Hillary Clinton and Michael Lerner: A Historical Footnote
The Algemeiner recently reported that “After weeks of escalating criticism of Israel by the Obama Administration, Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and the leading 2016 Democratic presidential contender, on Sunday called for the renewal of the ‘special’ relationship between the US and the Jewish state. In a telephone conversation with Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Clinton said that she ‘thinks we need to all work together to return the special US-Israel relationship to constructive footing, to get back to basic shared concerns and interests.'”
One can understand the nervousness of Mrs. Clinton and other Democrats about the effect that President Obama’s relentless vendetta against PM Netanyahu may have on the Jewish vote. But before displaying a beggar-like gratitude for her recitation of clichés, American Jews might examine her own record, for example as First Lady, for (possible) evidence of just where she stands in the unending war of ideas over the state in which more than half the world’s Jews live. It is a state which (unbeknownst to Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough, who on March 23 regaled a J Street conference with venomous abuse of Israel) has not known one moment of peace since it came into being in 1948, long before there were any “occupied” territories.
In May 1993 a flurry of newspaper and magazine articles revealed that Hillary Clinton’s crusade to bring the reign of virtue to a selfish and benighted America was to be carried out under the spiritual tutelage of Michael Lerner, the Jewish leftist “thinker,” self-promoter, and editor of Tikkun magazine, a publication itself dedicated (according to its official motto that appeared in each issue) “to heal, repair and transform the world.” Lerner had been much in the news during the previous two years for incessantly declaring that Israelis were too much at ease in Zion. Apparently dissatisfied with the little disturbances visited upon Israelis by Iraqi missiles, bombs exploding in nurseries, schools, and supermarkets, or stabbings and shootings in buses, he recommended “bringing the war home” by “disrupting the daily operation of Israeli society” (Jerusalem Post, 13 July 1991), by refusing military service, for example.
Lerner, it turned out, would be visiting the White House to instruct the first lady in “the politics of meaning” and also of “caring and sharing.” “As Michael Lerner and I discussed,” Mrs. Clinton announced, “we have to first create a language that would better communicate what we are trying to say, and the policies would flow from that language.” (“Saint Hillary,” by Michael Kelly, New York Times Magazine, 23 May 1993).
To people not beguiled by Lerner, his “language” has always been redolent less of mind than of pudding and corn-mush. “I proposed that the Clinton Administration establish a policy where, for any proposed legislation . . . there would have to be written first an Ethical and Community Environmental Impact Report . . . to report how the proposed legislation or new program would impact on shaping the ethics and the caring and sharing of the community covered by that agency.” “The 1970s and ’80s in the US were dominated,” Lerner had written, “by this belief that the individual had only him/herself [rather than “the system”] to blame if s/he faced a life that was unfulfilling.” (Although a very slovenly writer, Lerner is a diligent gender warden and pronoun policeman.) Insofar as readers could penetrate the New Age pseudo-jargon that emanated from this odd couple, it appeared that Lerner had promised to distill for Mrs. Clinton the essence of the ethical ideas of the Bible for application to public policy. She had, moreover, proved a ready pupil, one who could say to him, with characteristic elegance, at a White House reception: “Am I your mouthpiece or what?” (Washington Post, 9 June 1993)
Who, everybody began to ask, was the First Lady’s new “guru”? Journalists with poor memories or a weak instinct for research mistakenly referred to him as being–prior to his elevation by the Clintons–“welcomed virtually nowhere.” (New York Times Magazine, 27 June 1993) In fact, he had been a favorite of the news media ever since he began, in 1986, to promote the “Palestinian” cause within the Jewish community, where his name had been a familiar one since the late 1960s, partly for his aggression against that community itself, partly because of his involvement in radical causes generally.
In the fall of 1969 Lerner had commenced his open battle with what he called “the Jewish establishment” of “fat cats and conformists” in an article entitled “Jewish New Leftism at Berkeley” in Judaism magazine. It included such utterances as the following: “The Jewish community is racist, internally corrupt, and an apologist for the worst aspects of American capitalism and imperialism.” “Black antisemitism is a tremendous disgrace to Jews; for this is not an antisemitism rooted in. . . hatred of the Christ-killers but rather one rooted in the concrete fact of oppression by Jews of blacks in the ghetto. . . in part an earned antisemitism.” “. . . The synagogue as currently established will have to be smashed.” “This anti-Zionism [of young Jews] is irrational in its conclusions [that Israel should be destroyed] but “I know it to be correct in its fundamental impulses.”
“The child is father of the man,” wrote Wordsworth. By the time Hillary Clinton discovered Lerner, the young man who in 1970 used to wear a revolutionist’s bandana had become “Rabbi Lerner,” playing with his skullcap before a background of Jewish books while “explaining” the intifada (which lasted from 1987-91) for the TV cameras by blaming the Jews for the aggression of their enemies. Lerner had grown fat on the intifada and used the constant burden of peril of the people of Israel as an opportunity for self-aggrandizement. Was it for these efforts that he was rewarded by being elevated, to borrow a favorite phrase from Tikkun magazine, to the status of Court Jew of the Left, or was the first lady really enraptured by his vapid maundering about “the politics of meaning”? Let us hope that the sentimentally Christian Mrs. Clinton, whose theology tends to be formed by her politics, saw in Lerner only an exotic purveyor of Jewish-accented leftism and not a Jewish exponent of “liberation theology” who had given to it the original twist of wishing to discredit rather than liberate the community from which he came and the homeland to which it is attached.
So far there is no evidence that Lerner poured his ideas on the world’s need for a Palestinian state into Mrs. Clinton’s ear during their White House meeting of 26 April 1993. But wait–Lerner recalls telling her: “Gee, I have so many things that we ought to discuss.” And she replied, “Well, we don’t have to do it all today; this is just the first of several meetings.” (Washington Times, 7 June 1993). Of course Lerner by now has other meetings of presidential weight to attend: he has been a dedicated member of the “Rabbinic Cabinet” of J Street, the very organization for which Obama’s Chief of Staff McDonough delivered his keynote address tirade against Israel just a few days ago.
Edward Alexander’s latest book is Jews Against Themselves, published by Transaction.