Commentary Magazine


Topic: Michael Lerner

Can the Left Stand Up Against Anti-Semites?

We don’t normally pay much attention to what is published in Tikkun magazine, let alone what its editor Michael Lerner disseminates through his email list. But occasionally Lerner’s tirades shine a light on the positions of the far left that illustrate exactly where some of Israel’s critics stand in a way that makes clear how they have made common cause with those who seek the Jewish state’s destruction.

In his latest email to readers, Lerner highlights what he claims is the latest instance of pro-Israel activists seeking to suppress free speech in both academia and the Jewish community. The Tikkun guru cites the protest against the decision of San Jose State University to have an Iranian professor who is a bitter opponent of Israel’s existence to teach a seminar on “Israel/Palestine.” According to Lerner, the attempt to stop Professor Persis Karim from being the sole person in charge of teaching on this subject was unfair since he claims her only goal was to help students see both sides of the issue. But even a cursory examination of the record, which Lerner helpfully provided by including the protest letter organized by the Amcha Initiative, shows that Karim is an advocate for Israel’s destruction and supports the exclusion of Israelis from academic forums as well as the boycott of Israel. Lerner’s backing of Karim gives the lie to his effort to pose as merely a liberal supporter of the Jewish state.

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We don’t normally pay much attention to what is published in Tikkun magazine, let alone what its editor Michael Lerner disseminates through his email list. But occasionally Lerner’s tirades shine a light on the positions of the far left that illustrate exactly where some of Israel’s critics stand in a way that makes clear how they have made common cause with those who seek the Jewish state’s destruction.

In his latest email to readers, Lerner highlights what he claims is the latest instance of pro-Israel activists seeking to suppress free speech in both academia and the Jewish community. The Tikkun guru cites the protest against the decision of San Jose State University to have an Iranian professor who is a bitter opponent of Israel’s existence to teach a seminar on “Israel/Palestine.” According to Lerner, the attempt to stop Professor Persis Karim from being the sole person in charge of teaching on this subject was unfair since he claims her only goal was to help students see both sides of the issue. But even a cursory examination of the record, which Lerner helpfully provided by including the protest letter organized by the Amcha Initiative, shows that Karim is an advocate for Israel’s destruction and supports the exclusion of Israelis from academic forums as well as the boycott of Israel. Lerner’s backing of Karim gives the lie to his effort to pose as merely a liberal supporter of the Jewish state.

It should be conceded that within the ranks of the far left universe in which he travels, Lerner has always been treated as somewhat suspect because of his refusal to join with those who explicitly call for Israel’s destruction and engage in anti-Semitic agitation. This is a point on which he takes great pride and he has often engaged in disputes with comrades who have sought to merge opposition to American foreign policy initiatives or hyper-liberal domestic causes with explicit anti-Zionism, if not open anti-Semitism. But even if we give him a bit of credit for that, the Karim protest exposes just how ridiculous his attempt to differentiate his brand of criticism of Israel from that of its open enemies has become.

As the Amcha Initiative’s letter to the president of San Jose State University protesting Karim states:

She signed a letter to President Obama falsely accusing Israel of “one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times” and supporting the elimination of the Jewish state.

She signed a statement by international writers and scholars endorsing an academic boycott of Israel, which U.S. State Department’s former Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Hannah Rosenthal has declared to be “anti-Semitic.”

She endorsed a petition to have an Israeli scholar ejected from an academic conference in Los Angeles, in solidarity with the academic boycott of Israel.  

In other words, the university is putting someone in charge of discussion of the Middle East completely committed to Israel’s destruction and a supporter of anti-Semitic measures that discriminate against Jews. The notion that such a person is capable of creating a space for open discussion is absurd. Far from promoting free and fair debate or scholarly inquiry, Karim’s appointment is a threat to academic freedom as well as a development that can be fairly construed as creating a hostile environment for Jewish students.

The pages of Tikkun have hosted debates about whether it is appropriate for liberal critics of Israeli policies to support boycotts of the Jewish state. Such a discussion treats the idea of waging economic warfare as a reasonable measure even though its purpose is to suppress Israeli democracy and to force it to bow to the demands of Islamist and terrorist foes that are seeking its destruction.

That Lerner considers Karim a reasonable authority on the Middle East speaks volumes about how divorced his worldview is from reality. But more than that, it demonstrates that the left-wing narrative about the right’s alleged “persecution” of liberal voices that Lerner and others claim has “silenced” Jewish critics of Israel is absurd.

There is nothing wrong with a diversity of views on Israeli policies. It is true the debate about Israel is often divisive and angry, though I would contend that stems more from the decision of some on the left to try to impose their views on Israelis as well as their unconscionable support of foreign pressure on its democratically elected government. Anyone who is aware of the left-leaning dynamic of American Jewish life knows the notion that Israel’s critics cower in fear against the tyranny of the right is comical. They are the darlings of the mainstream press and are more likely to be lionized by the media for their faux courage in joining the pack hounding Israel than ostracized.

But what is at stake here is not a dispute about where Israel’s borders should be, the wisdom of settlements or whether you like the people Israeli voters have put in office. It is whether the Jewish community is willing to stand up against those who wish to ostracize Jews, demonize Israel and wage war on it. Karim’s anti-Zionism is not a benign idea about which we can agree to disagree; it is a blatant form of discrimination against Jews with real life consequences. That Lerner, who has a long record of radical stands, has chosen to back this position ought to place him and those who agree with him beyond the pale. To do so is not an attack on free speech—since he is free to spout his bile in his magazine to his heart’s content—but a defense of the rights of Jews and Israel.

Contrary to Lerner’s claim, there is no way to support boycotts of Israelis or the campaign to wage economic war on it or to support its destruction without being co-opted into the ranks of such anti-Semites. This struggle is not a conservative cause but one that should unite the entire Jewish community across the board from right to left. No decent person, be they Jewish or non-Jewish, should be willing to defend, let alone make common cause with, the likes of Karim–who are, sadly, all too common in academia. 

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The Wondrous Comedy Stylings of Rabbi Michael Lerner

I must confess I get a thrill up my leg when I see I’ve received an e-mail from Rabbi Michael Lerner, the founder of Tikkun magazine, because I know I’m about to have a really good laugh. Today’s e-mail is a Thanksgiving missive:

No matter how difficult it may be in a world filled with pain and cruelty, there are moments when it is important to stop looking at all the problems and focus on all the good. And that’s part of what Thanksgiving could be about for you this year. Life is so amazing, and our universe so awesome, filled with realities that transcend our capacity to comprehend, and inviting us to awe and wonder and radical amazement! Give yourself and your friends a day dedicated to truly feeling those kinds of feelings!!!! …

It might start with a group of friends or family taking a walk to visit some part of nature that they really love. … It might continue with each family member, guest, or friend being asked to bring something (a book, a poem, a video, a movie, a song, a musical instrument to play some music, a cd or dvd) that they believe will give you an experience for which you are grateful. …

Then, you might consider asking each person to share something that they particularly appreciate in another person who is there at the
gathering. Or to tell about some other person who has been a special teacher, friend, or care-giver to you during the past year. Even if you are only a guest at someone else’s celebration, you can initiate or at least suggest this to the people you meet there! To prepare, you might even make a list of the things you are truly grateful for in your life before you go to someone else’s home for Thanksgiving. …

So at this point you’re probably wondering, what’s the joke? Ah, it’s all in the set-up, you see. Because here’s the punchline:

I think you will find that when you’ve followed some of these steps preparatory to the meal, that you can then turn the conversation to talk about the absurdity of the War in Afghanistan and the misguided nature of the War on Terror. … Or talk about the ongoing tragedy in the Middle East and the need for a progressive Middle Path which is both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine, and refuses to play the “blame game” of which side is “really bad” and which side is “really good” but instead recognizes that both sides have co-created this mess. You might even want to discuss the misguided move by the US to offer military incentives to Israel to restart negotiations. … For all the “realists” at your table ask them how well they think things turned out for Obama and the Democrats these past two years by following the “realistic” path in D.C. rather than fighting for a more progressive or visionary alternative.

Yes, greet Thanksgiving with wonder and amazement by attacking the U.S. and Israel, and then attack people at your Thanksgiving table for having the temerity to think or have thought otherwise!!!! (Those four exclamation points courtesy of Rabbi Michael Lerner, who loves exclamation points almost as much as he likes to draw analogues between Israel and Nazi Germany!!!!)!!!!

I must confess I get a thrill up my leg when I see I’ve received an e-mail from Rabbi Michael Lerner, the founder of Tikkun magazine, because I know I’m about to have a really good laugh. Today’s e-mail is a Thanksgiving missive:

No matter how difficult it may be in a world filled with pain and cruelty, there are moments when it is important to stop looking at all the problems and focus on all the good. And that’s part of what Thanksgiving could be about for you this year. Life is so amazing, and our universe so awesome, filled with realities that transcend our capacity to comprehend, and inviting us to awe and wonder and radical amazement! Give yourself and your friends a day dedicated to truly feeling those kinds of feelings!!!! …

It might start with a group of friends or family taking a walk to visit some part of nature that they really love. … It might continue with each family member, guest, or friend being asked to bring something (a book, a poem, a video, a movie, a song, a musical instrument to play some music, a cd or dvd) that they believe will give you an experience for which you are grateful. …

Then, you might consider asking each person to share something that they particularly appreciate in another person who is there at the
gathering. Or to tell about some other person who has been a special teacher, friend, or care-giver to you during the past year. Even if you are only a guest at someone else’s celebration, you can initiate or at least suggest this to the people you meet there! To prepare, you might even make a list of the things you are truly grateful for in your life before you go to someone else’s home for Thanksgiving. …

So at this point you’re probably wondering, what’s the joke? Ah, it’s all in the set-up, you see. Because here’s the punchline:

I think you will find that when you’ve followed some of these steps preparatory to the meal, that you can then turn the conversation to talk about the absurdity of the War in Afghanistan and the misguided nature of the War on Terror. … Or talk about the ongoing tragedy in the Middle East and the need for a progressive Middle Path which is both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine, and refuses to play the “blame game” of which side is “really bad” and which side is “really good” but instead recognizes that both sides have co-created this mess. You might even want to discuss the misguided move by the US to offer military incentives to Israel to restart negotiations. … For all the “realists” at your table ask them how well they think things turned out for Obama and the Democrats these past two years by following the “realistic” path in D.C. rather than fighting for a more progressive or visionary alternative.

Yes, greet Thanksgiving with wonder and amazement by attacking the U.S. and Israel, and then attack people at your Thanksgiving table for having the temerity to think or have thought otherwise!!!! (Those four exclamation points courtesy of Rabbi Michael Lerner, who loves exclamation points almost as much as he likes to draw analogues between Israel and Nazi Germany!!!!)!!!!

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Tikkun’s Jewish ‘Ethics’ — Honor Goldstone for Libeling Israel

With the rise of groups like the left-wing lobby J Street and the presence of a critic of Israel in the White House, it’s hard for a magazine like Michael Lerner’s Tikkun to get much attention these days. But Lerner is doing his best (or is it his worst?) in an effort to recapture the focus of Jewish leftists.  To that end, as Jennifer has pointed out, the magazine has announced that it is giving its 25th annual “ethics” award to Richard Goldstone, the author of the biased and inaccurate United Nations report on last year’s war in Gaza that slandered Israel.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that Lerner says he decided to give his dubious prize to Goldstone before the brouhaha over whether the South African jurist would be prevented from attending his grandson’s bar mitzvah because of the anger of his fellow Jews at his presence in synagogue. But, Lerner says, he decided to announce the award now as an answer to Goldstone’s “outrageous” treatment.

The controversy over the Goldstone bar mitzvah is regrettable for two reasons. First, because a child’s rite of passage ought to be allowed to proceed without political demonstrations against one of his relatives, no matter how odious that relative might be. Second, because the threat of a demonstration against Goldstone at the synagogue enabled him to pose as a victim of Jewish intolerance rather than owning up to the fact that he allowed the anti-Semites at the UN to use him as a front man for a vicious libel against the Jewish state. The report treated Hamas aggression against Israel as a minor affair while hyping every unproven atrocity charge against Israel’s counteroffensive against terror.  It serves to delegitimize the Jewish state’s right of self-defense while allowing those who wish to exterminate that state and its Jewish inhabitants to be treated kindly. Goldstone is no martyr. His connection with this document is a badge of shame that will be indelibly attached to his name in Jewish history, a fact that ought to make us all sympathize with his relatives.

As for Lerner, true to form, he is trying to grab a little publicity out of this mess. The self-declared rabbi of Jewish Renewal has now invited the Goldstones to have the boy’s bar mitzvah in his Berkeley synagogue. Goldstone, whose despicable betrayal has made him persona non grata to any Jewish community with a shred of honor or self-respect, might well be received with cheers in the People’s Republic of Berkeley. But surely even he must know that an “ethics award” from the likes of Lerner is nothing to brag about.

With the rise of groups like the left-wing lobby J Street and the presence of a critic of Israel in the White House, it’s hard for a magazine like Michael Lerner’s Tikkun to get much attention these days. But Lerner is doing his best (or is it his worst?) in an effort to recapture the focus of Jewish leftists.  To that end, as Jennifer has pointed out, the magazine has announced that it is giving its 25th annual “ethics” award to Richard Goldstone, the author of the biased and inaccurate United Nations report on last year’s war in Gaza that slandered Israel.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that Lerner says he decided to give his dubious prize to Goldstone before the brouhaha over whether the South African jurist would be prevented from attending his grandson’s bar mitzvah because of the anger of his fellow Jews at his presence in synagogue. But, Lerner says, he decided to announce the award now as an answer to Goldstone’s “outrageous” treatment.

The controversy over the Goldstone bar mitzvah is regrettable for two reasons. First, because a child’s rite of passage ought to be allowed to proceed without political demonstrations against one of his relatives, no matter how odious that relative might be. Second, because the threat of a demonstration against Goldstone at the synagogue enabled him to pose as a victim of Jewish intolerance rather than owning up to the fact that he allowed the anti-Semites at the UN to use him as a front man for a vicious libel against the Jewish state. The report treated Hamas aggression against Israel as a minor affair while hyping every unproven atrocity charge against Israel’s counteroffensive against terror.  It serves to delegitimize the Jewish state’s right of self-defense while allowing those who wish to exterminate that state and its Jewish inhabitants to be treated kindly. Goldstone is no martyr. His connection with this document is a badge of shame that will be indelibly attached to his name in Jewish history, a fact that ought to make us all sympathize with his relatives.

As for Lerner, true to form, he is trying to grab a little publicity out of this mess. The self-declared rabbi of Jewish Renewal has now invited the Goldstones to have the boy’s bar mitzvah in his Berkeley synagogue. Goldstone, whose despicable betrayal has made him persona non grata to any Jewish community with a shred of honor or self-respect, might well be received with cheers in the People’s Republic of Berkeley. But surely even he must know that an “ethics award” from the likes of Lerner is nothing to brag about.

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RE: RE: J Street Comes Clean

Noah, your apt comments are not limited to the J Street crowd. It seems that now is the time when many on the faux pro-Israel left dare to show their core beliefs. High on that list is that Israel is guilty of “war crimes” and that international bodies like the august Human Rights Council should intervene to prevent such “crimes” — i.e., prevent Israel from defending itself against terrorists who hide behind baby cribs and old women’s skirts. So we learn that Tikkun magazine will give its 25th annual ethics award next year to … ready? … none other than Richard Goldstone. “The politics of meaning” (New Age babble for the far-left agenda) guru and Tikkun founder Michael Lerner is pleased to honor such a man as Goldstone, whose shoddy libel against the IDF has long since been ably and completely demolished:

Tikkun’s founder and editor, Rabbi Michael Lerner, told JTA that the decision to recognize Goldstone was made prior to the bar mitzvah brouhaha and that the timing of the announcement was the result of his “outrageous” treatment by his fellow South African Jews.

Goldstone is doing a service “for the Jewish people in reinforcing the notion that our ethical judgments are not tied to blind support for any government,” Lerner said.

He said the award stems from Goldstone’s record on human rights and is a “reflection on his contribution to the Jewish people in affirming the independence of loyalty to the policies of the State of Israel.”

Translation: there is no higher achievement than betraying — with half-truths and outright lies — the Jewish state. I’m sure the J Street crowd will hoot and holler as Goldstone accepts the honor. After all, they had quite a hand in penning his defense. This then is the face of the not-at-all-pro-Israel left. It’s about time they showed what they are all about — delegitimizing and emasculating the Jewish state.

Noah, your apt comments are not limited to the J Street crowd. It seems that now is the time when many on the faux pro-Israel left dare to show their core beliefs. High on that list is that Israel is guilty of “war crimes” and that international bodies like the august Human Rights Council should intervene to prevent such “crimes” — i.e., prevent Israel from defending itself against terrorists who hide behind baby cribs and old women’s skirts. So we learn that Tikkun magazine will give its 25th annual ethics award next year to … ready? … none other than Richard Goldstone. “The politics of meaning” (New Age babble for the far-left agenda) guru and Tikkun founder Michael Lerner is pleased to honor such a man as Goldstone, whose shoddy libel against the IDF has long since been ably and completely demolished:

Tikkun’s founder and editor, Rabbi Michael Lerner, told JTA that the decision to recognize Goldstone was made prior to the bar mitzvah brouhaha and that the timing of the announcement was the result of his “outrageous” treatment by his fellow South African Jews.

Goldstone is doing a service “for the Jewish people in reinforcing the notion that our ethical judgments are not tied to blind support for any government,” Lerner said.

He said the award stems from Goldstone’s record on human rights and is a “reflection on his contribution to the Jewish people in affirming the independence of loyalty to the policies of the State of Israel.”

Translation: there is no higher achievement than betraying — with half-truths and outright lies — the Jewish state. I’m sure the J Street crowd will hoot and holler as Goldstone accepts the honor. After all, they had quite a hand in penning his defense. This then is the face of the not-at-all-pro-Israel left. It’s about time they showed what they are all about — delegitimizing and emasculating the Jewish state.

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Hang on a Minute, Scrooge

I admire Christopher Hitchens as a fierce critic of Islamist violence, and his thunderbolts against organized religion are unfailingly entertaining. But he makes a couple of easy elisions in his Slate essay about Hanukkah that need addressing.

Hitchens claims that:

About a century and a half before the alleged birth of the supposed Jesus of Nazareth (another event that receives semiofficial recognition at this time of the year), the Greek or Epicurean style had begun to gain immense ground among the Jews of Syria and Palestine. The Seleucid Empire, an inheritance of Alexander the Great—Alexander still being a popular name among Jews—had weaned many people away from the sacrifices, the circumcisions, the belief in a special relationship with God, and the other reactionary manifestations of an ancient and cruel faith.

Hitchens goes on to cite Michael Lerner of Tikkun fame:

Along with Greek science and military prowess came a whole culture that celebrated beauty both in art and in the human body, presented the world with the triumph of rational thought in the works of Plato and Aristotle, and rejoiced in the complexities of life presented in the theater of Aeschylus, Euripides, and Aristophanes.

Sounds pretty great, right? But as it happens, the specific events commemorated by Hanukkah have a rather different cast. The Maccabees were not so much fighting to destroy Hellenism as to drive out the occupying forces of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid king of Syria, who had banned (in an unprecedented step for a Seleucid) the practice of Judaism as a whole.

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I admire Christopher Hitchens as a fierce critic of Islamist violence, and his thunderbolts against organized religion are unfailingly entertaining. But he makes a couple of easy elisions in his Slate essay about Hanukkah that need addressing.

Hitchens claims that:

About a century and a half before the alleged birth of the supposed Jesus of Nazareth (another event that receives semiofficial recognition at this time of the year), the Greek or Epicurean style had begun to gain immense ground among the Jews of Syria and Palestine. The Seleucid Empire, an inheritance of Alexander the Great—Alexander still being a popular name among Jews—had weaned many people away from the sacrifices, the circumcisions, the belief in a special relationship with God, and the other reactionary manifestations of an ancient and cruel faith.

Hitchens goes on to cite Michael Lerner of Tikkun fame:

Along with Greek science and military prowess came a whole culture that celebrated beauty both in art and in the human body, presented the world with the triumph of rational thought in the works of Plato and Aristotle, and rejoiced in the complexities of life presented in the theater of Aeschylus, Euripides, and Aristophanes.

Sounds pretty great, right? But as it happens, the specific events commemorated by Hanukkah have a rather different cast. The Maccabees were not so much fighting to destroy Hellenism as to drive out the occupying forces of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid king of Syria, who had banned (in an unprecedented step for a Seleucid) the practice of Judaism as a whole.

As Sam Schulman, reviewing Hitchens’s God Is Not Great in the June 2007 issue of COMMENTARY, notes:

[Hitchens’s] stroke of counterhistory has been heavily prettified in the details. On the one hand, as Hitchens tells it, there were the Hellenized Jews of Palestine—suave, cosmopolitan, athletic, well educated, yearning to enjoy the finer things in life as represented by their Greek overlords. On the other hand, there were the religious fundamentalists of the day, the Jewish reactionaries seeking only to proscribe and to prescribe. In Hitchens’s reconstruction, the Maccabean revolt sounds like nothing so much as the struggle between “aesthetes” and “hearties” in the Oxford of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.

But the Maccabean wars were not like that. The Greeks were not fighting for the mellow and the metrosexual. They aimed to pour hogs’ blood over the altar, erect statues of Jove in the sanctuary, eradicate Jewish identity itself. Had the Maccabees failed, there would have been a victory not of secular humanism over religious fundamentalism but of the pitiless Olympian gods—and their Egyptian co-deities—over monotheism and the complexities of ethical life.

It’s all very well for Hitchens to call Hanukkah a celebration of tribal Jewish backwardness. But were the practices of the Greeks any less backward? No to circumcision but yes to exposing imperfect infants? No to the special relationship with God but yes to the Oracles of Delphi and Dodona?

A little thought experiment: can you think of a more theologically “complex” story than the binding of Isaac by his father Abraham, after Abraham was commanded to sacrifice him? Ah, the binding of Isaac, you say! The signal example of Judaism’s “cruelty”! But hang on. Those Aeschylean and Euripidean “complexities of life” so beloved of Rabbi Lerner and cited with such approval by Hitchens—does anyone really need to be reminded of how blood-drenched they were? How Orestes suffers in their toils? How Medea’s children die? Isaac, you’ll remember, lives.

But there’s something even more troubling about Hitchens’s reading of Hanukkah:

To celebrate Hanukkah is to celebrate not just the triumph of tribal Jewish backwardness but also the accidental birth of Judaism’s bastard child in the shape of Christianity. You might think that masochism could do no more. Except that it always can. Without the precedents of rabbinic Judaism and Roman Christianity, on which it is based and from which it is borrowed, there would be no Islam, either. . . . And this is not just a disaster for the Jews. When the fanatics of Palestine won that victory, and when Judaism repudiated Athens for Jerusalem, the development of the whole of humanity was terribly retarded.

Umberto Eco once observed that counterfactual conditionals are always true, because their premises are always false. Hitchens’s thumbnail sketch is too deterministic a reading to bear much scrutiny. Let me see if I have this right: because an obscure sect of Jewish guerrillas defeated an occupying Syrian army in Jerusalem in 165 B.C.E., we got . . . the Christian Church astride the globe like a colossus, the Crusades, the Muslim conquest of Spain, the Inquisition, all the depredations of the monotheistic religions against each other and against secularists ever since, up to and including 9/11? So, if the Maccabees had lost in Jerusalem, absolutely none of this would have happened? That contention, at least, seems ridiculous on its face.

Hitchens complains that Hanukkah has become a Jewish analogue for Christmas. Sociologically that is trivially true; theologically and historically it’s nonsense. Yet Hitchens can now say that:

Every Jew who honors the Hanukkah holiday because it gives his child an excuse to mingle the dreidel with the Christmas tree and the sleigh (neither of these absurd symbols having the least thing to do with Palestine two millenniums past) is celebrating the making of a series of rods for his own back.

Coming from him, this is a remarkable statement. Strange, isn’t it, how much Hitchens the secularist can sound like a militant Jewish purist? Even (dare I say it) a Maccabee?

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Hillary’s Changing Plumage

Much has already been said about Hillary Clinton’s shifting positions on Iraq. Having once criticized President Bush for not sending enough troops, she now has announced her intent to vote to block war funding. But Hillary’s zigzagging is nothing new. It has been the stamp of her last fifteen years.

She began her political life in the radical student movement of the 1960’s, summarized by her commencement speech at Wellesley College in 1969, in which she declared that the “prevailing, acquisitive, and competitive corporate life . . . is not the way of life for us. We’re searching for a more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating mode of living.” (Husband Bill seems to have taken this quest to heart.)

Her New Leftism was not soon outgrown. In 1987, her profile raised by Bill’s status as governor of Arkansas, she assumed the chairmanship of the New World Foundation, a funder of radical Left, pro-Communist, and PLO-linked causes. The foundation had a history of such activities before Hillary took it over, but as I showed in a 1993 article for COMMENTARY, the number of extremist and Communist front groups funded by the foundation multiplied under her leadership.

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Much has already been said about Hillary Clinton’s shifting positions on Iraq. Having once criticized President Bush for not sending enough troops, she now has announced her intent to vote to block war funding. But Hillary’s zigzagging is nothing new. It has been the stamp of her last fifteen years.

She began her political life in the radical student movement of the 1960’s, summarized by her commencement speech at Wellesley College in 1969, in which she declared that the “prevailing, acquisitive, and competitive corporate life . . . is not the way of life for us. We’re searching for a more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating mode of living.” (Husband Bill seems to have taken this quest to heart.)

Her New Leftism was not soon outgrown. In 1987, her profile raised by Bill’s status as governor of Arkansas, she assumed the chairmanship of the New World Foundation, a funder of radical Left, pro-Communist, and PLO-linked causes. The foundation had a history of such activities before Hillary took it over, but as I showed in a 1993 article for COMMENTARY, the number of extremist and Communist front groups funded by the foundation multiplied under her leadership.

In 1992, Bill ran for President as a “new Democrat,” code for not-a-liberal, and his emissaries successfully wooed my support. In discussions with leaders of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, I was assured that Hillary, far from tugging Bill leftward, was using her weight to keep the campaign in the middle of the road.

Not long after she and Bill moved into the White House, Hillary turned back to the Left, leading the effort to install some form of national health insurance and inviting Michael Lerner, the unreconstructed 1960’s radical then parading as a “rabbi,” to the White House to give her guidance. Hillary embraced Lerner’s Oz-like “politics of meaning,” even using the phrase in her speeches.

When she set up shop in New York and ran for the Senate, Hillary swung back toward the center, becoming an especially vocal supporter of Israel and, later, a hawk on Iraq. Now she has shed her hawk’s plumage for the white of a dove. All of which leaves us to ponder this question as she runs for President: would it be worse to be governed by Hillary the opportunist or Hillary the true believer?

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Michael Lerner, Vulgarian

April 15 is Yom haShoah, the day of commemoration of the Holocaust. The Nazis killed one-third of the world’s Jewish population, and most Jews, at least most Ashkenazi Jews, lost an ancestor or cousin in this unparalleled slaughter. Many lost their whole families. Around the world, Jews will pray for these lost ones and lament the immense part of the body of our people that was torn away from us—a wound that will never heal. It is a moment of deepest grief and solemnity.

Except, that is, to one Michael Lerner, who has just announced that he will use the occasion to launch a “campaign for a Global Marshall Plan.”

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April 15 is Yom haShoah, the day of commemoration of the Holocaust. The Nazis killed one-third of the world’s Jewish population, and most Jews, at least most Ashkenazi Jews, lost an ancestor or cousin in this unparalleled slaughter. Many lost their whole families. Around the world, Jews will pray for these lost ones and lament the immense part of the body of our people that was torn away from us—a wound that will never heal. It is a moment of deepest grief and solemnity.

Except, that is, to one Michael Lerner, who has just announced that he will use the occasion to launch a “campaign for a Global Marshall Plan.”

Michael Lerner is someone about whom I would not ordinarily comment, except that this display of vulgarity cannot be allowed to pass unnoticed. Lerner was a 1960’s New Leftist, founder of the Seattle Liberation Front. When a demonstration he organized turned into a riot, he was tried as part of the “Seattle Seven.” While many other 60’s radicals eventually rethought their juvenile beliefs, Lerner set his mind instead to carving out new turf. He reappeared as a psychotherapist, dressing his old ideology in a new robe by founding the Institute for Labor and Mental Health, which purported to study the “psychodynamics of American society.”

Lerner married wealth, and although the marriage did not last, the wealth did, enabling him to found the magazine Tikkun. A few years later, a disillusioned employee revealed that letters to the editor that ran in its pages, lavishing praise on the magazine and Lerner, were in fact fabricated by Lerner himself.

In his next self-reinvention, Lerner appeared as a rabbi, although his theological training was as sketchy as that of such other famous self-promoters as the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. In this guise, he propounded the “politics of meaning”—the meaning of which was indecipherable. Of greater moment, Lerner used his rabbinic title as cover for a relentless campaign against Israel, including the embrace of such unsavory enemies of the Jewish state as Cindy Sheehan, prompting the scholar Edward Alexander to observe, “nothing anti-Semitic is entirely alien to him.”

Like other leftists cloaking themselves in rabbinic garb, Lerner redefined Passover as a vehicle on which to display ideological bumper stickers rather than as a commemoration of the creation of Judaism through the exodus from Egypt, the receipt of the Ten Commandments, and the settlement of the promised land.

However, his use of Yom haShoah for his own purposes sets a new standard of coarseness. Lerner writes: “I want to explain to you why we picked the Holocaust Memorial Day to launch this initiative. To the starvation and suffering on the planet today (with 2.4 billion people living on less than $2 a day) we say: Never Again.” If taken seriously, this is moronic. Never again? Again what? There has always been starvation and suffering. And while suffering is impossible to measure, there is, proportionately, less starvation today than ever before. However sad the perdurance of these afflictions may be, it is not a discrete event. What can it possibly mean to say “never again” in this context?

But of course, Lerner’s explanation is not to be taken seriously. The true explanation is that this is just one more stage performance by a “rabbi” whose self-absorption is bottomless and for whom nothing, apparently, is sacred. As attorney Joseph Welch said famously to Senator McCarthy: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

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