JCRC condemns site that published Lerners address

The JCRC last week issued a harshly worded condemnation of a Web site that referred to Tikkun magazine's founder and editor, Rabbi Michael Lerner, as a "traitor" and "self-hating Jew" while revealing his home address.

"In Hebrew we have an expression, sinat chinam, which means 'gratuitous hatred,'" said Yitzhak Santis, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council's director of Middle East affairs.

"The way this Web site couched its wording about Rabbi Lerner in terms of calling him a traitor then publishing his address and directions on how to get to his home — we found that to be disgusting and outrageous."

The statement referred to the site as "repugnant and dangerous," and "way beyond the boundaries of reasonable criticism." It concluded by pointing out, "Extremist rhetoric requires immediate and forceful responses in order to prevent such poison from spreading."

Lerner was gratified by the statement, saying it sends a clear message to fanatics.

"It's my view this indicates that the Jewish community sees Tikkun and its perspective as an acceptable part of the dialogue, whereas it does not see threats of violence as acceptable, he said. "This message is likely to deter at least some of the crazies who might be inflamed by reading that Web site or other hateful words and threats against me and other peace activists."

Lerner contacted the police, the Anti-Defamation League and the JCRC last month, alleging he was the victim of a hate crime. ADL Regional Director Jonathan Bernstein placed a call to the FBI, while the ADL's Web division traced the site's registration to a Sacramento postal annex.

Some time last week, for reasons yet unknown, the Web site removed Lerner's home and e-mail addresses, replacing them with the following message:

"Note: The 'Rabbi' has already been bombarded with 'unpleasant' e-mails from some of the visitors to this web page. It looks as if he can make life miserable for Israel's Jews but he doesn't like it when he too feels the need to look over his shoulder. However, since we have more compassion for our fellow Jews (even for a traitor like Lerner) than he does, we ask that you please do not threaten him."

The site also added links to the sites of Lerner's congregation, Beyt Tikkun, and Tikkun magazine, with the message "See for yourself! We recommend you bring a vomit bag with you."

Said Lerner: "That's OK with me, they're certainly entitled to say, 'Bring a vomit bag.' I don't care about that."

Lerner said that in the roughly three to four weeks his addresses were posted on the site, he received 80 to 100 nasty letters, some of which threatened his life. This, he says, is three times the normal amount.

"God will kill you soon, Trash," reads one. Another, dated May 18, is even more graphic: "Go get laid, you faggot," it reads. "Ugly face, I am so mad at you. Naturally people say they want to kill you. I wish someone would!!! What a worm."

Mark Titpitcavage, the ADL's Columbus, Ohio-based national director of fact-finding, says e-mail addresses associated with the Web site pop up in the guest books and feedback sections of various Jewish-themed Internet sites.

On some, the user identifies himself or herself as "Rocky" or "Rocky B." from Denver. On several, the person attempts to attract traffic to his or her site, and praises the efforts of assassinated Kach party founder and extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane.

In other sections of the Web site that attacked Lerner, the immediate expulsion of all non-Jews from Israel is vigorously advocated, and Kahane's book, "They Must Go," is lauded as, "Other than the Jewish Bible, it's the most important Jewish book ever written."

"This is not a major site; it is probably not visited by too many people and, in that sense, its reach is probably limited," said Titpitcavage. "But if a site directly or indirectly targets an individual and points them out as suitable targets, it only takes one individual to be convinced to do something."

The FBI, meanwhile, determined that the posting of Lerner's address on the site did not constitute a hate crime, and closed its case last month.

And despite the fact that his home address is no longer online, Lerner is still nervous — a new experience for him.

"People who send hate mail or call with death threats on the phone are not likely to be the ones who act out. That's why, all through the years, I've never taken a death threat seriously. The thing that changed it is the putting up of a Web site with my home address," he said. "Even to this moment, I have no idea who copied that information and is planning what."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.