Liberal activist urges Obama to 'reassure' both sides in conflict
by Robert Wiener
NJJN Staff Writer
April 30, 2009
Speaking in New Jersey, political activist Rabbi Michael Lerner
called on the Obama administration to "reassure both sides the
Israeli and the Palestinian people that we are not against either
of them so that both sides feel safe enough to make serious concessions."
The Newark-born founding editor of Tikkun magazine also urged fellow
liberals to challenge "those on the Left who would totally demean Israel."
Lerner said the Left's penchant for harsh criticism of Israel is "a
"It is a huge error to make it seem as though the Israeli people are
the worst human rights violators on the planet," said Lerner. "That
particularly is absurd coming from [critics in] the United States,
which has been involved in killing about 100 times as many people as
those who have been killed in the Israel-Palestine struggle."
Lerner spoke before several hundred members of NJ Peace Action on
Sunday at the Regency House in North Pompton Plains.
Often seen as a vocal Jewish critic of Israel's control of the West
Bank, Lerner delivered a talk that was evenhanded in apportioning
blame and urging accommodation on both sides.
Referring to the Israelis and Palestinians, Lerner said, "Both sides
have a legitimate history, and both sides have been irresponsibly
cruel to each other…. There needs to be a spirit of generosity, and
that spirit should come first from the most powerful country in the world."
NJ Peace Action calls for an end to nuclear proliferation and for
reducing military spending.
Asked by an audience member after his 40-minute speech how Israel's
government should deal with Hamas, Lerner said, "Israel does not need
the right to exist as a Jewish state acknowledged by Hamas. It is
enough for Hamas to acknowledge Israel's right to exist. We didn't
ask China to recognize the United States' right to exist as a
capitalist society. That wasn't our demand.
"You don't demand they accept your definition of yourself as the
precondition for conversation or negotiation."
Questioned about Iranian Prime Minister Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's denial
of the Holocaust, Lerner was vehement. Earlier this month he
contributed to Tikkun's website an angry denunciation of
"Not only is it totally ludicrous but it is extremely scary to Jews
who went through the Nazi period or know about the Nazi period to see
people like him saying that kind of lie and having others applauding
him. It would be great to start articulating in the liberal and
progressive world why that is wrong."
In an interview, as he autographed copies of his latest book, Healing
Israel/Palestine, for audience members, Lerner commented on the
potential for conflict between Obama and Israel's new prime minister,
Obama stands four-square for the creation of a Palestinian state,
while Netanyahu has declined to endorse the concept.
"What I would like to see is Obama stand up to Netanyahu and [Foreign
Minister Avigdor] Lieberman and insist on the end to the occupation
of the West Bank," said Lerner.
If Netanyahu were to launch a military attack on Iran, the rabbi
said, "it would be a disaster for Israel and for the world, because
Israel will get attacked back in a terrible way and further its
isolation in the world."
Prior to his pointed discussion of the Middle East, Lerner, religious
leader of a Jewish Renewal synagogue in Berkeley, Calif., urged his
audience to battle against "the right hand of God" representing the
conservative ideology of "domination and control" and support "the
left hand of God," a political philosophy of "love, caring, and generosity."
He said that after 100 days, the Obama administration needs to be
reminded of the president's commitment to a "politics of hope" that
many of his supporters feel he is abandoning.
"Homeland security can come from our caring for others, not our
domination of others," Lerner told the multiethnic audience in the
"Obviously we need to not be involved in a war in Iraq. Obviously we
need to not think that the way we are going to change homeland
security is to be sending our troops up the mountaintops in
Afghanistan to fight another crazy war."
He said the president "needs to break some promises," such as his
escalation of the war in Afghanistan.
"It's not that Obama is not a decent human being," he assured his
supportive audience. "This is one of the most decent and progressive
people we have ever had as president. But he does not have the
capacity to stand up by himself and challenge the worldview that
dominates American politics without a social movement pushing him in
"We are not doing him a favor by allowing him to capitulate to