Hate mail and death threats can be par for the course for public
figures with dissenting opinions, especially on Israel and the occupied
territories. But Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of liberal Zionist
was shocked when the intimidation took a new turn. In May, an extremist
pro-Israel Web site called "Masada
2000" listed Lerner as one of "the five most dangerous Jewish
enemies of the Jewish people," and posted detailed driving directions
to his home address. Draped in guillotines, nooses and racist language,
the site repeatedly stated: "If you're ever in the San Francisco
area, drop in on him at his home."
Predictably, the death threats and hate e-mails started pouring
in--more than 60 to date. Late-night calls also drastically increased.
"Both my wife and I were extremely scared," Lerner says.
So Lerner notified the Anti-Defamation
League (ADL), a watchdog of hate crimes. "They did exactly zero,"
Lerner says, "except tell us that this wasn't a hate crime."
The ADL defines hate crimes as those directed against people for
their religion, race or ethnicity, and in their view, this was a
purely political attack. Yet the Web page is titled "With Jews like
these" and targets individuals not just for their criticism of Israel,
but specifically for being Jews with that stance. Others targeted
on the site are: Dedi Zucker, formerly of Peace Now; liberal Knesset
member Ran Cohen; Israel Shahak, Holocaust survivor and current
chairman of the Israeli League of Human Civil Rights; and Noam Chomsky.
Woody Allen also is lambasted for having asked, "What gives the
Jews the right to beat up Palestinians who want only the same rights
that Jews have in the country that used to be theirs?"
Such Internet-based intimidation was originally and effectively
used by anti-abortion extremists. In March, the U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in favor of a similar Web site
called "The Nuremberg Files" on free speech grounds. The anti-choice
site includes "wanted" posters naming abortion providers who are
crossed off as they are murdered.
In late May, Masada 2000 added a note advising viewers not to threaten
Lerner's life, stating that "God will deal with the likes of him
Tikkun was founded in 1986. After just a few issues were
published, board member Elie Wiesel left in protest. In 1988, when
the first Intifada broke out, other board members--including Alex
Schindler, former president of the Reform Judaism movement--also
walked. "Schindler was a strong advocate for peace negotiations,"
Lerner notes, "but Tikkun's call for an end to the occupation
was too radical for him. It's always been a politically expensive
position to take, but the right one."
After Lerner's call about the threats, the ADL did notify the FBI,
which eventually visited Lerner and told him that there was little
they could do. But it's the ADL's unwillingness to take on the case
that most bothers Lerner. "It's ridiculous," he says. "The ADL carries
a lot of clout in the Jewish community. The ADL simply needed to
follow their standard procedure and put out a public statement saying
that such threats were inappropriate. You can bet that if the exact
same Web site had led to death threats on the Conference of Presidents
[of Major American Jewish Organizations], the ADL would have had
something to say about it."
Both the ADL and the FBI declined to comment for this story, but
Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, did send out a mass
e-mail calling Lerner's criticisms "baloney" and claiming that the
ADL does not turn to the press for such matters.
This is not the first scuffle between Lerner and the ADL, nor is
the ADL shy about voicing their opinions in the press. The most
recent tussle occurred in February when Lerner published an op-ed
in the Los Angeles Times calling for an end to the Israeli
occupation. The ADL followed with an angry letter to the editor,
calling Lerner's piece "a thinly veiled attack on Israel and its
governments (past and present)."
Clearly, it's not just hate crimes that move the ADL to action.