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February 19, 2003

Michael Lerner and the Workers World Party

The Ranting Rabbi Doesn't Speak for All Anti-War Jews


In 1959, I was a printer's helper in Greenwich Village with Bembo Typographers, which produced Labor Action, the organ of the Independent Socialist League. One day we got a new account. The Workers World Party had just set up, after Sam Marcy led a handful of followers out of the then Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party.

Marcy was a platitudinous Maximum Leader, and their literature was dull compared to Labor Action, edited by Hal Draper, a world-class historian. Subsequently, WWP often pursued senseless strategies and said foolish things. However, by chance, on 2/14, I heard Brian Becker, New York organizer, on "The relationship between US foreign policy and Iraq's history and political development." He was well informed re deeds and dates as to how Washington has seen Iraq, Saddam's totalitarian character, oil's role, etc.

There is a new maturity thruout the anti-war movement. The serious players want united demonstrations. In that context, I eagerly defend the WWP against Michael Lerner's accusation that they are "Antiwar Anti-Semites," using Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER), one of the groups sponsoring SF's demonstration, "to put forward anti-Israel propaganda."

Some years ago Lerner relocated in NY, got no audience among the apple's secular and largely atheist intelligentsia, and slunk back to the Bay Area. Indeed, if he had levied the accusation in Manhattan, everyone would have spit in his face.

WWP is intimately involved in Al-Awda, The Return, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, open to anyone who supports its principle. WWP's specialty is street demo logistics, and a NY Al-Awda march is a impressive sociological statement. I've paraded with bearded Orthodox Jewish Hasids, identical in black suits, wearing their traditional fur hats, pious Muslim women, heads covered, with secular Jews, Christians, some in clerical garb, Puerto Rican musicians, etc. Most onlookers cheer a pro-Palestine march with obvious Jews in it. The cops are friendly. Orthodox and Palestinians together, marching with the WWP, aren't terrorists.

Those Orthodox are the Neturei Karta, the Guardians of the City. Jews make up ca. 11% of New Yorkers. Seventeen percent of the Jews are Orthodox, and ca. 25% of these identify with the NK. WWP's anti-Zionism pales to nothing compared to theirs. In 1981 they sent me to Beirut to report on whether the PLO would recognize Israel: "The Palestinians might compromise with Zionism. We can't. The Talmud forbid Jews to try to reconquer the land of Israel. G-d will restore us when he sees fit. If the PLO recognizes Israel, we must break with them." Ask NK if the WWP is anti-Semitic and they'll laugh in your face.

The anti-Iraq war movement correctly includes Zionists who understand that war would generate unending suicide attacks against Israel. And at present, most activists, want to see Israel and a viable Palestinian state, side by side. But there is no room on our speakers' platforms for anyone making easily disproved libels against an organization playing a pivotal role in the growing opposition to the powers-that-be.

Criticism of the WWP and everyone else? Of course!! Indeed publically debating what Americans should do re US military and/or financial "aid' to Israel, the Palestine Authority, Saudi Arabia, etc., is one of the best ways of educating the concerned public about the Middle East.

Happily, the ranting rabbi doesn't speak for the Jews. According to the American Jewish Identity Survey 2001, done at City University of New York, only 51% of US Jews believed in any form of Judaism. By 2003, its followers are a minority of our Jews. American Jewry, Orthodox to atheist, is the world's most educated stratum. Most of the young reject Judaism as incompatible with science, and marry gentiles.

In 1995 the American Jewish Committee reported that only 22% of all Jews declared themselves Zionists. The number is far lower now, mostly "the learned elderly of Zion.' Worldly Jews scorn Israel because of its medieval official religion. NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke for them in 1995, before he turned politician: "I wont give too much money to the U(nited) J(ewish) A(ppeal), because of the hold the religious have on Israel. I have one wish: Shoot all the clerics."

When movements collapse, the fanatics stay to the end, and its difficult to determine which is crazier, Lerner's politics or his theology: "We call for... the creation of a Palestinian state.... But we also call for... Israel's admission into NATO--or some other equally powerful military alliance--to give the Jewish state genuine security."

Yes, NATO is about to take in Israel. Any minute now.

His theology is wonderfully fanciful. In "A Jewish Renewal (Kabbalistic-Mystical-NeoHasidic) Approach to God," Lerner not only denounces prophets for not fully understanding God, he reveals himself to be smarter than God:

"Cain seeks God's acknowledgement that his contribution, his sacrifice, is as valuable as that of his brother Abel, yet he does not get that sense of being recognized as valuable and contributing. In his pain and fury, he kills his brother.... If blame is to be assigned at all, it is to God, who failed to give Cain the recognition that he so badly needed; and it is perhaps out of this understanding of His own culpability that God does not kill Cain but instead only banishes him."

Lerner is out of a Freudian text on narcissism. The kabbala was early medieval magic, conjuring with words. Hasidism started in the 18th century as a revivalist cult, combining kabbalaism with "storefront church' singing and dancing. "Poof' say their Rabbis, performing miracles, tho none so grandiose as NATO inviting Israel to join it. From wishful thinking to forgery is just a bounce and, indeed, Lerner has confessed to publishing bogus letters to the editor of Tikkun, that God's critic wrote himself.

Such a simpleton inevitably attracted equally profound defenders. A list of his partisans have denounced "ANSWER's unfitness to lead mass mobilizations against war in Iraq." Internal evidence strongly suggests that the initiative for the slander campaign comes from elements in Democratic Socialsts of America. Among the signers is Bogdan Denitch, a Socialist Party leader in the early 60s. His specialty was proclaiming that the only way to build the anti-Vietnam War movement was to proclaim ourselves as "Against Washington and Moscow." We told him to go to hell, openly worked with Communists, and recruited hundreds of thousands to the cause, while the SP broke up. We called them "State Department Socialists' and ultimately Norman Thomas, their most famous figure, was exposed as a CIA collaborator by the NY Times.

Today Denitch is DSA's guru as it gives out awards in Thomas' name. At best, DSA is divided between those who think he was a great man, who unfortunately secumbed to the CIA's blandishments in his old age, and those who think his taking secret CIA money was the highpoint of his brilliant career.

Jack Newfield, another signer, was a star attraction at DSA conferences in the early 80s. In the end, Newfield went to work for the NY Post, which makes Mussolini's lL Popolo di Italia look timid.

Nation writers and editors Marc Cooper, Katha Pollitt, Judith Long and Roane Carey also rushed to Lerner's side. Nation scribes write endless pages on how to build the peace movement. But, in 51 years of left politics, I remember exactly ONE Nation staffer attending exactly ONE planning meeting, and doing the work that goes into building a demo.

Anti-war work, like charity, begins at home.

Lenni Brenner, editor of 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis, can be reached at [email protected]


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