Postering Over Free Speech

Taking a position that does not endear him to the larger American Jewish community is not something unknown to Rabbi Michael Lerner, founding editor of Tikkun. He's used to provoking the status quo and the heat that can generate. He's not used to having his home and family threatened, however, because of his controversial and courageous positions. That's happened for the third time after Lerner's home was vandalized following Tikkun's 25th Anniversary Celebration which included a presentation of the Tikkun Award to South African Justice Richard Goldstone, a person who also took a courageous stand that has proven deeply unpopular in his own community.

A Tikkun press release explained what happened next:


Only one day after Rabbi Lerner presented the Tikkun Award to South African Justice Richard Goldstone, at a celebration of Tikkun's 25th Anniversary attended by over 600 people at the University of California, Berkeley, Rabbi Lerner's home was again assaulted by extremist Zionist haters who plastered posters over his home once again. This is the 3rd assault on his home since Lerner announced the award to Justice Goldstone whose report on Israel's human rights violations during the Israeli assault on Gaza in Dec. 2008 and Jan.2009 was denounced by the State of Israel and by the AIPAC-dominated House of Representatives last year. You would not have known about the 2nd attack, which was reported to the police but not to the media because Lerner had been advised that not giving the attackers attention might make future attacks less likely. That strategy failed.

Each time the posters have sought to display Lerner as either a tool of an evil Goldstone trying to hurt Israel. The current posters were done more professionally than the previous ones, and present a picture of Nazi officers carrying away a Jew. Lerner's name is put on one of the Nazis and "Islamic extremists" is written on the other Nazi, and the innocent Jew is identified as the State of Israel. The perspective of the attackers is clear: "Rabbi Lerner is a Nazi assaulting Israel." That is why the police have labeled this a "hate crime."

What "freedom of the press" is there if an editor is subject to this kind of personal harrassment for expressing his views in his editorials and in the gatherings sponsored by the magazine? Anyone concerned about civil liberties should be concerned about this pattern of attacks on the private home of a magazine editor. And for those who believe that there is a new tone of civility in the Jewish world, obviously has not impacted on right wing Zionist extremists. Please note, however, that we do not want to imply in any way that all Zionists are responsible directly or indirectly for this attack. The Zionist community in the U.S., while often demeaning Rabbi Lerner, has not shown any tendency toward violence or physical assaults on his person or property, and in our view would not likely do so. These have been the acts of a small group of extremists, and while the demeaning of Rabbi Lerner and Tikkun may have contributed to the climate in which these extremists believed they could get away with these assaults, there is no reason to believe, and we do not believe, that American Zionists as a whole either intended or approve of this kind of activity. And the Board of Rabbis of Northern California publicly critiqued the last attack on Rabbi Lerner's home as did other Jewish leaders.

Assaults on free speech are best met by encouraging more speech. The obvious goal of these attacks is to intimidate and silence Tikkun, and since Tikkun is the largest circulation liberal/progressive Jewish magazine on-line and in print in the entire world, silencing Tikkun would be a huge victory for these extremists. People can assure that Tikkun stays alive by subscribing to Tikkun at, joining Tikkun's interfaith education and social action organization The Network of Spiritual Progressives at, making a tax-deductible contribution to Tikkun (checks can be sent to Tikkun, 2342 Shattuck Ave #1200, Berkeley, Ca. 94704--our mailbox, not the actual address of the magazine's office), and/or creating a local study group to read and discuss Tikkun articles every week, every two weeks, or once a month. You can also read Tikkun-on-line by going to our new web magazine each week to read the latest articles. You can also support us by joining other organizations that seek peace and reconciliation between Israel and Palestine, including J. Street, Jewish Voices for Peace, Americans for Peace Now, The New Israel Fund and B'tselem.

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Juan Lino
8 years ago
As I noted in the comments I made in the previous post, I find this an incredibly dangerous form of censorship.  I may not agree with someone, but I will defend their right to express their opinion.  And in a "democratic society" they should be able to do so without endangering their loved ones.  Perhaps I am naive or an idealist but this seems to be tied up with the concept of the dignity of the human person.
Juan Lino
8 years ago
My bad - I think you are right.  I should have read it carefully instead of skimming it.  Thanks David.
8 years ago
Extremists on either side of the fence are obviously incapable of peripheral vision.  They are self-absorbed and incapable of placing themselves in others' shoes.  They only see what they want, and only those they deem safe and familiar.  Anything else contrary to their beliefs are taboo and dangerous and in their mind,  should be annihilated by any means.  Scary indeed. 
8 years ago
The Goldstone report was very controversial.  Why was he handpicked to make it.  Here is a comment at the UN by a British general on this report.

There seems to be a lot of distortions from the left on this.  And while none should have led to attacking Rabbi Lerner, one has to question why he made the award.  He was obviously seeking some sort of confrontation.  Goldstone as a judge in South Africa's apartheid government sent 28 black defendents to the gallows.  He is a low life and not one I would want to give credence to but Mr. Clarke has called his stand courageous.  A hanging judge of blacks in racist South Africa, courageous, when he shows his stripes.  A very peculiar assessment.  Also the identification with J Street should ring loud and clear.

Here are some other thoughts on Goldstone and his report
8 years ago
In fairness to Judge Goldstone, some have said he was only carrying out the law on the hangings and was not the presiding judge but and appeals judge who was essentially ruling on the law and not doing the actual sentencing
8 years ago
Have we no recollection as a society of the bruhaha that erupted over the evangelical pastor's intention to burn a Koran last year? The entire globe - from the President, Congress, Join Chiefs, universal media (domestic and foreign) outlets erupted in calls for him to NOT DO IT.

Why not?

Uh, well, because the Religion of Peace and its adherents don't take insults well. So we self-censor. It's a prudential judgment to avoid sparking a world war. We self-censor because doing such a thing is understood to be worse than yelling "fire" in a crowded theater. It'd be like calling Havoc and letting slip the dogs of war.... no holds barred savagery.

So what's the lesson here for free speech and courage under criticism?

The secular lesson seems to be one of basic kinetic calculations. If your 'speech' or published opinion displeases or angers a small or large group of human beings who aren't prone to deadly reaction, then it's 'brave, courageous, bold, cool...' thus we get the constant anti-Catholic or anti-conservative outrages de jour, all postured as though Hollywood or pop icons are taking some grave risks..... while we also see the same people fall over themselves to avoid offending other groups.

After all, if speech displeases folk (few or many) who have proven their readiness to hunt you down for murderous retribution....then such speech is 'foolhardy, wrong, an outrage, hatespeech', etc. and not at all 'bold, courageous, cool, etc.

Pretty far removed from "let your yes be yes and your No, no".

The Catholic response ought to avoid gratuitous insults as well as cowardice in the face of any small or great group of people who have proven themselves to be savages. We didn't go out of our way to pick fights with communists in the 1950s but neither did we self-censor our witness to the rights of people to freedom despite the murderous regime of Soviet Communism and the Eastern Bloc anti-religious codes. In the same way, today we must avoid gratuitous insults of Muslims (or Jews) without the extreme of ceasing to bear witness to certain universal human rights or the Gospel of Jesus who is all of our salvation. They may not like to hear the Good News, but it's good for them!
8 years ago
Mr. Clarke,

I have followed your posts with regard to Israel for over a year now.  They are so completely one side that one has to dismiss anything you say on the issue as you dig for anything that can make Israel look bad while ignoring what happens on the other side.  There are mountains of information on the restraint of the Israelis as emphasized by Colonel Kemp.  Is there any restraint on the part of the Arab organizations?  I haven't seen any.  Yes there are plenty of instances where the Israelis are far from perfect.  They are surrouded by people who want to remove them more than just physically but mortally.  

Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah are directly funded and sponsored by Iran and support terrorist activities to kill Jews.  The Palestinians are fed a constant diet of hatred of the Jews from infancy on up.  The Palestinians throw every road block possible to block a lasting peace.  All these are somehow over looked.  I have to ask why a Jesuit site promotes such a point of view.


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