“Israel has broken my heart: I’m a rabbi in mourning for a Judaism being murdered by Israel,” reads the devastating headline in Salon.com. But it turns out the author is not really a rabbi. He is Michael Lerner, a lifelong radical activist who was ordained by no seminary but who calls himself a “rabbi” in the same sense that Al Sharpton calls himself a “reverend.” He has spent the last decades in homespun clerical garb, relentlessly bashing Israel and debasing Judaism.
Starting as a founder of the violent “Seattle Liberation Front,” he moved on after 1960s radicalism petered out to declare himself a “psychotherapist,” pursuing the same political agenda by analyzing the “psychodynamics of American society” and founding the “Institute for Labor and Mental Health.”
When this iteration grew stale he reinvented himself as a “rabbi,” but his goal remained the same, and he formulated a “spiritual progressive version of religion” in which no observance or rite was too sacred to be reduced to a political slogan. He used Yom Kippur to “atone for the pain we have inflicted on the Palestinian people [through] brutal occupation,” sponsoring a diatribe by anti-Israel crusader Cindy Sheehan in lieu of a sermon. Even more breathtaking in its callousness was his decision to devote Yom HaShoah, the solemn commemoration of the Holocaust, into a day of campaigning for “a new Marshall Plan.”
In his campaign against Israel, he has embraced not only Sheehan, but Rachel Corrie, the “peace activist” who lost her life in a tragic accident while abetting Hamas military operations—as I explain in my new book, Making David Into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel—and authors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, proponents of the idea that America supports Israel because it is in the grip of a nefarious “Lobby.”
That Lerner, an unrepentant former student radical, has spent his latter years as an Israel-basher is reflective of a larger transformation of leftism in recent decades. Once, that faith revolved around the moral drama of class struggle, but it has come, instead, to focus on national/ethnic struggle, “the rest against the West.” In the Middle East, Israel is Western, at least in culture (for example, women’s rights are acknowledged there), while its enemies are part of the righteous “rest.” The toll of death and destruction is far greater in Syria, Iraq, Congo, Sudan, and other such places, but without a Western party to these conflicts they offer no frisson of righteousness for the left. And therefore no declarations of “mourning” by “rabbis” whose métier is politics, not God.