Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun magazine delivered the following sermon on Passover. Lerner, a leftist rabbi of the Reconstructionist school, inspired a number of questions in David Meir-Levi. We reproduce Meir-Levi's would-be dialgue with Lerner below -- The Editors.
Rabbi Michael Lerner: This Passover has a certain sadness for many Jews. For many there is a feeling that some of their co-religionists are a bit hypocritical to be celebrating Passover while simultaneously ruling over another people.
David Meir-Levi: I must confess I am confused by your comments. As I am sure you know, Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the Sinai and Golan Heights, in a defensive war. Immediately after the war (6/19/1967), Israel offered to return conquered territory in exchange for peace. The Arab leadership refused (Khartoum, 8-9/1967).
Israel’s continued control over these territories is the result ONLY of the Arab leadership’s obduracy. Israel offered to return parts of these territories on several occasions after the initial offer that was rejected: 1960’s-70’s sub-rosa offers to Jordan, 1979 return of Sinai to Egypt, 1979 offer to Arafat to join the Camp David 1 negotiations so he could take over a “Palestinian autonomous entity” on the West Bank, 1991 Madrid conference, 1993 Oslo accords, 2000 Camp David 2 -- and all of these offers were rejected by various Arab leaders including Arafat because they preferred to remain at war with Israel.
In short, since the 6-day war, Israel has tried to give back the West Bank and Gaza Strip in exchange for peace, and has found no Arab leader willing to make peace.
Why then do you fault Israel?]
Lerner: Yet this is mixed with a sadness, and compassion for those who are violating the highest principles of justice and love commanded by our Torah,
Meir-Levi: Where do you see distortions of Torah principles? Prior to the outbreak of Arafat’s “Oslo war”, there were no lock-downs, no curfews, no road blocks, no “Jew-only” roads (and cf. below for more on that issue), and no defensive fence (aka the “apartheid wall”). The last Israeli tank left Ramallah on 9/28/1996.
The tragic situation that obtains today in the West Bank is a function solely of Israel’s need to defend its citizenry against a brutal terror war that Arafat initiated almost before the ink was dry on the Oslo accords.
Israel had to RE-occupy the West Bank on 3/29/2002 to stop the terrorism that was claiming hundreds of Israeli lives. More than a dozen different (but sometimes coordinated) terror groups wage constant war against Israel unless the IDF is present to stop them from reaching their targets.
Recall too that the Palestinian leadership’s contention that they had to resort to terror in order to get their land back is bogus: the Oslo Accords gave them the process whereby they could peacefully transition from complete Israeli sovereignty to gradually increasing PA sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza strip, ultimately creating a Palestinian state within about 5 years (i.e., 1998 was the target date). It is irrational to assert that Arafat had to use terror to end the occupation when he and Rabin had just signed an agreement that arranged for the end of the occupation via peaceful means.
So where is there a compromise of Torah ethics in Israel’s defending itself against a ruthless and relentless terror war?
Lerner: …because we allow ourselves to recognize that the distorted policies of the State of Israel are themselves the product of the distortions in our people generated by centuries of oppression and the resulting fears and paranoias that make it difficult for many of them to recognize that they are today not the oppressed but the oppressors.
Meir-Levi: This is an interesting interpretation of Israeli politics, and I certainly would not deny that it is within reason to suggest that some Israeli political policies are distorted…..BUT….….from 6/8/1967 to 7/24/1994 there was NOTHING oppressive about Israel’s control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Quite the opposite.
Are you unaware of Israel’s min-Marshall plan, in which Israel poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the West Bank and Gaza strip in order to bring into the 20th century its roads, sewerage, sewage treatment, fresh water supplies and supply infrastructure, electricity, radio, television, medical services, creation of 7 universities where none had existed before, a sky-rocketing tourist trade, and a rapidly growing economy, with as many as 300,000 West Bank or Gaza Strip Arabs employed in Israel’s economy and earning significantly more than their Arab counterparts in any other Arab state in the world?
That’s why the population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip literally tripled during those 27 years, from c. 950,000 in 1967 to 3.2 MILLION in 1995. Infant mortality plummeted, longevity increased, and hundreds of thousands of Arabs (Palestinian and other) poured over the “open bridges” across the Jordan river (from the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan that was still de iure at war with Israel) to find work and homes in the area that you consider under an “oppressive rule”.
Only when Arafat started his terror war did Israel need to resort to oppressive but defensive measures to stop the terrorism.
Lerner: Still, that history of oppression provides only a basis for compassion, not an excuse or justification for policies that must be changed.
Meir-Levi: Odd that you don’t consider the PA’s terrorism a policy that must be changed? Or, if you do, it is even more odd that you fail to mention terrorism as an issue in your assessment of Israel.
Lerner: And while many of us welcome the moves being made for Israel to leave Gaza, we also do not believe that they provide much of a foundation for hope, because even though they may temporarily lessen the daily suffering of some Palestinians
Meir-Levi: It is so difficult for me to understand where you are coming from with these comments. You say nothing of the facts that: Sharon made his most far-reaching unilateral offer on 4/14/04 when he told Akhmed Qurei’a (PM of the PA) that if they stopped the terror they would get their state and difficult issues would be decided in negotiations, BUT even if they do not stop the terror they would STILL GET THEIR STATE, except that Sharon would draw the lines unilaterally. Qurei’a rejected this offer.
The Palestinians are suffering only because Israel needs to impose restrictions to stop the terrorists from killing hundreds or even thousands of Israelis. Stop the terror and the restrictions no longer exist, just as they did not exist before the terror war.
Whatever Sharon’s plans may be, real or imagined (by you), he has offered to settle all disputes via negotiations such that whatever segments of the West Bank he ends up keeping for Israel will be those segments to which his Palestinian interlocutors have agreed to relinquish in exchange for the hundreds of settlements that will be dismantled and tens of thousands of dunams of land that will be relinquished to PA control.
Baraq offered Arafat the most-far-reaching compromise imaginable in 6/2000 (I have the map of what would have been the state of Palestine. I’ll send you a copy of you want). Arafat rejected it. There is no rule that says that an offer must be kept open forever. Since Arafat initiated his major escalation of the Oslo war into the 2nd Intifada on 9/29/2000, just months after rejecting Baraq’s offer, Israel is under no obligation or any sort (moral, legal, historical) to relinquish any of the West Bank or Gaza Strip to PA control.
Bottom line: the Palestinians’ discomfort that so acutely troubles you is purely a function of their leadership’s commitment to ongoing terror war. Stop the terror and the discomfort goes away.
Your longed-for “foundation for hope” lies exclusively in the hands of the terrorist leadership. You should be hoping for them to abandon their 57-year dream of destroying Israel and genociding its Jews. If they were to put down their weapons, there would be no more violence. On the other hand, if Israel were to put down its weapons, there would soon be no more Israel.
Lerner: (though not totally, given that Israel will continue to control the borders and enter with force into Gaza whenever Israel chooses to see a security threat there),
Meir-Levi: If I did not know that you are a rabbi (I’ve been told that you are a rabbi? Where is your Semichah from?), I would have to conclude that you are a spokesperson for Hamas or the like.
How can you suggest that Israel “…chooses to see a security threat”? (emphasis mine). You are (inadvertently, I assume) regurgitating Palestinian propaganda straight from PASSIA. “We (Hamas et al) are no threat. We fight only to redeem our land. If Israel would end the occupation, there would be peace” (Per Marwan Barghouti’s 8/2001 op-ed piece in the Chicago Tribune).
You imply, with “..chooses to see”, that Israel does not really face existential threats from the terrorists; but rather fabricates (chooses to see) such threats whenever Sharon wants to do more invading.
Do the 1800 dead and almost 7000 wounded or maimed for life since 10/93 not constitue ample evidence of a real existential threat? Do not the more than 18,000 terror attacks since 10/93 demonstrate a real commitment to destroy Israel? Do not the endless diatribes of annihilation, rhetoric of genocide, and promises that “Palestine” will be “from the river to the sea” offer ample proof that the intentions of the terrorists constitute a real security threat to Israel?
Lerner: …we know from the words of Ariel Sharon and his supporters in the Likud that the disengagement from Gaza is only to strengthen Israel's ability to retain control over the West Bank, prevent a contiguous Palestinian state (though they may be offered a sham version, with Jerusalem's 250,000 Palestinians cut off from the rest and told that they are part of Israel), with 300,000 Israeli settlers in their midst having roads that only Jews can ride crisscrossing this land and dividing it into powerless cantons.
Meir-Levi: This is such blather that I cringe with embarrassment on your behalf. How can you publish an essay that blindly, uncritically, almost enthusiastically promotes the palpable and transparent lies of PASSIA and other Arab propaganda sources?
Sharon does indeed seek to strengthen Israel’s claim to parts of the West Bank. Nothing wrong with that! UN resolution 242 made it clear that Israel would never be expected to retreat to the 1949 armistice lines. Look at what Baraq offered. Look at the line of the current defensive fence. In honest and open-ended negotiations the Palestinian Authority, with the blessings of President Bush and the US Congress, can look forward to retaining most of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and some additional area added to these in order to give Abbas a state whose territory will be equal to that of the West Bank and Gaza strip as it was in 1949. Why do you vilify Sharon when he is operating within the boundaries of international law, UN resolution 242 and 383, and the Camp David 2 accords?
And regarding “..roads that only Jews can ride on”, how can you be so ignorant as to repeat that scurrilous Arab lie? The roads that Arab propaganda condemns as “racist, apartheid” roads were built only after 1994, in order to let Israeli citizens (Jews, Moslems, Christians, Bahai, others) access the towns and villages of the West Bank WITHOUT needing to drive through the Arab villages. Before the terrorism, I used to drive through the West Bank in my little deux=chevaux, unarmed, eating at Arab restaurants, chatting with Arab vendors. I used to take my students on field trips into the West Bank, dozens at a time, in open un-armed vehicles. We were met by cheerful villagers who were happy to sell us their wares. Only when terrorists began to fire-bomb or RPG the busses and cars of innocent civilians did the Israeli government go to the expense of building these roads as a defensive and non-violent way to avoid confrontation and violence. If the PA would end the violence, the roads would be open to Palestinians too.
Regarding a “sham state” with Jerusalem’s 250,000 Arabs retained by Israel, are you unaware of the Palestinian polls that show that these Arabs wish to remain in Israel? They do not want to be part of a Palestinian state; because they have experienced the two (Arafat’s thugocracy and Israel’s democracy) and they prefer the Israeli model. See my attachments for details.
Regarding “cantons”: Lord have mercy. Can you not know that there are no cantons in the West Bank, nor where there ever any, nor are any envisioned for the future. Areas B and C (partial PA control) per Oslo were to become Areas A (total PA sovereignty) over the 5 years from 1993 to 1998, as Arafat built his state, created rule of law, and enforced an end to terrorism and the dismantling of the terror armies that today run amok throughout the Gaza Strip and West Bank. So the deal was, as you build and keep the peace, you get more and more until you have it all. But Arafat did not build, nor is Abbas building. They both chose terrorism and war; and Israel has no choice but to defend its citizenry from the carnage they seek to perpetrate.
The term “cantons’ is a fiction applied to the West Bank by PASSIA in order to create faux comparison with South Africa. “Apartheid” is the epithet of choice for PASSI in order to maintain the same impression. And you (unwittingly, I assume) foist their heinous lies on your constituency.
How can you present lies as though they were facts? How can you condemn Israel by making it look like the aggressor when it is in fact the victim? How can you regurgitate the screed cranked out daily by pro-terrorist sources in the Arab and western world? Can you be truly so ignorant of the history and reality of the conflict….or do you just hope that your audience is?
Lerner: We know all this, and we dip wine from our cup of joy in commemoration of the oppression of the Palestinian people and in mourning for the distortions that are being presented to the world as Judaism when in fact what is happening is the exact opposite of what the Jewish tradition has to teach.
Meir-Levi: No disrespect, Rabbi, but this last paragraph is too horrid for words. You should be ashamed. Not a word about the callous and brutal murder of thousands of Israelis, not a word about the barbaric terror war; and instead succor and support for those who want to destroy our people. With such a ‘commemoration’ you disgrace yourself; and even worse, you disgracefully mislead those who look to you for guidance.
Lerner: Love and blessings for a universal liberation of all peoples.
Meir-Levi: Yes. Here we can agree. Liberate Israel from the hate mongering and war mongering and terrorism and diatribe of genocide perpetrated against it for almost six decades by so many of its Arab neighbors.
Liberate the Palestinian people from the thugocracy and kleptocracy of the terrorists that run their pseudo-government and sham democracy, so that they can experience again the peace they knew under Israeli sovereignty and can have a chance to achieve national self-determination via peaceful negotiations with a willing Israel. And liberate the benighted pseudo-intellectuals and sham religious leaders of all faiths who support hatred and murder, war and oppression. Amen. I can support that version of “universal liberation.”