The following letters are being circulated by Marc Cooper of The Nation and by Tikkun Magazine, respectively.
Rabbi Michael Lerner has been banned from speaking at the antiwar rally in San Francisco this Sunday, February 15. One of the rally organizers, Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER), has stated that it will not allow a "pro-Israel" speaker to take the stage -- despite the fact that Rabbi Lerner has been an outspoken critic of Israeli policy in the occupied territories, has endorsed ANSWER's antiwar rallies in the past, has signed the Not in Our Name petition against the war, and is widely known to be among the most progressive of American rabbis. Other coalitions organizing the rally, including Not in Our Name and United for Peace and Justice, have acceded to ANSWER's opposition to Lerner, on the grounds that they had previously accepted as a condition for participation in the demonstration the agreement that if one of the groups vetoed a speaker that all would have to agree.
We, the undersigned, protest ANSWER's refusal to let Rabbi Lerner speak at this Sunday's rally. At a time when the antiwar movement needs as broad a platform and as broad an appeal as possible, ANSWER has chosen instead to put the interests of sectarianism ahead of the interests of all those who oppose this foolish and unnecessary war. We believe this is a serious mistake, and that it exemplifies ANSWER's unfitness to lead mass mobilizations against war in Iraq.
- Michael Berube and Marc Cooper
Progressive Rabbi Banned From Speaking at Peace Rally Because of His Pro-Israel Stance
Rabbi Michael Lerner can not speak at the peace rally in San Francisco, February 16th. That was the response given when various groups proposed Rabbi Lerner, thinking it logical to have him speak since he is one of the most prominent peace voices in the Jewish world.
But Rabbi Lerner was blackballed and banned by A.N.S.W.E.R., one of the four organizing committees for the S.F. demonstration expected to attract hundreds of thousands. The reason: Lerner had been critical of the way that A.N.S.W.E.R. has used the anti-war demonstrations to put forward anti-Israel propaganda.
Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, is himself an outspoken critic of Israeli policy. But he is also a Zionist who believes in the State of Israel and supported his son to serve in the Israeli army in a combat union (the tzanchanim or paratroopers). But Lerner and Tikkun magazine have been equally critical of acts of terror by Palestinians, and they have called for Palestinians to follow a path of non-violence. In his 2003 book Healing Israel/Palestine, Lerner calls for a "progressive middle path" that is both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine, and argues that the best interests of each can only be achieved if the other side also achieves its best interests.
Other coalitions supporting the rally , including the United For Peace and Justice and the Not In Our Name, went along with the ban, arguing that they had previously accepted as a condition for participation in the demonstration the agreement that if one of the groups vetoed a speaker that all would have to go along. A.N.S.W.E.R. spokesperson, speaking on the Brian Lehrer show of WNYC, said that they would not agree to have a "pro-Israel" speaker at their rally. Meanwhile, there are many in the organized Jewish world who will not let Lerner speak because he is too critical of Israeli policy.
Beyt Tikkun synagogue, where Rabbi Lerner serves as a rabbi in San Francisco, issued the following statement: "Rabbi Lerner has urged us to continue to support the demonstration for peace on February 16th, and we will be there to show that many Jews oppose this war. However, we do not believe that had A.N.S.W.E.R. been criticized by a major feminist or gay leader and then vetoed that leader to speak at a demonstration that the other coalition partners would go along with that. So why should criticism of anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing be treated differently? A.N.S.W.E.R. doesn't believe that Israel has a right to exist. We are enthusiastic supporters of Israel, even though totally critical of its current policies. So why should our voice of critique of A.N.S.W.E.R.'s anti-Israel policy serve as a justification for excluding our rabbi from speaking? This seems a dangerous double-standard and conveys, probably unintentionally, the message that somehow anti-Semitism is not a significant issue for anti-war protesters."
Rabbi Lerner said, "I'm honored that some people wanted me to speak, and dismayed that the specific reason I'm not allowed to speak is my criticism of the anti-Israel bias of A.N.S.W.E.R. But I believe that the message of peace is far more pressing at the moment than the message of fighting the anti-Semitism among some of the march's organizers."
- Tikkun Magazine