In light of the “perfect storm” coming in mid-May—Trump blows up the Iran nuclear deal, Kushner and Bibi open the Occupied Jerusalem embassy, and the Great Return March culminates in Israel’s likely mass murder of tens, hundreds, or thousands of unarmed demonstrators—I decided to revisit my recent debate with Rabbi Michael Lerner. Rabbi Lerner has contributed to two of my books (here and here). But we don’t always see eye-to-eye.
Watch the above youtube and look at Chuck Millar’s article and transcript below. Who do you think is right? Feel free to let me know by way of the comments section.
Is It Bad Strategy for Pro-Palestinian Gentiles to Criticize Jewish Power in America? A Review of a Discussion Between Rabbi Michael Lerner and Dr. Kevin Barrett
by Chuck Millar, Ph.D.
In a discussion that took place shortly after Trump’s announcement about moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, Dr. Kevin Barrett and Rabbi Michael Lerner agree that the US needs to pressure Israel to respect Palestinian rights, but they disagree about the best strategy to get the US to do this.
In the course of their discussion they also compare the situation in Israel today with apartheid South Africa, and they debate the merits of militancy versus nonviolence, but this review will focus only on the issue of whether it is effective for pro-Palestinian Gentiles to criticize Jewish power. To this end, I include a transcript of the relevant parts of the discussion, followed by a summary and analysis.
Transcript of Selected Parts of the Discussion
ML: I am a strong supporter of the right of Israel to exist within secure borders, those that existed before the 1967 wars… and the Palestinians having a state of their own with their capitol in East Jerusalem. A reasonable compromise that would satisfy the fundamental needs of both peoples…. However, none of this is going to happen until the United States is willing to take a much stronger stance…[which] might well include doing to Israel what was done to Cuba, namely an embargo and preventing trade until Israel is willing to abandon its current policies and negotiate a reasonable settlement for both peoples.
KB: Is there an American politician who could do that, though, given the ever increasing power of the ever more radical Zionist lobby here in the US? It seems to me, Rabbi, that you are actually not really fully on the same page with the more powerful element of the American Jewish community, including those in the Democratic Party. I know that the majority of American Jews actually is not that far from your position, but those with power and money are quite far from your position. And given that, given that the immense political machine that’s taken over US foreign policy; the fact that about half of the key positions in our mainstream media are Jewish people who are for the most part committed to giving Israel what it wants, one way or another; that our financial sector is made up now of,,,maybe about 40% of the billionaires are Jewish and virtually all are hard-line Zionists–they’re not reasonable people like you; given this immense power, the 500 thousand people in what James Petras calls the Zionist power configuration–hard-line foot soldiers who make life miserable for anybody who stands against Israel in this country–the hundreds of millionaires, the dozens of billionaires who are backing this power machine here in the United States; how can that machine be overthrown so that we could get a president who would do what you suggest?
ML: Well, I think you’re mistaken about the causation. The American Jews represent about 1.5% of the population of the United States. The major force that supports the Republican Party and pushes also forces in the Democratic Party are the Christian fundamentalists. They are at least some place between 30 and 40 million, essentially about 5 or 6 times as many of them as there are Jews…. I think it’s a mistake to exaggerate Jewish power. The United States would be taking the same stance if Israel had no Jews in it, if Israel was simply another country that was willing to play ball with the United States…
KB: Wait a minute! South Africa! That’s not true. The government of South Africa was vastly less oppressive to the black majority there than the Zionist government has been to the indigenous Palestinians, and yet we let South Africa go precisely because 40% of American billionaires are not committed to apartheid. More than half the decision-makers in the US media were not committed to apartheid… According to Cynthia McKinney, every Congressperson here has to sign… an oath of all-out loyalty to Israel to remain in Congress.
ML: A majority of the American people support Israel, and only a minority support the Palestinians. KB: That’s not true, that’s the media brainwashing machine. That has nothing to do…
ML: You’re wanting to blame the Jews….
KB: Not all the Jews, the Jewish elite.
ML: OK, but there are huge numbers of other people in this country who basically are willing to give Israel a blank check. And so the task of people here is to try to convince people that that’s a mistake, that Israel needs to be pushed very strongly to recognize the humanity of the Palestinian people. And frankly, those who support the Palestinian cause have done a terrible job, both those of us in the Jewish world who support the Palestinian cause, and all of those in the Islamic world who support the Palestinian cause have done a terrible job of trying to influence public opinion on this topic. And I don’t think it’s going to help to do it the way you have just done, which is to say Oh, well it’s the Jews, who have so much power, etc., …
KB: If Muslims immediately bought up the same share of the media as the Jews own now, we would very quickly do a better job, Rabbi.
ML: That is playing right into the hands of the right-wing in the Jewish world. You’re helping the right wing by doing that, by making it sound as though Jews are the problem… You are helping keep the Palestinian people powerless by this kind of discourse. You have to abandon that! Stop blaming the Jews! Stop focusing on the Jews. Focus on the rights and the humanity of the Palestinian people, discuss how they are being hurt. Do not blame this on Jews when, as I said, at least 6 times as many Christian fundamentalists identify themselves as Christian Zionists, who are pushing for a blank check for Israel. If you continue to focus on the Jews as the problem, you actually strengthen the hand of the right wing in Israel and in the United States, who say ‘You know what, those who are opposed to Israel are anti-Semites.’ They want to point out that we are bad people, that we are doing the wrong thing. It’s a mistaken path, it’s a bad strategy you’re using.
KB: I would argue you’re using a bad strategy in not denouncing the bad side of the Jewish elite. It seems to me that …
ML: Are you kidding? You heard me at the Muhammad Ali talk. I’m always denouncing them within the Jewish world, OK? but that’s as a Jew denouncing fellow Jews. But for people outside the Jewish world, it’s a stupid and counterproductive direction, to focus on the evil of the Jews, as opposed to focusing on the humanity and the decency of the Palestinian people and how their rights are being taken away.
KB: Well, I also flay the so-called Muslim elite in Saudi Arabia … We need to overthrow both of these elites.
ML: What I’m saying to you is … we have to change the consciousness of people in this country. That hasn’t happened and it won’t happen as long as you focus on it being a Jewish issue. The majority of those who support a blank check for Israel are not Jewish. … Today the vast majority of Americans support Israel, support Israel’s occupation. That has to be changed. I’m telling you it cannot be changed if those of us who oppose the occupation simultaneously talk as though the Jews are the problem, that the Jews have too much power in this country.
KB: No, the powerless Jews have too little power, and powerful Jews do have too much power as an interest group that is interested in Israel. They do! And we should force them to divest from their media holdings. We should take over the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, Washington Tribune, MSNBC, CNN … Rabbi, I think we really have to face the reality that our mainstream media is totally dominated by propagandists for Israel, and my strategy is working, because I’m helping to build an alternative media where Israel is not the least bit popular. And this is scaring the hard-line Zionists. I think that just as militant action against apartheid was what freed South Africa, and Gandhi’s approach was not what freed India—a militant potential is also what freed India—likewise a militant potential against Zionism, both in occupied Palestine and here in the United States and throughout the world is what’s going to free Palestine.
ML: Well I’m a Gandhian, I’m a supporter of nonviolence, both in the Middle East and in the United States, so we disagree. Anyway, it’s nice to talk to you. I appreciate the opportunity to put forward my views, and thank you for listening to me. …
KB: God bless you, Rabbi Lerner, and sorry to speak so strongly…
ML: No, we have every right to both see a lot of the ways in which we intersect, and to have vigorous debate about things we disagree about.
KB: I appreciate your openness to doing that, and it speaks so well about you and your work.
Summary and Analysis
Lerner claims that the vast majority of Americans support Israel and only a minority support the Palestinians, so it is necessary to convince the American people of the Israeli crimes against Palestinians. According to Lerner, the only effective strategy is to continue to emphasize the humanity and decency of the Palestinian people and how their rights are being taken away. Barrett believes that the media exaggerates the popular support for Israel, but he agrees about the importance of publicizing the cause of the Palestinians.
Barrett points out, however, that it will be impossible to sway public opinion and government policy on this issue as long as Zionists control the media and have inordinate influence over Congress. Although he thinks the majority of American Jews agree with Lerner about the Palestinian issue, he says a minority of wealthy and powerful Zionist Jews do not agree, and they control the media and US foreign policy. He says that about half the key positions in the media are Jewish people who are for the most part committed to giving Israel what it wants, and that about 40% of billionaires are Jewish, and that virtually all are hard-line Zionists. Furthermore, AIPAC is such a powerful lobby that it is virtually impossible to be elected to Congress if you don’t sign an oath to support Israel. Barrett believes that the only way to get justice for Palestine is to expose and defeat Zionist power in the US.
Lerner says that Jews are not the main cause of the problem. Jews are only about 1.5% of the population, and there are 6 times as many Christian fundamentalist Zionists who are pushing to give a blank check to Israel as there are Jewish Zionists. Focusing on Jewish Zionists is a bad strategy not only because there are relatively few of them, but also because it will be labeled by the right wing in Israel and the US as anti-Semitic, which will discredit the movement to support the Palestinians. He suggests that it’s OK for him as a Jew to denounce the bad side of the Jewish elite, but it strengthens the hand of the right-wing Zionists when a Gentile does this. The only effective strategy for Gentiles is to emphasize Israeli crimes against Palestinians without mentioning Zionist power in America.
I believe Lerner is correct in saying that Gentiles who criticize Zionist power in America will be labeled anti- Semitic, but he doesn’t mention that they will also be labeled anti-Semitic if they simply criticize Israel. There is no way for pro-Palestinian Gentiles to avoid being called anti-Semites, whether they focus on the crimes against Palestinians or on the power of the Zionist lobby in the US. And Lerner’s suggestion to leave criticism of the Jewish elite to Jews is not especially persuasive, because any Jew who speaks out against the Zionist lobby risks being dismissed as a self-hating Jew, which also discredits the Palestinian cause. Anti-Semitic and self-hating Jew are weaponized terms designed to silence any criticism of Zionism, just as conspiracy theorist has been used to dismiss legitimate research into government deceptions in general. To refrain from speaking out against the excesses of Zionism for fear of being branded an anti-Semite or a self-hating Jew is to concede the battle without a struggle.
I think Barrett is right about the necessity to expose and defeat Zionist power in America. This requires Jews as well as Gentiles to denounce the Zionists among the Jewish elite. (Although Jewish voices can be more powerful when criticizing other Jews, I believe it is incumbent on anyone who is aware of the enormity of the Zionist threat to speak out against it.) Lerner’s contention that Jews are not the problem compared to the much larger number of Zionist Christians fails to address the relative power of the two groups. It is the Zionist Jews who control the media and who, through AIPAC, control Congress and the administration. While it is important to publicize the fundamentalist Christian agenda of supporting Israel to bring about a nuclear Armageddon followed by the Rapture, I believe that the influence of fundamentalist Christians on American foreign policy and on public opinion is dwarfed by the influence of the Jewish Zionist lobby and by Jewish control of the mainstream media.
As Barrett says, he’s not blaming all the Jews for this problem, just the Jewish elite. He recognizes that the vast majority of Jews are victimized, as are most Gentiles, by Jews who are among the elite “1%,” the wealthy Zionist Jews who have too much power. Gentiles and Jews who are pro-Palestinian should band together to expose the way Jewish Zionists have influenced US foreign policy to consistently support Israel over the Palestinians and to wage proxy wars for Israel. The only way to expose the pernicious influence of Jewish Zionists is to break the taboo that prevents Gentiles from criticizing Jews, always maintaining the caveat, however—as Barrett does—that the great majority of Jews are entirely innocent of Zionist crimes.
In summary, I agree with Barrett that we have no chance of changing American foreign policy toward Israel if Gentiles do not join with Jews in exposing and overcoming Zionist power in the US.
Dr. Kevin Barrett, a Ph.D. Arabist-Islamologist is one of America’s best-known critics of the War on Terror.
He also has appeared many times on Fox, CNN, PBS, and other broadcast outlets, and has inspired feature stories and op-eds in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the Chicago Tribune, and other leading publications.
Dr. Barrett has taught at colleges and universities in San Francisco, Paris, and Wisconsin; where he ran for Congress in 2008. He currently works as a nonprofit organizer, author, and talk radio host.