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Reasons Not to Be too Quick to Embrace Tikkun Magazine editor Michael Lerner's new book- Embracing Israel/Palestine

by Rhonda Spivak, posted August 29, 2012

The book promotes a left wing approach to the situation in the Middle East.  [Readers can flip through sections of the book by clicking here:
Lerner emphasizes that a "political settlement really is not possible without a spiritual and psychological transformation as well." Fair enough.
But then Lerner says that the burden is on Israel to take the "strongest first steps towards repentance and atonement." I don't agree with that--true reconciliation will come in my view  only when the Palestinians are willing to take responsibility for their part in the conflict not in any way, shape, or form that is less than what is expected of Israel. The notion of lowering the bar for Palestinians has never gotten anywhere, but only feeds into maximalist claims, not the reverse.
Those interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be interested in this book, and although I do not share its conclusions in many ways, I would not say that one should not read it. However, a careful read of it will show it to be filled with statements that are in my view are fantasies, and display a detachment from reality. The book is riddled with so many faulty statements that ought to be held up to scrutiny that a short review will never suffice in examining them all-- exposing all of their imperfections, warts, and weaknesses.
But one example will suffice. Lerner says regarding the Right of Return that "For Israelis, the Right of Return is simply a code word for ending the Jewish state and faced with that possibility, the majority of Israelis would rather fight endlessly." I would add that for Palestinians, the Right of Return is also a code word for ending the Jewish state.
Lerner speaks of a Right of Return articulated as "a symbolic right," and then speaks of offering Palestinians compensation. But then a few sentences later Lerner completely undermines this formula by writing:
"Eventually, however, there must be a way for at least some significant number of Palestinians to return to the places of their birth in Israel ...That's why I've proposed that as part of a peace agreement Israel should allow a return of 20,000 Palestinians a year for the next thirty years.[emphasis added]."
That totals 600,000 refugees over 30 years. This is a fantasy proposal in my view--far from ending the conflict, it would only perpetuate it for another 30 years, as Palestinians defer being resettled in other countries with the hope of returning next year or the year after or the year after. During that time they will be free to promote maximal claims, with the hope that they will be able to get in more refugees to flood Israel en masse if the opportunity presents itself or Israel appears weak at some point over the next 30 years. One only need look at what is happening today, twenty five years after the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty to see how suddenly Egypt now wants the terms of the supply of gas to Israel to be completely re-negotiated. In fact, both leading Presidential Candidates are now saying they want the treaty reviewed. A proposal that keeps the refugee issue alive for 30 years is not likely to be workable at all.
Lerner's comments on the one state solution are also exceedingly problematic, as they feed into the view of so many Palestinians that a two state solution would eventually lead to a one state solution.
Lerner writes:
"However, the one state solution might eventually become plausible after the two state solution works effectively to create good relations."

Really? On the contrary, I think that the only way the parties will ever reach any agreement is if the Palestinians see the two state solution as the final destination--not as a springboard for a one state solution. If the Palestinians would show that they are truly interested in a two state solution as a final destination point, then I think there would be a majority of centrist Israelis who would be willing to bring about the creation of a Palestinian state.  

David Bedein of the Centre of Near East Policy and Research has waded through Lerner's book and written to the Winnipeg Jewish Review an interesting story of his experience with Lerner. Bedein writes:
"The tone of this book [Embracing Israel Palestine] is reminiscent of a taped interview which I did with Dr. Mubarak Awad, head of a Palestinian Center for the Study of Non-Violence, which Tikkun magazine commissioned our agency to do, conducted on January 8, 1988.
"Dr. Awad, whose office was decorated with pictures of Dr, Martin Luther King and Dr Mahatma Ghandi, said in the taped interview for Tikkun that he favored a coalition of violent and nonviolent organizations that would advocate the Palestinian cause.
"At the time, Joel Greenberg, a respected left wing writer who wrote at the time for the Jerusalem Post, uncovered and published several articles by Awad where he praised the armed struggle to liberate Palestine.
"When I asked Dr Awad for Tikkun Magazine how his approach differed from the pure approach of non-violence advocated by King and Ghandi, Awad responded that he was "more pragmatic than they were."
However, Tikkun editor Michael Lerner deleted all of my questions in the March 1988 interview that went under a shared byline, explaining to me that "this is not the Awad we know.”
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.