Today, the family of Muhammad Ali invited leftist Michael Lerner to speak at the funeral/memorial service for Ali, supposedly — as Lerner writes — “to represent the Jewish people.”
Nothing could be a greater travesty. In an old column for PJM, I wrote that Lerner is a man who “lives in his own starry-eyed radical world.” If you think this is not true, simply go to the many links Lerner provides and read what he has written over the years.
In my 2002 column, I called out Lerner for his views on how American Jews should relate to Israel. The column is still relevant because, if anything, Lerner’s views have gotten much worse. In discussing how Israel should respond to terrorist attacks against it by Palestinians, he falsely presents himself as a moderate, not as part of the emerging pro-Palestinian, left-wing protest movement. He is, he assures us, “outraged” by the “immoral acts of Palestinian terrorists.”
What does he suggest Israel do about it? Should they fight back? Lerner just gives a new dose of moral equivalence by using the same language he has scolded the Palestinian terrorists with and applying it to Israel. He writes, in as good an example of the sordid use of moral equivalence as any ever used:
[M]any understand that Israeli treatment of Palestinians has been immoral and outrageous.
Lerner believes that two equally immoral policies cancel each other out. Therefore, an Israeli military response simply compounds the immorality, making Israel the guiltier party.
In 2002, as Cantor Bob Cohen wrote, Lerner backed “the anti-American and anti-Israeli five-term congresswoman from DeKalb County, Georgia, Cynthia McKinney.” Lerner did this along with Nation of Islam chief Louis Farrakhan.
Has Lerner changed since 2002?
Here is the position he advocated in 2009, as reported by John Perazzo:
“I believe,” says Lerner, “that the Israeli people will never be safe until the Occupation ends and a new spirit of repentance and generosity spreads through the Jewish people.” He urges Jews “to atone “for expelling hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians during the War of Independence in 1948”; “for not having fulfilled the terms of the Oslo Accord, which envisioned granting Palestinians an independent state several years ago”; “for not being able to recognize themselves as the superior force with the greater responsibility to compromise and respect the needs of the less powerful”; and for “the deep racism in their society.”
Lerner is the kind of “friend of Israel” that blames the Jewish state alone for the problems facing the Palestinians. He never mentions the Israeli offers of peace settlements that the Palestinians have rejected time and again. For evidence, here is what Lerner wrote just weeks ago for Israel’s Independence Day:
Today, very few younger Jews in the U.S. celebrate Yom Ha’atz’ma’ut, [Israel’s Independence Day] much less proclaim (as the official prayer for the State of Israel created by the Chief Rabbis of Israel states) that Israel is “the beginning of the flourishing of our redemption.” In fact, many Jews worry that the repressive policies of the State of Israel toward the Palestinian people are leading to a new kind of anti-Semitism spreading globally, this kind based not on religious doctrine but on moral outrage at the way the Palestinian people have been treated in the past 49 years since the Occupation began and anger at Jews around the world who continue to give Israel blind loyalty and accept its policies as necessary.
For Lerner, the new anti-Semitism can be blamed only on “the repressive policies of the State of Israel.” Not on Palestinian rejection of a Jewish State, not on jihad waged by Islamists, not on the terrorist state of Iran that threatens Israel’s existence and whose leaders deny the Holocaust, not on the constant attacks on Jews in countries like France and Britain. Hence, the political task of “progressive” Jews is to continually attack Israel and its government, while rationalizing the attacks on it by various reactionary Arab and Palestinian forces.
Lerner obviously is upset that Israel did not live up to its socialist promise, but instead became a successful capitalist nation. He ends by quoting the words of the leader of Israel’s small and diminishing so-called “peace movement,” Uri Avnery, who writes:
I pray that it is not too late to turn Israel back into what it was meant to be by socialist Zionists like Martin Buber, Judah Magnes, and Albert Einstein — an expression of what is best in the Jewish tradition.
Buber, Magnes and Einstein were all supporters of a bi-national state. That proposal went nowhere in the 1940s, because they were unable to find one Arab or Palestinian leader who accepted it.
Even I.F. Stone, who originally supported the concept, concluded at the time that the only way for Jews to gain freedom in the Middle East was to fight for and recognize the creation of a Jewish State, which became Israel on May 16, 1948.
For Michael Lerner to grace the stage along with major world leaders is an affront to American Jews, to anyone who supports Israel, to anyone who recognizes the need for a strong Jewish State in today’s world. The Jewish people certainly deserve a better representative than Michael Lerner.