewed on Pacifica stations KPFK and KPFA.

Feb. 12 An article appears on the front page of the San Francisco
Chronicle, with the headline, "A Mideast rift in peace coalition; S.F.
rabbi highlights speaker controversy. It reads, in part:

"A controversy over efforts to have a Bay Area Jewish leader address
Sunday's anti-war rally in San Francisco is raising a politically
radioactive issue that a coalition of groups putting on the event had
hoped to avoid -- the peace movement's attitude toward Israel and the

Feb. 12 Liat Weingart from A Jewish Voice for Peace in Berkeley writes:

"Rabbi Lerner was not banned at all from speaking. A Jewish Voice for
Peace is having a speaker at the same demonstration, and two other rabbis

San Francisco are also speaking. Marisa Handler, a representative from
Tikkun, was present at the meeting of United for Peace where it was
decided that Michael would not speak. She was asked three times if she was
comfortable having someone else speak, and she said that she was, again
and again. A week passed after this meeting, without incident, and then
Michael decided to send a press release, stating that he was banned
because of his views. This is patently false and has been tremendously
destructive. We have been overloaded with trying to right this wrong, and
it has distracted us from our work of organizing for this Sunday's
demonstration. I urge you to please set the record straight."

Feb 12: Michael Lerner sends out a response to emails he has received
criticizing his position, accusing the left of anti-Semitism. He writes,
in part that:

"The progressive world has never seriously considered how anti-Semitism
functions in their thinking. That's why it comes as a shock to many
morally decent people on the Left to hear that many Jews hear their
criticisms of Israel as anti-Semitic. So they defend themselves by
insisting that criticism of Israeli is not anti-Semitic. And they are
partly right.

"But context is everything. It's not the fact of criticizing Israel, but
the one-sidedness and the selecting out of Israel for special focus. We in
the TIKKUN Community have been outspoken critics of Israeli repression of
Palestinian rights. But we've also been outspoken in our criticism of acts
of terror against Israeli civilians. We've called for Palestinians to
reject all forms of violence and follow the lead of Martin Luther King,
Jr. and Gandhi, whose struggles against oppression were successful in part
because they conveyed to the oppressor that the oppressed still recognized
their humanity and hence would not take acts of cruel revenge the moment
they could. It was that same spirit that made possible the transformation
of South Africa under the leadership of Nelson Mandela. Acts of terror, on
the other hand, drive the Israeli population into the hands of the most
right-wing forces in Israeli society. So if one attends a rally in which
Israel is being critiqued without this larger context, the feeling of
bashing Israel becomes predominant.

"And then, if Israel's human rights abuses are selected out as the major
focus, only reserving more abuse for the U.S. government, then we have to
ask: Why is there such silence at these demonstrations about the far
greater human rights abuses of Saddam Hussein? Or of China in Tibet? or of
Russian in Chechnya? or of the regimes in Saudia Arabia and Syria and
Egypt and dozens of other states?

"The selective focus on Israel, coupled with the unfair way that the
situation is portrayed (e.g. "Israeli apartheid" --apparently with no
awareness that Arabs living within the pre-67 borders of Israel have their
own political parties and representatives in the Knesset, are not legally
restricted from being on the same beaches and same movie theatres as Jews,
and face discrimination that is far less intense than, say, the
discrimination that Jews face in Saudi Arabia)."

So far as CounterPunch is aware, Russia, China and Arab nations are not
pressing the US into attacking Iraq.

Feb. 12: Lerner's op-ed article, now titled The Anti-War Anti-Semites is
published in the Wall Street Journal.

Feb 13: The Jewish Voice for Peace newsletter responds to the situation.

It reads, in part:

"A frenzy has been whipped up around the issue of whether or not Rabbi
Michael Lerner will speak at the upcoming demonstration in San Francisco,
taking place on Sunday, February 16. The accusation that the anti-war
movement does not incorporate Jewish voices is a serious one, one that
deserves a serious response.

"At A Jewish Voice for Peace, we have found close and staunch allies in
the anti-war coalition. 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 respect for Israeli human rights as well as
Palestinians' has been respected and represented in the speakers that have
been chosen. At the upcoming demonstration, Mitchell Plitnick, Director of
Administration and Communication for JVP, will speak, along with Israeli
refusenik Ofer Shorr, and Kate Raphael from San Francisco Women in Black,
Rabbi Steven Pierce, Rabbi Pam Frydman-Baugh, and Rabbi David Cooper. This
represents a broad spectrum of Jewish anti-war views.

"Rabbi Lerner's views are welcomed in the coalition. He is an important
spokesperson for the movement for peace and justice in Israel and
Palestine. It was because he criticized one of the coalition partners,
ANSWER, in the New York Times and over TikkunMail, that 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. Therefore the question of Rabbi
Lerner speaking was never even brought before the coalition's program
committee. The proviso that anyone who had taken such action would not be
welcomed to speak can be debated, but it was agreed to well in advance by
all members of this coalition.

Feb. 13: KRON-TV in San Francisco gives Lerner a five minute segment to
criticize International A.N.S.W.E.R. without any rebuttal.

For CounterPunch's position on whether Lerner should speak, click here.

John Cox
Chapel Hill, NC

This Week in History:
Feb. 12, 1831 beginning of Nat Turner's slave rebellion, Virginia
Feb. 14, 1817 Frederick Douglass born
Feb. 16, 1933 repeal of 18th Amendment (Prohibition)
Feb. 17, 1909 Apache leader Geronimo dies as POW
Feb. 17, 1982 Thelonius Monk dies
Feb. 18, 1943 internment camps for Japanese-Americans established
Feb. 21, 1965 Malcolm X assassinated, NYC

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