By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
There’s no doubt that Lerner is among numerous critics of ANSWER. “The emotional climate at these demonstrations,” said Lerner, “has been one that most Jews I have encountered find somewhere between uncomfortable and overtly anti-Semitic. So it seems to me incredibly self-destructive for an anti-war movement — that at the moment does not have the allegiance of the majority of Americans — to be pushing away one of the most progressive sectors of American society, the liberal and progressive voices of Jews. That is exactly what has been happening, and that is why it is important for those of us who oppose the war to critique that kind of behavior in the anti-war movement.”
Still, the Lerner brouhaha was less hot-buttoned than advertised, given that Lerner had never asked to speak.
ANSWER’s Becker also contended that Lerner could have been on the program at the previous San Francisco mega-rally, on January 18, but that Lerner’s staff insisted on a 15-minute allowance — because the rabbi’s views are “complex,” recounted Becker. ANSWER said no, insisting that he stick to the same time limit as everyone else: two to three minutes. (The one exception, said Becker, was made for Congresswoman Barbara Lee [D-Oakland], a movement celebrity, who was offered five minutes and spoke for about seven.)
Lerner said he wanted 15 minutes to assemble a program of speakers. “I said three minutes is not enough to counter a barrage of Israel bashing and anti-Semitic garbage. I have been very dubious about speaking at these things because of the three-minute rules. It guarantees that all that comes out is rhetorical excess and not analysis. I think there should be a few longer, serious analyses of the situation and a few alternative views of what the strategies should be.”
But what about ANSWER itself? Does it want to “smash Zionism”?
For the anti-war cause, ANSWER has assembled a relatively broad coalition under its own banner and is working with even broader coalitions. The organization, at least in this conversation, downplayed extremist views. Becker noted that ANSWER’s coalition includes Jews. And he maintained, “We take no position on Israel. International ANSWER came into being since September 11. It has not tried to take a position on all global issues. What has united us is opposing the Bush program’s drive to war, and its racist attacks on civil rights and civil liberties. We do support the right of self-determination, and that includes the Palestinians.”
Plitnick, of Jewish Voice, stresses the importance of working with ANSWER. “Lerner raised some important points, and they can be dealt with in the spirit of keeping us working together in our common cause,” he said. “There’s considerable work to be done with ANSWER, and our approach is to engage them.”
But what if ANSWER’s soft sell is just spin control — especially given the anti-Israel rhetoric of some speakers at its rallies? Critics, including Marc Cooper, assert that ANSWER and its founders have a long history of anti-Semitism and it would be naive to overlook that. Such critics also worry that the right wing will increasingly exploit ANSWER’s reputation to demonize and deflate the entire peace movement. So the critics feel compelled to demonize their own fringe as a preventive remedy. The risk is that these attempts to shove ANSWER to the sidelines also could provide the right wing with another round of ammunition.Rabbi Michael Lerner is the featured speaker, Sunday, February 16, 6:30 p.m., at Workmen’s Circle, 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 552-2007.