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An Open Letter to Rabbi Michael Lerner

Eric Lee writes to Michael Lerner

Dear Michael,

I’ve just finished reading your article “It breaks my heart to see Israel’s stupidity” and felt I had to reply.

I don’t think we’ve ever talked, but I remember well your appearance some years ago before the central committee of the United Workers Party (Mapam) in Israel. You were asked to say a few words, and, to be honest, your Hebrew just wasn’t up to it, and the audience quickly lost interest. As an American immigrant to Israel, I felt empathy for you. You were clearly a fish out of water. To that audience, you were not a guru whose every word was full of meaning. You were just one more tourist, stumbling into a situation you didn’t seem to understand.

I felt the same thing today reading your article.

Let’s start with your opening. You talk about “Israel’s attempt to wipe out Hamas” in your very first sentence. Maybe you are privy to some information that I haven’t heard. Maybe the Israel Defense Forces have let you in on the top-secret next stage of the plan. Or maybe you just haven’t been paying attention.

Israel is not trying to “wipe out Hamas”. They are trying to compell Hamas to stop firing rockets at Israel. There is a difference and I realize it may be subtle, but please pay attention. Most informed people – including practically all Israelis – would have stopped reading your article right there. You’d have seemed to be an ignorant tourist.

Then you go on to casually refer to Israel’s “crime against humanity.” I’m not sure if you realize this, but the notion of “crimes against humanity” is not a literary phrase you just made up. It actually means something.

If you genuinely believe that Israel is pretty much behaving like, say, the Nazis, you really are living in a bubble. Maybe what you meant to say was that the killing of civilians – which happens in every war – is a terrible thing and should be avoided. Unless of course you believe that no war is morally defensible, and everyone who fights is necessarily commiting crimes against humanity.

You then go on to repeat the official Hamas line about the cease-fire – how the Islamist terrorists actually respected it, and wanted to keep the peace, but those damn Zionists kept making it hard for them.

You actually went beyond the Hamas line a little bit there, Michael, when you said that the organization had accepted the Saudi peace plan and really was happy to live in peace, side by side with the Jewish state. You actually wrote that Hamas “would live peacefully in a two-state arrangement.”

So you mean that all this talk in their charter about “obliterating Israel” is just so much clap-trap? Really, they are reasonable men and Israel is blind not to see this.

You say they’re offering to trade kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for 1,000 prisoners. As Israel holds more than ten times that number, that sounds positively cheap. Incredible that Israel didn’t jump at the chance to make a deal. But you know those Jewish businessman, always trying to get a better price.

The Hamas you describe sounds practically loveable. And eminently reasonable. What could have possessed those horrible Israelis to reject such an appealing offer of peaceful coexistence, with Gilad Shalit thrown in at a bargain-basement price? Instead they decided to “wipe out Hamas” and commit “crimes against humanity” in the process.

You have some really helpful and original suggestions to make for the future as well. Israel should accept 30,000 Palestinian refugees every year for the next 30 years, you say. And apologize for its role in the 1948 “expulsions”. (Odd – you didn’t seem to ask Hamas to apologize for anything.)

I read in your online biography that you have something of a background in psychology. That certainly explains one passage in your article which stands out like a sore thumb.

I’m referring to the bit about a “basic condition for creating peace is to help each side feel ’safe’.” The use of quotation marks around “safe” and even the verb – to feel safe, not to be safe – indicates to me that you don’t really believe that Israelis (or Palestinians) have genuine reasons to feel for their safety.

So what is the problem? Are the Israelis simply paranoid? Are the 6,000 rockets Hamas fired into Israel (this is all before Operation Cast Lead) – are those figments of the twisted imagination of an entire nation suffering from a mental disorder? Is the problem really about “feelings” — or about actually being safe? Safe from rocket and mortar attacks, safe from suicide bombers, safe from the Iranian nuclear bomb.

The more I read your article, the more I felt that in the years since I saw your embarrassing performance in broken Hebrew – and the arrogance in thinking that you had something to teach – you had learned nothing.

I don’t know if you or your editor came up with the headline, with its arrogant use of the word “stupidity” to describe those with whom you do not agree.

I would never describe you as “stupid”. You are what you were when I last heard you speak – ignorant and arrogant. It’s really the worst combination.

Yours,

Eric Lee