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Silencing Rabbi Michael Lerner

Loyal and talented Jewcy contributor and Faithhacker scribe Laurel Snyder posts in “The ‘New’ Jewish Antisemitism” an endorsement of the progressive rabbi of the Jewish community, Michael Lerner, and his crusade to highlight the “silencing of debate about Israeli policy” … Read More

By / March 2, 2007

Loyal and talented Jewcy contributor and Faithhacker scribe Laurel Snyder posts in “The ‘New’ Jewish Antisemitism” an endorsement of the progressive rabbi of the Jewish community, Michael Lerner, and his crusade to highlight the “silencing of debate about Israeli policy” exposed in a recent publicity blitz that includes prime time television spots and well-placed newspaper editorials. Some silence. Laurel’s endorsement – and those like it – only helps to further marginalize the Jewish religious left by perpetuating Lerner’s lousy leadership. Progressive politics in the Jewish community deserves a new representative. The justifiably-loathed Smarm King has made a cottage industry out of co-opting the fable of censorship in defense of his politics. Carrying with him the lessons learned during his 60’s anti-war days, Lerner understands that one of the best ways to engender support for a cause – or, say, transform pious, well-meaning peaceniks into unquestioning apparatchiks – is to evoke a Big Brother-like opposition sinisterly suppressing the truth. That such a thing doesn’t exist isn’t important; what matters is that it remains an effective tool of persuasion. The fact is debate about Israel is not being silenced on college campuses or anywhere else. On the contrary, there is no country more openly criticized, supported, or argued about than Israel. What campus could Laurel or Lerner be referring to that suppresses debate because of their Zionist agenda? I suspect the healthy handful of institutions that stir up campaigns for Israeli divestment on a near-annual basis are not among them. Nor could they possibly be referring to the field of Middle East Studies such as it is, peopled by tenured leftists and pervaded by an attitude that one would be hard-pressed to describe as pro-Israel (see Martin Kramer’s Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle East Studies in America). And really, how is any debate of any kind silenced these days? It’s not possible — especially with the young demographic in question, who are expertly skilled in exploiting all the new forms of participatory media to vent and dialogue and find information of any and all persuasions. Frankly, I’m amazed Lerner still has any credibility at all after being busted some years back for pseudonymously penning a few self-congratulatory letters to his own barely-read magazine, Tikkun. His letters included exquisitely swaying rhetoric, such as: "Your editorial stand said publicly what many of us are feeling privately but dare not say." Always the fearless prophet willing to speak the forbidden to the shadowy, censorious force of hawkish barbarians, so what if Lerner fibs a little here and there. So what if the Rabbi tends to make things up when it comes to popularizing and pushing his own agenda. The level to which Lerner will stoop isn’t as surprising as the failure of his imagination to create new and original fabrications over the years. The man sticks with what works. I will say, Laurel, that while the debate about Israeli policy is certainly not being silenced, it is marked by a uniquely dysfunctional quality that says more about the strange relationship between American Jews and Israel than it does about Israel’s political behavior. After all, what could be more strange than the fact that when you muddle through all the rhetoric and hype, the majority of American Jews and Israelis are in general agreement; we agree we want Israel to survive; we agree any eventual reconciliation between the two peoples necessitates a Palestinian state and even what the general parameters of what that state will look like; we agree that Israel’s action are, at times, unnecessarily forceful and have too often violated human rights. So many of us agree on so much that the extreme polarization of the debate seems strange. I tend to agree with Jeffrey Goldberg who says that American Jews view Israel as “a place of myth and hope and fantasy and crushing disappointment and embarrassment and pride, but it's not a real country populated by real people…” For that reason, Israel lends itself to serving as proxy for all the other real disagreements – religious, cultural, and otherwise – that the American Jewish community is confronting right now. That’s a whole lot of layers of obfuscation and the one thing we need more of right now is brutal and unblinking candor. We don’t need more tribal sentinels reflexively branding the mark of “self-hater” on every perceived dissenter and we don’t need indignant leftists masquerading as kumbaya-singing spiritual leaders who view their criticism of Israel as radical. In his book, The Left Hand of God, Lerner rightly complains that the “Left's hostility to religion is one of the main reasons people who otherwise might be involved with progressive politics get turned off." No, Mr. Lerner, it’s your hostility to truth that keeps me away. It's time to stop endorsing the Rabbi; it only encourages him to keep making things up.

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