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TIKKUN Printer Friendly Page

Hillary's Guru: Michael Lerner
By Joan Connell
June 13, 1993


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  • Founded by former Sixties radical Michael Lerner
  • Presents a fusion of leftist political ideology and Judaic-inspired spirituality
  • Provides a forum for anti-Israel writers, including known anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers

Founded in 1986 by veteran New Left activist Michael Lerner and his then-wife Nan Fink, Tikkun magazine is a self-styled “bimonthly Jewish critique of politics, culture and society,” with an estimated readership of 37,000 people. Rooted in a “spiritual progressive consciousness,” Tikkun derives its name from the Jewish ethical teaching of tikkun olam, or “repairing the world,” which the Tikkun editorial board conflates with left-wing political ideology. Lerner, who styles himself a “Jewish Renewal” rabbi, has served as Tikkun's editor-in-chief since the magazine’s inception.

Lerner and Fink met each other through the Institute for Labor and Mental Health, a labor-movement psychological facility which Lerner founded in 1976. Though they were both committed leftists, the two shared a distaste for the Left’s secularism, which they believed had failed to satisfy human spiritual needs. To address these needs, Lerner and Fink set out to create a magazine that would provide a "voice of Jewish liberals and progressives" but would also “insist on the importance of speaking to the psychological, ethical and spiritual dimension of human needs.” This message would later come to define “the politics of meaning,” a political theory developed by Lerner and expounded upon in his 1996 book bearing that title. The “politics of meaning” momentarily influenced Hillary Clinton, who popularized the phrase in a speech on healthcare delivered in the early 1990s. For a period during the Bill Clinton administration, Lerner was known as the “guru” of the President and the First Lady.

Apart from its sometimes New Ageish spiritual message, Tikkun also sought to distinguish itself as an alternative to conservative Jewish intellectual magazines such as Commentary. Tikkun has been particularly adverse to “Jewish neoconservative[s]” such as those in AIPAC, who “pressure elected officials into endorsing whatever policies they believe the Israeli government should be supporting.”

Initially headquartered in Oakland, California, Tikkun relocated to New York in 1992. Fink, who had been Tikkun’s primary publisher, left the magazine in the early Nineties. Around that time, Lerner and Tikkun, chronically besieged by financial difficulties, were forced to issue an emergency appeal for support. Among the Tikkun enthusiasts who answered the call was professor Cornel West. In 1997 the magazine moved its headquarters back to California -- specifically, to San Francisco -- where an anonymous donor offered to give the publication an office, free of any rental charges.

Also in 1997, Lerner's fellow Sixties activist Danny Goldberg, a major music-industry executive (who has associations with the ACLU and is the former CEO of Air America Radio), became co-publisher of Tikkun with his father, Victor. (The Goldbergs would later sign Cornel West to a three-record contract after becoming acquainted with the Marxist academic through Tikkun). In 2002, Trish and George Vradenburg (Lerner's sister and brother-in-law) also became co-publishers of Tikkun. (Vradenburg is a self-identified Republican who claims not to share much of Tikkun’s editorial vision.)

Although nominally a Jewish-oriented publication that claims to be “pro-Israel,” Tikkun has often provided a forum for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic writings. Most notably, it has helped popularize the narratives that: (a) Israel maintains an unjust military occupation over lands adjacent to the country’s borders as established in 1948; (b) Jews slaughtered, drove out, or otherwise dispossessed innocent Palestinian Arabs of their homes when Israel was founded, and afterward; (c) Israel routinely violates the human rights of the Palestinians; (d) the continuing onslaught of Arab terrorism and war against Israel is a response to Israeli transgressions; and (e) Israel's refusal to compromise with the Palestinians is a primary obstacle to Middle East peace.

Michael Lerner, himself, has written that Jews have repeatedly "rejected reasonable offers for peace"; that Jews have sought to "crush the Palestinian national movement"; and that Jews have "hurt, tortured, falsely imprisoned, killed, or wounded" helpless Palestinians. Ultimately, Lerner and Tikkun support a "two-state solution" where Israel returns to its pre-1967 borders.

Tikkun has published the work of the noted anti-Semite and Holocaust denier Israel Shamir. In 2003, the periodical published an article by Joel Kovel which argued that Israel was a “racist Zionist” entity and an “apartheid state” which “automatically generates crimes against humanity and lacks the internal means of correcting them[.]” Therefore, Kovel concluded, Israel “cannot have that legitimacy which gives it the right to exist. In a word, the Zionist state should be radically transformed, and if need be, brought down.”

Tikkun has also published numerous articles by authors advocating boycotts, divestiture, and sanctions against Israel. In May 2010, the magazine hosted a panel discussion on whether such strategies might help end “the Occupation.” Among the panelists were representatives of such organizations as Jewish Voice for Peace and J Street.

Following Israel’s military response to a sustained barrage of Arab violence between 2005 and 2008, Tikkun launched an ad campaign holding Israel partially to blame for its part in the “slaughter.” In addition to calling for an end to violence against Israel, Tikkun condemned the Jewish State, saying that the country’s military measures were “utterly disproportionate to the initial provocation by Hezbollah[.]”

In 2010, Tikkun announced that its 25th annual ethics award would go to Richard Goldstone, author of a controversial United Nations fact-finding report that unfairly criticized Israel for the self-defensive measures it had taken. In June of that same year, Tikkun held a conference in Washington, DC which featured such guest speakers as Medea Benjamin, Heather Booth, John Cavanagh, Keith Ellison, Dennis Kucinich, and Robert McChesney.

Other noteworthy writers who have contributed to Tikkun include Paul Buhle, Nancy Chodorow, Noam Chomsky, Michael Dyson, Carol Gilligan, Mark LeVine, Benny Morris, Amos Oz, Edward Said, Jim Wallis, Michael Walzer, Cornel West, and Stephen Zunes.

Tikkun is a member organization of the United for Peace and Justice anti-war coalition.



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