Anti-Israel rhetoric within the anti-war movement is raising concerns among Jews who oppose an American attack on Iraq.
Much of their anxiety surrounds a controversial group, International Answer, formed after the September 11 attacks, that has played a key role in anti-war organizing. It sponsored the massive anti-war demonstrations in Washington, D.C, and San Francisco January 18, as well as previous mass demonstrations.
The Anti-Defamation League has said that the massive Answer-organized April 20, 2002 pro-Palestinian demonstration in Washington, “served as a forum for supporting violence and terror organizations, and a proliferation of antisemitic expression.” The ADL has stated its support for the use of military force against Iraq if necessary.
“The feeling I have from Answer is that they want to see Israel wiped out as a state,” said Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, a voice of the Jewish left. Lerner said his Tikkun Community is working to combat one-sided criticism of Israel and anti-Israel rhetoric in the anti-war movement.
Answer, which stands for “Act Now to Stop War & End Racism,” has also come under fire from critics on the left who allege that it is a front for an extremist-fringe Marxist group called the Workers World Party. They complain that Answer fails to condemn Saddam Hussein and that those affiliated with the group have cozied up to tyrants such as former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic.
Even many of Answer’s critics, however, concede that it has formidable organizing capability and participate in Answer-organized rallies, their ideological concerns notwithstanding. Lerner said that members of the Tikkun Community participated in the January 18 anti-war demonstrations.
Some left-wing Jewish groups, such as Lerner’s Tikkun Community and Philadelphia’s Shalom Center, have hooked up with a broader, more moderate coalition that was recently formed called United for Peace and Justice.
However, some were alarmed to discover on the group’s Web site materials attacking Israel and arguing that Zionism is racism.
But Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center, said that United for Peace’s co-chair had told him that the Web site was inherited from another organization and that the materials do not represent the group’s positions. He said he was told that the materials would be removed.
One anti-war group, Not in Our Name, published a statement Monday as a two-page advertisement in The New York Times calling on Americans to “resist the policies and overall political direction that have emerged since September 11, 2001, and which pose grave dangers to the people of the world.” The statement’s published list of signatories included a bevy of prominent left-wingers and celebrities ranging from Reverend Jesse Jackson and Reverend Al Sharpton to Gloria Steinem and Edward Said to Susan Sarandon and Kurt Vonnegut — as well as Lerner and Jewish feminist scholar Susannah Heschel.
The Not in Our Name statement’s sole reference to terrorism is its complaint that “Groups are declared ‘terrorist’ at the stroke of a presidential pen” and it refers to the September 11 attacks simply as “horrific events,” which it states recall “similar scenes in Baghdad, Panama City, and, a generation ago, Vietnam” — all sites of past American military actions.
The statement also assails the American government for having “not only attacked Afghanistan but arrogated to itself and its allies the right to rain down military force anywhere and anytime. The brutal repercussions have been felt from the Philippines to Palestine, where Israeli tanks have left a terrible trail of death and destruction.”
Lerner said that he signed onto the statement in August because “I felt it was very important to make a statement against the war” and called the reference to Israel “an aside that I don’t agree with.”
“It doesn’t represent the nuances of my position,” Lerner said of the statement, “but when you’re working in coalition with people, without the support of other elements of the Jewish community, you may not get a statement that is fully representative of your perspective.”