Thursday, May 06, 2010
Tikkun Twits and Tenured Traitors
1. Apostasy, Pablo Christiani and Michael Lerner
By Cynthia Ozick
CAMERA - Apostasy among Jews has a long tradition. In its most literal
expression under the hegemony of the medieval Church, apostasy meant
conversion to Christianity — and something more. The apostate felt obliged
to confirm, and to prove, his new commitment by initiating even harsher
persecutions than those already customary. And of course the apostate was
in one respect far better credentialed and equipped for perfidious Jewish
inventions than his Christian compatriots.
Even as a former Jew, even
having repudiated his old identity, it was explicitly as a Jew that he was
called upon to be useful, since it was by virtue of his being a Jew that he
could be regarded as authoritative, and his views as authentic. As an
authentic and authoritative Jew, clearly he was privy to the inmost heart of
Jewish arcana, and uniquely positioned to expose it for what it was, for the
wickedness and blasphemy it harbored. Franciscans and Dominicans might
intuit that the Talmud was the source of enmity to Christianity and mockery
of the Saviour, but with no access to its literature, they were helpless to
produce the evidence. With Jewish apostasy zealously in its service, all
clerical doubt vanished, and the miscreant Jews could be authentically and
authoritatively punished by all the merciless means at the disposal of
Christian piety according to the principle of divine supersessionism.
The apostate prevaricated; the clerisy believed. Who benefited from
this collusion? The holy friars certainly, since their religious convictions,
requiring the suffering of Jews in recompense for the Crucifixion, were
further stimulated and fed; and also the local monarchs: influenced by the
friars, they regularly profited from pressure on the Jews, whether through
impoverishing taxation or, more directly, through confiscation and pillage.
And for ordinary folk witnessing a mammoth bonfire of Torah scrolls and
volumes of Talmud sending their flames into the sky, where the angels
dwell, there was the holiday elation and uplift of soul a communal festivity
But what of the apostates themselves? How did such impressive
figures as Nicholas Donin and Pablo Christiani fare? From being despised as
societal pariahs they were instantly elevated to honored public pundits. They
were intelligent men — they were, in fact, sophisticated intellectuals. Were
they cynical political opportunists with an instinct for where the power lies?
Were they thoughtful pragmatists who for the sake of quotidian ease simply
determined that it is prudent to belong to the safe majority rather than to a
harassed minority? Or were they genuine believers who had been persuaded
of the higher truth of Christianity? An apostate in those times may have been
any of these — but whatever his motivation, the apostate had to recognize,
in full awareness, that he was entering into a virulent bargain: the price for
his acceptance, and his ascent, was to increase the anguish of the Jews he
was leaving behind.
As with the apostasy of individuals, so with the mega-apostasies of
world history. When developing Christianity, whatever its motivations and
convictions, departed from Judaism, it was the Jews who were made to
suffer. When developing Islam, whatever its motivations and convictions,
departed from Judaism and Christianity, it was again the Jews who were
made to suffer. Christianity belatedly reformed itself, latterly through shame
in the face of the Holocaust, initially through loss of the temporal power to
enforce the old theologically instigated crimes. Islam, its Islamist branches
notoriously supported and succored by states, awaits its own reformation.
But perhaps these huge collective movements, evolving through the
centuries with all their internal divisions and kaleidoscopic complexities, can
no longer be defined as apostasies. Christianity, while not forsaking its
central messianic creed, has come to regard itself, in the words of Pope John
XXIII, as Judaism's younger brother. Islam, by contrast, far from seeing
itself as derivative or fraternal, points to both Judaism and Christianity as
apostasies willfully broken away from the original — hence the purest —
source of God's word, the Koran.
How, then, should we look at this word apostate today? That it has
mostly fallen into disuse we know; yet its freight has been put to many uses,
especially under the noose of successive creedal tyrannies. Inevitably, in
contemporary terms, it returns us to the theme of defamation. The apostate is
one who defames — if not his origins explicitly, then his living counterparts,
the people to whom he was born. In the Soviet Union, for instance, the
Yevsektsia, the "Jew section" of the Communist Party, composed of avowed
Communists "of Jewish descent," was an instrument of the oppression of
Jews. As for the present moment, though the medieval Church is no more
than a literary memory in the mind of the largely secular West, and the
Soviet Union is gone, the notion of apostasy, as applied to the individual,
still holds. But its meaning has been curiously reversed. The Nicholas
Donins and Pablo Christianis of ages past ran to abandon their Jewish ties
even as they subverted them. The Nicholas Donins and Pablo Christianis of
our own time run to embrace their Jewish ties even as they besmirch them.
So it is as self-declared Jews, as loyal and honorable Jews, as Jews in
the line of the prophets, as Jews who speak out for the sake of the integrity
of Jews and Judaism, that we nowadays hear arguments against the survival,
or the necessity, or the legitimacy, of the State of Israel. These negating
Jewish voices can be lyrical, as from the poets; or nimble, as from the
novelists; or transcendent, as from the philosophers; or dour, as from the
revisionist historians; or pragmatic, as from the realists; or apoplectically
apocalyptical, as from the unregenerate Marxists; or Houdinishly knotted, as
from the theologians; or self-referential, as from all of the above. They
include, among innumerable well-known others, Adrienne Rich and Irena
Klepfisz and Jacqueline Rose and Judith Butler and Tony Judt and Marc
Ellis — and, most engagingly, Michael Lerner.
I am compelled to call Lerner engaging, even entertaining, because
there is something of the mime about him — a very garrulous mime. Yet he
can, like the late Marcel Marceau, assume a particular pose with lifelike
effect, and then instantly go on to contort into a wondrously different
persona. His latest role is that of rabbi. Despite his history as a dropout from
the Jewish Theological Seminary's rabbinical school, Rabbi Lerner, as we
must now call him, was belatedly eased into the rabbinate through a "private
ordination" at the hands of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, holder of the
Chair in World Wisdom at the Naropa Institute in Colorado, the Buddhist
center beloved by Allen Ginsberg; and if you should wish to cast doubt on
Lerner's rabbinic validity or the competence of his rabbinic learning, you
may see the proof of it in the little white knitted yarmulke he sports while
discoursing with Bill Moyers on television, speaking in one breath both of
the perniciousness of the "Israel lobby" and of the urgency of universal love.
In addition to his prestigious clerical status, Rabbi Lerner is renowned
as the founder and editor of Tikkun, a magazine specifically designed to
counter the influence of Commentary. Tikkun's political affinities lie with
the Nation, though in the writing of English it is radically inferior to almost
every other journal intended for grownups, especially when it is Rabbi
Lerner who is doing the writing. As a journalist, as a polemicist, as a
putative philosopher, Rabbi Lerner is chaotic, disorganized, frequently
ungrammatical, self-contradictory, puerile, and unbearably long-winded.
Nevertheless, his central point always comes through with radiant repetitive
clarity: Israel is culpable, Israel is wicked, Israel is an oppressor, and so on.
By now nearly everyone understands that tikkun means "repair of the
world"; it is one of those many noble terms, like "peace," "justice," and
"human rights," that have been despoiled and betrayed by Orwellian
To create a new magazine — even if inspired by envy and spite — is
impressive enough. But Rabbi Lerner is also the founder of at least two
aspiring social movements. Decades ago, when — still in the bloom of youth
and declaring that "the synagogue as currently established will have to be
smashed" — he headed the Seattle Liberation Front, an enterprise as
pugnacious as its name. After a dustup with the police, he was arrested and
tried as one of the honored Seattle Seven. According to Rabbi Lerner, the
violence was not of the Front's making, and his sentence of several months
in jail was unjustly imposed. But the world has since moved on; except for
creaky old Cuba and vim-and-virulence Venezuela, Liberation Fronts are no
longer in fashion, having been replaced by the softer urgencies of
Spirituality. By now the time had surely come for the founding of a front
more in conformity with the present — hence Rabbi Lerner's most recent
coinage: the NSP, the Network of Spiritual Progressives. Never mind the
treacly oxymoronic rubric. It is a curiosity in itself that "progressive" has
lately been resuscitated in common parlance. An amnesiac generation has
forgotten that this term, as embraced by Stalin's Western cadres, was once
so steeped in earned opprobrium and shame that it seemed likely to vanish
forever, along with that other lost political ideal, Kinder, Küche, Kirche.
"Progressive," however, has turned out to be a boomerang: it goes away
only to return, its threadbare mantras intact. Those old progressives, aka
fellow travelers, were, like Stalin himself, hard-headed, hard-hearted
atheists: not for them this gossamer vapid wingèd thing, composed of
vaporous rainbows and spun sugar, called Spirituality.
With consummate ingenuity, Rabbi Lerner's Network of Spiritual
Progressives manages to link scurrility with sentimental religiosity: only
imagine Karl Marx davening, and you will comprehend the dazzlement of
Rabbi Lerner's current achievement. Lately, as it happens, he has added yet
another element to his mix: perhaps the NSP will soon morph into the
NSPR, the Network of Spiritual Progressive Realists. Should this come to
pass, it will be because Rabbi Lerner, mentor to many, has acquired two
celebrated mentors of his own: John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt,
academics noted for political realism, and co-authors of the problematic The
Israel Lobby and U. S. Foreign Policy. In an article typically prolix and
moistly dedicated to the common good, Rabbi Lerner, with some minuscule
demurrals, strides in lockstep with these eminent representatives of the
realist school. Not only does he parallel and support their conclusions, but he
is able to go beyond their limited analysis. After all, as a faithful Jew, and
certainly as a rabbi, he is in possession of a privileged intimacy with internal
American Jewish society, which the two professors naturally lack, and can
only surmise and invent. Besides, Mearsheimer and Walt, in their scrupulous
civility, while condemning what they take to be large public conspiracies,
are careful not to intrude on the individual practices of synagogues and
Not so Rabbi Lerner. "First," he writes, "the Israel lobby cannot be
understood apart from the vast number of Jewish institutions and even
individual communities, synagogues, and families that impose on their
members a certain discipline that goes well beyond any normal political
party or force, challenging the human, ethical, and Jewish identities of
anyone who disagrees with its fundamental assumptions." Let us interrupt
for a moment to reprise one brief passage: a certain discipline that goes well
beyond any normal political party or force. Of what notorious nineteenthcentury
czarist fabrication, the favorite of neo-Nazis and their admirers, do
these words remind us? Who and where are those sinister Jewish families,
including teens and toddlers, whose lives are devoted to the machinations of
this amorphous lobby? As for the synagogues, when a shul is discovered
openly raising funds to purchase an ambulance for an Israeli town daily
attacked by rockets, is that shul an active branch of the Israel lobby? And
what precisely is the nature of this "discipline," and on whom is it exerted? I
will readily testify that I was not knowingly under the imposition of a
discipline, or compelled by any party or mysterious force, when of my own
free will I once had the pleasure, in public, of dubbing the pre-rabbinic
Lerner an "intellectual wimp." Is it possible that this rude ad hominem, and
several other rudenesses herein, will qualify me as a member in good
standing of the Israel lobby?
The answer is plainly yes, and Rabbi Lerner has already fingered me
in print. "I am sure," he goes on, "that the instinctive reaction of a large
section of the American Jewish community affiliated with the Jewish lobby
will be the predictable assault on Mearsheimer and Walt and on Tikkun and
on anyone else who speaks up in criticism of the Israel lobby." And having
praised "the often careful and thoughtful work of Mearsheimer and Walt,"
while also conceding that he has been "referring frequently with their
permission" to their book, he offers this comment: "The Israel lobby has
become a major perpetrator of the fear orientation in politics that the NSP
believes to be at the heart of the many problems facing the world. The Israel
lobby sees threats everywhere."
Rabbi Lerner and his reality instructors perhaps do not see threats? Of
course they do — the multiple threats that flow from American policies
toward Israel, controlled and manipulated by the Israel lobby; and it is the
Israel lobby that stands in the way of world peace and serenity by inciting
the enmity of Ahmadinejad and all other jihadists determined to annihilate
the Jewish state. Rabbi Lerner emphasizes in a headline: "AIPAC Has
Democratic Congresspeople Scared." In fact, so scared of the Israel lobby
are Democrats and Republicans alike, that — as Rabbi Lerner writes
elsewhere — he "would not be surprised to learn that some branch of our
government conspired either actively to promote or passively to allow" the
agony of the Towers. Ah, and who scares and influences and virtually runs
the government? The Israel lobby. Here Rabbi Lerner joins unclean hands
with Amiri Baraka and Rosie O'Donnell.
As a scholar (he claims two doctorates), Rabbi Lerner has not troubled
so much as to glance at the masses of serious analytic criticism exposing his
mentors' unprofessional methods, reliance on secondary and tertiary
journalism, errors of fact, errors of recent history, and promulgation of
shameless ancient charges; instead, he repeats their vilifications and lauds
their "careful and thoughtful work."
It is easy to dismiss, even to lampoon, Michael Lerner. His magazine
is negligible; his Network of Spiritual Progressives is risible. But he is one
of a growing band of vocal and ambitious self-touting Jews whose hostility
to the State of Israel more and more takes on the character of the spite that
kills. The noise they make they call a silencing. The debate they attract they
call a censoring. Some despise nationalism and the nation-state on principle,
while at the same time arguing for Palestinian national rights. The insouciant
Tony Judt flicks off Israel as an "anachronism." Jacqueline Rose, feverishly
psychoanalytical, weaves eros into murder, seeing in suicide bombing an
"unbearable intimacy . . . an act of passionate identification . . . a deadly
embrace." Adrienne Rich asks Zionism, the term and its history, "to dissolve
before twenty-first century realities": the malevolent siege of Israel, to be
sure, is not such a reality. Judith Butler desires her status as a Jew not to be
embarrassed by confusing it with the Zionist project, the disappearance of
which she longs to accomplish. And in a didactic work of fiction, the lofty
George Steiner taints the establishment of Israel with the ultimate taint: he
credits Hitler with the invention of Zionism, and Judaism with the invention
Nicholas Donin and Pablo Christiani, those clever old friars much
experienced in crushing Jewish cultural and political expression, would feel
right at home in this company, as clever as themselves: they would
sympathize with the familiar sensibility of Jews eager to join the dominating
class in a period when the dominating class is hurtful to Jews. But how
puzzled they might be by this newfangled modern apostasy, whereby the
apostates declare how profoundly Jewish they are! And what they might
make of the sight of Rabbi Michael Lerner in his yarmulke as he recites the
recognizable medieval canards of Mearsheimer and Walt, only God in his
heaven can tell.
May 4, 2010
by Alan M. Dershowitz
"Rabbi" Michael Lerner & Tikkun Magazine
3. I plan to be in Berkeley this coming summer. Can anyone send me some stickers and boxes of super glue?
4. The Moonbats and Traitors are now targeting the Technion: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3886094,00.html
5. Yitzhak Klein Interviewed on the Academic Fifth Column
Terra Incognita: Israel's democracy wars
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
7. You might have noticed that in reporting on the "attack" on the home of Michael Lerner in Berkeley, the "Jewish" Telegraphic Agency kept referring to him as "Rabbi" Lerner. I can think of no better reason for closing down the JTA.
8. Skeletons in the Goldstone closet:
9. Professor Mearsheimer and His Useful Jews
An American political scientist talks in terms reminiscent of Tsarist Russia.
At some point in the early part of the 20th century, the Tsarist authorities deemed my great grandfather to be a "useful Jew." He was a pianist and his musical talents fit nicely with Russia's classical preoccupation with high European culture.
And so, under this vulgar appellation, he was issued the necessary documents and permitted to leave the area where men of his caste were kept. He moved to St. Petersburg to teach at a musical conservatory and joined the ethnic Russian population under whose caprice he lived, but to whom he would never truly belong—even after his conversion to Orthodoxy.
Some 80 years later, my family and I left the Soviet Union and moved to the United States where we could define our own identity without the help of paternalistic Tsars and commissars. Had I been born a century ago, I don't know whether I would have qualified as a "useful Jew" or a useless one and, truth be told, until last week I never found the occasion to wonder.
On April 29, University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer delivered a speech titled "The Future of Palestine: Righteous Jews vs. the New Afrikaners." Mr. Mearsheimer is one of America's more celebrated political scientists. In 2006, he and a co-author wrote an article-turned-book called "The Israel Lobby," arguing that advocates for the Jewish state have manipulated U.S. foreign policy in a way that harms American interests.
In last week's talk, given at the Palestine Center in Washington, D.C., Mr. Mearsheimer explained that "American Jews who care deeply about Israel can be divided into three broad categories." Since I don't know many American Jews who are apathetic about Israel's fate, and since I had no idea that an entire ethnicity could be so neatly compartmentalized, it seemed prudent to continue reading the transcript.
Mr. Mearsheimer refers to the first category as "Righteous Jews." According to him, they include radicals like Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, as well as more reasonable individuals like New York Times columnist Roger Cohen.
The second category, those that could be described as hawkish on Israel, Mr. Mearsheimer calls the "New Afrikaners." This reference to supporters of apartheid encompasses the Jews that he doesn't like; they include the heads of most American Jewish political organizations as well as right-of-center media figures. He refers to the third category as the "great ambivalent middle," those who are apparently undecided about Israel.
The speech contains a litany of other bizarre and unsubstantiated claims: Zionism's core beliefs are deeply hostile to the establishment of a Palestinian state, many young Israelis hold racist views towards Palestinians, and so on.
But it was Mr. Mearsheimer's taxonomy of the Jewish citizens of this country that captivated me the most. I'm not sure where I fall on his rubric. I had always considered myself simply a Jewish-American, but perhaps I truly am "righteous" or alternatively a "new Afrikaner."
Nor am I sure where to place all the other Jews that I have encountered in my life. The ones who so generously helped my family when we arrived in this country as refugees seemed quite "righteous," but they are associated with some of the organizations Mr. Mearsheimer deemed evil, or at least accomplices to it.
Such distinctions should be considered beyond the pale. Would a professor get a respectful hearing if he divided black men into "righteous African-Americans" and "Malcolm X types"?
A college friend, born and raised in Canada but of Chinese descent, once remarked to me that the U.S. is so great because it is the country where people are least likely to ask where you're "really" from. Yet Mr. Mearsheimer seems convinced of his ability to divine who one really is. One imagines that the word American wouldn't satisfy his inquiry.
Surely the crude categorization of an entire set of people according to political proclivities has no place in the 21st century. The illiberal political condition of Tsarist Russia enabled cultural arbiters to define minorities any way they pleased. Thank goodness America accords the likes of Mr. Mearsheimer no such right.
Mr. Balson is an M.A. candidate at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
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10. A Governor at Tel Aviv University blasts the Israeli Academic Fifth Column: