11 January 2013

Review - The Making and Unmaking of a Zionist - Tony Lerman

Lerman's book - an example of the Zionist fear of genuine debate
Just before Yuletide I wrote the following review for Weekly Worker.  What is remarkable, as I pointed out already in another post, how the Zionist and Jewish Establishment in this country runs a mile rather than trying to debate the issues that Tony Lerman raises.  Lerman was a part of the Zionist establishment and that makes his sin doubly unforgiveable. 
Prominent Zionist capitalists like Stanley Kalms, the owner of Dixons made it clear that they would withdraw funds from the Institute of Jewish Policy Research if Lerman remained a Director.  True to form the Jewish Chronicle, under its abysmal editor Stephen Pollard, conspired in this determination to avoid debating the issues Lerman had raised such as the differing interests of Jewish communities and Israel.  The result in the Jewish Chronicle was a hack ‘review’ by a Prof. Hochauser, w hose specialism lies in the world of medicine not history or politics or the social sciences.  But  Hochhauser wrote what was expected of him, which was an unbridled atttack on Lerman of the form ‘if he insisted on disagreeing with us why did he complain of the consequences’.

It illustrates a wider point, namely that Zionists attempt to suppress free speech are bound up with their fear of debating the issue of Zionism, racism and its record even with respect to Jewish people.  Like Dracula, it prefers to operate in the dark!

Tony Greenstein

Review:  The Making & Unmaking of a Zionist

A Personal and Political Journey

Antony Lerman, Pluto Press 2012
Baron Stanley Kalms - British Jewish capitalist and Euro-sceptic who used money and influence to prevent debate
Tony Lerman is someone who for some 25 years was at the heart of the Jewish establishment in Britain.  A former Director of Anglo-Jewry’s foremost research body the Institute of Jewish Affairs and subsequently the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, as well as a former columnist on the Jewish Chronicle and Editor of the Jewish Quarterly, Tony Lerman’s experiences should be compulsory reading for students at Jewish schools who want to understand something about the structure and power of their own community.

I can identify with Lerman’s experiences on a number of levels.  Like him I was brought up as a Zionist, albeit in the religious orthodox rather than the socialist Zionist tradition.  Like him I can fully understand the McCarthyite attitude of those petty shakers and movers in the Jewish community who brook no dissent.  Academics are expected to toe the line and to produce research carefully tailored to the prevailing and accepted norms, prime amongst which are the idea that the Israeli state must, on no account be criticised beyond the odd disagreement over policy.  In particular the founding ideology of Israel, Zionism, must not be criticised and those of Jewish extraction who do venture across these red lines must accept that they will be branded as traitors and ‘self-haters’.  Although it died a death in Germany, the ‘stab-in-the-back legend is alive and well amongst the Board of Deputies of British Jews and its sycophants.

Lerman was a member of the socialist Zionist youth group Habonim whereas I was a member of the religious Zionist Bnei Akiva, which later morphed into Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful) the original Greater Israel movement.  Lerman took his politics seriously, spending two years in Israel working on two kibbutzim and taking out Israeli citizenship.

In many ways these are the most interesting aspects of the book and yet the most frustrating.  I was brought up to believe, at a time when much of the Left saw Israel as a socialist paradise, that the kibbutzim heralded the new future.  Property was owned in common, private possessions were frowned upon, income and child rearing shared.  Yet as Lerman points out the Kibbutzim were seen, both by themselves and others, as the elite of Israeli society, not least the left-wing Palmach shock troops, staffed primarily by the ‘Marxist’ Hashomer Hatzair and the militaristic left Ahdut Ha'avodah.  They were, in the words of another ‘self-hater’ Gerald Kaufmann, the Israeli equivalent of Eton.

Through manual labour the Jewish nation, which Zionism, in common with the anti-Semites, saw as a degenerate and deformed people, would be renewed through a mystical attachment to its land. As Jacob Klatzkin, editor of Die Welt (1909-1911) of the official Zionist newspaper explained, Jews outside Palestine were ‘an alien nation in your midst and we want to remain one. An unbridgeable chasm yawns between you and us. A loyal Jew can never be other than a Jewish patriot. [Krisis und Entscheidung im Judentum: Probleme des modernen Judentums, 2d ed., Berlin: Jüdischer Verlag, 1921, p.118]  Palestine, according to Pinchas Rosen, Israel’s first Minister of Justice, Palestine was an ‘Institute for the Fumigation of Jewish Vermin.’ [Joachim Doron, ‘Classic Zionism and Modern Anti-Semitism: Parallels and Influences (1883-1914), Studies in Zionism, No. 8 Autumn 1983).

It doesn’t take much imagination to see the parallels between Zionism, a volkish Jewish political movement and anti-Semitism, which is why the Zionist charge today that anti-Zionist is a form of ‘new anti-Semitism’ is so ludicrous.   The kibbutzim were at the forefront of this creation of the new Jew.  It is no accident that one of the main proponents of the Kibbutzim was Arthur Ruppin, justly known as the father of land settlement in pre-state Israel.  Ruppin was a devoted believer in the racial sciences and a fierce protagonist of the idea that Palestine should not accept just any Jew for immigration.  It was no surprise when, in 1933 Ruppin made what was a pilgrimage to see his hero, Hans Gunther who had been installed as Professor of Racial Anthropology at Jena University, at the insistence of Wilhelm Frick, the first National Socialist state minister and later Nazi Minister of the Interior, who was hanged at Nuremberg in 1946.  Gunther who was Himmler’s ideological mentor, welcomed Zionism as ‘a positive development, praising it for recognising the genuine racial consciousness (Volkstum) of the Jews at Jenna University in Germany.  [Amos Morris-Reich Arthur Ruppin’s Concept of Race’, Israel Studies, Vol. 11, No. 3, Fall 2006, pp. 8-9 and Arthur Ruppin and the Production of the Modern Hebrew Culture, Ph. D. thesis, Etan Bloom, Tel Aviv]

However Lerman by his own admission found his stay on the Kibbutzim less than fulfilling.  Without challenging its ideology he found ‘nothing intrinsically valuable’ in manual labour. [p.23] but put this down to a personal failing on his part.  In fact this is one of the by-products of the divorce between the kibbutzim, a collective form of colonial settlement, and socialism, because there is nothing intrinsically valuable in manual labour for its own sake.  The capitalist abolition of drudgery in the kitchen, the use of a mangler by mother to dry the clothes or the use of a broom rather than a vacuum to clean the floor, is a progressive development. 

If I have a criticism of Lerman’s account of his stay on kibbutzim Yifat and Amiad, it is his description of the caretaker or his passing reference to the nearby ruins of Jubb Yosef, an Arab village, though to be fair he later attempts to establish the origins of the kibbutzim.  Another example was the reference to Mahmood, the Arab caretaker, ‘a local Arab who lived on the plantation in a hut with his wife and children.’ [21]  It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Lerman to ask why Mahmood wasn’t a fully fledge member of the Kibbutz.  Of course the answer was that he was not Jewish, and the Kibbutz was a wholly Jewish affair.  Zionist socialism excluded the indigenous population whilst dismissing their hostility as nothing more than feudal resentment.

Lerman was typical of a whole generation of young Zionists who accepted socialist Zionism without ever questioning its socialist bona fides.  Of course Lerman was unaware of how the ‘socialist’ Zionist leaders David Ben-Gurion and Berl Katznelson had worked hand-in-glove with the British military rulers of Palestine to expel and imprison the Jewish Communists who did take joint work with the Arab working class seriously.  Nor would he have been aware of the fierce battles in the 1920’s between the Zionist ‘trade union’ Histadrut and the Gdud Avodah (Work Brigades) based in the northern kibbutzim, some of whom moved to an anti-Zionist position, who were starved out.  [Ze’ev Sternhall, The Founding Myths of Zionism]

Much of Lerman’s book is taken up with the trials and tribulations of a free-thinker confronting a Jewish and Zionist establishment which already knew the answers and required academics to find the proof.  It was a kind of reverse academic engineering but Lerman was too naïve to realise that applying for a research post with the IJA into anti-Semitism might mean exactly that!  His first job mistake was to become Editor of an ailing magazine the Jewish Quarterly, a cultural/political which had staggered on for 30 years from one crisis to another and now that its editor Jacob Sontag had died was facing imminent demise.

Lerman’s second mistake was his second editorial in early 1985 coupled with his commissioning of an article, with which he disagreed, from David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialists Group.  The JSG had been anathema to the Jewish establishment from the moment it had set up stall.  The Jewish Board of Deputies and the various misleaders of the Jewish community did not take kindly to Jewish radicalism, especially when it came in the clothes of the Bund, an anti-Zionist Jewish group that was predominant in pre-war Poland.  Lerman’s editorial managed to press all the right (or wrong!) buttons.  It not only questioned the misuse of anti-Semitism as a weapon against Zionism’s adversaries but he also questioned the role of the Jewish diaspora vs Israel (the ‘Jewish’ State). 
In the eyes of Zionism there is no role for a Jewish diaspora other than as a support mechanism for Israel, cheerleading from the side.  It is axiomatic that Jews outside Israel don’t question or criticise those on the front line of the war against the Arabs.  In the words of Lord Tennyson, theirs is not to reason why, theirs is but to do or die!  In suggesting that Jews outside Israel might have interests that are not the same as those of Israel, and even worse, to suggest as he did in later articles and symposia, that it was the actions of Israel, which claims to speak on behalf of all Jews, that is creating the very ‘anti-Semitism’ that it deprecates, was enough to create a tsunami of hatred directed at Lerman.  Even worse he started suggesting that maybe the life of Palestinians inside Israel itself was not everything it was cracked up to be.

Despite or maybe because of his work for the IJA and then as Director of the IJPR and in between that for the Rothschild’s Foundation Yad Hadaniv, in which he consciously sought to strengthen the internal life and institutions of European Jewry, he brought down on his head the wrath of people like Stanley Kalms, former Treasurer of the Conservative Party and Sir Alfred Sherman.  Kalms simply walked out of the IJPR, taking with him a number of other trustees and making the life of his establishment supporters more and more difficult.

I think it is fair to say that Tony Lerman was an innocent abroad who had an annoying habit of saying what he thought.  If the Emperor had no clothes then he felt it his duty to point to this fact when his job was to maintain the pretence that all was normal.  He clung to the belief that what mattered was logic and argument rather than the fact that he wouldn’t toe the line.  So in his editorial in Jewish Quarterly he disagreed, rightly in my opinion, with David Rosenberg’s argument that anti-Semitism was on the increase.  But to the powers that be that was irrelevant.  After all what they termed ‘anti-Semitism’ was a different creature anyway.

In his battles with the petty minded petit-bourgeois of the Board of Deputies, Lerman attracted the support of the cream of the British Jewish intelligentsia – people like Professor George Steiner and Rabbi Julia Neuberger.  But it was to no avail because the Zionist leadership of the Jewish community in Britain doesn’t do debate.  Anti-Semitism is and always has been an excuse.   When the battles against Oswald Moseley were at their height, the Board ran for cover, as it did against the National Front in the 1930’s.  ‘Anti-Semitism’ is a wholly artificial construct as far as they are concerned and Israeli organisations sought to gain a monopoly on the collection of statistics of anti-Semitism for one purpose – to show how dangerous Europe was for Jews and how much better off they would be in Israel.  In this the Community Security Trust a group set up by the Board of Deputies, allegedly to monitor anti-Semitism in Britain but which also collates intelligence on left-wing Jews and this year supplied false information to the Home Office in their failed bid to deport Sheikh Raed Salah, the Islamic Leagues leader in Israel, ‘played a role both in vilifying me personally for my views and undermining the work JPR was doing.’ [187]

So when Lerman says things like ‘Zionism failed to eliminate anti-Semitism and now Israel provoked it’ he was putting a match to gunpowder. [132] When he was appointed in January 2006 to the post of Director of JPR it was greeted by one of the Jewish Chronicle’s hack columnists, Dr Geoffrey Alderman thus:  ‘JPR loses mind in choice of new head’.  Round robin e-mails which all misspelt the same word, secret meetings and other examples of skulduggery resulted in Lerman’s position being personally and politically untenable.  Lerman became paranoid but with good reason.

The book is replete with various symposia and conferences but Lerman was an innocent abroad.  Polite academic debate in Israel and elsewhere was one thing, but the Zionist propaganda machine required compliant and tame academics like Robert Wistrich, a Professor of History at Tel Aviv University, who could use their credentials to further a Zionist agenda.  Lerman himself had by now drawn the conclusion that Zionism was outmoded and outdated, a vehicle for the interests of the Israeli state via institutions such as the Jewish Agency.  In one particular paper, in January 2007 at a conference at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem he put outlined four particular aspects of what was termed as ‘Jewish Peoplehood’: the particular vs universal, diversity of identity and opinion,, the threat to an Israel-centric definition of peoplehood and Jews as the subject not object of history. 

All of these are subjects in their own right.  For example Jews as subjects directly challenges the Zionist notion of eternal anti-Semitism (itself a reflection of the Nazi idea of the ‘eternal Jew’) that anti-Semitism is one unbending constant of some 2,000 years origin.  As if Jews have been passive victims rather than players in history.  As he summed it up, ‘What is peoplehood anyway?  Just another con-trick on the part of the Jewish Agency and Zionist bodies.’ [160] To people like Stanley Kalms, the enemy was Islam and Muslims and the purpose of the JPR was to support Blair and Bush, the only people who had stood up to it. [167]

The book cleared up one minor mystery for me.  In 2007 an organisation Independent Jewish Voices was launched but missing from its list of prominent signatories like Mike Light, Miriam Margolyes and Brian Klug was that of Tony Lerman.  In fact it was almost a condition of his continued employment that he wasn’t seen to associate with them, although in practice he attended their committee meetings.  IJV was an attempt to create a space for Jewish people to debate issues free from the narrow confines of Zionist orthodoxy.  Naturally it attracted the venom of people like Melanie Phillips, who notoriously described it as ‘Jews for Genocide’!

Like so many of us Lerman was accused of ‘self-hatred’ which, as he rightly says, is a way of   ‘strengthening a narrow, ethnocentric view of the Jewish people.’ [178] In fact it is worse.  It is a racist calumny which assumes that to be Jewish you have to be a chauvinist.  It is the same charge that the Nazis levelled against anti-fascist Germans.

On January 22 2008 Lerman decided that he had had enough and handed in his resignation.  Almost immediately the fake leftist David Hirsh from Engage, which fought a losing battle against the academic boycott in the Universities & Colleges Union (and which is now known to have been financed by the Board of Deputies) had applied to be Lerman’s replacement!

As Lerman recognises, having worked at the heart of the Jewish establishment for more than 25 years, ‘to hold views usually associated with the marginalised, dissenting groups was an unprecedented danger, a traitorous act that simply could not be tolerated.’ [197]

Tony Lerman is not an anti-Zionist, he has not formulated a critique of Zionism as a movement which was, by its very nature, bound to end up as a right-wing, racist movement among Jews.  No doubt even today he holds that it had progressive origins rather than seeing Zionism as having been formed in the crucible of the fight against anti-Semitism, but as a counter-revolutionary movement which accepted the essential argument of the anti-Semites that Jews did not belong in the societies in which they were born.  That it was a movement forever condemned by its alliance with imperialism and its nationalism had no progressive content but owed much to the nationalism of the volkish groups in central Europe of the 1930’s.

Another disagreement I would have with Lerman is that he never asks what might be the basis of a secular Jewish identity freed from the poisonous grasp of Zionist nationalism?  In times gone past Jews played particular social, economic and political roles and their identity was formed as a result.  The Bund for example was formed as a result of a distinctive Jewish proletariat.  The Jews of the Middle Ages reflected the Jewish role as money lenders and agents of money in an economy based on use value.   The Jewish role as traders helped define and mould the oral tradition of Judaism.  What today is left other than another variant of the white middle classes?  I suspect that minus Israel a separate and distinctive Jewish presence would rapidly fade away, leaving the remnants of Orthodoxy.  It is a subject that Lerman barely mentions but which is crucial to many of his endeavours.  However Zionist itself is proving a massive turn-off for young Jews in particular and apart from a nationalist Jewish minority is insufficient to provide the basis for a separate Jewish identity.

Tony Lerman’s book is though a valuable depiction of how Zionist McCarthyism claims even its own if they stray from the accepted.  What happened to Norman Finkelstein at De Paul’s University, the attacks on Ilan Pappe, the exiled University of Haifa historian, the attacks on academic freedom on American campuses where groups such as Camera, Campus Watch (any group with ‘watch’ in their name is almost certainly an organisation set up to curb the freedom it watches) is what happened to Tony Lerman.

Perhaps the most pathetic gesture of all was the decision of Stephen Pollard, editor of the declining Jewish Council and ex-editor of the Daily Express, owned by Britains largest porn operator, Richard Desmond, to commission a ‘review’ by a Daniel Hochhauser which instead of criticising the message attacks the messenger.  Lerman is a ‘career bureaucrat’.  Hochhauser finds it surprising that Lerman used various conferences to put his own views across and yet he resented ‘being held accountable’ for them.  It’s difficult to know whether to laugh or cry at the ignorance of this hired gun.  The whole point of things like academic tenure is that people can express their views without being subject to dismissal or revenge.  Working for Jewish policy institutes, Lerman was in a particularly exposed position, something which was taken full advantage of.  Hochhauser, like the petty McCarthyite he is, sees nothing wrong in waging vendettas against those whose views he disagrees with. 

In many ways Antony Lerman should consider it to his credit that even now, the Jewish Chronicle, until recently a paper with a reputation, dare not take up the challenge that Lerman in his book has thrown down.

Tony Greenstein

1 comment:

  1. "True to form the Jewish Council, under its abysman editor Stephen Pollard"

    That should be "Chronicle" not Council.


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