Lerner blames right-wingers for attack on Berkeley home

Rabbi Michael Lerner’s residence in the Berkeley Hills was vandalized just days after he announced his support for South African Judge Richard Goldstone.

As the editor of Tikkun magazine, Lerner often has been criticized for his progressive views and in the past has even received death threats at his office. But he said that his home had never before been a target.

Rabbi Michael Lerner

“It’s made our family very concerned about whether our family members are safe here and what may come next,” Lerner said.

According to the Berkeley Police Department, four 5-by-7-inch posters were glued to the fence of the rabbi’s home sometime between the afternoon of May 2 and the morning of May 3.

Because the glue caused damage to the fence’s paint and wood, the incident was classified as an act of vandalism, said Officer Jamie Perkins, a Berkeley police spokesperson. Berkeley police are investigating the incident as vandalism, not as a hate crime, and as of midweek they had no suspects in the case.

“The Berkeley Police Department takes this very seriously,” Perkins said. “We’ve asked for extra patrols in the area” near Lerner’s home on Cragmont Avenue.

On May 4, four groups — the Jewish Community Relations Council, the local office of the Anti-Defamation League, the Northern California Board of Rabbis and the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay — issued a joint statement condemning the vandalism. A day later, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation also signed on to the statement.

photo/courtesy of rabbi michael lerner In a caricature left at his residence, Rabbi Michael Lerner (right) is wearing an “I love Gaza” button and telling Judge Richard Goldstone “any enemy of Israel is a friend of mine.” photo/courtesy of rabbi michael lerner

“Our communities are especially disturbed that this crime targeted Rabbi Lerner at his home, thereby conveying to him the message that he may not be safe there,” the statement said. “… The entire community must send a message to the perpetrators that we reject violence and criminality as a means to express our political opinions.”

The vandalism occurred soon after Lerner announced that Tikkun magazine would give its annual ethics award next year to Goldstone, who has been criticized for his authorship of a 2009 U.N. report accusing the Israel Defense Forces of human rights abuses during the Gaza war.

Lerner said the award stemmed from Goldstone’s record on human rights and is a “reflection on his contribution to the Jewish people in affirming the independence of loyalty to the policies of the State of Israel.”

Lerner also offered to host Goldstone’s grandson’s bar mitzvah at his Berkeley synagogue, Beyt Tikkun, if Goldstone was barred from attending the event in South Africa because Jewish groups were threatening to protest outside. Goldstone later worked out a deal with the South African Zionist Federation, which allowed him to attend the May 1 bar mitzvah without the threat of protests.

Those announcements prompted Lerner’s detractors to send hate mail to Tikkun’s offices, he said.

The rabbi surmised that a blog entry written by law professor and author Alan Dershowitz (also posted April 29 on the Jerusalem Post’s website) may have added more fuel to the fire. The essay singles out Lerner as being “the worst” offender among “bigoted and ignorant” rabbis with a history of anti-Israel activism.

Dershowitz told the Huffington Post he doesn’t know who vandalized Lerner’s home and that he

wasn’t even aware of the incident until he read about it in the press (stories that appeared after Tikkun publicized the incident, Dershowitz noted).

“I do not approve of people pasting posters on someone else’s property,” he said. “On a scale of one to 10, having a few posters glued to your house ranks at about a one for seriousness. Lerner went to the press and is trying to use it to silence my criticism of him.”

After the posters appeared, Tikkun issued a press release May 3 headlined: “Rabbi Lerner’s Home Attacked by Right-Wing Zionists.”

“It’s not some wild guess,” Lerner said of the perpetrators. “It obviously wasn’t coming from some Muslim group.”

Lerner said a doctored copy of Tikkun magazine was left at his front door. The cover was plastered with a flier that said, “Gruesome Twosome: Leftist & Islamo Fascist both love to hate Western civilization,” presumably in reference to Lerner and Goldstone.

Hung on his fence were other fliers that said “Fight Terror, Support Israel” and another with a caricature of Lerner and Goldstone conversing, with a speech bubble over Lerner’s head saying, in part, “Any enemy of Israel is a friend of mine.”

“That couldn’t be further from the truth,” Lerner told j. “There’s an unfortunate belief that anybody who’s critical of the right-wing government of Israel is also anti-Israel — which I’m decidedly not.

“It’s a terrible, terrible error to feel that the way to defend the Jewish people is to silence those who have a different strategy about the best way to defend the Jewish people,” Lerner added. “And that’s been happening increasingly in the Jewish world.”

StandWithUs/San Francisco Voice for Israel denounced the attack in an e-mail to its constituents.

“Our disagreements must be presented in accord with the law and with common decency,” wrote Dr. Michael Harris, one of the pro-Israel group’s founders. “Acts such as these will only harm our cause and create sympathy for those who are targeted. We urge those who have committed this act to come forward and make a full apology and restitution.”

As of May 4, Lerner said the only local Jewish communal official he’d heard from was S.F.-based Israel Consul General Akiva Tor, who called to express his concern.

“The act of defacement against Michael and Debora Lerner’s home is completely unacceptable and we need to condemn it as a community,” Tor told j. “I am concerned … because violence against property often precedes violence against the person. Rabbi Lerner’s political positions may sometimes be hurtful, but he loves Israel in his way and he must feel safe among us.”

JTA contributed to this story.

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.