November 3rd, 2006

Student Mag Doesn’t Shy From Tough Issues

I am writing to express my disappointment at the Solelim Fund’s decision to reduce funding to New Voices magazine (“Student Magazine’s Funding Cut,” October 20).

As an observant and engaged Jew, I care deeply about Israeli society and politics. Unfortunately, there are few publications that provide coverage of Israel from a range of perspectives. New Voices is an exception. It gives a voice to student writers on campuses across America (as a contributor I can attest to this first hand) and offers its readers varied and compelling stories on issues ranging from Jewish literature to Israel.

Since moving to Jerusalem, I have not met a single Israeli who shies away from discussing all aspects of his or her country, good and bad. Anyone who has followed Israeli news in the months following the Lebanon war knows that the media here have no qualms about criticizing Israel. If Israelis are willing to engage with their own country in intellectually honest ways, why should American Jews limit themselves to pro-Israel propaganda?


The Company That MoveOn Keeps

I am writing to take strong exception to former congressman Sam Gejdenson’s opinion article claiming I wrote my Washington Times op-ed about antisemitism on MoveOn.org’s Action Forum in order to scare Jews into voting Republican (“Don’t Play With Antisemitism,” October 13).

After condemning antisemitism on the right, I merely cataloged a small portion of the disgusting hate speech on the forum and asked when MoveOn would take responsibility. Indeed, Gejdenson merely repeats the MoveOn spin that it was unaware of the antisemitic posts. Yet before I wrote my article, MoveOn noted that its Action Forum had full-time monitors who “spend the vast majority of their time looking for comments to pass on to the MoveOn team and doing weekly forum summaries.” In fact, MoveOn monitors deleted criticisms from Bill Levinson of Israpundit.com well before it deleted antisemitic rants.

Further, an official 2003 MoveOn e-mail bulletin links to and approvingly cites an article from the Web site Counterpunch that it says “describes many of the familiar neo-conservatives as having ‘dual loyalties,’ making policy decisions in the interests of the State of Israel as much as the United States.” The sources of this insight are Kathleen and Bill Christison, who wrote another Counterpunch article titled, “Zionism As A Racist Ideology.” Gejdenson should worry about MoveOn’s friends, not its critics.


Lerner’s Book Is No Pie-in-the-Sky Polemic

I read Rabbi Michael Lerner’s book “The Left Hand of God” with interest, and Michelle Goldberg’s review of it with some concern (“What’s the Right Course for the Religious Left?” October 20). As an Episcopal priest who engages in electoral politics in my private life and works to promote spiritual values in both church and society as part of my professional obligation, I find Lerner’s initiative a sign of hope. To dismiss it out of hand seems to me both unfair and foolhardy, given the present climate.

One point in particular needs correction: Michelle Goldberg writes that Michael Lerner’s assertion that “Many on the Left… hate and fear religion” is “an outrageous statement.” Not so. I learned yesterday that a personal friend and fellow member of our local weekly peace vigil was prepared — until persuaded otherwise by our county co-chair — to vote against the Democratic candidate for governor, whose positions she supports, because he is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. The visceral reaction against the excesses of the Bush administration and its toadies on the religious right has, indeed, in many cases touched the depths of fear and loathing in many people of good will on the left. That is what we on the “religious left” are up against, and the distrust we experience from our friends is much more difficult to confront than the outright hatred of our enemies.

We may be a long way from the Social Responsibility Amendment that Lerner desires, but as Thoreau said, “if you have built castles in the air, that is where they belong.” The immediate task is to begin constructing the foundations. To believe that the market will solve all our problems of every sort is no more a rational assumption than to believe that God will. True believers in both those groups are indeed “untethered from concrete reality,” to borrow Goldberg’s phrasing, but neither Michael Lerner nor I belongs to either. We seek, rather, as rational beings created by God, to discern what a truly human vision for our world may be — certainly in the light of our religious convictions, but as free persons, not as slaves — and to do our best to help bring that vision to fruition.

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November 3rd, 2006

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