The blog of Eric Lee - web design and internet consulting for the trade union movement.

An Open Letter to Rabbi Michael Lerner

[This article also appears on Harry's Place.]

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.


Eric Lee


Ah - Eric you certainly say it better than I could though we belive in the same exact things. The Hammas doesn't want peace. The Hammas doesn't want Israel (Jews) in Israel. The are doing everything they can to exterminate the Jewish State in Israel. They want genocide - of the Jews in Israel. They are Terrorists certainly want to overthrow Hosni Mumbarak (too moderate) in Egpyt. They are exactly like El Kaida who want to tumble and crumble the "West" beacause the Arabs and Islam have been in a long (hundreds of years) SLUMP. And they want what the WEST has - without having to work for it.
I didn't read the article you wrote about but I KNOW PERSONNALLY many many MAPAM MERETZ members here and today I pity them - not beacause they have become irrellevant in Israeli politics - but because they can only react with KNEE JERK reactions and not see anything outside what they want to belive. My good personal friend Ilan is second on their list for the Knesset in the next elections in February - I hope he gets in !!!LOL
Uzi Ran

Lee, you are the vilest human being on the planet. Much worse than Hitchens, Geras or Oliver Kamm.

The vilest human being on the planet!!
Well I guess that is already odds-on for the most hyperbolic comment of 2009.
Or now that you've had some time to think of real words do you have something sensible to offer?

The description Eric Lee gave of Michael Lerner is very charitable. Looks like Michael Lerner is not accessible to reason, he remains the ignorant, arrogant tourist, who wants to change the world, but cannot change his own behaviour.

Michael Lerner reminds me of the old Austro-Hungarian anecdote how they choose officers for the general staff.
1. The best ones were the intelligent and hard working, but such were not always available so they liked also to take
2. Intelligent and lazy ones; because after all, the fellow would be lazy, but not cause too much damage.
So what did they do, if there were not enough intelligent officers to take? They would take
3, a stupid and lazy officer; considering that the chap would cause harm, but being lazy the harm would not be great; but they never took
4. stupid and hard working officers.

In which category would you place Michael Lerner, who behaves like a bull in a china shop?

Lerner published last summer an article of the Swedish-Russian antisemite Israel Shamir.
I wrote to “Rabbi” Lerner about it and received a nasty reply because of a minor mistake in my English (which is not my native tongue). More on this:

Only a person with bonafide left wing credentials such as Mr. Lee, can provide such a powerful response to Rabbi Lerner's comments. Amazingly, Rabbi Lerner has succeeded in making Israel's left-wing Meretz Party look like a bunch of facists.

Indeed it is sad that non-Israeli Jewish leaders are more than willing to scrap the facts in order to advance their own ego centric leadership credentials. Well done.

Dear Eric, I agree that the actions of Hammas are despicable, illegal and smack of desperation. I agree that the families of murdered Isreali civilians deserve both full unequivocal apology and compensation (for what its worth). I agree that all Isreali civilians have the right to live their lives without let or hindrance and fear of death. I also believe that ALL Palestinians should recognise Isreal's right to exist and should respect the deep value of its citizens right to life, and serious steps taken to educate the population against racism towards their neighbours. Now, don't you believe that Palestinians deserve no less than the same? You fail to see the irony of the situation, as a result history repeats itself. This 'legitimate' body of 'islamist' terrorists may go on to form the basis of a future palestinian army. The IDF was based on Haganah and other percieved terrorist organisations, if you recall. They were fighting a far larger, better equipped occupying force were they not? Your historical commonalities outweigh your differences. I believe that just as there are many among the palestinians reluctant to criticise the critical flaws in their leaders and policy, there are just as many in Isreal. Please wake up, and lets start addressing the unequivocal truths instead of twisting it to satisfy our own hidden agendas. Also it is really disappointing to see you attack the legitimacy of Michael, it wont help hide the legitimacy of some of what he is saying, IF that was your aim. I and other readers expect more from you.