What’s Really Best for Israel?

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump went before AIPAC this year and pandered to those who blindly support Israel’s hard-line policies, but Bernie Sanders’s more evenhanded approach is better for Israel, says Rabbi Michael Lerner.

By Rabbi Michael Lerner

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.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressing the AIPAC conference in Washington D.C. on March 21, 2016. (Photo credit: AIPAC)

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressing the AIPAC conference in Washington D.C. on March 21, 2016. (Photo credit: AIPAC)

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.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.

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)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaking to the AIPAC conference in Washington D.C. on March 21, 2016. (Photo credit: AIPAC)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaking to the AIPAC conference in Washington D.C. on March 21, 2016. (Photo credit: AIPAC)

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.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine, chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in Berkeley, Ca. and author of 11 books, including the national best seller The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right(HarperÇollins, 2006), and most recently Embracing Israel and Palestine. He can be reached at rabbilerner.tikkun@gmail.com or 510 644 1200 or 510 526 6889

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22 comments for “What’s Really Best for Israel?

  1. Bill Bodden
    May 28, 2016 at 6:19 pm

    Rabbi Lerner deserves every compliment he receives for this courageous stand on the Israel/Palestine issue, but it resembles among other historical events two in particular. One is the pleas of Jews in Europe for justice in the 1930s that failed to dissuade Hitler and his supporters from their merciless racist agenda. Another is the ingrained racism of the Deep South that brought everlasting shame to its white citizens and misery to its black victims.

    The former historical phase is replicated to some degree by the merciless rejection of Palestinians’ pleas for peace and justice by Israel’s right wing and its international supporters including, especially, the United States. The sins of the United States are compounded by the unconscionable hypocrisy of talking about bringing democracy to other parts of the world while it supports any authoritarian despot who proves to be a reliable ally in its pursuit of global hegemony and can afford to buy the souls of a cowardly political establishment.

    The lessons from America’s Deep South are (a) that it will very likely require the injection of military force or punishing sanctions to restore in some measure the practice of justice that once existed in Israel and survives among minorities of Jews in and beyond Israel, and (b) racism will survive in Israel for generations as it has in the South, even if it is diminished to a considerable degree.

    • Hunter Watson
      June 6, 2016 at 1:40 pm

      The comparison of Israeli racism’s tenacity to the same phenomenon in the American South is certainly apt. And now that the external stakeholders are at the stage of offering Israel a final opportunity to make peace voluntarily, so is the reference to the alternatives, military force or more likely punishing sanctions.

  2. A.S.F,
    May 28, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    Rabbi Lerner, as a fellow Jew, I feel compelled to inform you that you do not speak for most Jews, like myself, who feel saddened and somewhat disgusted by your “useful idiot” prattling. It gives aid and comfort to Anti-Semites everywhere. You should be ashamed but I suspect your innate narcissism would prevent that from ever occurring.

    • Bill Bodden
      May 28, 2016 at 10:53 pm

      … you do not speak for most Jews, …

      Unfortunately.

    • Ausmar
      May 31, 2016 at 5:07 am

      A.S.F., instead of addressing the issues, you just rely on name calling. You should be ashamed.

    • Dr. Ibrahim Soudy
      May 31, 2016 at 7:32 pm

      and you, A.S.F., should be ashamed of yourself too because you continue to use the term Anti-Semitism offending all the other Semitic people!! Why cannot you use “Anti-Jewishness”?! You know why?! Because you know that Anti-Semitism is a weaponized term used now to scare people and make them shut up. Have some decency and stop using that term because insisting on using it makes YOU Anti-Semitic……..

  3. John
    May 28, 2016 at 9:18 pm

    Talk about the entire world being duped daily by these charlatans is beyond logic…..This land belonged to the Canaanites until the Israelites took the land by force…..killing every man woman and child even the livestock. Was this not the Canaanite holocaust !

  4. Winston
    May 28, 2016 at 11:31 pm

    What amazes me is how Israel’s supporters do not care about its bad governance. There is a reason why middle class is disappearing;and why israel has more poverty than Mexico!

    How did Jews, who have proven to be talented people outside the country; create such a poor example of governance? Here’s another example of the inadequate standard of governance:

    http://weblaw.haifa.ac.il/he/Faculty/Kimhi/Publications/Lessons%20from%20Israel.pdf
    CHRONICLE OF A LOCAL CRISIS FORETOLD—LESSONS FROM ISRAEL

    • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen
      May 30, 2016 at 11:29 am

      Israel has more poverty than Mexico? But it’s a First World country!

      Also, the fact that liberal democrats feel more sympathetic towards the Palestinians is not as meaningful as it sounds. There are also centrist and conservative democrats. Yes, many democrats are now pro-Palestine rather than pro-Israel, particularly the young, but a lot aren’t.

  5. Winston
    May 28, 2016 at 11:36 pm

    American Jews can see Israel is heading down wrong path.

    http://forward.com/opinion/326188/widening-rift-between-american-jews-and-israel-on-painful-display-at-saban/
    Widening Rift Between American Jews and Israel on Painful Display at Saban Forum

  6. k
    May 29, 2016 at 3:39 am

    yup. unfortunately.

  7. robert
    May 29, 2016 at 11:48 am

    “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.” Then why is there no criticism of Hamas and other extremist groups (Islamic Jihad, PFLP, Fatah) some of whom are members of the PA, when they call for the destruction of Israel and a one-state solution?

    “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.” What a great position for Tikkun/Rabbi Lerner to take — the 2-state solution! Funny how there is no mention of the rejection of the Barak and Olmert peace offers by Israel, as if it never happened.

    The one-sidedness of this political piece by a Jewish leader boggles the mind. Is there no reason to hold Palestinian leadership accountable for their own extremist rejectionist positions when it comes to peace and 2-state solution? And What about the “incitement” ie rank anti-semitism, racism directed towards Jews on the part of the PA and Hamas? It is one thing for a rabbi to call the actions of Jews and Jewish leaders to task, I suppose. But shouldn’t Rabbi Lerner and Tikkun also make sure the Democratic party calls Palestinians to task for rejecting previous peace offers, that could’ve advanced not only their own cause but saved so many thousands and Arab and Jewish lives?

    LIke it or not, it is this inherent unfairness, one-sidedness, double standard towards Jews on the part of Israel’s critics, liberal and left Jews and non-Jews alike, that is frankly, in the best tradition of classic Christian anti-semitism, putting Israelis on the defensive and alienating them from the possibility of peace.

  8. Bill Bodden
    May 29, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    Funny how there is no mention of the rejection of the Barak and Olmert peace offers by Israel, as if it never happened.

    Are you referring to the Barak offer at Camp David that Arafat couldn’t possibly accept? This is one of many articles that expose the phoniness of Barak and the pundits that piled on Arafat: Was Arafat the Problem? By Robert Wright – http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/the_earthling/2002/04/wasarafat_the_problem.html

    Here is another: Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors by Robert Malley and Hussein Agha – http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2001/08/09/camp-david-the-tragedy-of-errors/

  9. M.
    May 29, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    This is heartening to hear, Rabbi Lerner. Please keep speaking out.

  10. Bill Perdue
    May 29, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    None of the candidates in either party will stand for Palestinians against the colonists who’ve taken much of their country.

    The only solution to end the fighting and achieve justice is summed up in the expression ‘Palestine for the Palestinians’.

  11. May 29, 2016 at 5:19 pm

    The two state solution never had a chance. There is no dignity in it for either state. Only a one state solution will ever give a chance at peace. The real facts on the ground prevented it in every possible way of looking at it. Without going into all of them, the only solution that has a chance of peace is that the wholly artificial national language, social and religious borders that now divide all of the countries in that area of the world must slowly break down and that the local leaders found a country not based on historical rivalry, on a religion, on a social or national myth, on a threat of better technology or weapons, or on one race, but on toleration for and sharing and caring for everyone included. This may take a long time or a short time. It will start with Israelis allowing a right of return. It will follow up with apologies all around. Present day Jews in Israel, but all over the world especially, have the most to gain. Any other outcome leads eventually to more hatred, more injustice, and even more insanity. Under that story line, nuclear destruction of almost everyone, but certainly, of highly concentrated, walled off Jews will be a certainty. Israelis are now the best off and have the most to lose. They will have to choose, a good life shared with everyone – or death.

  12. delia ruhe
    May 29, 2016 at 11:56 pm

    O how I miss Tony Judt.

  13. Peter Loeb
    May 30, 2016 at 7:07 am

    THE USUAL CRUMBS

    Rabbi M. Lerner along with many others in history (Jews and
    non-Jews alike) fails to realize that “Platform Committees”
    are not binding on a candidate, on a party, and in particular
    on any elected Administration.

    Perhaps they serve as a way of getting those with dissenting
    opinions a chance to blow their own hot air before joining
    the nominated candidate, the party and the new administration
    believing they have accomplished anything at all.

    A fascinating article for trivia but its information is singularly
    insignificant in the long run.

    —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  14. J'hon Doe II
    May 30, 2016 at 11:17 am

    THE LIE MUST DIE

    Sometime in the late 1950’s, Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, became aware of the need to unify the Israeli Zionist narrative regarding the conquering and ethnic cleansing of Palestine. According to a revelation by Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, Ben-Gurion worried that the Palestinian refugee crisis was not going to go away without a consistent Israeli message that the Palestinians left their land of their own devices, following instructions to do so by various Arab governments.

    Of course, that, too, was a fabrication, but many supposed truths often start with a sheer lie. He delegated several academics to present the most falsified, yet coherent, story on the exodus of the Palestinians. The outcome was Doc GL-18/17028 of 1961. That document has, ever since, served as the cornerstone of the Israeli ‘hasbara’ concerning the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. The Palestinians ran away and were not driven out, was the crux of the message. Israel has been repeating this falsehood for over 55 years and, of course, many have believed it.

    http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1605/S00065/time-to-end-the-hasbara.htm

    ::

    Appointment of Avigdor Lieberman is an insanely dangerous mistake.

    http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/1.720365

  15. Akech
    May 30, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    The Democratic establishment is populated by people who loathes anyone who does not defend corporate interests! This is the Clintons party created in 1985 through Democratic Leadership Council.

    If they can win elections without Sanders’ supporters, they will pick the highest point of the Grand Canyon and push them down the cliff from there, figuratively!
    Including Sanders’ people in the Platform Committees is merely façade to get the votes from the despised left members of the party. It is more or less like saying to the voters: “Shut Up, Vote, then GO HOME!”

    To understand the DLC, take time and read highlights of the hidden ideology behind the corporate Democratic establishment and how it operates:

    http://prospect.org/article/how-dlc-does-it

    http://www.thirdway.org/report/ready-for-the-new-economy

  16. Mike Keleher
    June 2, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    As a non-Jew, I am simply sick and tired of watching Jews disproportionately determine the foreign policy of my country – a FP that must be enforced by the overwhelmingly non-Jewish [+99%] US military.

    I’m also tired of all criticism and analysis of Jewish power being red herringed with cries of ‘anti-semitism.’

  17. diogenes
    June 2, 2016 at 11:08 pm

    What’s really best of Israel would be to get it, and its supporters OUT of American politics and OUT of American political discussion and END the corruption of our country’s life, economy, foreign policy, and government by the agents of a foreign government that have a foreign govenment’s interests and welfare at heart, and NOT AMERICA’s.

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