BERKELEY — A rabbi who has been a critic of Israel's recent record on human rights and had the fence at his home slapped with stickers calling him a supporter of terrorism said Tuesday that he now fears for his family's safety.
Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun, a Berkeley-based leftist-progressive Jewish magazine often critical of American and Israeli roles in world affairs.
Sometime between Sunday afternoon and Monday morning vandals struck Lerner's home in Berkeley by gluing four stickers on his fence, police said. Detectives are investigating the incident as an act of vandalism. No one has been arrested.
Police Officer Jamie Perkins said investigators are not treating the incident as a hate crime and did not describe the stickers as "threatening." Perkins said, however, that the department "takes these cases very seriously."
Lerner, who said he's been receiving death threats for 24 years, said he thought the gesture was an escalation in the wake of Tikkun's announcing it would give its human rights award to Richard Goldstone, a South African judge who spurred controversy after he led a U.N. investigation that found Israel and the Palestinians had committed human rights violations in their ongoing conflict.
Famed attorney Alan Dershowitz published an article Friday in which he called some of Goldstone's supporters "rabbis for Hamas" who "have no shame and no credibility." He went on to write that Lerner is "the worst of these rabbis (and that is saying a lot)."
Lerner said he believed the Dershowitz article was incendiary to conservative Zionists who "are not just crazy people. I think they are actually motivated by a desire for Israel's survival and can't imagine, can't allow themselves to think that we who criticize Israeli policy are nevertheless really caring about Israel and the well-being of the Jewish people."
He said his first reaction to the vandalism was "tremendous fear of the violence that right-wing Zionists have visited upon Palestinians, and more recently on the Israeli army.
"I'm afraid they will start to bring violence in a more general way against those speaking out critically of Israeli policy and that that will affect American Jewish life and America in general."
Lerner said his family is afraid for their safety and that close friends "are very worried about whether they can bring kids over here, whether there's an imminent or continuing threat of violence here."
"Imagine you came home to your house and you had somebody with a political position attacking yours and there were things pasted all over your door, your garage, your fence, and the people who did it were identifying with a force in Israel that is a violent force," he said. "The right wing there calls people terrorists and so forth, goes out and kills them."
Lerner said he received six threatening telephone calls at his home between April 25 and 30. The callers were all men who sounded like they ranged in age from their 30s to their 60s. One had an accent of a Yiddish speaker, he said.
He said the callers told him, "You're worse than Hitler. We'll kill you," "You and your fellow critics of Israel are vermin and have no right to live," and, "You (expletive), the Jewish people are going to get vengeance."
Anyone with information on the case should call police at 510-981-5737.