This report from Jewish Peace News comes from an eyewitness of a small but quite remarkable event that took place last Friday (4/19/2002) at Stanford University. The scene began as a familiar one, with pro-Israel demonstrators protesting a rally in support of Palestinian rights, and police making sure the two groups remained separate. But the two groups did come together and, rather than arguing or fighting, they ended up standing as one in and for peace.
This report is followed by Rabbi Lerner's own statement about the rally.
Crossing the Barrier at StanfordThis is from Rabbi Lerner:
For some, the oval at the end of Palm Drive at Stanford University was the location for a demonstration at noon on Friday, April 19, 2002 in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. About one hundred fifty demonstrators attended.
So did over two hundred counter-demonstrators in solidarity with Israel.
Stanford officials insisted the two demonstrations take place on opposite sides of a path.
Towards the end of the event, Rabbi Michael Lerner spoke criticizing the Israeli regime. He also criticized the Palestinian Authority for the use of violence without negotiation.
Many counter-demonstrators booed Lerner before he spoke.
But after a while, some participants in the counter-demonstration began to applaud the rabbi.
A short while later, as the event came to a close, someone spoke on the microphone asking the demonstrators on both sides not to replicate the conflict, but to join and sing together for peace.
The two demonstrations then merged. And Israeli and Palestinian flags flew side by side.
Peter Maiden's photo captured two Stanford dorm mates (l. to r.) Jared Cohen and Tarek Hammam.
Jared and Tarek were on opposite sides of the demonstrations, until they found each other afterwards and waved their flags. Together.
To Peace Activists:[back to home]
I thought you might want to hear about the rally at which I spoke at Stanford. When I got there, there were two separate groups, one of peace activists some of whom were holding Palestinians flags, and the other of "pro-Israel" activists (standing about 30 feet behind and quite separate from the other group) holding Israeli flags. The first speaker was Joel Beinin, and I thought he made a very smart analysis of the current situation. The "pro-Israel" activists, however, did their best to drown him out by singing "haveinu shalom aleychem" and otherwise ignoring his talk. Then, it was my turn.
The first thing I did was to say that the choreography of the situation reproduced the very problem we were here to address. So I asked the "pro-Israel" group to come closer and join the other group, because, as I pointed out, we were all human beings, there was no danger of violence, and we should be able to stand together. I then asked the peace demonstrators to turn and face the pro-Israel group and invite them to join. That didn't happen, but there was a visible melting of tensions.
Next, I began to give my talk. My first point was that I was there as a "pro-Israel" speaker, and that it was simply not true or fair to think that those who opposed Ariel Sharon's current policies were not "pro-Israel," because some of us are. That point, though, does not really resonate, unless it is followed by something deeper. So then, I proceeded to explain that both sides are really wrong, both sides have co-created the current mess, and that we need to make demands on both sides. That began to reach some of the people who were previously trying to drown out the peace rally.
And then I read the message on the back cover of the May/June issue of TIKKUN: starting first with our "NO Mr. Arafat" side in which we strongly critique Palestinian violence. By that point, people in the "pro-Israel" side were not only listening but applauding. So then, they continued to listen to the next part where I read our "NO Mr. Sharon" message and why the Occupation is destructive to Judaism, to the Jewish people, generates anti-Semitism, and is immoral and oppressive to the Palestinian people.
Then I put forward the TIKKUN COMMUNITY perspective on what needs to be done: UN forces to separate and protect both sides, an international conference to IMPOSE a settlement that includes security for Israel, an End to the Occupation, evacuation of settlements (but funds to help them resettle in Israel), reparations for Palestinian refugees, sharing Jerusalem, and recognition by other Arab states of Israel.
Immediately after I finished bunches of people from the "pro-Israel" side started to approach me, many of them telling me that they had been surprised to find that they really agreed with what I was saying, had grave doubts about the Occupation, but had felt scared at the tone of anti-Jewish sentiment that seems to accompany pro-Palestinian demonstrations and talk. The way I had talked made them feel safer, they told me.
Since this included at least thirty people coming to me, I asked them why they hadn't tried to approach the organizers of the demonstration and present their views. They said that they had felt ignored and when they heard of this, they automatically assumed it would be very anti-Israel and they wanted a pro-Israel presence.
So I approached the organizers and asked if one of the people could speak. By that point, the time for ending had been reached, and they said "no." So I then suggested that we instead try to sing some peace songs together and that was accepted, and so the "pro-Israel" group moved forward, merged with the pro-peace forces, and began to sing "ode yavoe shalom aleynu" led by the "pro-Israel" group. The feelings were very positive, and yet more people from the pro-Israel group approached me to thank me for having changed the tone of the rally. Organizers of the pro-peace demo told me that this had been beyond their wildest positive visions, and that nothing like this had happened before, and they felt that the particular way I talked made a huge difference.
I'm reporting this not to get credit, but to say that we could all talk in a way that would provide a lot of reassurance for Jews who are concerned about Israel's survival, and that doing so might then make it possible for at least some of them to hear and even join with us in promoting our message of the need to End the Occupation and provide reparations for Palestinian refugees and safety for Israel.
Blessings to all who fight for peace, justice and a world of love, open-heartedness and generosity.
Rabbi Michael Lerner
Page last updated April 22, 2002