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Jewish American Peace Group Speaks Up On Invasion

BTL Q&A: Jewish American Peace Group Speaks Up On Israeli Invasion

from the nationally syndicated radio newsmagazine "Between The Lines"

A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints on national and international issues under-reported in major media For release April 22, 2002 =====================================================

Jewish American Peace Group Bucking the Tide of Uncritical Support for Israeli Invasion of West Bank
Interview by Scott Harris

Reacting to the carnage of recent suicide bombings, tens of thousands of mostly Jewish supporters of Israel gathered in Washington D.C. on April 15th to urge the Bush administration to back the Sharon government in its fight against Palestinians and to reject negotiations with Yasir Arafat. The White House sent Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to address the demonstration rally. But when the hard-line Republican reminded the crowd that innocent Palestinians as well as Israelis were suffering in the Middle East conflict, he was roundly booed.

Not all American Jews, however, support Israel's refusal to relinquish their 35-year control over the occupied Palestinian territories nor Prime Minister Sharon's brutal assault of West Bank cities and refugee camps. Rabbi Michael Learner, editor of Tikkun magazine, has for many years been working for peace and justice in the Middle East. He recently co-founded a new organization called the Tikkun Community with co-chair Harvard professor Cornel West, which will serve as a progressive alternative to conservative Jewish lobby groups that generally back Israel's aggressive policies. To press their demand that the Bush administration lead a U.N.-sponsored multinational force to stop the killing, Rabbi Lerner, West and 18 supporters chose to be arrested in an act of civil disobedience at the State Department April 11th.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Rabbi Lerner about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the disagreements over Middle East policy within the American Jewish community.

Rabbi Michael Lerner: We were asking the United States to stop vetoing United Nations resolutions calling for an international (peacekeeping) force and instead to take an active role in supporting and providing people for an international force that would come between the two parties—separate the Israelis and Palestinians from each other and protect the Palestinians from the Israelis and Israelis from the Palestinians. Secondly, we were asking (President Bush) to convene an international conference that would impose a final settlement on the two parties, because after many, many decades of the United States trying to be what it termed "an honest broker" between the two sides, it's obvious that these two sides are locked into their struggle and have no desire to stop it. The only way it's going to be stopped is if somebody from the outside comes in and imposes a solution.

Between The Lines: Tell us about the mission and work of this new organization, "Tikkun Community," led by yourself and Cornel West.

Rabbi Michael Lerner: What we're trying to do is to challenge the hegemony of AIPAC, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee and the other voices of Jewish political correctness that have dominated the current discourse and have made most members of Congress fearful that if they were to speak out and criticize Israeli policy they would immediately lose their possibility of re-election. AIPAC has tremendous economic and political power in this country. What they do is convince Jews that they are at risk of being called self-hating Jews and Christians feeling that they are at risk of being called anti-Semitic if they dare to criticize Israeli policy.

What we're trying to do is create a space for people to be able to think more rationally about these issues, first of all, to recognize that you're not anti-Israel if you're critical of Israeli policies. In fact, being a supporter of the Jewish people today is to be a supporter of the peace forces in the Jewish community and hence to side with the Tikkun Community and the other peace organizations that are saying that Israel's best interest -- the Jewish people's best interests -- are served by reconciliation and peace with the Palestinian people, not with endless struggle and attempts to dominate and control the Palestinian people.

Between The Lines: There was a large demonstration in Washington D.C. on April 15, 2002 where many Jews from all over the nation gathered in support of Israel. In one very telling event at the march, Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, reminded the crowd that there were Palestinians too who were suffering in this current conflict in the Middle East and he was roundly booed by the crowd. What kind of intolerance do you see now in the Jewish community in the midst of all this violence and crisis?

Rabbi Michael Lerner: There is a huge amount of intolerance in the Jewish world as there is in the Palestinian world. What you're seeing right now is an attempt to squelch even the slightest acknowledgment of the pain of the other. Just as acts of Palestinian violence, terror against Israelis seem to indicate to the Israeli population that these Palestinians don't care about ordinary civilians, so the acts of violence by Israel against the Palestinians gives that same message. Then you have these kinds of things like people in the organized Jewish community simply denying that there is a slaughter going on of the Palestinian people. You can see that every night on television the images of cities being wiped out, of hospitals and schools -- of all the civic institutions of Palestinian society -- being destroyed. Then you go to most Jewish institutions or organizations and they tell you Israel is on the verge of being extinguished, its very survival is at stake. Well, Israel's survival is not at stake. There is not a chance in the world that the Palestinian people, unarmed, with no tanks, airplanes or army could possibly overcome the powerful army of Israel. There is no existential issue there, Israel is secure even though it's facing a terrible onslaught of terror that needs to stop.

But the Jewish world, having responded correctly with outrage at acts of violence against Israel, responds in a way that is wildly out of proportion to the actual situation and lies to itself and to the world about the nature of the situation it is facing. And so it talks as though Israel is about to be destroyed, and hence, anybody who dares raise the issues of the pain of the Palestinian people and the horrendous atrocities that Israel is visiting upon the Palestinian people is simply seen as a liar or a traitor. So I'm not surprised that Wolfowitz was booed, I'm not surprised to find people being intimidated. In my own case, I'm receiving death threats every single day from people in the Jewish world that say they want to kill me.

Contact Tikkun at (415) 575-1200 or visit their Web site at

See related links and listen to an excerpt of this interview in a RealAudio segment or in MP3 on our Web site at: for the week ending 4/26/02.


Scott Harris is the executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines, for the week ending April 26, 2002.

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