Rabbi offers suggestions for peace in Middle East

by Vivian Chung | 11/5/03 6:00am

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the progressive Jewish magazine Tikkun, urged undergraduates to value love, cooperation and "recognition of the humanity of the others" in a speech in Brace Commons yesterday.

Lerner said that, for the past several thousand years, there has been a "big struggle going on between two world views."

The first is one that believes that "human beings are fundamentally aggressive, and desire to dominate and control others," Lerner said. "Because human beings are that way, the best way to achieve safety and security is to make sure you can dominate and control them before they do it to you."

The second world view, Lerner said, is one that believes "human beings actually have a fundamental desire to be recognized by the other" and to "be in loving connection with other human beings."

Consequently, the "way to achieve safety and security is to find a set of common interests and build a common cause with the other," Lerner said.

Almost all of the spiritual and religious communities in the world have held to the second view as a central part of their approach to reality, Lerner said.

However, the second world view has been in "radical decline" in the West in the last few hundred years. This was mainly because religious leaders associated with groups in power who no longer believed in the second world view, according to Lerner.

He said that when you approach the world as if it is hostile, "guess what? It tends to produce that response in the world."

In his book, entitled "Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation," Lerner attempts to tell the story of Israel and Palestine.

Lerner said he tried to tell the story in a way in which "you can understand both sides have a legitimate narrative, and both sides deserve respect, and both sides are deeply screwed up, which isn't a surprise, because it turns out to be true for everyone else on the planet."

He gave historical details and examples as to how the history of Israel and Palestine could be seen from both sides. Lerner pointed out that "everything can be taken in several ways."

Lerner emphasized that progress must come from trust and willingness to overcome past hostility.

If reconciliation efforts between Israel and Palestine are going to move forward, Lerner said, both sides must focus on "forming the foundation for the possibility of connection."

He told his audience to refuse "to accept that one side or the other is the good guy or the bad guy." Lerner described his magazine as existing to take "a middle path that is both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian."

Lerner said he has been criticized heavily by both sides, noting that he receives death threats regularly. Some of the threats are credible enough that he has had to "take some precautions."

He gave the example of a alleged Jewish hate website that published his home address, encouraging people to go confront him.

Lerner urges his audience to play an important role in the peace process in the Middle East. At the moment, he said America is giving a very strong message to Israel that whatever Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants is acceptable. For the sake of its Arab allies, the United States has had to make a "few utterings of disappointment."

Lerner said that the upcoming presidential primaries in New Hampshire would be "a perfect place to put the Geneva accord on national discourse." He told his audience that "you can make a huge difference right here."

Lerner received a doctorate in philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley in 1972 and a degree in clinical psychology in 1976.

The event was co-sponsored by the Dartmouth Jewish Student Organization-Hillel, Leon Black '73, The Dickey Center's War and Peace Studies program and the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program.