A higher percentage of Jews oppose the war in Iraq than most other American ethnic groups, so it was distressing to us at Tikkun to hear so many Jews report that they were encountering what they perceived to be anti-Semitism at anti-war demonstrations organized by International A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Violence)—a coalition of anti-war groups that seems to be led by the Worker's World Party. As a magazine that has long criticized Israeli policy toward Palestinians, we are all too aware of the tendency within the Jewish establishment to equate any criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. For this reason, it was alarming to hear Jews in the Tikkun Community—Jews who share our intense criticisms of Israeli policy toward Palestinians, and who reject the notion that being critical of Israel is equivalent to anti-Semitism—report that the cultural climate at these anti-war demonstrations was making them feel very uncomfortable.
Here is what they reported:
- Israel was being singled out for criticism in anti-war demonstrations that were supposed to be about America's planned invasion of Iraq. In addition, A.N.S.W.E.R. avoided criticizing Saddam Hussein's far greater human rights violations, not to mention the systematic human rights violations in China, Cuba, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, etc.
- A.N.S.W.E.R. refuses to acknowledge or support the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination—though it supports that right for every other group with a history of oppression. When Jews are denied the rights of others, it is a tell-tale sign of anti-Semitism.
In response, Tikkun's editor Michael Lerner and others in the Tikkun Community began to speak out publicly in critique of A.N.S.W.E.R.
Meanwhile, A.N.S.W.E.R. had entered into an agreement with other anti-war groups (United for Peace and Justice and Not In Our Name) sponsoring a San Francisco anti-war demonstration in February to ban any speakers who had publicly criticized any of the organizing groups. When someone in the United for Peace and Justice coalition (not from Tikkun) raised Lerner's name for consideration, he was told that there was no point in even considering it, because doing so would violate this agreement—and A.N.S.W.E.R. had already rejected Lerner as a possible speaker.
Lerner never asked to speak. He had turned down an invitation to speak at a previous rally on the grounds that a format of cramming in dozens of speakers for three minutes a piece generated and perpetuated superficial anti-war discourse at a moment when wisdom and complexity is what is needed to counter the war makers' obfuscations.
But what we at Tikkun objected to was the reason he was excluded—his legitimate criticisms of A.N.S.W.E.R.'s misuse of the anti-war movement to single out Israel for attack. And secondly, we were troubled by the willingness of anti-war groups to enter into an agreement that barred dissenters and internal critics from speaking. How could this movement made up of dissenters fall so quickly into the pattern of repressing dissent within its own ranks?
The Tikkun Community continued to support anti-war demonstrations, including the one at which Lerner had been excluded from speaking, and organized thousands of people to join these demonstrations. Yet, defenders of A.N.S.W.E.R. launched a fierce counter-assault, claiming that Tikkun was now merely a front group for Ariel Sharon, calling us "traitors," and leveling personal attacks on both Lerner and the Tikkun staff (frankly not unlike the attacks we receive from right wing fundamentalists). A popular host for a Pacifica radio station told Lerner that he would never be allowed to speak again on Pacifica.
Though Lerner remained excluded from speaking at that and subsequent anti-War rallies, there were other and far more encouraging responses on the Left. Marc Cooper and others who write for The Nation organized a petition to challenge A.N.S.W.E.R.'s decision to exclude Lerner. Others on the Left pointed out that just as raising criticisms of the anti-war movement's sexism had been painful, but had eventually led to a strengthening of the progressive movement, so, too, would the current progressive movement be strengthened by struggling to overcome its anti-Semitism. Will the outcome be positive? It will depend on whether the issue is taken seriously or, once again, marginalized.
Yet, the issue of authoritarianism in the anti-war movement, and the issue of the relationship between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, remain very much alive in our community. We present here a range of perspectives.
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