War looms. Troops are moving into place. Administration officials refuse to discuss alternatives. And everyday George W. Bush has some new rhetorical device to turn up the heat. The game is over. The game is really over. I mean it: the game is really, really over. Americans opposed to (or skeptical about) this war are desperately trying to mount preemptive protests, as conquest–bombing, invasion and occupation–nears. Antiwar actions have been organized for the weekend of February 15 and 16, to coincide with protests around the world. In the United States, the main events will be demonstrations held in New York and San Francisco. This could be the last chance the antiwar warriors have before the cruise missiles fly. Yet the peaceniks pulling together the San Francisco march and rally may have tainted their efforts by allowing the banning of Rabbi Michael Lerner as a speaker.
Lerner is the progressive Jew. He edits Tikkun, a magazine mostly written by lefty Jews. (Its name is Hebrew for “to mend, repair and transform the world.”) He can be counted on to sign on to most liberal causes. He is a signatory to the Not In Our Name antiwar pledge. His Tikkun Community is a member of the United for Peace & Justice coalition that opposes a U.S. war against Iraq. (Other members include the American Friends Service Committee, Global Exchange, Greenpeace, TransAfrica, Working Assets.) He has been a leading Jewish voice against the hawks of Israel and a supporter of Palestinian rights, while calling himself a Zionist.
So it was natural that his name was floated as a speaker for the protest. Not In Our Name and United for Peace & Justice were two of the four coalitions behind the event. (According to Lerner, he did not ask to address the San Francisco rally. “You can’t say much in three minutes,” he notes.) But International ANSWER, another of the organizers, said no.
Lerner’s crime: he had dared to criticize ANSWER, an outfit run by members of the Workers World Party, for using antiwar demonstrations to put forward what he considers to be anti-Israel propaganda. That ANSWER objected to Lerner is not surprising. The WWPers in control of ANSWER are socialists who call for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, who support Slobodan Milosevic and Kim Jong Il, who oppose UN inspections in Iraq (claiming they are part of the planning for an invasion aimed at gaining control of Iraq’s oil fields), and who urge smashing Zionism. Last month, referring to an upcoming ANSWER demonstration, Lerner wrote, “In my view, the organizers of this demonstration have allowed far too many speakers who believe that this war is being done because Israel wants the war, far too few who share my view that this war is not in the best interests of either Israel or of the United States.” Yet Lerner didn’t let his differences with ANSWER trump his opposition to the war; he encouraged people to attend the rally. After that protest, he told The New York Times, “There are good reasons to oppose the war and Saddam. Still, it feels that we are being manipulated when subjected to mindless speeches and slogans whose knee-jerk anti-imperialism rarely articulates the deep reasons we should oppose corporate globalization.”