October 30, 2006
By MICHAEL LERNER
As the editor of the world’s largest circulation liberal Jewish magazine, Tikkun, I was not surprised to see myself being denounced in the pages of The Jerusalem Post. Having articulated in Tikkun a progressive middle path that is both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine – insisting that both sides have been insensitive to the humanity of the other, and that both sides can only achieve lasting security when they act in a spirit of openheartedness and non-violence to the other, I get death threats and denunciations from both sides.
Every day I get letters from leftists in the US denouncing me because I will not support a general program of disinvestment against Israel unless they include disinvestment from the much greater human rights violators in the world that include Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan, Egypt and of course the US in Iraq.
I was banned from speaking at the largest anti-war demonstration in 2003 after I denounced one of the organizing groups, International Answer, as anti-Semitic for the way that it unfairly criticized Israel. At the same time, I get letters from right-wingers telling me that my criticisms of Israeli policies make me a self-hating Jew or an ally of the enemy.
Alan Dershowitz is not new to the list of people who denounce me and Tikkun. Ever since I criticized him for succeeding in freeing the famous African American football sports hero O.J. Simpson after Simpson, a wife batterer, had murdered his white wife and then claimed that the prosecution was motivated by racism, Dershowitz has waged a personal vendetta against me.
So now Alan Dershowitz is at it again, twisting the truth, claiming that I’ve “gotten into bed with Hizbullah supporters.”
And for what? Did I support their attack this summer? No. Did I tell people we ought to understand Hizbullah? No. They are our enemies, but my stand is to always negotiate with one’s enemies.
I criticized Israel’s decision to conduct the war, predicting that it would neither free its captured soldiers nor enhance Israeli security. Today, months later, most Israelis agree with me.
FOR DERSHOWITZ my sin was that I sent out an e-mail that had many different articles in it, including one by a guy who argued that Dershowitz’ own arguments in favor of targeted assassinations might someday be used to justify (wrongly in the view of that author and in my view as well) assassination of the pro-violence lawyer.
Dershowitz called me an anti-Semitic rabbi in one of his books, and now claims that because of this, I’m “anti-Israel.”
How predictable. Yet Dershowitz’s newest book What Israel Means to Me contains an essay he solicited by, guess who, yes me, this allegedly anti-Semitic rabbi. Probably because someplace deep in his heart, Dershowitz knows that I am an honest person who loves Israel but disagrees with him on how best to keep it strong.
What Dershowitz didn’t tell Jerusalem Post readers is that I included in my e-mail transmission an explicit note reminding readers that we at Tikkun send out and print many articles with which we do not agree, warning our readership that our goal is to bring to their attention a range of views that they might not otherwise hear without claiming that these represent our perspectives.
In fact, I specifically disavowed any support for the perspective being sent out. Of course, had Dershowitz told you that, he couldn’t have succeeded in demeaning me in the way he sought to do.
That kind of fairness would have been a refreshing change for a writer who was once a champion of civil liberties but who has become one of the most detested figures in liberal American circles today because of his Bush-era writings justifying torture and assassination.
I’m happy to report that most of us, including the majority of American Jewish rabbis, reject Dershowitz’ arguments for such endeavors because they find them to be antithetical to the teachings of our tradition.
So perhaps, by including an essay of mine in What Israel Means to Me, Dershowitz wanted to show that he was coming back to his liberal roots by printing someone with whom he disagreed, recognizing that the Democrats may soon reassume power in the US and that the winds of political opportunism might, in the post-Bush era, make it disadvantageous to be identified with the most extreme positions of the Right.
I PLEAD with Alan: Let’s stop attacking each other in public. I did it in this selfdefensive letter here, responding to your similar attack on me last week, and I’d like to ask that we never attack each other personally again.
Argue against positions we hold, sure. Let’s agree to fairly represent what the other really thinks, avoid caricatures and criticize each other’s ideas rather than the intentions or decency of the other or impugn how loyal each other is to Judaism, Israel, the Jewish people or American ideals of decency.
We both have very large international constituencies and represent very opposite perspectives on many important issues. Let’s focus on our main task: not to delegitimize the other, but to argue for our own worldviews and our own vision of how best to serve God, Torah, Israel, the Jewish people, social justice and world peace.
The writer is editor of Tikkun magazine and author of The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right.