The tangled question of anti-Semitism within the United States Left was highlighted this past February in a heated controversy between Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor and founder of TIKKUN, and the Marxist-Leninist anti-war group, A.N.S.W.E.R (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism). In what follows, I take no position on who was right or wrong in this particular case, nor about the behavior of A.N.S.W.E.R., though I might add that my own experience with the group in local antiwar activity does not support Lerner's characterization. My concern, rather, is with the definition of left anti-Semitism offered by Lerner in his email communications and in an op-ed article he wrote that appeared in The Wall Street Journal during the course of the controversy. I do not question Lerner's sincere and passionate desire to end the ravages of violence committed by both sides, nor his use of spiritual healing toward this goal. (In fact, I write a regular column for TIKKUN and have worked with Lerner over the years on many of these issues.) I do have a problem, however, with his political analysis, revealed here by his use of the notion of anti-Semitism, and with the means by which he proposes to identify this issue with the Left.
The notion of Left anti-Semitism is necessarily tied to the question of Israel and the logic of Zionism that animates it. Therefore the issues examined here cut to the very core of the choices we need to make about Israel/Palestine-choices that enter into the ambitious proposals recently launched as guidelines for the forthcoming Tikkun Community teach-in in Washington-and extend also widely beyond. We understand that anti-Semitism obscures the reality of what it is to be a Jew, and has enabled atrocities great and small to be committed upon the Jewish people. The question before us now is this: can a faulty critique of anti-Semitism obscure the reality of Israel, and thereby weaken the struggle against its violations of human rights?
For Lerner, anti-Semitism of the Left variety exists when: a) criticism of Israel's human rights violations is not evenly balanced with equivalent criticism of other human rights violators, whether they be Palestinian terrorists or other state terrorists; and b), when Israel's right to exist is denied. Here is a sample of his remarks on the subject, culled from his op-ed and listserv emails:
* The position "... the Tikkun Community have put forward is that the mobilizations have been run by a group called A.N.S.W.E.R., 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."
* "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? …