Rabbi Michael Lerner appeared on CNN this morning (Thursday, August 7) for a short interview. To hear his insights on the recent Israel/Gaza war, watch the full interview below:
Afterwards, Lerner bemoaned the shortness of the interview, which didn’t give him time to dispute the lies and distortions of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu or to critique the ethical obliviousness of Hamas.
Lerner wished to point out that:
A. The war could have been avoided had Netanyahu not cancelled negotiations with the Palestinian Authority on the grounds that the PA was in the process of developing a reconciliation with Hamas (which would have undermined the Israeli claim that the negotiations with the PA were of only limited value since the PA didn’t represent Hamas), then manipulated the murder of three Israeli teens to whip up for weeks fierce anger at Hamas and to justify house-to-house searches for these teens that led to killings of Palestinians resisting these searches and the re-arresting of prisoners who had been freed in a previous prisoner exchange with Hamas (meanwhile knowing all along that the teens were dead–yes they had the tape of them being killed the first night but played on Israeli emotions for weeks about hoping to find the teens alive).
B. Netanyahu claimed to only be targeting Hamas and to not be trying to attack civilians, saying Israel had no fight with Gazans. But what he was actually saying was, “As long as you don’t interfere with the blockade of Gaza which has prevented Gaza from being able to develop its own economy (45 percent unemployment level BEFORE the Gaza assault which has virtually decimated Gaza’s tiny economy and hence caused far greater unemployment) or adequately feed its children (hundreds of whom die each month from malnutrition and diseases related to malnutrition and from lack of medications that the Israeli blockade has prevenented from reaching Gaza’s families).” Moreover, the crime of Israel’s current assault has been witnessed around the world as the international (but not the Israeli or U.S.) media broadcasts daily filmings of the devastation Israel has delivered to homes, hospitals, UN schools, and the reporting of over 1,800 Gazans killed and over 6,000 maimed or wounded. This is a crime even if Israel did not intend it–because taking homicidal actions against another people that can be known to likely have the consequence of killing lots of civilians is a crime even if Israel didn’t know for sure that its bombing and shelling would kill civilians. Israel’s “warnings” were ludicrous: it urged people to get out of their homes, but to go exactly where, at a time when Israel had gunned down children playing on the beaches, standing outside or in playgrounds. Gaza is an open-air prison and Israeli actions more resemble shooting fish in a barrel than any recognizable self-defense.
C. The “Israel has a right to protect itself” argument is correct but in this context very unconvincing. Imagine you were involved in a rebellion against the U.S. policies in Vietnam or Iraq, and the government sent a tank to sit outside your house. You responded with molotov cocktails, knowing full well that the steel shell of that tank will make the molotov cocktails irrelevant to the survival of the soldiers in the tank. You decided to do it anyway, as an expression of frustration and powerlessness, even though you knew it would be unlikely to break through the tank’s own mini “Iron Dome.” You reasoned, “Hey, if we are kept prisoners in this house anyway and prevented from gettting the provisions we need to feed our own families who are going to die from this situation anyway, let’s go down with dignity fighting for our rights.” That, rightly, is how many Gazans perceive their situation (which is why they justified shooting rockets at Israeli cities even after Israel’s Iron Dome guaranteed their ineffectiveness except to regularly disrupt Israeli life). Lerner argues that Hamas’ targetting Israeli civilians did not start with this episode, but had been going on for years,and was a defining act of terrorism. But he also argues that Israeli attacks wiping out civilian homes in Gaza, destroying Gaza’s factories and means of providing food and clothing and shelter for Gazans, destroying Gaza’s electrical and water cleansing facilities, and attacking targets known to contain civilians or targets where there was strong likelihood that they would be killing lots of civilians, constitutes terrorism just as morally culpable as Hamas’ terrorism.
D. Lerner insists on the importance of challenging the media discourse about who did what to whom and who did it first, and instead, as he did in this interview, insiston discussing the central issue: ending the Occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza, either by Israel generously helping to create an economically and politically viable Palestinian state, rebuilding all that it has destroyed in the West Bank and Gaza during its decades of Occupation, and building for Palestine the economic and material infrastructue sufficient for the newly created Palestinian state to be able to absorb the millions of Palestinians dispersed through the world (particularly those in refugee camps with some of the worst living conditions of anyone on the planet) or by granting all Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank a vote in Israeli elections as equal citizens with all the rights of equal citizens.
E. Yet Lerner doesn’t side with Hamas either. Instead, he argues that the other way this horrific month of disaster for the Palestinians, Gazans, Israelis, and Jews around the world facing escalating revulsion at Jews and “the Jewish state” and alienating many ethically sensitive Jews from Judaism would have been for Hamas to say, “OK, we want to live in peace with Israel, hereby change our Charter to eliminate all language suggesting that Israel should be eliminated or Jews sent back to Europe. We give up armed struggle, because we now see that the huge amounts of destruction and killings that get inflicted on our people through armed struggle makes the armed struggle not really a viable path to our liberation. We do this despite thinking that what Israel has done to our people in the past is terrible, because we want to serve the best interests of our people, and we now fully recognize that no path involving violence can improve the condition of our people.” Hamas could do this now, and should have done it years ago, and that would have empowered peace forces in Israel and eventually decreased the right-wing’s electoral power enough to allow for a new Israeli government to emerge with a real desire to end the Occupation, not the phony and lying regime of Netanyahu, much less the even more extreme government likely to emerge after this horrific war that scared so many Israelis.
F. Lerner also notes, however, that Israel could have ended this twenty years ago by actually withdrawing from the West Bank and Gaza by implementing the terms of the Oslo Accord which Prime Mininster Rabin had signed before he was murdered by a right-wing Israeli nationalist. But as Prime Mininser Netanyahu made clear in his talk to Israeli journalists in late July, Israel now has no intention of allowing an independent Palestinian state to emerge, and the Gaza war has now guaranteed that there is not likely to be an Israeli majority seeking such an accord in the coming years.
Given the time limitation and the format of the interview, Rabbi Lerner used his opportunity very effectively. Thank you so much for your thoughtful and humane effort.
Thank you for your cogent statement Michael. Query: What is to be Done?
Thank God for Rabbi Lerner – one of the last remaining bulwarks against descent into a new anti-Semitism.
It is hard to know how to prevent the current slide. Israel commits atrocious crimes and claims to do so in the name of all Jewish people everywhere! Inevitably many buy into the rhetoric and so blame all Jews for the actions of the Israeli government. Rabbi Michael helps remind the world that the State of Israel and the Jewish people are two entirely separate entities. God bless him!