What’s Really Best for Israel?

By Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine, chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in Berkeley, Ca. and author of 11 books

The New York Times has consistently turned its news’ pages into the loudest cheerleader for Hillary Clinton’s bid for the nomination. If mentioned at all, they bury deep in their paper, Bernie Sanders’s primary wins. So it’s no surprise that when Sanders won permission to appoint five of the 15 members of the Platform Committee of the Democratic Party Convention, the Times made the story focus on the possibility that two of these appointees, James Zogby and Cornel West, would turn the convention into a debate about U.S. policy towards Israel, and thereby weaken Clinton’s capacity to fight off Donald Trump in the general election.

The Times ignored the important appointment of Congressman Keith Ellison, a leader of the Congress’ Progressive Caucus, a supporter of social justice for middle income people and the poor, universal healthcare and a $15 minimum wage, and an opponent of Obama’s use of drones; Rebecca Parker, vice chair of the Tulalip Tribes of Washington State, who is likely to emphasize rights for indigenous peoples and criminal justice reform; and Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org who is likely to push for a tax on carbons and other aggressive policies to save the planet’s life-support system.

To turn the discussion solely to Israel, and suggest that somehow Sanders’s very mild call for an even-handed policy that took into account the needs of the Palestinian people, is a threat to Israel’s existence is irresponsible and ludicrous.

As if not to be undone by the Times, Jane Eisner, editor of the center/right Jewish Forward magazine, issued a statement that insisted that Sanders unveil a full plan for how to achieve peace in Israel and Palestine. Clinton’s plan has been to give 100 percent unconditional support to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Eisner knows that some of her readers might have doubts about the wisdom pursuing Obama’s legacy, which only recently included a ten-year military aid package (larger than any the U.S. has ever given to any country). This agreement was reached even after Netanyahu rejected every attempt by the U.S. and Western countries to push him to stop expanding West Bank settlements and end the Occupation. Why does Eisner not call on Hillary Clinton to similarly state what her full plan is for achieving peace?

Eisner worries about a recent Pew poll which shows that the share of liberal Democrats who side more with Palestinians than with Israel has nearly doubled since 2014 — to 40 percent from 21 percent — and is higher than at any point dating back to 2001. Only 30 percent of liberals say they side more with Israelis.

But she misses what most center/right apologists for Israel always ignore: that the decreasing support for Israel among liberals is not a product of some irrational hatred of Jews, but rather of the growing recognition that Israel’s oppressive policies toward Palestinians (soon to enter its 49thanniversary of the Occupation) and its denial to them of the same rights for self-determination that we Jews rightly fought for ourselves in creating the State of Israel, is generating a worldwide anger at the Jewish people that is bad for Israel and bad for Jews everywhere.

What those of us who want to see Israel achieve security while returning to the Jewish value articulated frequently in the Torah: “You shall love the Stranger/Other, and remember that you were strangers/others in the land of Egypt.” In this respect, Bernie Sanders is closer to this traditional Jewish value than any of the other candidates, and his approach is far better for the Jewish people and for the future security of the State of Israel.

The Netanyahu government may be able to hold on by force and by endlessly scaring the Israeli people, aided by Netanyahu’s de facto best ally, Hamas, which obligingly digs tunnels or sends bombs to Israel so as to head off any support the Israeli peace movement and the moderates of the Palestinian Authority might be gaining.

Pushing Israel to negotiate a sustainable peace arrangement that would grant Palestinians an economically and politically viable state is the only path toward a sustainable peace, and Sanders’s rather temperate remarks indicate a willingness to push Israel and Palestine both in this direction.

Tikkun and our education arm the Network of Spiritual Progressives are non-profits that do not endorse any candidate. And if we did endorse, like most progressives we’d have many other issues to consider besides a candidate’s stand on Israel/Palestine:

–Saving the earth’s life-support system, switching the U.S. foreign policy from a strategy to achieve “homeland security” through military, economic, cultural and diplomatic domination of the world to a strategy of generosity as provided in our proposed Global Marshall Plan www.tikkun.org/gmp (introduced into Congress by Keith Ellison),

–A guaranteed living wage (not a “minimum wage”) and guaranteed income and guaranteed health care for all,

–Requiring corporations with incomes over $50 million/year to prove a satisfactory history of environmental and social responsibility every five years (see our ESRA — Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution at www.tikkun.org/esra)

Those issues would be some of what we’d be looking for.

Advocacy for a New Bottom Line to judge corporations, government policies, our education system, our legal system and our economic system as rational, productive and efficient not only to the extent that they maximize money and power (the OLD Bottom Line) but also to the extent that they maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity, environmental and ethical responsibility, and enhance our capacities to respond to others as embodiments of the sacred and respond to the universe with awe, wonder and radical amazement — these are what spiritual progressives would be seeking were they to endorse a candidate.

It is not obvious that anyone, even Green Party candidate Jill Stein, is ready to put forward this kind of a spiritual progressive agenda.

But we will not remain silent when manipulative and unscrupulous political candidates, and their allies in the New York Times, the Jewish Forward, and the Israeli Lobby, play fast and loose with Israel’s future and the well-being of the Jewish people globally, in order to gain short-term electoral advantage with right-wing American Jews and their Christian Zionist allies. Shame on them.

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  • diogenes

    “Shame on them” and thanks with kudos to Michael Lerner, always an outstanding voice for human decency and sanity.

    My one quibble is to suggest that Hamas be regarded not just as a “de facto best ally” of the worst elements in Israel but as a likely false flag operation controlled by those elements. Certainly the Israeli history of favor for such operations suggests is likelihood.

  • sparkle

    Rabbi Lerner underestimates Israel’s danger to itself and the world. He is blinded by his own ethnocentrism.

    The fact is that most Americans couldn’t care less about Israel. But the Israel lobby has so much power in America, just saying this can be damaging (or even ruinous) to the career of any American public figure.

    The unpleasant truth is that Israel has become a regional plague and nuclear nightmare in the Middle East.

    Israel is an expansionistic and highly aggressive power that routinely acts above the law. Israel is also very race-oriented; the race being the Jewish People. Their security matters most. These Israeli-centric values and policies steer Official Washington in dangerous directions, including war.

    Israel expects (and gets) favorable treatment from Washington each and every day. US support of Israel is unique and unconditional and deep.

    For instance, Israel forbids regional rivals from developing nuclear power, but Israel has its own arsenal of nuclear bombs. Israel–a tiny, distant and developed nation of about 11 million people, receives more US foreign aid than any country in our history. This one-way tribute just one indicator of Israeli influence in America.

    Since Israel’s agents have embedded themselves in Washington, these unregistered foreign lobbyists are able to make mischief and even impose lethal force anywhere in the world (using Washington) on behalf of the Jewish state. America’s wars against Iraq and Libya are an expression of this undue influence.

    For this reason, Israel has become a plague on America and a threat to any nation that displeases the Jewish state. Israeli power is vast. And Israeli power explains why the US has been intervening unnecessary and unfairly in the Middle East for decades.

    This ongoing situation harms our nation and it undermines the rule of law.

    • diogenes

      The only part of this I this is seriously mistaken is your first paragraph.

  • Fee-fi-fo-fum

    For the Jews, and yes Lerner is a Jew, it is always about what is good for the Jews, what is best for the Jews. Fuck the world, fuck humanity they don’t matter only the Jews matter.

    • Jim

      The Jews are God’s chosen people. We know this because the ancient Jewish holy books tells us so. Therefore it is God’s will that the Jewish people take control back of Palestine and rule it for the good of Jews and not Muslims or Christians.

      Israel has imported about as many Jews from Russia, Eastern Europe and even Ethiopia as it can. Many Israeli Jews are leaving because of constant war. In the long run Israel had better cut a deal with her neighbors. The percentage of self-identified Jews in America is going down, especially with intermarriage. The number of Muslims is going up.

      Its ironic that the Israelis have become so repressive to their Arab citizens while Jews in America are such left wingers.

      • Fee-fi-fo-fum

        Chosen to be damned, hell yeah. For your information jerkoff, the Christian faithful are Gods chosen people.

  • karen
  • Lynn Walker

    The Jewish people have no rights or authentic claim to the lands they now inhabit as foreign invaders and occupiers. It is by the arrangement of psychopathic social engineers, intent on creating further wars and division, and the complicity of a corrupted and delusional christian propaganda machine that has enabled persons with little or no ancestral, religious or racial connection to historical Jews to steal land belonging to others and consider it their’s by right to defend.

    To the proponents of Zionism: You will be eliminated by genocide that fructify as the reaction to your own degraded, inhuman actions. God has turned from the Jews, for they rejected Him, and they are damned to the total destruction of their culture. In truth, the actual Jewish faith has long been gone, and these Zionistic frauds, posing as followers of God, will soon join them in the black hole of history.

    Thanks be to God, the just and compassionate.