I don’t usually post between radio shows, but a blog post seems like the easiest way to propagate this extensive (nearly 900 word) excerpt from a much longer interview with Michael Lerner, founder of Tikkun, in the new issue of The Sun. It’s not available online, and probably won’t be for quite some time. Go buy it. It’s a magazine worth supporting! I may turn this into part of the September radio show, which will air Sept. 9, or it may remain a stand-alone. Lerner’s remarks are remarkably sensible, at least to me, and I want to make sure his ideas resonate with as many people as possible–although I do think he’s a bit too easy on President Obama. On the other hand, his discussion of the Israel-Palestine debacle is one of the most nuanced, deeply contextualized, points of view I’ve ever encountered on the subject–and very hard to cut a few good paragraphs out of for this “Readers’ Digest edition.”
Leviton: So, the realists are actually blind to what’s happening, and you, a utopian dreamer, have a more “realistic” grasp on the situation?
Lerner: Realism has been defined by the powerful and the media they control to mean any policy that does not significantly challenge the current distribution of power and wealth. So I say, “Don’t be realistic.” The God revealed to the Jewish people is a God that makes it possible to overcome systems of power and domination, starting with the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. All people, who are created in God’s image, can aspire to transcend the constant voices from outside and from inside our own heads that insist we accommodate ourselves to the existing reality rather than change it.
Why are we totally insensitive to the needs of the vast majority of people on the planet/ Is it because of American character? I say no. The British would do the same thing, and did when they were the largest colonial power. So would the French, the Dutch, the Turks. And if the Arab countries or the Chinese become the dominant world economic force in the future, they will do the same. I don’t believe it’s character. I believe it is the result of a global economic and political system that advances the interests of the few at the expense of the many. We need to democratize that global system rather than criticize our fellow Americans.
….(Our educators) have been indoctrinated to think it’s inappropriate in public education to talk about anything that can’t be verified or measured. Because you can’t measure love, kindness, and generosity, they have no place. We can deal only with the facts, which are devoid of any spiritual or ethical content.
But this view, which says the only things that count are those that can be verified through observation and measurement, itself cannot be verified by empirical observation! In other words, it’s a religious view, the religion of capitalism, because money can always be counted. That view cannot, by its own criteria, defend itself. There are no empirical observations that support the idea that empirical observations are the only path to understanding what is real. These are religious beliefs, but they are so widespread that almost everyone sees them simply as “reality” or “common sense.” And so this religion gets taught in our schools and universities as though it were a value-free truth.
I don’t fault Obama for not winning votes in Congress. What I fault him for is not using his bully pulpit to teach Americans why it is not OK for the rich to benefit at the expense of everyone else; why a single-payer plan is far better health care than what we have now; ; how badly life on earth is threatened by production geared toward the competitive marketplace rather than toward the need of planetary survival; why it is irrational to criminalize marijuana; why wars are not the way to achieve world peace. And if you think that’s utterly unrealistic, then he could at least have told us what he was up against—the forces pushing him toward war and the 1 percent’s domination of the rest of us—and also what he thought the country really needed. When he decided not to prosecute anyone for the war crimes under the Bush administration, he could have explained that, even though they were war criminals by any rational definition, he believed this country would be torn apart by such a trial. And when he authorized money to bail out corporations, he could have explained that we need a national bank, but the U.S. Isn’t ready for that sort of transformation of our capitalist system. In other words, he could have spoken the truth. His failure to do that is what allowed so many people to think that nobody in Washington is telling us what’s really happening.
….my love for Israel has manifested in my vocal criticism of Israeli policies that defy the tradition of Jewish ethics and Torah commands—particularly, “Thou shalt love the stranger.”….
The prophets’ clear message (is) that those who do not care for the poor and the oppressed are defiling God’s name. That message, though ceremoniously repeated in our synagogues, is systematically ignored by large sections of the synagogue-going community when it comes to the Palestinian people; or to undocumented immigrants; or to the 12 million children under the age of five who, according to UN statistics, die each year around the globe for lack of adequate food and health care, a direct product of the system of global selfishness we call “capitalism.” Moral insensitivity is a prerequisite for giving blind support to Israel’s oppressive policies, and increasingly it carries over to Jewish responses to the suffering of others.
…Step two is overcoming the domination world view and instead establishing caring and kindness as the path to security. And to do this you have to defeat the idea that anybody who believes in generosity is a fool….that’s more likely to come from a movement that starts in the West than one that starts in the Middle east. If we can change the dominant discourse in Western societies, it will have a tremendous impact on the peace movement in Israel and Palestine.