Pity Michael Lerner. The oft quoted far left rabbi from Berkeley, the famous avatar of the Clintonian Politics of Meaning, has been the victim lately of a vicious blow-back against his political positions – most particularly his embrace of South African jurist Richard Goldstone as well as his support for the U.S. imposition of a peace treaty upon Israel.
It has gotten so bad for the outspoken rabbi that vandals last week , according to a press release issued by Lerner’s organization, affixed posters to his door, attacking the man personally, and pillioring liberals and progressives as being supporters of terrorism and “Islamo-fascism.” They glued to his door a printed bumper sticker which sported the logo “fight terror–support Israel” next to a caricature of Judge Richard Goldstone, whose UN report on Israel’s human rights violations in its attack on Gaza last year has been denounced as anti-Semitic and pro-terror.
Lerner’s supporters around the world have declared the house’s defacement an act of fascist vandalism and evidence of a brooding hatred in the Jewish world. In particular, they have fingered the prolific pen of Alan Desrhsowitz, who in an opinion piece on April 28 in the Jerusalem Post called both Lerner and Goldstone to task for their anti-Israel stances.
Labeling Goldstone’s rabbinic supporters as ” Rabbis for Hamas”, Dershowitz explained:
“Not surprisingly, the worst of these rabbis (and that’s saying a lot), Michael Lerner, has decided to honor Richard Goldstone with Tikkun Magazine‘s “Ethics Award.” I guess all it takes to be honored by Tikkun is to pass Lerner’s litmus test of lying about Israel. That’s Lerner’s definition of “ethics.” There are some good people on the advisory board of Tikkun Magazine. They now have an obligation to reconsider their membership unless they wish to be associated with a rabbi who is prepared to accuse Israel, in the absence of any evidence, of deliberately setting out to murder Palestinian civilians without any military purpose. “
Lerner supporters, in reflecting on the vandalism and provocations of Dershowitz and others, have also invoked the imagery of Night of Broken Glass in Germany – or Kristallnacht as it is more familiarly known (November 9, 1938), when thousands of Jewish shop windows , synagogues and homes were destroyed in state sanctioned violence after a Jewish student shot to death a German diplomat in Paris.
Such a comparison, is, of course, absurd. Neither Dershowitz nor any other of the Lerner/ Goldstone critics are calling for the death of either man nor for the looting and sacking of their homes and injuring others. But the far left’s accusation is couched in language that they – and Michael Lerner and Richard Goldstone in particular – understand very well.
In the early 1970s, Lerner created an organization called the Seattle Liberation Front (SLF), which participated in numerous anti-war protests and at least one riot. During this period , SLF, the Black Student Union (BSU), and the violent terrorist group Weathermen (led by such luminaries as Bill Ayres and Bernadine Dohrn) collaborated to carry out a number of direct actions on university campuses. One day, SLF and BSU members — bearing pipes and clubs while shouting “Power to the people!” and “Smash the state!” – rampaged through several university buildings and, in some cases, roughed up innocent onlookers. Washington state attorney Slade Gorton, who later went on to become a U.S. Senator, described the tactics of Lerner’s SLF as “totally indistinguishable from fascism and Nazism.”
SLF’s most famous action was a February 17, 1970 demonstration at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Seattle, which escalated into a riot in which twenty individuals were injured. Lerner himself was one of the so-called “Seattle Seven,” charged in a federal trial with “conspiracy to incite a riot.” He spent several months in prison before the main charges against him eventually were dropped and he was released.
Richard Goldstone, on the other hand, has had his own flirtation with fascist undertakings. In the 1980s and 90s, before the collapse of Apartheid, Goldstone took an active part in the racist policies of the South African regime. During his tenure as sitting judge in the appellate court, he sentenced dozens of blacks mercilessly to their deaths. The Richard Goldstone of that day and age was a great enthusiast for capital punishment, torture and miscegenationist policies. He imposed and affirmed death sentences for more than two dozen blacks under circumstances where whites would almost certainly have been dealt with more leniently. He gave sentences of physical torture–euphemistically called “flogging”– for other blacks. He also facilitated miscegenation and other racist laws with no recorded word of criticism nor dissent. He therefore fulfilled an important role in the state apparatus that enforced racial subjugation in his own country.
Even today Goldstone expresses few regrets. ” It was the law of the land,” he says, without seeming to understand in the slightest that statement’s irony. After all, antisemitism was the law of land on the night of November 9, 1938, as well.
Fascistic outbursts, as Jonah Goldberg has brilliantly illustrated in his book Liberal Fascism, is not only a phenomenon of the right. Lerner, Goldberg and their supporters would therefore do well to investigate their own fascistic legacy before choosing to slap that label on to anyone else.