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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Please help me build an alternatve to the Religious Right

Date: Mon, 17 Apr 2006 14:32:43 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Rabbi Michael Lerner"
To: washingtonnews-owner@yahoogroups.com
Subject: Please help me build an alternatve to the Religious Right--
before it's too late!

Dear Friend of,

I would like your help in getting word out to the largest email
lists to which you have access (both personal and organizational)
about the Spiritual Activism conference that will be held in
Washington, D.C. May 17-20, 2006. The conference is the first East
Coast appearance for the Network of Spiritual Progressives, co-
chaired by me, Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, and professor of
African American studies and Religion at Princeton U. Cornel West.
I'm sorry I have to reach you through this impersonal note--but I
don't know how else to do this.

The Network of Spiritual Progressives has 3 goals:

1. to challenge the misuse of God and religion by the Religious
Right to justify war and militarism, cuts in programs for the poor
and powerless in order to justify cuts in taxes for the rich,
assaults on human rights and civil liberties, and destruction oaf
the separation of church and state;

2. to challenge the religio-phobia and hostility toward religious
and spiritual people that appears in some sections of liberal and
progressive culture, and to help the Left distinguish
between reactionary forms of religion and the progressives forms
that it took with Martin Luther King, Jr., William Sloan Coffin,
Abraham Joshua Heschel and many others. and to build a new spiritual
progressive politics not only for religious people, but also for
those who do not believe in God but are "spiritual but NOT

3. to seek a New Bottom Line in the Western world so that
institutions get judged efficient, rational or productive not only
to the extent that they maximize money or power, but also to the
extent that they maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity,
ethically and ecologically sensitive behavior, and enhance our
capacities to respond to other human beings as manifestations of the
sacred and inherently valuable and to be respected, and enhance our
capacities to respond to the universe with awe, wonder and radical
amazement at the grandeur of all that is.

This is the ground floor of building a new kind of paradigm for
progressive politics, and it could have a major impact in making the
liberal and progressive forces far more successful in healing and
transforming American society. As I've shown in my new book The Left
Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right, many
people agree with the Left on specific issues but still end up
feeling that their greatest pain is the deprivation of love, a sense
of meaning in work, and a feeling that they are surrounded by
materialism, selfishness, and moral insensitivity, that their
children are subjected to sexual pressures before they are old
enough to handle them, and that the Left seems oblivious to these
kinds of issues and only addresses economic entitlements and
political rights.

We in the NSP (the Network of Spiritual Progressives) care very much
about eliminating poverty, fighting for equal rights, ending the war
in Iraq and the militarist assumptions that led to it, but that
these important struggles will not be won until the Left also seems
to care about these other "meaning" issues in the lives of many
Americans. Moreover, the Left is only clear on what it is against,
but rarely has it communicated clearly what it is for. That's why we
are taking our demand for a New Bottom Line to the Congress and the
media May 17-20—along with a detailed SPIRITUAL COVENANT WITH
AMERICA that is meant to provide a positive vision of what a
progressive spiritual politics is about (you can read it fully
explicated in The Left Hand of God, which, I'm happy to say, has
become a national best-seller since it was published by Harpers in

The spiritual activism conference will be a unique blending of
progressive religious people with progressive "spiritual but not
religious" people. Among the presenters, besides me, Cornel West and
Sister Joan Chittister: Jim Wallis (progressive Evangelical editor
of Sojourners and author, God's Politics), Cindy Sheehan (mother of
U.S. solider killed in Iraq war), Episcopal ArchDeacon Michael
Kendall, Marie Denis (Fellowship of Reconciliation), Rev. William
Sinkford (national president, Unitarian Universalist Association),
Rev. Joan Campbell (Chautauqua Institute), Harry Knox (Human Rights
Campaign), Rev. Penny Nixon (Metropolitan Church, San Francisco),
Rabbi Brain Walt (national chair, Rabbis for Human Rights), Seyyed
Hossein Nasr (author, The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for
Humanity), Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (chair, Progressive Caucus,
U.S. House of Representatives), Shaikh Kabir Helminski (Sufi
teacher), Svi Shapiro (author of Beyond Liberalism and Excellence:
Reconstructing the Public Discourse on Education), Rev. Ama Zenya
(United Church of Christ), John Dear S.J. (Catholic non-violence
activist), Rev. Lennox Yearwood (Progressive Democrats of America),
Robert Thurman (Buddhist teacher and author The Jewel Tree of
Tibet), Jonathan Granoff (chair, American Bar Association committee
on disarmament), Rev. Lynice Pinkard (United Church of Christ), Bill
Meadows (national chair, Wildlife Association), Enola Aird, Katrina
Vanden Heuvel (editor, The Nation), Christopher Hedges (former NY
Times reporter and author: War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning),
Peter Gabel (associate editor of Tikkun and professor of law, New
College of California), Thea Levkowitz (Religion and the
Environment), Rev. Tony Campolo (Evangelical teacher), Holly Near
(progressive music), Michael Bader (psychoanalyst), Michael Posner
(human rights), Arthur Waskow (Shalom Center), Rev. Donna Schaper,
Nanette Schorr, Rabbi Debora Kohn, Barbara Coombs Lee, Enola Aird,
Rev. Bob Edgar (chair, National Council of Churches), Rev. Debora
Johnson, John Seed, Paul Wapner, Mary Darling, Rev. Donna Schapper,
Harvey Cox, Janet Chisholm, Roshi Bernie Glassman, Rev. Glenn Harold
Stassen, Rev. Paul Smith, Çharlene Spretnak, David Abrams
Rev. Robert Hardies & Rev. Louise Green (All Souls Unitarian
church), and many more.

Even if you can't come to the conference, you can join as a dues
paying member the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP) and help
us out financially, or even help us build a local chapter in your
area. For information on registering for the conference or joining
the NSP: www.spiritualprogressives.org or 510 644 1200 (between 9:30
a.m. and 5 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time).

I hope you personally will come, or join, and I'd particularly
appreciate it if you'd send this note to everyone you know, and in
your own name urge them to come as well..

Many blessings,

Rabbi Michael Lerner
Editor, Tikkun, rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue in San Francisco, and
author, The Left Hand of God

A Lobby, Not a Conspiracy By TONY JUDT

Op-Ed Contributor
A Lobby, Not a Conspiracy


The New York Times
Published: April 19, 2006

IN its March 23rd issue the London Review of Books, a respected
British journal, published an essay titled "The Israel Lobby." The
authors are two distinguished American academics (Stephen Walt of
Harvard and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago) who posted
a longer (83-page) version of their text on the Web site of Harvard's
Kennedy School.

As they must have anticipated, the essay has run into a firestorm of
vituperation and refutation. Critics have charged that their
scholarship is shoddy and that their claims are, in the words of the
columnist Christopher Hitchens, "slightly but unmistakably smelly."
The smell in question, of course, is that of anti-Semitism.

This somewhat hysterical response is regrettable. In spite of its
provocative title, the essay draws on a wide variety of standard
sources and is mostly uncontentious. But it makes two distinct and
important claims. The first is that uncritical support for Israel
across the decades has not served America's best interests. This is
assertion that can be debated on its merits. The authors' second
is more controversial: American foreign policy choices, they write,
have for years been distorted by one domestic pressure group, the
"Israel Lobby."

Some would prefer, when explaining American actions overseas, to
a finger at the domestic "energy lobby." Others might blame the
influence of Wilsonian idealism, or imperial practices left over from
the cold war. But that a powerful Israel lobby exists could hardly be
denied by anyone who knows how Washington works. Its core is the
American Israel Public Affairs Committee, its penumbra a variety of
national Jewish organizations.

Does the Israel Lobby affect our foreign policy choices? Of course —
that is one of its goals. And it has been rather successful: Israel
the largest recipient of American foreign aid and American responses
to Israeli behavior have been overwhelmingly uncritical or

But does pressure to support Israel distort American decisions?
a matter of judgment. Prominent Israeli leaders and their American
supporters pressed very hard for the invasion of Iraq; but the United
States would probably be in Iraq today even if there had been no
Israel lobby. Is Israel, in Mearsheimer/Walt's words, "a liability in
the war on terror and the broader effort to deal with rogue states?"
think it is; but that too is an issue for legitimate debate.

The essay and the issues it raises for American foreign policy have
been prominently dissected and discussed overseas. In America,
however, it's been another story: virtual silence in the mainstream
media. Why? There are several plausible explanations. One is that a
relatively obscure academic paper is of little concern to
general-interest readers. Another is that claims about
disproportionate Jewish public influence are hardly original — and
debate over them inevitably attracts interest from the political
extremes. And then there is the view that Washington is anyway awash
in "lobbies" of this sort, pressuring policymakers and distorting
their choices.

Each of these considerations might reasonably account for the
mainstream press's initial indifference to the Mearsheimer-Walt
But they don't convincingly explain the continued silence even after
the article aroused stormy debate in the academy, within the Jewish
community, among the opinion magazines and Web sites, and in the rest
of the world. I think there is another element in play: fear. Fear of
being thought to legitimize talk of a "Jewish conspiracy"; fear of
being thought anti-Israel; and thus, in the end, fear of licensing
expression of anti-Semitism.

The end result — a failure to consider a major issue in public policy
— is a great pity. So what, you may ask, if Europeans debate this
subject with such enthusiasm? Isn't Europe a hotbed of anti-Zionists
(read anti-Semites) who will always relish the chance to attack
and her American friend? But it was David Aaronovitch, a Times of
London columnist who, in the course of criticizing Mearsheimer and
Walt, nonetheless conceded that "I sympathize with their desire for
redress, since there has been a cock-eyed failure in the U.S. to
understand the plight of the Palestinians."

And it was the German writer Christoph Bertram, a longstanding friend
of America in a country where every public figure takes extraordinary
care to tread carefully in such matters, who wrote in Die Zeit that
"it is rare to find scholars with the desire and the courage to break

How are we to explain the fact that it is in Israel itself that the
uncomfortable issues raised by Professors Mearsheimer and Walt have
been most thoroughly aired? It was an Israeli columnist in the
daily Haaretz who described the American foreign policy advisers
Richard Perle and Douglas Feith as "walking a fine line between their
loyalty to American governments ...and Israeli interests." It was
Israel's impeccably conservative Jerusalem Post that described Paul
Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, as "devoutly pro-Israel."
Are we to accuse Israelis, too, of "anti-Zionism"?

The damage that is done by America's fear of anti-Semitism when
discussing Israel is threefold. It is bad for Jews: anti-Semitism is
real enough (I know something about it, growing up Jewish in 1950's
Britain), but for just that reason it should not be confused with
political criticisms of Israel or its American supporters. It is bad
for Israel: by guaranteeing it unconditional support, Americans
encourage Israel to act heedless of consequences. The Israeli
journalist Tom Segev described the Mearsheimer-Walt essay as
"arrogant" but also acknowledged ruefully: "They are right. Had the
United States saved Israel from itself, life today would be better
...the Israel Lobby in the United States harms Israel's true

BUT above all, self-censorship is bad for the United States itself.
Americans are denying themselves participation in a fast-moving
international conversation. Daniel Levy (a former Israeli peace
negotiator) wrote in Haaretz that the Mearsheimer-Walt essay should
a wake-up call, a reminder of the damage the Israel lobby is doing to
both nations. But I would go further. I think this essay, by two
"realist" political scientists with no interest whatsoever in the
Palestinians, is a straw in the wind.

Looking back, we shall see the Iraq war and its catastrophic
consequences as not the beginning of a new democratic age in the
Middle East but rather as the end of an era that began in the wake of
the 1967 war, a period during which American alignment with Israel
shaped by two imperatives: cold-war strategic calculations and a
new-found domestic sensitivity to the memory of the Holocaust and the
debt owed to its victims and survivors.

For the terms of strategic debate are shifting. East Asia grows daily
in importance. Meanwhile our clumsy failure to re-cast the Middle
— and its enduring implications for our standing there — has come
sharp focus. American influence in that part of the world now rests
almost exclusively on our power to make war: which means in the end
that it is no influence at all. Above all, perhaps, the Holocaust is
passing beyond living memory. In the eyes of a watching world, the
fact that an Israeli soldier's great-grandmother died in Treblinka
will not excuse his own misbehavior.

Thus it will not be self-evident to future generations of Americans
why the imperial might and international reputation of the United
States are so closely aligned with one small, controversial
Mediterranean client state. It is already not at all self-evident to
Europeans, Latin Americans, Africans or Asians. Why, they ask, has
America chosen to lose touch with the rest of the international
community on this issue? Americans may not like the implications of
this question. But it is pressing. It bears directly on our
international standing and influence; and it has nothing to do with
anti-Semitism. We cannot ignore it.

Tony Judt is the director of the Remarque Institute at New York
University and the author of "Postwar: A History of Europe Since