Rabbi Michael Lerner has a radical idea, one that — for observers of the drawn-out and deeply malfunctioning Middle East peace process — may take some getting used to (which is why it helps to have a few extra weeks to prepare): “A political settlement reached either through coercion or through a negotiating table will prove largely useless unless it is produced by and accompanied by a transformation in consciousness in Israel, Palestine, and the US,” he said. “That transformation requires abandoning the millennia-old view that homeland security comes through domination of the Other, and a new recognition that homeland security is far more likely to be achieved through generosity and genuine caring for the Other.”
Thus is the thrust of the new edition of Embracing Israel/Palestine, which first appeared in 2003 as Healing Israel/Palestine. The last four chapters are new and include an update of the book’s already exhaustive history of the Middle Eastern conflict from the earliest days of recorded history up to 2011; breakdowns of strategies put forth in the past; and Lerner’s psychological investigation of the post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by those on both sides. Lerner — who, in addition to editing Tikkun magazine, leading the congregation of Berkeley’s Beyt Tikkun synagogue, and chairing the Network of Spiritual Progressives, is also a licensed psychotherapist — began his research on the region’s psychodynamics through the Labor Studies Department of Tel Aviv University, and continued it through interviews conducted in both Israel and Palestine. “It was there that I got a full sense of the depth of the PTSD that afflicts both societies,” he said. “We must be very, very cautious in how we deal with this situation, and psychological sensitivity is desperately needed.” To that end, Lerner and the Network of Spiritual Progressives have laid out a Global Marshall Plan, based on the United States’ post-WWII aid program for Europe. The plan was introduced to Congress in March of this year as House Res. 157, and would first be implemented in the Middle East.
What originally inspired Lerner to carve out time to write this ambitious book was the anger of young Jews directed at Israel and the American Jewish community, who labeled them as “self-hating.” “On the other hand, I witnessed attempts to delegitimize Israel that at times really did feel anti-Semitic to me,” he said, “and that made me feel the need to develop a book that would show how the only way to be pro-Israel is to be pro-Palestinian and the only way to be pro-Palestinian is to be pro-Israel. Because neither side will achieve safety, security, peace, and justice unless the other side believes that it, too, has achieved these for their own well-being.”
Lerner’s plan for peace has gotten some weighty backing, with President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Cornel West being just a few of the luminaries lending their praise to the book. And while Lerner admits the change in consciousness required for the Middle East to move forward in peace is a massive one, “the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the LGBT movement were all dismissed as ‘unrealistic’ when they started, and ‘inevitable’ once they achieved huge transformations in consciousness in the ensuing decades.”
Lerner appears on Tuesday, January 25, at Moe’s (2476 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley) and on Monday, January 30, at Pegasus (2349 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley). Both events are free and start at 7:30 p.m. 510-849-2087 or MoesBooks.com. 510-649-1320 or Pegasus.Indiebound.com