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Rabbi Michael Lerner
Rabbi Michael Lerner




Mis-Remembering Ariel Sharon

Jan30

by: on January 30th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

(Ariel Sharon/ Credit: Creative Commons)

The media has no problem focusing on the petty offenses and sexual infidelities of public figures but seems unable to acknowledge when some have engaged in or abetted human rights abuses or inflicted pain, violence, or murder on civilians. So we’ve been subjected to the iconization of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and — since his death earlier this month — of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. Of all the murders he ordered, the one that sticks out most in my mind is the first set, in which he ordered his clandestine military unit in the early 1950s to take revenge on Palestinians who had been crossing the Armistice lines of 1949 in order to reclaim land that had been theirs before the Israel’s military victories that pushed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians out of their homes. To terrorize the Palestinians, his unit entered and massacred a Palestinian village, setting fire to homes in which primarily women and children perished.

What is equally egregious is the media’s repeating of the lie that Ariel Sharon was on the verge of reducing West Bank settlements when he died, a follow-up to his supposedly peace-oriented move to remove the Israeli settlers from Gaza. But as Sharon’s close assistant and adviser Dov Weinglas explained to the leaders of the Settlement movement, the withdrawal of 5,000 Israeli settlers from Gaza was a strategic move aimed at undermining international pressure to remove settlers from the West Bank. But how could Sharon be sure it would play out in that way? Simple: instead of negotiating the withdrawal with the Palestinian Authority, he would insist that there was “no one to talk to” among Palestinians, and that therefore Israel would simply unilaterally withdraw, thereby assuring that Hamas, which had taken control of Gaza by eliminating the representatives of the Palestinian Authority, would then be in control of Gaza. Yes, from the standpoint of undermining international pressure on Israel to end the settlements, this was a brilliant cynical move. But it was the opposite of a move designed to bring peace. With Hamas in charge of Gaza, the rage of Palestinians would be given full expression, and then Israel could say, as it subsequently did, “see, we gave the Palestinians Gaza and all they did was to use it as a base to attack Israel.” A fuller discussion of this appears in my 2012 book Embracing Israel/Palestine. But the central point is this: Ariel Sharon was the father of the settlement movement, and his ideological and practical political moves were all about holding on to the West Bank as part of Israel. He was not a closet peacemaker, and the attempts in the media to portray him as such were nothing short of bizarre.


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Pete Seeger: A Personal Remembrance

Jan28

by: on January 28th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger performs at the Clearwater Festival in 2007. Credit: Creative Commons/Anthony Pepitone.

I could scarcely believe my ears when staff members at Tikkun told me that Pete Seeger had just called to ask if he could perform at the first national Tikkun conference in New York City in 1988. I had raised my son on Seeger’s music, and had myself been moved by some of his radical songs. He was already a legend, and I was already a fan when I was in high school.

Seeger understood that the kind of Judaism we espoused was rooted in the universalist and prophetic tradition that had led so many Jews to become deeply involved in the movements for peace and social justice – not the chauvinist nationalism that was becoming dominant in large sections of the organized Jewish community – and he told me that he had followed my case in the 1970s when the Nixon White House had indicted me (at that time I was a professor of philosophy at the University of Washington) for organizing anti-war demonstrations. The trial was called “The Seattle Seven,” and eventually all charges were dropped after spending some time in federal penitentiary for “contempt of court” – a charge overturned by the 9th Circuit Federal Appeals court.

Seeger became a fan of Tikkun and a supporter of our activities, and his appearance at our conference was one of the highlights of the event. Even Jewish folksinger Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who also performed at that conference, told me he felt joy and awe at Seeger’s presence at the Tikkun conference.

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Shulamit Aloni: Israel’s Most Principled Elected Official

Jan28

by: on January 28th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Credit: Partners for a Progressive Israel

Shula Aloni was the most principled Israeli elected official I ever met, a champion of the downtrodden and a fearless fighter for the rights of Palestinians. So I was very delighted when she agreed to speak at Tikkun’s “Strengthening the Peace Forces” conference that we convened in Jerusalem in 1991 and a subsequent conference in 1994 which we convened at Columbia University. As the preeminent leader of the Ratz (later Meretz) political party, the primary electoral vehicle for the Israeli peace movement, Shula was perceived to be the spokesperson for all of us who sought peace and reconciliation with Palestinians.

Sadly, Shula had an understandable but, in my view, counterproductive religiophobia that led her to antagonize not only the ultra-orthodox, but also the “traditional” Israelis who, while rejecting the extremism of the ultra-orthodox, nevertheless felt a deep commitment to Judaism. In this she was completely aligned with the majority of people in the Israeli peace movement who shared her disdain for “the religious” and never made any attempt to articulate their peace and justice message in the language of the Jewish tradition, though that tradition had a wealth of peace and justice traditions upon which they could have drawn to show that reconciliation with the Palestinians and social justice for all the citizens of Israel were goals mandated by Judaism itself, and provided a foundation for a rigorous religious critique of the West Bank settlers and ultra-orthodox fundamentalists. Without this dimension, the Israeli Left (and the same could be said of most of the Americn Left) dug itself into an isolation far greater than the isolation it would have in any event generated simply by championing the rights of Palestinians and fighting for social justice for all Israeli citizens (For a different view of Meretz, read Ronit Matalon’s article praising Meretz). It should also be said that I have great respect for Meretz and for the moments that it has been one of the few Jewish voices in Israel with any kind of broad support that has been willing to stand up unequivocally for peace and justice.

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Stop Drone Warfare

Jan6

by: on January 6th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

 

(Credit: Creative Commons)

Heather Linebaugh’s personal account of her work on the US drone program gives one set of reasons for why that program should be stopped immediately:

The US and British militaries insist that this is such an expert program, but it’s curious that they feel the need to deliver faulty information, few or no statistics about civilian deaths and twisted technology reports on the capabilities of our UAVs. These specific incidents are not isolated, and the civilian casualty rate has not changed, despite what our defense representatives might like to tell us….We always wonder if we killed the right people, if we endangered the wrong people, if we destroyed an innocent civilian’s life all because of a bad image or angle.

She goes on to describe how it’s not only those who are physically harmed by the drones who are victims:

…here’s the thing: I may not have been on the ground in Afghanistan, but I watched parts of the conflict in great detail on a screen for days on end. I know the feeling you experience when you see someone die. Horrifying barely covers it. And when you are exposed to it over and over again it becomes like a small video, embedded in your head, forever on repeat, causing psychological pain and suffering that many people will hopefully never experience. UAV troops are victim to not only the haunting memories of this work that they carry with them, but also the guilt of always being a little unsure of how accurate their confirmations of weapons or identification of hostile individuals were.

Of course, we are trained to not experience these feelings, and we fight it, and become bitter. Some troops seek help in mental health clinics provided by the military, but we are limited on who we can talk to and where, because of the secrecy of our missions. I find it interesting that the suicide statistics in this career field aren’t reported, nor are the data on how many troops working in UAV positions are heavily medicated for depression, sleep disorders and anxiety.

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NSP’s Global Marshall Plan: Moving Forward!

Dec18

by: on December 18th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Great news!

Congressman Keith Ellison, who represents Minneapolis/St Paul in the U.S. House of Representatives, introduced a resolution in effect endorsing the NSP version of a Global Marshall Plan into the House of Representatives as H Res 439. It was referred to the Republican controlled Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives. Please read the resolution below and send thanks to his legislative aide Vic Edgerton: vic.edgerton@mail.house.gov or:

     -Call Keith Ellison’s Minnesota office at 612-522-1212(HoursM-F9:00 AM to 6:00 PMCentral Time)

     -Call his Washington Office at 202-225-4755(HoursM-F8:00 AM to 5:00 PMCentral Time)

     -Tweet Keith @KeithEllison- He actively uses Twitter and frequently interacts with constituents who send him questions or comments

Many people have been talking about what a huge difference it would make in national discourse if Congressman Ellison were to run for the Democratic nomination for president in place of tired and boring centrists like Sec. of State Kerry, former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, and vice President what’s-his-name? We don’t take stands on elections, but we do know that this country badly needs a change in public discourse, and Keith Ellison as chair of the Progressive Caucus of the House of Representatives has shown himself to be a very powerful articulator of an alternative way of thinking. And Congressman Ellison is one of the very few spiritual progressives to have national name recognition! In the historical moment when Pope Francis denounced global capitalism and over a dozen states have passed laws legalizing gay marriage, don’t be so sure that you (or the pundits) really know what is “realistic” and what is not!! Remember: You never know what is possible until you spend your time and money fighting for what is desirable. Just saying….

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Nelson Mandela: A Jewish Perspective

Dec6

by: on December 6th, 2013 | 7 Comments »

Jews love and loved Nelson Mandela. He inspired us with his insistence that the old regime of apartheid would crumble more quickly and fully when faced with revolutionary love and compassion than when faced with anger and violence.

Mandela also challenged us to think deeply about whether the current situation in Israel/Palestine reflects the ethic of compassion that is so central to Judaism.

Credit: Creative Commons/Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Some people on the Left reject Mandela’s strategy. “How can one be openhearted toward one’s oppressors?” they say. “Fostering compassion toward oppressors will undermine the revolutionary spirit needed to defeat the evil ones.”

Yet Mandela showed us the opposite – that one can generate more solidarity and more willingness to take risks in struggle when one can clearly present one’s own movement as morally superior to the actions of the oppressors. Mandela’s anti-apartheid movement claimed this moral superiority through being able to respond to the oppressors’ hatred with great love. When Che Guevara said, “A true revolutionary is motivated by great feelings of love,” he was alluding to this same truth. And this is what the Torah teaches when it instructs us to “love the stranger” (the “other”).

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Celebrate Chanukah, the First National Liberation Struggle (You Don’t Have to be Jewish)

Nov22

by: on November 22nd, 2013 | 3 Comments »

Chanukah celebrates the first recorded national liberation struggle-when the people of Judea rallied around a guerrilla war against the remnants of Alexander the Great’s empire, and the subsequent attempt by the Syrian (Seleucid) branch of that empire to impose Hellenistic culture and wipe out Judaism. The victory in 165 BCE is celebrated by lighting candles each night for eight nights, dancing, singing, playing with spinning dreidels, and in sine capitalist cultures the exchange of gifts.

If you happen to be in the San Francisco Bay Area on the third night of Chanukah, Friday November 29th, come celebrate with me and Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-without-walls, the Tikkun community and the Network of Spiritual Progressives.

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How to Create a Tikkun/NSP (Network of Spiritual Progressives) Presence in YOUR Community

Nov21

by: on November 21st, 2013 | Comments Off

Our goal: A change in consciousness. Nothing will change our world till we have popularized the following notions:

1. Our well being depends upon the well-being of everyone else on the planet and the well-being of the planet itself. So our goal is to create The Caring Society – Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Earth.

2. A New Bottom Line, so that our corporations, our economic policies, our political institutions, proposed legislation, government policies, our health care system, our legal system, our educational system all are considered “rational” or “productive” or “efficient” not only to the extent that they maximize money or power, but also to the extent that they maximize love and kindness, caring and generosity, ethical and ecological sensitivity, compassion and empathy, justice and peace, and enhance our capacity to go beyond a utilitarian approach to others and the world (“what’s in it for me?”) so that we can respond to all human beings as embodiments of the sacred and respond to the natural order around us with awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur and mystery of the universe.

3. The fundamental changes that have happened in society happen when people decide to stop being “realistic” ( because what is or is not realistic is almost always defined for us by the powerful) and instead use our creative energies to struggle for what is desirable and needed to maximize the future well-being of humanity and the planet Earth. So we don’t engage in causes, campaigns, political activities based on our assessment of how likely we are to win them, but rather on the basis of whether they are helping people define for themselves what kind of a world they really want to live in and give to their children and grandchildren. In short, our activities are judged by whether they open up possibilities for us to educate ourselves and each other about our vision of that which is worth struggling to achieve. Any activity that opens the minds of others to our way of thinking is valuable, whether or not we “win” or “lose” in more narrowly defined terms. So, don’t be realistic – put your life energies behind a new vision of a world based on our New Bottom Line.

It follows from this that there is no one correct way to spread the Tikkun/ Network of Spiritual Progressives worldview – there are many, many paths that can work.

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My Response to Tom Rogan’s “How President Obama Can Achieve a Nuclear Deal with Iran”

Nov13

by: on November 13th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

The Guardian’s recent article, “How President Obama can achieve a nuclear deal with Iran,” speaks about why a nuclear deal with Iran is urgently needed, and what Iran must give up. This Guardian piece is a little weak on what the United States and the Western powers must offer as part of the deal. When read by itself, it repeats the “tough-minded” and largely blind to emotional nuance approach that has made the West’s dealings with Iran so fruitless. Here’s what author Tom Rogan writes:

In the cause of peace, the clock is ticking.

Western Intelligence services have delayed a nuclear Iran. Still, the evidence on the ground is unmistakable. Iranian nuclear activities increasingly point to a weaponization agenda. Of most concern: Iran’s soon-to-be plutonium production facility at Arak. As David Albright and Christina Walrond of the Institute for Science and International Security note (pdf), claims of an inherently peaceful nuclear program cannot easily co-exist with a heavy water reactor. Correspondingly, in last weekend’s P5+1 negotiations, the French Foreign Minister suggested that allowing Arak to remain in operation would represent a “sucker’s deal”.

He’s right.

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Rami Shapiro Responds to the Pew Report on American Jewry

Oct25

by: on October 25th, 2013 | 6 Comments »

flag

Credit: Pew Research Center.

The Pew Research Center’s recently published “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” a summary of its findings drawn from 70,000 screening interviews and 3,475 in-depth interviews with Jews in all fifty states. What is most striking to me (and to Arthur Waskow with whom I’ve been engaged in discussion about these results) is that the Pew survey seems oblivious to the spiritual hunger of American Jews, and hence does not ask a series of questions about this hunger. For example, the survey never asks respondents, “In what forms do you seek spiritual growth or spiritual experience?” which would have been a more important and revealing kind of question for the under-seventy crowd than questions about their religious observance.

Here are some of the conclusions published in the Pew Research Center report:

Jewish identity is changing in America, where one-in-five Jews (22%) now describe themselves as having no religion.

The percentage of U.S. adults who say they are Jewish when asked about their religion has declined by about half since the late 1950s and currently is a little less than 2%. Meanwhile, the number of Americans with direct Jewish ancestry or upbringing who consider themselves Jewish, yet describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or having no particular religion, appears to be rising and is now about 0.5% of the U.S. adult population.

The changing nature of Jewish identity stands out sharply when the survey’s results are analyzed by generation. Fully 93% of Jews in the aging Greatest Generation identify as Jewish on the basis of religion (called “Jews by religion” in this report); just 7% describe themselves as having no religion (“Jews of no religion”). By contrast, among Jews in the youngest generation of U.S. adults – the Millennials – 68% identify as Jews by religion, while 32% describe themselves as having no religion and identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture.

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