Issue 343 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


I agree with Michael Lerner [“Resurrecting the Revolutionary Heart of Judaism,” interview by Arnie Cooper, April 2004] that it was a terrible, tragic error not to allow the “Arabs” who fled during the war in 1948 to return to their homes in Israel. He misses the essential issue, however, when he fails to understand who these so-called Arabs were.

Lerner says: “The Jews returned to their ancient homeland and came into conflict with a largely Muslim group of people whose ancestors had taken it from the people who had lived there before, who were descendants of a group who had conquered it under the Romans.” He makes it sound as if an entire population descended from Romans was supplanted by one descended from Arabs. This is an overstatement. Each time the region was conquered, it was only the upper classes who were supplanted. The farmers remained on their land, carrying on as they had since biblical times. Their loyalty was to the land, not to any particular religion, culture, or ruler.

At the time the state of Israel was established, these people of the land identified themselves as fellahin, which simply means “farmers.” Genetic testing has shown that the Zionist settlers returning from the Diaspora and the people whom they found living on the land are essentially of the same ethnicity. Both peoples are Semitic, but because of the injustice committed toward the fellahin, a new identity has been forged for them: Palestinians.

Israel needs to recognize the Palestinians not only because of their shared ethnicity, but because no country can consist of only a learned upper class. Every country must have its farmers. The Zionists tried to replace the lost agricultural workers with members of their own ranks, but the experiment in downward mobility was unsuccessful. The sons of the settlers returned to their bookish ways, got university degrees, and abandoned the countryside. Israel has to import blue-collar workers because its citizens consider those kinds of jobs beneath them. No country can survive like that.

The answer is not apartheid. Israel is too small to be split apart. The two halves of the nation must be united. Assimilation is for many Jews a dirty word, because it is only through their separation and oppression in exile that they have held on to their identity. But for most people the world over, assimilation means justice, equality, and unlimited opportunity. That is what the young state of Israel should have offered the fellahin. They would gladly have accepted.

Aya Katz Licking, Missouri

At last, a sane voice on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A voice of love and wisdom. A voice that attempts to unite rather than polarize, to heal rather than inflict further wounds. A voice that embraces the complexity of the larger picture rather than staying within the small boxes of right and wrong. A voice that speaks of vision rather than vindictiveness. B’rucha (blessing) to Michael Lerner and to The Sun for giving us hope in a season of hopelessness.

Pesha Joyce Gertler Seattle, Washington

Since Michael Lerner feels that countries should not have the right to exclude people based on ethnicity, religion, or background, I wonder how he feels about Israel’s policy of heavily favoring Jewish immigrants.

Ina Smith Seattle, Washington

I admire Michael Lerner’s compassion for the Palestinians and Israelis, but when he uses Boston’s racial conflicts as an example, he reduces the complexities of the city’s history to its lowest common denominator. While he calls for an understanding of the complexity of the Middle East, he says that Boston’s Irish were racist simply because they didn’t want to share power with an emergent black community.

I am not under any illusions about racism in Boston. I rode the buses to South Boston High in 1974 with black children who slumped down in their seats, braving the screams of mobs, and bricks that flew past the windows. The faces in the mobs were all white, like my own.

I agree with Lerner that “acting from fear is sometimes the only option of the oppressed. Acting from love and kindness is a privilege.” But I don’t place all the blame for Boston’s racism on its inner-city Irish residents. Boston, a city of 650,000, is surrounded by predominantly white suburbs whose population numbers in the millions. The problem of inequality in education, housing, and jobs was not going to be solved by throwing together the desperate and the destitute in the inner city. The big picture is that Boston has always been left to address its racial complexities by itself, while those who live outside the city, and hardly ever encounter a black human being, smugly call the city’s white residents racists. It’s just too easy.

The mobs on the streets of South Boston were not only Irish, by the way. And there were many heroes in those days. The Sullivans, a South Boston Irish Catholic family, braved the mobs and walked their children to the high school. “I had never felt like such a stranger in my own neighborhood,” the father told me.

Robert K. Stuhlmann Stratford, Connecticut
Rabbi Michael Lerner responds:

Since Arnie Cooper interviewed me for The Sun, matters have gotten even worse for the Palestinian people — and for the Israelis as well. The need for an interfaith, multiethnic movement for Middle East peace such as we have created in the Tikkun Community ( is more pressing than ever, and nit-picking responses seem less and less relevant.

I don’t care whose DNA can be traced to ancient times. The collective memory of the Jewish people brought them back to their ancient homeland, and they are there to stay. As I said in the interview, when Jews jumped from the burning buildings of Europe, they landed unintentionally on the backs of Palestinians. Our pain (from the Holocaust) made it impossible for us to acknowledge the pain we caused them. When Palestinians responded with anger, we interpreted that as just another manifestation of anti-Semitism. As a result, we acted in ways that managed to produce the very hatred we believed was there. But Palestinians’ refusal to open the doors to Jewish immigrants, their anger at us, and their attempts to keep Jews from coming to Israel at the very moment when we were being murdered in concentration camps made it easier for Jews to shut their hearts to the pain they were causing Palestinians.

The peoples of the world helped create Israel as an affirmative-action state in 1947, and they need to act decisively now to create another affirmative- action state in 2005: a Palestinian state to which refugees can return with support from an international fund such as the one called for by the Geneva Accord. That state, like Israel, should have the right to discriminate in its immigration policies, so as to favor a group that was previously disadvantaged (in this case, the Palestinian people) by a history of oppression.

Majorities on both sides want their own states, not a one-state solution. If, however, we want to articulate utopian visions for the future — and we at Tikkun believe that doing so is an important task — we will call for the abolition of nation states altogether. We can reconstruct our economic and political arrangements not on the basis of ethnic hatred and wars, but on the basis of a global plan to organize the productive capacities of this planet and repair the ecological damage done by 150 years of environmentally destructive industrialization. So although the Tikkun Community seeks a two-state solution for Israel in the short run, in the long run we seek a reorganization of the planet around the central issue facing the human race: our survival through environmental tikkun (repair and healing). Any readers who wish to work with me in building a compassionate, progressive middle path that is both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine may e-mail me at

I have been reading The Sun for probably fifteen years, and your April 2004 issue is your most mature and sophisticated to date: A picture of a Muslim woman on the cover. A picture of Palestinian men on the inside. An interview with Rabbi Michael Lerner on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Readers Write on “Out of Reach.” A story about villagers killed by soldiers. A daughter’s different view of her family’s religion. The story of two childhood friends who drift apart. Sunbeams about conflicts and misunderstanding. These subjects all seem related in a subtle and important way that I cannot articulate. The combination is profound.

Harvey Leviton Minneapolis, Minnesota

In the May 2004 Correspondence, Eliot Glick says that Starhawk’s beautiful, tragic essay “The Boy Who Kissed the Soldier” [August 2003] is “anti-Semitic.”

When my grandmother, in Berlin in 1933, heard her son called an “abomination” because he was the product of a Christian-Jewish marriage, that was anti-Semitism. When, a few years later, Polish neighbors murdered my other grandmother’s entire family, that was anti-Semitism. If Starhawk’s personal, eyewitness account of what she experienced in the Occupied Territories is, as Glick asserts, anti-Semitism, then the six-hundred-plus Israeli reserve officers and combat soldiers who refuse to serve in the territories — and all the other Israeli and Jewish people around the world who support their cause — must be anti-Semitic as well.

Call me “antirational,” but I do not understand the logic that says we must blindly support Israeli-government policies, and anyone who doesn’t is anti-Semitic.

Shame on Glick for misusing — and thereby diluting — a term that correctly describes those who spread hate and perpetrate atrocities.

Osie Adelfang Huntsville, Alabama

Suzanne Seaman [Correspondence, May 2004] calls The Sun “a dreary and pretentious publication. So many self-absorbed people!” Twice I have given gift subscriptions to friends who have had similar reactions. This response always comes as a surprise to me. I suspect the explanation lies in the different ways people deal with pain and struggle in their lives. For some their approach is endurance and perseverance, carrying on as if pain didn’t exist. Others are more willing to admit their limitations and confront their problems through introspection. I suspect that most who read and write for The Sun fall into this latter category.

In the mental-health field it’s widely believed that if we haven’t disclosed something about us to another person, we probably haven’t come to accept it within ourselves. Many a writer’s disclosure in The Sun may be a first step toward self-acceptance. I’ve yet to find another publication that invites such courageous expression.

Kate Price Las Cruces, New Mexico
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