Posted by Avi Davis
Pity Michael Lerner. The oft quoted far left rabbi from Berkeley, the famous avatar of the Clintonian Politics of Meaning, has been the victim lately of a vicious blow-back against his political positions - most particularly his embrace of South African jurist Richard Goldstone as well as his support for the U.S. imposition of a peace treaty upon Israel.
It has gotten so bad for the outspoken rabbi that vandals last week , according to a press release issued by Lerner’s organization, affixed posters to his door, attacking the man personally, and pillioring liberals and progressives as being supporters of terrorism and “Islamo-fascism.” They glued to his door a printed bumper sticker which sported the logo “fight terror—support Israel” next to a caricature of Judge Richard Goldstone, whose UN report on Israel’s human rights violations in its attack on Gaza last year has been denounced as anti-Semitic and pro-terror.
Lerner’s supporters around the world have declared the house’s defacement an act of fascist vandalism and evidence of a brooding hatred in the Jewish world. In particular, they have fingered the prolific pen of Alan Desrhsowitz, who in an opinion piece on April 28 in the Jerusalem Post called both Lerner and Goldstone to task for their anti-Israel stances.
Labeling Goldstone’s rabbinic supporters as ” Rabbis for Hamas”, Dershowitz explained:
“Not surprisingly, the worst of these rabbis (and that’s saying a lot), Michael Lerner, has decided to honor Richard Goldstone with Tikkun Magazine’s “Ethics Award.” I guess all it takes to be honored by Tikkun is to pass Lerner’s litmus test of lying about Israel. That’s Lerner’s definition of “ethics.” There are some good people on the advisory board of Tikkun Magazine. They now have an obligation to reconsider their membership unless they wish to be associated with a rabbi who is prepared to accuse Israel, in the absence of any evidence, of deliberately setting out to murder Palestinian civilians without any military purpose. “
Lerner supporters, in reflecting on the vandalism and provocations of Dershowitz and others, have also invoked the imagery of Night of Broken Glass in Germany - or Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938) when thousands of Jewish shop windows , synagogues and homes were destroyed in state sanctioned violence after a Jewish student shot to death a German diplomat in Paris.
Such a comparison, is, of course, absurd. Neither Dershowitz nor any other of the Lerner/ Goldstone critics are calling for the death of either man nor for the looting and sacking of their homes and injuring others. But the far left’s accusation is couched in language that they - and Michael Lerner and Richard Goldstone in particular - understand very well.
In the early 1970s, Lerner created an organization called the Seattle Liberation Front (SLF), which participated in numerous anti-war protests and at least one riot. During this period , SLF, the Black Student Union (BSU), and the violent terrorist group Weathermen (led by such luminaries as Bill Ayres and Bernadine Dohrn) collaborated to carry out a number of direct actions on university campuses. One day, SLF and BSU members—bearing pipes and clubs while shouting “Power to the people!” and “Smash the state!” - rampaged through several university buildings and, in some cases, roughed up innocent onlookers. Washington state attorney Slade Gorton, who later went on to become a U.S. Senator, described the tactics of Lerner’s SLF as “totally indistinguishable from fascism and Nazism.”
SLF’s most famous action was a February 17, 1970 demonstration at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Seattle, which escalated into a riot in which twenty individuals were injured. Lerner himself was one of the so-called “Seattle Seven,” charged in a federal trial with “conspiracy to incite a riot.” He spent several months in prison before the main charges against him eventually were dropped and he was released.
Richard Goldstone, on the other hand, has had his own brush with fascist tendencies. In the 1980s and 90s, before the collapse of Apartheid, Goldstone took an active part in the racist policies of the South African regime. During his tenure as sitting judge in the appellate court, he sentenced dozens of blacks mercilessly to their deaths. The Richard Goldstone of that day and age was a great enthusiast for capital punishment, torture and miscegenationist policies. He imposed and affirmed death sentences for more than two dozen blacks under circumstances where whites would almost certainly have been dealt with more leniently. He gave sentences of physical torture—euphemistically called “flogging”—for other blacks. He also facilitated miscegenation and other racist laws with no recorded word of criticism nor dissent. He therefore fulfilled an important role in the state apparatus that enforced racial subjugation in Apartheid South Africa.
Even today Goldstone expresses few regrets. ” It was the law of the land,” he says, without seeming to understand in the slightest that statement’s irony. After all, antisemitism was the law of land on the night of November 9, 1938, as well.
Fascistic outbursts, as Jonah Goldberg has brilliantly illustrated in his book Liberal Fascism, is not only a phenomenon of the right. Lerner, Goldberg and their supporters would therefore do well to investigate their own fascistic legacy before choosing to slap that label on to anyone else.
Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles. His blog entries and writings can be found at
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May 4, 2010 | 4:43 pm
Posted by Avi Davis
Last week, a full page advertisement appeared in seven major Jewish newspapers around the country. Placed by the self proclaimed Israeli advocacy institute J Street, it presented a letter from former leftist Meretz leader Yossi Sarid addressed to the Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel. Earlier Wiesel had published his own missive, in a number of major American newspapers, imploring President Barack Obama’s understanding of the Jewish attachment to Jerusalem and why another division of the city can never be contemplated.
“For Jerusalem, Jews, Christians and Muslims are able to build their homes anywhere in Jerusalem and that only under Israeli sovereignty has freedom of worship for all religions been assured in the city.”
Sarid counters that there is a tacit racism inherent in Israeli housing policy that allows Arab families to be evicted onto the street if it suits the occupying power. He also warns Wiesel, who is certainly no Jewish fundamentalist, to avoid placing too much emphasis on the Jewish people’s religious attachment to the city.
“ You, my dear friend, evoke the Jews’ biblical deed to Jerusalem, thereby imbuing our current conflict with messianic hues. As if our diplomatic quarrels weren’t enough, the worst of our enemies would be glad to dress this epic conflict in the garb of a holy war. We had better not join ranks with them, even if unintentionally.”
But Sarid goes much further than even this. In his admonition to Wiesel, he states baldly what no other Israeli leader has previously dared to plead:
“ Barack Obama appears well aware of his obligations to try to resolve the world’s ills, particularly ours here. Why then undercut him and tie his hands? On the contrary, let’s allow him to use his clout to save us from ourselves, to help both bruised and battered nations and free them from their prison. Then he can push both sides to divide the city into two capitals - to give Jewish areas to the Jews and Arab areas to the Arabs - and assign the Holy Basin to an agreed-on international authority.”
Here we have a frank admission - and condemnation - rolled into one. Sarid is saying that since the fractious Jews have proved themselves incapable of resolving their own problems with their contentious neighbors, they should resign themselves to their incompetence and willingly give up problem-solving to a benevolent omniscient being who has only their best interests at heart. Only He is capable of bringing the peace that all sides to the conflict crave.
Talk about Messianism.
The suggestion to involve an honest broker in the so-called “peace process” is nothing new. But the idea that the same outsider should be vested with the responsibility of imposing a solution on the question of the territorial boundaries of the State, smacks of contempt for Israel’s sovereign rights, as well as a rejection of the authority of its democratic government to make decisions for its citizens.
The letter from Sarid is a study is self delusion. Not only does he wish the Jewish people to eschew any historical/ religious attachment to Jerusalem ( not surprising from a guy who has described Judaism as “a primitivist cult” ) but he ignores completely the prolific spread of illegal Arab housing in East Jerusalem; the unwillingness of any Arab government in history to the ensure the inviolability of Jewish holy sites and the rampant demonization of Israel in Palestinian society - as sure a sign as any that a future State of Palestine will have no inclination to live in harmony with its Israeli neighbor.
Sarid also excoriates rich American benefactors for their support of a Jewish presence in East Jerusalem while ignoring the deliberate and consistent rejectionism of Arab governments who have used the Palestinians for close to a century as pawns in their own Middle East chess game.
I also have my problems with Wiesel’s letter –
“ Is there a solution? There must be, there will be.”
No, Mr.Wiesel, there is no solution. While Palestinians live in thrall to supremacist rhetoric; while their religious leaders repeatedly call for Jihad against the Jewish infidel and Palestinian leaders do not even accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, there is no solution – for these things take generations to change. In the meantime there remains a conflict that can only be managed.
Jerusalem, will, for the foreseeable future, remain at the core of this conflict. Israel’s self declared “pro-active friends” such as J Street, would be well advised to understand that any endorsement of a policy which promotes the surrender of the Jewish state’s sovereignty will do nothing to bring peace. Instead it will empower Palestinian rejectionism, the one great diplomatic skill these wards of the West have mastered throughout history.
Avi Davis is the president of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles. His writings and blog entries can be found at The Intermediate Zone and at the Los Angeles Jewish Journal blog On The Other Hand.
This article also appears in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal’s blog On The Other Hand
May 3, 2010 | 11:33 am
Posted by Avi Davis
If anyone in the mid-1880s had identified the young Viennese dandy, Theodor Herzl, as a likely savior of the Jewish people, he would have almost certainly been laughed off as a fantasist.
Herzl, born 150 years ago this week, was then a law school graduate whose facility for the German language had driven him towards journalism and the theater, with which he had a particular affinity.
His upbringing produced very little sign that he would become widely regarded as a great Jewish emancipator. His parents were thoroughly assimilated Jews and although they gave their son a bar mitzvah (which Herzl recorded as a confirmation), he grew up without a substantive knowledge of the Jewish religion nor its practices. In fact, prior to the first Zionist Congress in Basle in 1897, both he and Max Nordau could not follow the Sabbath services they had been invited to attend - their Hebrew language skills and familiarity with the Jewish prayer service being so limited.
While experiencing anti-semitism, first as a schoolboy and then as a university student, he had become accustomed to accepting, like many of his generation, that it would only be through a process of assimilation that Jews would finally be accepted within Austrian society.
His conversion from that view, to one in which he accepted and the creation of Jewish national homeland in Palestine itself was the only realistic solution to Jewish suffering , became one of the most consequential journeys of self discovery in modern history.
It began in France, where he was posted as a reporter for the Neue Freie Presse in the early 1890s. Here, he was certain, he would find nothing of the rabid hatred he had experienced in his own country, since the land of liberté, egalité and fraternité was sure to proscribe such an attitude. He was not only to be shocked to find that it did not, but was distressed to discover that the situation was even more dire than in Austria.
When, in 1895, Captain Alfred Dreyfus of the French army, was falsely accused of transferring national military secrets to the German High Command, the country was set aflame with a level of hysterical anti-Semitism that he had never before experienced. Major newspapers concocted the most vile accusations against Dreyfus and French Jews and key intellectuals took their side. He witnessed mass rallies in Paris following the Dreyfus trial where many chanted “Death to the Jews!”
Herzl thereafter came to reject his early ideas regarding Jewish emancipation and assimilation, and to believe that the Jews must remove themselves from Europe and create their own state. Despite the existence of a powerful lobby which fought for Dreyfus’ innocence, Herzl came to believe that the contagion of anti-Semitism could not be ever eliminated and that Jews would be subject to the torments of the anti-Semitic plague wherever they went.
To enshrine his ideas, Herzl published Der Judenstaat ( The Jewish State) in 1896 and an idealized view of the new nation in Alte Neue Land (Old New Land) in 1898. His drive for a political solution to anti-semtism attracted few adherents among the Jewish leaders of the Diaspora. Lord Rothschild in England refused to see him and even worse, made his refusal public. Baron Maurice de Hirsch, the French philanthropist who had for many years supported the development of Jewish settlements in Palestine, dismissed him as an ignorant theorist. Edmund de Rothschild in Paris , who ran nine existing small colonies in Palestine, thought that a political movement such as Herzl proposed would jeopardize his nascent project.
It was only among the poorer Jewish communities - of England, Poland and the Russian Pale of Settlement - that the nascent political movement of Zionism began to catch on with the force of a whirlwind. In London’s East End, when he addressed a Jewish audience at a synagogue, his reception was so rapturous that he began to understand the power of a grass roots movement and recorded in his diary that he watched as his own legend was spun to life . Future Zionist leaders such as Chaim Weizmann, then a university student and David Ben Gurion, then only 10, saw in the appearance of the man the harbinger of a Jewish renaissance.
One of the things that gave Herzl his power to attract supporters was his extraordinary appearance. Over six feet tall, with a stentorian voice, a shock of black hair, dark, piercing eyes and a flowing beard that reached to his chest, Herzl presented much the model of an ancient Jewish prophet - a commanding presence capable of awing Jewish peasants and European nobility alike.
Herzl also brought a decisive edge of drama to Zionist proceedings which was to have an impact on the development of the public realtions side of Jewish nationalism. He was determined that Jews dress the part of a people who deserved a state, insisting on a strict dress code at all meetings, which included starched shirts and expensive frock coats. He also urged the playing of bombastic Wagnerian music at the opening of the Zionist Congresses (the first of which took place in Basle, Switzerland in the late summer of 1897) and was given to dramatic flourishes in his speech.
The combination of these traits began to bear fruit. The English Rothschild moved from hostility to neutrality; British leaders, such as the powerful Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, was won over and began meeting with Herzl with some regularity.
Within a few years, he was being received by the monarchs of Europe including Wilhelm II of Germany and the Sultan of Turkey as well as the political leaders of Austria. He had gradually transformed himself, through sheer dint of will and perseverance, into an international celebrity.
It was a long way to come from the self centered dandy who had so cynically dismissed Judaism and observant Jews only a few years before.
But Herzl also made some very serious mistakes which have bedeviled the Zionist movement until this day. By launching a purely secular movement, unattached in any formal way to Judaism or Jewish teachings, he undercut one of the prime arguments of religious Zionists – that a return to Zion was mandated by Jewish law, inscribed and predicted in the Torah. He thereby delayed by decades the subscription of Orthodox Jewry to his cause and threatened a division in the Jewish world which took on a very vitriolic cast in Zionism’s early years. His willingness to accept Joseph Chamberlain’s offer of Uganda as a temporary solution to Jewish suffering, brought unprecedented condemnation down upon him and may, in some way, have contributed to his early death in 1904. It made many feel that he was not serious about his own Zionist ideas, an attack that must have been mortifying.
Yet in the light of the growth of the Zionist movement and the ultimate establishment of a Jewish state in the late 1940s, these are minor quibbles. Herzl, through his personal magnetism, the power of his pen and oratory , as well as his brilliance as an organizer, was able to marshal the resources of the Jewish world and funnel them into a nationalist movement that gave a goal and a purpose to a largely oppressed and unfocused people.
Today’s tea partiers and budding nationalist movements could learn a great deal from Herzl’s example. In only eight years, this Viennese journalist, with little political or diplomatic experience nor connections, was able to bring international attention to the plight of his people and the justice of their cause in securing a permanent national home. His name and image rightly festoons the Israeli currency, Jerusalem streets and Israeli cities. He left his people with a dramatic vision of a future that in 186o few of them could appreciate.
But even more than this he left them with a credo that has come to define Israeli perseverance and willingness to take risks - “Im tirzu ein zo aggada” - if you will it, it is no dream.”
In an age of deep cynicism, this is a rallying cry that should find resonance among Israelis and non-Israelis, Jews and gentiles, alike.