Lerner (presumably) speaks out

LouPaulsen LouPaulsen at attbi.com
Mon Feb 17 07:07:34 MST 2003


Here is a long article in Tikkunmail, which refers to Lerner in the third
person, so it may not have been written by him, but I would presume it would
have his approval.  In it, they boast of having gotten the anti-war message
into new venues, such as the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal and David
Horowitz's frontpagemag.org site, I suppose:

"Of course, the media has tried to use this to hurt the anti-war
movement. But we think we've been rather clever in being able to
use those media moments to articulate the anti-war message and to
make clear why people must demonstrate this weekend. In fact,
we've gotten into venues that allow us to get the anti-war message to
many people who have never heard it put so clearly. "

The article also confirms the joint statement of the four SF coalitions, and
undercuts the "ANSWER banned Lerner" story.  It makes clear - if you read to
the end - that the reason that Lerner issued his statements was not that
ANSWER 'banned' him or anything of the sort.  In fact, he was trying to
force the other three coalitions - UFPJ, BAUAW, and NION - to issue a
statement attacking ANSWER's "anti-semitism".  They refused his ultimatum,
so he used his weapon of mass distraction.

"After the Lehrer show, Lerner was informed by Tikkun's
representative on the UFPJ committee working on the demonstration
that his name had been brought up as a possible speaker by a
non-Tikkun person, but that others had squashed the suggestion
because they had entered into an agreement with ANSWER to not
allow any speakers who had publicly criticized any of the sponsoring

"Rabbi Lerner had never requested to speak. Despite recent attempts
to make it seem that his primary interest is promoting his own
appearance at these events, he has had no particular desire to
speak at these rallies because he feels that three minutes is not
enough time to give any sort of substantive talk. His primary concern
is to address anti-Semitism within the movement and to strengthen
the anti-war movement  in other ways as well so that it can more
effectively express the aspirations of the American people for a world
of peace and justice.

"In the next few days, Rabbi Lerner dedicated his efforts to trying to
mobilize people against the Iraq war and to countering publicly the
propaganda from Powell and Bush. But when Rabbi Lerner returned
 his attention to the demonstration, he wrote an op-ed critiquing
ANSWER, but also critiquing the willingness of the other groups
involved to accede to ANSWER's  conditions for work in coalition.

"Lerner asked the following questions: Should a movement that
professes a commitment to human rights, civil liberties, democratic
ideals and diversity allow for the suppression of dissent within its
own ranks?  ... Was it instead that the leadership of
these other organizations were going along with ANSWER because
 they didn't really feel that the issue of anti-Semitism in the movement
 was such a big deal, and that raising it would destroy organizational

"Well, that is the response that he got. Lerner was told that the
 organizations involved felt that having unity with ANSWER was so
hard-fought and such an accomplishment that it would not be worth it
 to challenge this agreement. Yes, Lerner was told privately, many of
the partners in this coalition had their own criticisms, but it was more
important to preserve unity." [...]

"But instead of embracing TIKKUN and seeking ways to
incorporate our perspective into the discussion, the rest of the anti-
war leadership has decided to circle the wagons around its support
for ANSWER, and to switch the entire discussion by claiming that the
only concern Rabbi Lerner had was to speak at this event. Others
have started a campaign of personal villification of Lerner--just as
the Right has done for the past sixteen years (because Lerner
remains the most prominent critic of Israeli policy toward
Palestinians in the Jewish world)." ...

"Would the whole matter have been dropped by TIKKUN had
these groups turned around and offered Rabbi Lerner an opportunity
to speak (which they never did)? Absolutely not.  Rabbi Lerner
responded to such suggestions by saying that he was not seeking to
speak, he was seeking to challenge the insensitivity to the problems
of anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing in the Left. The issue is not now
and has never been Michael Lerner and his role-it is about the
substantive ideas that Rabbi Lerner raises." ...

"So what would have been sufficient to quiet Lerner before the

"Lerner was asked that question and here was his response:

 "Let United for Peace and Justice and NION issue the following
 public statement:

"'We acknowledge that there has been in previous demonstrations an
 insensitivity to the issue of anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing.
Although we have decided to work with one of the groups [<----NOTE] that
contributed to that atmosphere in previous demonstrations, we
recognize that this is an important issue which deserves our public
attention. So we hereby commit ourselves to an intensive process of
internal education of our activists  and of dedicating serious attention
 at  our next mass rallies to educating the larger progressive
community about the need to challenge and combat all ways in
which legitimate criticism of Israeli treatment of Palestinians gets
presented in anti-Semitic or Israel-bashing ways. '"

"Variants of this statement were proposed to the leadership of the
anti-war rallies for the weekend of February 16th, and they
responded by saying 'No way can this happen. We feel it more
important to keep unity with ANSWER.'

"In that circumstance, Rabbi Lerner continued to voice his
criticisms, even though others were acting as though his real agenda
was to get to speak or to undermine the demonstrations."

Getting to the real issue, what is this 'anti-Semitism' of ANSWER?  It is
"hostility to Israel":

"a climate of hostility to Israel which can only be understood as a
manifestation of underlying anti-Semitism."

It is linking Iraq with Palestine:

"Criticisms of Israel are not inherently anti-Semitic, they become
anti-Semitic when raised in a context in which the topic is something else
(say, war against Iraq), but the only country in the world being critiqued
for human rights abuses is Israel."

It is also "racist" to do this:

"Singling out Israel in the context of a war rally about Iraq is racist. And
so too is calling for "self-determination" of all peoples in the world, but
not including the self-determination of the
Jewish people."

More on "objective anti-Semitism":

"Many of us who are fighting for a two-state solution were made to feel that
our association with this activity was being represented as support for this
anti-Israel hostility which was objectively anti-Semitic.  When asked
whether they supported the right for Israel to exist,
ANSWER's leadership said: "We should leave that to the people of the
region."  That, of course, is  code for "no," [...]

So, that's what Lerner says, or, to be precise, what Tikkunmail says.

This whole issue of the supposed "anti-Semitism" of discussing Palestine in
a demonstration against the war on Iraq deserves a separate, detailed
rebuttal.  And believe me, it will get one. Or more.  Lerner isn't the only
one who drags this in, either.  For another, Dave McReynolds of the SP
accused ANSWER of "subtle anti-semitism" in the flurry of e-mails that went
on during the Lerner affair.  This is for you, Dave:  I hereby give you
permission to forget about my earlier "open letter" which probably everyone
else has forgotten about anyway.  This is more important.  Are you prepared
to defend that very serious charge?  Are your arguments the same as

Lou Paulsen

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