Of Many Things

In the blackness of the early morning, vandals hit the rabbi’s home. Posters were affixed to the front door and the fence bordering the property declaring him a “terrorist” and “Islamofascist.” The vandalism followed hate mail and death threats, but according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (5/4), the police in Berkeley, Calif., are not treating it as a hate crime because the rabbi was being “attacked for his politics, not his religion.”

Rabbi Michael Lerner, the editor of Tikkun magazine and leader of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, had come under attack from right-wing Jews for his support of Judge Richard Goldstone, whose report to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, the attack on Gaza during December 2008 and January 2009, found both Israel and Hamas possibly guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.


Tikkun had announced that it would present Goldstone, a respected South African jurist who served with distinction as a prosecutor in both the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, with its 2011 Tikkun Award for his work on behalf of human rights and social justice. The vandals branded Rabbi Lerner as a “terrorist” because of his backing of Goldstone’s report. Though the report also found Hamas responsible, defenders of Israel regarded those who accepted the report’s criticisms as enemies because its assembled evidence pointed more emphatically to Israel.

Reaction to support for the Goldstone Report was swift and strong. During the first hour after America’s editorial “Siege Mentality” (10/5/09) appeared online supporting the report’s recommendation for U.N. action, our office received 25 angry calls. In South Africa, the rabbinic establishment sought to prevent Justice Goldstone from attending his own grandson’s bar mitzvah. Some of the complaints may have been fair, but they also appear to have been orchestrated. Planning for Operation Cast Lead is reported to have included an aggressive public relations campaign to deal with critics.

Rabbi Lerner and Judge Goldstone are Zionists. They believe in the dream of a Jewish homeland, as do I. Their fault is to believe that in its conduct of public policy and military affairs Israel should be a “light to the nations.” At the very least, it should adhere to the minimal demands of international law on civilian immunity in armed conflict. Goldstone’s and Lerner’s adversaries want to make Israel a standing exception to those common standards, so it can never be held accountable for the violence it does to others.

There is a growing movement among American Jews that sees an alternative for Israeli security in an end to occupation, in peace with the Palestinians, in justice at home and in responsible membership in the community of nations. In his recent book, Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land (Synergy Books, 2010), the psychologist Mark Braverman calls on Jews to examine the shadow side of Zionism and on Christians “to overcome their reluctance to question the actions of some Jews” in the interest of restoring the values of justice and compassion as fundamental to Israeli identity.

Support for such an alternative is growing among young American Jews in the boomer and millennial generations, writes M. J. Rosenberg, in his illuminating blog post “The Answer Is Jon Stewart” (5/7) at www.mediamattersaction.org. Jews under 60, he writes, “are not going to support Israeli policies designed to perpetuate an occupation by expelling Palestinians from their homes to make room for settlers.” He goes on, “But an Israel that establishes peace with the Palestinians, that brings the settlers home, that ends the tyranny of the Orthodox...will have their support. Their support, not their allegiance.”

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8 years 7 months ago

I was delighted to read that the courageous Judge Godstone was receiving an honor which he richly desrves.

I was even more delighted to read Father Christiansen illuminating article.  So often the media adds only heat, rather that light, to the Palestinian conflict. Father Christiansen's article added much needed light.

Many Jews are working fervently for peace with justice for the Palestinians.  However, they get little coverage in the media.  Hopefully we will read more about these dedicated Jews, and their work, in the pages of America.  Keep up the good work.

George Damasevitz
8 years 7 months ago
This is an interesting news report, but dated and available elsewhere. I subscribed to America Magazine in the hopes that the Catholic Church would show some evidence of supporting social justice issues, not just report on them. I thought I could look to the Church's academic and intellectual experts to illuminate a path out of the Middle East quagmire. I'm disappointed and sensing that for them to, peace in the Holy Land is still a quixotic dream.
Jeff Abood
8 years 7 months ago

On the contrary, America Magazine continues to shine a light where (unfortunately) most others fear to tread. Its good to read honest articles and commentary that don't bow to fear, or "political correctness" or politics, but to the truth.

David Smith
8 years 7 months ago

Virtue and vice depend on your point of view.  If you see Israel as a small democratic state under constant attack by much larger authoritarian states, it's hard to equate defensive violence with aggressive violence.  A bomb, in this case, is hardly a bomb.  But if you see Israel as a fascist tool of the capitalist West, I suppose things must look very different.

And if you think that it's no longer desirable that Israel continue to be a safe homeland for the world's Jews, then I suppose it must seem reasonable that the present Jewish leaders just stop trying to resist what must seem the march of historical inevitability and make peace with their enemies on whatever terms those enemies care to offer.


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