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.”