March 13, 2003
Anti-Semitism Taints Anti-War Movement
As Jews who question our nation's march to war in Iraq, we are deeply disturbed by events surrounding last month's massive protest demonstration in San Francisco.
Allegations that Rabbi Michael Lerner, a prominent peace activist and editor of Tikkun magazine, was asked not to speak at the rally because of his support for the State of Israel highlight the distressing existence of one-sided Israel-bashing and even out-and-out anti-Semitism in some quarters of the growing anti-war movement in this country.
Many American Jews who would otherwise join in questioning or opposing the Bush administration's war plans are staying away from demonstrations and other anti-war activities, because of the participation of some groups that, among other things, question Israel's right to exist and equate Zionism with racism. Certain of these groups also support dictators, such as Slobodan Milosevic and Kim Jung Il, and even oppose the presence of United Nations weapons inspectors currently at work in Iraq. These groups seem intent upon using burgeoning anti-war sentiments to promote their peculiar agendas and to claim that these radical positions have far more support than they actually do.
This is bad for the American left in general and for the anti-war movement in particular. Although these groups comprise a small part of the current anti-war movement, they are prominent in its leadership. Their involvement weakens the moral stature of all those who question the Bush administration's war plans.
This serves not only to make the anti-war movement an uncomfortable place for many Jews but also for millions of other Americans who want to support peace, but want no part of the other issues and slogans that these groups foist upon the anti-war movement. These groups, no matter how effective they have been in organizing against the war, must be confronted, condemned and isolated by others in the peace camp.
Certainly, coalition work is always complicated, and it always involves compromise. And of course, it is essential that the overarching goal of working for peace and protecting our democracy not be obfuscated by divisions within the peace camp. But we cannot sacrifice our integrity in the process of participating in the peace movement.
We must speak out against anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and bigotry anywhere we encounter them, especially in our own peace and justice community. We cannot accept a peace movement leadership that excludes outspoken opponents of the war because they are also supporters of Israel. Nor can we sit back and allow this leadership to silence those who speak out against intolerance and bigotry in the ranks of the peace camp.
The Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) is committed to its role as both a progressive voice in the Jewish community and a Jewish voice in the progressive community. Just as in the Jewish community we work to ensure that the countries we love -- the United States and Israel -- live up to the democratic and prophetic ideals upon which they were founded, so, too, in the progressive community do we work to ensure that an authentic Jewish voice is heard. And just as we often defend the right of caring critics of Israel to voice their opinions free from baseless charges of anti-Semitism, so, too, do we unhesitatingly confront hatred of Israel and anti-Semitism whenever and wherever we encounter it.
In Los Angeles, PJA's active involvement in the peace movement allows us to help prevent divisiveness and destructiveness from tainting the peace movement in our community. In particular, we have worked to ensure that rallies feature prominent Jewish speakers, who demonstrate by their presence that opposition to the war is in no way inconsistent with support for the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.
This is not an easy time to be a progressive Jew in America. The peace camp is sometimes an uncomfortable place for many of us to be right now. Nonetheless, we believe that if we abandon our involvement, we forfeit not only our ability to effectively protest the policies of the current administration but also the opportunity to prevent those with their own particular agendas from hijacking the peace movement.
We will continue to work against the Bush administration's march to war, while simultaneously working against the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel elements within the anti-war movement. We are pro-Israel and pro-peace. We are progressives and Jews. We cannot and will not walk away.
Daniel Sokatch is executive director and Douglas Mirell is president of the Progressive Jewish Alliance. They can be reached through the group's Web site, www.pjalliance.org.