The Green Line…

The Green Line…

Amherst, Mass.


Amherst, Mass.

I thank Philip Green for “‘Anti-Semitism,’ Israel and the Left” [May 5]. It was refreshing to see what I have long felt but not been eloquent enough to express. I will send a copy to my grandmother, hoping now she’ll see that it’s not that I hate Israel or my heritage but that I don’t exculpate myself, my people or my government when pointing a finger at what is wrong.


San Francisco

If Philip Green had thought to ask Rabbi Lerner a few simple questions before writing, he might have learned that none of the traditional categories he lays out to confirm or deny the anti-Semitism charge fit the accusation Rabbi Lerner made. One who states, as Dr. Green does, that “anti-Semitism–the real thing…had (and has) nothing to do with Israel or Zionism,” merely turns the “crude equation” on its head, implying that no criticism of Israel can ever be anti-Semitic. Green searches the forest of the history of anti-Semitism but misses the trees at the February 16 protest in San Francisco.

Many workers and volunteers for ANSWER, the major rally organizer, sported T-shirts declaring, “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea,” clearly referring to a Palestinian state covering all Israel, or the end of the Jewish state. ANSWER’s position on Israel’s right to exist is this evasion: “ANSWER supports the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.”

Rabbi Lerner has never claimed that criticism of Israel is necessarily anti-Semitic. Even allusions to his use of this “crude equation” are ludicrous. In fact, he and Tikkun magazine have been the most outspoken Jewish critics of Israel’s policies for the past twenty years and have consistently defended from charges of anti-Semitism those who critique Israeli policy. It was only when members of the Tikkun Community (recklessly labeled anti-Semites themselves for criticism of Israel) complained about feeling excluded from ANSWER-sponsored rallies that Rabbi Lerner spoke out. He never claimed that ANSWER was anti-Semitic for excluding him from speaking but only for the way it conducted these rallies. Green’s closing analogy must therefore be altered to fit the facts. He states, “We do not think political attacks on France imply hatred of French people.” But what if these “political attacks” questioned the right of a French nation to exist (a sentiment much closer to the aims of those Rabbi Lerner spoke out against)? The analogy breaks down and the hatred is clear.

Anti-Semitism arguments aside, it is astonishing to hear a Nation editorial board member speaking as though it were 100 percent legitimate to exclude from a rally presenting itself as “the antiwar movement” a speaker critical of one of its organizers. It is a sad comment on the left when we can no longer see the perversity in the ways ANSWER ran its rallies, or how destructive its exclusion of Lerner was to the credibility of all who opposed the war. If the left is to be a movement describing a more just, inclusive and caring society, it must overcome its fear of debate and criticism and seek to embody the ideals it aims to spread.

Media editor, Tikkun Community

Cambridge, Mass.

I’d add a sidebar to Philip Green’s citation of Eric Hobsbawm’s argument that “the first duty of a Jewish intellectual is to oppose Jewish nationalism; just as…the first duty of a Jewish-American intellectual is to oppose American nationalism–or both nationalisms, for those who identify equally strongly as American and Jewish.” There are grassroots Jewish peace groups doing exactly that. We–like the peace groups within Israel with whom we are allied–may not (yet) represent the majority opinion of our respective Jewish populations, but we are active, growing and not about to go away. Within the US movement, we insist the Israeli government withdraw all forces and settlements behind the Green Line (or an alternative) and that an independent Palestinian state be allowed to form under UN auspices. Some of us demand that our government stop military aid to Israel until withdrawal is achieved. We wish to demonstrate that opposing the criminal, militarist policies of the Israeli government should not be equated with anti-Semitism, any more than the movements against US wars in Vietnam, Central America or Iraq implied anti-Americanism.

Visions of Peace With Justice in Israel/Palestine;

New Haven, Conn.

My experience organizing an antiwar rally in New Haven in February showed me anti-Semitism on the left does exist. One speaker turned out to have links to a Holocaust-denial website and to have been co-editor of a site that endorsed suicide bombing and featured a list titled, “Ten Reasons Why It’s Kosher to Kill Israeli Jews.”

Such positions, fortunately, are still unusual. But consider this position, far more common on the left: that Israel does not simply have reprehensible policies but is fundamentally a criminal and terrorist state that should not, and should never have, existed. According to this view, of all nationalisms, Jewish nationalism is uniquely evil; and of all states, the Jewish state is illegitimate. This position, which ignores centuries of Jewish persecution, exile and, finally, genocide, seems very close to old-fashioned hatred of Jews as Jews. It is certainly possible to criticize Israel’s actions and policies and not be anti-Semitic. But there are those on the left and in the antiwar movement who go beyond such legitimate, necessary criticisms.


Potrero, Calif.

Philip Green is correct that Michael Lerner and his defenders have not been able to give a single example of ANSWER’s alleged anti-Semitism. But many members of the International ANSWER coalition do not accept Israel’s right to exist, and for Lerner this denial of Israel’s legitimacy “can only be understood as…underlying anti-Semitism.” Curiously, Lerner is far more honest than the typical Israel supporter and has acknowledged that the Zionists stole the land from the Palestinians. But he justifies that theft as “affirmative action” for Jews.

Many in ANSWER find his arguments laughable. They do not believe that returning 22 percent of the Palestinian homeland so it can become a nominal state represents justice or, more important, that Likud or Labor intends to return any of that stolen land. ANSWER’s solution? The one the South African racist state was forced to embrace: the formation of an egalitarian nation with all inhabitants–Muslims, Jews, Christians, everyone–guaranteed the same rights. Does that mean the dissolution of the Jewish state of Israel? Yes, it sure does. Count me as one American Jew who says the sooner the better. And if that makes me an anti-Semite in Michael Lerner’s eyes, so be it.


New Rochelle, NY

Philip Green misses the reason liberal-to-moderate American Jews have lost patience with the left: The left’s culpability lies not with its overt actions but with its inaction against those who truly are anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist. Countless campus and political activities here and abroad have been openly anti-Israel as well as anti-Semitic. The left has been silent.

Despite Green’s contentions that many Jews are not pro-Israel’s government, most Jews are fiercely pro-Israel. We also are pro-peace. But we are not blind to history or to the fact that the PA and Arafat are corrupt. Israel is our home as much as the United States is, and we recognize that Hamas, Hezbollah, Fatah and the PFLP must be stopped. The left is silent or apologist.

Thus, American Jews, myself included, have been forced to conclude that the left is not interested in distinguishing between critiquing Israel’s government and being anti-Semitic. While I don’t believe that most leftists are anti-Semitic, I also don’t believe they give a damn about the Israeli and American-Jewish side of the conflict. Thus, rightly or wrongly, the left has come to be seen as anti-Semitic and pro-Arab. Earn our trust back–we want to be with you!



Philip Green goes astray when he denies that Israel occupies “an exceptional place on the left’s political hit list,” or, if it does, that this is due to Israel’s place at the center of US imperial enterprises. For decades, Israel has been the linchpin in the schema of both left and right and in the unlikely consensus of interests in both the Christian and Muslim worlds, which all depend on Fortress Israel to inspire or intimidate their constituencies.

That Israel has also served as the obsession for so many leftist groups is a result of a similar consensus that has persisted since Stalin’s time. Historically, elements of the left have defended thugs and dictators who cloaked themselves in leftist rhetoric. Apologizing for Stalin or Mao or Pol Pot derailed international social justice movements for decades. Likewise, the antiwar movement, like its immediate antecedent, the antiglobalization movement, has lost much to its inability to get over the Israel question. Romanticization of Arab violence against Israelis has cost many left movements moral currency. The failure to stand against violence–whether of soldiers in tanks and jets or suicidal zealots–means the left cannot use its most valuable tactic: nonviolence, by which Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. brought progressive change to billions. The Israeli-Palestinian crisis should teach us that violence offers no solution. The left should offer a real alternative: peace, coexistence and tolerance.



New York City

Apparently I fell asleep and woke up in a parallel universe in which I’m suffering from early Alzheimer’s and wrote a bizarre article of which I have no memory. Alternatively, I’m still in my original universe, but in it a serious magazine like Tikkun has an obsequious shlemiel (OS) as its “media editor.” I guess “media” doesn’t include books, those things you have to read and understand the words therein. So these remarks are addressed not to him, but to Nation readers who have better things to do than reread my article (which would put them two ahead of the “media editor”). In any event, Michael Lerner’s views about Israel, some of which I happen to share, are of no intrinsic interest to anyone but Lernerites, and I didn’t write about either them or him. As it happens, he wrote (using very clear words, so no need to call up and ask him what they meant) a shabby, self-serving piece in the February 12 online Wall Street Journal, in which he purported to discuss “left-wing anti-Semitism,” but adduced as evidence only instances of either “Israel-bashing” or Lerner-bashing. I politely refrained from explaining how the latter might be justified. As to the former, I can only tiresomely repeat that although the world is full of people who are both anti-Semites and anti-Israel, the one is neither necessarily an instance of, nor identical with, the other. Even exaggerated, unjust, wrongheaded or malicious instances of Israel-bashing are not evidence of anti-Semitism. They may lead one to suspect its existence, but one verifies the suspicion by looking for anti-Semitic expressions or actions. To keep piling up more and more instances of “Israel-bashing” in pursuit of this goal is just to be chasing one’s own tail; it shows an ignorance of how to reason logically and, coincidentally, has the effect of conjuring up more anti-Semites than may actually exist. We already have quite enough.

As for ANSWER, I have no desire to speak for it (see Steve Kowit’s letter). But I will say I’m tired of the libel, which keeps going round and round, about “questioning the right of [Israel] to exist.” Questioning the right of the current state to exist as such, yes; but the change to a different kind of state that various people (ANSWER included) desire, even at its most extreme, could be accomplished by the Knesset in five minutes without a shot being fired or a single Jew being discriminated against, let alone killed.

One final point: OS seems to think that to acquit the Bay Area Coalition of “anti-Semitism” in the disinvitation of Michael Lerner is to “legitimate” their action. I guess he lives in the sad, narrow universe in which everything is either “good for the Jews” or “bad for the Jews” and can be judged on no other criterion.

I don’t know about the cases James Berger speaks of, as he provides only one detail (which suggests imbecility more than bad faith), but I’m sure there is anti-Semitism on the left, as there is everywhere there are non-Jews. What I argued, though, is that among the large segment of the American left that is unsympathetic to Israel or its policies, I see no evidence that this tends to translate into anti-Semitism; nor is it in any important respect the same thing (though the same people may hold both beliefs). Several responses attempt to refute this argument by invoking a “double standard” operating against Israel. Thus Ethan Michaeli charges that “the left” has been soft on the violence of national liberation and Communism, even while condemning Israeli nationalism and violence. The accusation is not without merit–I would myself plead guilty to “softness” on the Algerian FLN, for example. However, although leftists may have been mistaken in our support of wars of national liberation, there is no double standard involved, for the simple reason that from a non-Zionist standpoint, Israel’s origins lie in a war not of liberation but of conquest. Israel was the colonizer, not the colonized; it expelled not settlers but inhabitants. I must confess that as a young socialist, despite being deeply moved by Ruth Gruber’s account of the voyage of the Exodus, I still looked on the events in Palestine about the way I looked on the Russian invasion of Finland seven years before. Yes, survivors of the Holocaust should have been admitted to Britain and America without limit or question; that did not happen because of anti-Semitism endemic in both societies and was a great crime. But the one place on earth it was a tragic disaster for displaced Jews to settle, by force, was Palestine. Only a determination to live with the Palestinians as equals, rather than dominate and displace them, could have (perhaps) generated a tolerable outcome. There are all sorts of reasons, some most understandable, why that determination was not made, but history can’t be rewritten and is often unforgiving. And appending “anti-Semitism” to every criticism, valid or invalid, of the left just debases the concept.

For some letter writers, this moral balancing act is unacceptable–especially from a Jew, as Jonathan Rubin suggests, reasserting the Israel/Jewish identity I rejected. For such persons, to side with the would-be destroyers of Israel is to side with anti-Semitism, even if one is Jewish. I know of few Jews who would endorse “driving Israel into the sea,” but there are thousands who think that an integrated pluralist state to which Palestinians have the “right of return,” and within which the territory is divided more equably, is the only just solution. Steve Kowit’s brief for ANSWER may be an extreme example of this approach, but it proposes destroying nothing and no one, and it’s not “anti-Semitic,” just anti-Israel. As for loyalties, I have tried to speak only for those for whom Israel is definitely not “us,” whether out of generic hostility (Kowit), or angry rejection of existing policies (Alan Meyers). If he insists on being “fiercely pro-Israel,” Rubin should speak to people like Meyers, or the many Jews in Israel who reject colonialism and militarism. In any event, I totally repudiate the idea of unquestioning loyalty to a state. I should add that the fact that Israel is a formal democracy is of no relevance here. Majority votes are the fairest way to make decisions among a group that has agreed to be bound by them; but they can’t make falsehoods true, or turn wrongs into rights.

Finally, some respondents thought I was whitewashing the phrase “the Jewish Lobby.” I agree it’s problematic, but I think it’s defensible as long as one means by it not Jews generally but only those Jewish organizations within Washington’s pro-Israel lobby that achieve influence by purporting to speak for Jews generally and to be able to deliver “the Jewish vote”–and as long as the people to whom one is speaking can be trusted to understand that it means nothing more than that.


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