There is no New Anti-Semitism
The N.Y. Times reported on January 31 about the most recent attempt by the American Jewish Community to conflate intense
criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. In a neat little example of slippery slope, the report on "Progressive Jewish
Thought and the New Anti-Semitism" written by Alvin H. Rosenfeld moves from exposing the actual anti-Semitism of those
who deny Israel's right to exist—and hence deny to the Jewish people the same right to national self-determination that
they grant to every other people on the planet (the anti-war group International Answer is a good example of that,
though Rosenfeld doesn't cite them)—to those who powerfully and consistently attack Israel's policies toward
Palestinians, see Israel as racist the way that it treats Israeli-Arabs (or even Sephardic Jews), or who analogize
Israel's policies to those of apartheid as instituted by South Africa.
The Anti-Defamation League sponsored a conference on this same topic in San Francisco on Jan.28, conspicuously failing
to invite Tikkun, Jewish Voices for Peace and Brit Tzedeck ve Shalom, the three major Jewish voices critiquing Israeli
policy yet also strong supporters of Israel's security.
Meanwhile, the media has been abuzz with stories of Jews denouncing former President Jimmy Carter for his book
Palestine: Peace or Apartheid. The same charges of anti-Semitism that have consistently been launched against anyone who
criticizes Israeli policy is now being launched against the one American leader who managed to create a lasting (albeit
cold) peace between Israel and a major Arab state (Egypt). Instead of seriously engaging with the issues raised (e.g. to
what extent are Israel's current policies similar to those of apartehid and to what extent are they not?) the Jewish
establishment and media responds by attacking the people who raise these or any other critiques--shifting the discourse
to the legitimacy of the messenger and thus avoiding the substance of the criticisms. Knowing this, many people become
fearful that they too will be labeled "anti-Semitic" if they question the wisdom of Israeli policies or if they seek to
organize politically to challenge those policies.
Yet there is nothing "new" about this or about this alleged anti-Semitism that these mainstream Jewish voices seek to
reveal. From the moment I started Tikkun Magazine twenty years ago as "the liberal alternative to Commentary and the
voices of Jewish conservatism and spiritual deadness in the organized Jewish community" our magazine has been attacked
in much of the organized Jewish community as "self-hating Jews" (though our editorial advisory board contains some of
the most creative Jewish theologians, rabbis, Israeli peace activist and committed fighters for social justice). The
reason? We believe that Israeli policy toward Palestinians, manifested most dramatically in the Occupation of the West
Bank for what will soon be forty years and in the refusal of Israel to take any moral responsibility for its part in the
creation of the Arab refugee problem, is immoral, irrational, self-destructive, a violation of the highest values of the
Jewish people, and a serious impediment to world peace.
What the Jewish establishment organizations have done is to make invisible the strong roots in Judaism for a different
kind of policy. The most frequently repeated injunction in Torah are variations of the following command: "Do not
oppress the stranger (the 'other'). Remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Instead, the Jewish
establishment has turned Judaism into a cheer-leading religion for a particular national state that has a lot of Jews,
but has seriously lost site of the Jewish values which early Zionists hoped would find realization there.
The impact of the silencing of debate about Israeli policy on Jewish life has been devastating. We at Tikkun are
constantly encountering young Jews who say that they can no longer identify with their Jewishness, because they have
been told that their own intuitive revulsion at watching the Israeli settlers with IDF support violate the human rights
of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank or their own questioning of Israel's right to occupy the West Bank are proof
that they are "self-hating Jews." The Jewish world is driving away its own young.
But the most destructive impact of this new Jewish Political Correctness is on American foreign policy debates. We at
Tikkun have been involved in trying to create a liberal alternative to AIPAC and the other Israel-can-do-no-wrong voices
in American politics. When we talk to Congressional representatives who are liberal or even extremely progressive on
every other issue, they tell us privately that they are afraid to speak out about the way Israeli policies are
destructive to the best interests of the United States or the best interests of world peace—lest they too be labeled
anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. If it can happen to Jimmy Carter, some of them told me recently, a man with impeccable
moral credentials, then no one is really politically safe.
When this bubble of repression of dialogue explodes into open resentment at the way Jewish Political correctness has
been imposed, it may really yield a "new" anti-Semitism. To prevent that, the voices of dissent on Israeli policy must
be given the same national exposure in the media and American politics that the voices of the Jewish establishment have
We hope that the creation of our INTEFAITH Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP at www.spiritualprogressives.org) can
provide a safe context for this kind of discussion among the many Christians, Muslims, Unitarians, Hindus, Buddhists and
secular-but-not-religious people who share some of the criticisms of Israel and who will eventually try to challenge the
kind of anti-Semitism that might be released against Jews once the resentment about Jewish Political Correctness on
Israel does explode. Even better if we could succeed in creating a powerful alternative to AIPAC. Unfortunately, that
path is not so easy. When we approached some of the Israel peace groups to form an alliance with us to build the
alternative to AIPAC we found that the hold of the Jewish Establishment was so powerful that it had managed to seep into
the brains of people in organizations like Americans for Peace Now (NOT the Israeli group Peace Now which has been very
courageous), Brit Tzedeck ve'Shalom and the Israel Policy Forum or the Religious Action Center of the Reform
movement--and as a result these peace voices are continually fearful that they will be "discredited" if they align with
each other and with us to create this alternative to AIPAC. Meanwhile, while they look over their right shoulders
fearfully, the very people that they fear will "discredit" them for aligning with each other and with us are ALREADY
discrediting them as much as they possibly can.
Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun ( www.tikkun.org
), author of the 2006 NY Times best-seller The Left Hand of God (Harper San Francisco), and national chair of the
Network of Spiritual Progressives ( www.spiritualprogressives.org
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