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Exploring One Man's Journey to and from Zionism

Allan C. Brownfeld, editor
Fall 2013

By Antony Lerman,  
Pluto Press,  
228 Pages,  
For more than forty years, Antony Lerman has been a leading figure in the intellectual life of the British Jewish community. He progressed from being the national secretary of Habonim, the socialist-Zionist youth movement in Britain, to becoming the head of the most important think tank in the Anglo-Jewish community, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research.  
In this important book, he explores how he gradually lost his ardor for Zionism and became a leading critic of Israel’s political direction and of its interference in the affairs of Jewish communities in other parts of the world.  
Lerman’s odyssey is one of an evolving awareness that the Jewish values he held, and which he believed were manifested in Zionism, were, in fact, in contradiction to many of Zionism’s basic assumptions. He became an Israeli citizen in 1970, lived on a kibbutz and served in the Israeli army. He returned to England in 1972, increasingly troubled by doubts about Israel’s evolving behavior and, in particular, its treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories. He could not cross the red lines into the ethnocentric particularism he found, and which he believed were in contradiction to the humane Jewish tradition. It is his belief that peace, justice and human rights are the true Jewish values.  
Lerman’s Journey  
This book not only charts Lerman’s journey from fervent Zionist to thoughtful critic of Zionism but also charts his sustained vilification and shows how bigotry has often replaced reason in any discussion of the Middle East. He was ostracized by the Jewish establishment and, as an insider, offers unique insight into the difficulties faced by Jews who choose to be critical of Israeli policies.  
“By my 16th birthday,” he writes, “I had absorbed enough of the movement’s ideology to feel that I had a clear grasp of what I believed about Zionism, Israel and socialism … I saw Palestinians in classic Herzlian terms as ‘a land without people for a people without a land,’ Arab opposition to the Jewish State was entirely illegitimate. A Palestinian was a Jew who had immigrated to Palestine in the years before the establishment of the state. We wore the Arab keffiyeh (traditional headdress) like a scarf, as a sign of our youthful pioneering loyalty to the state … We regarded the aims of the Jewish terrorist underground of pre-state days — the Irgun Tsvai Leumi or Etzel as legitimate, only their methods went too far, so we wildly condemned them. I accepted the narrative that the Arabs left Palestine voluntarily at the behest of the combined Arab armies who promised them that they would return after the Jews had been defeated and driven into the sea. Having failed in that aim, incursions were constantly being made into Israel by murderous Arab bands called fellaheen.”  
As a young man, Lerman also shared the Zionist conviction that, “The future of the Jewish people lay in mass aliya (immigration); diaspora Jewish life was doomed … To us, British Jewish leaders who were staunch supporters of Israel but had no intention of emigrating were hypocritical ‘armchair Zionists.’”  
See Israel for Himself  
Driven by his desire to see Israel for himself, Lerman decided that he wanted to participate in the one-year course run by the Institute for Youth Leaders from Abroad in Jerusalem. All expenses were paid and graduates of the course became key personnel in the Zionist movement when they returned home. “By now,” he recalls, “my parents were beginning to question whether encouraging involvement in Habonim was such a good idea. My brother wanted to go on this course in 1963, but they had refused. I wouldn’t take no for an answer.”  
The historian Tony Judt described Habonim and Labor Zionism in these terms: “The essence of Labor Zionism … lay in the promise of Jewish work; the idea that young Jews from the diaspora would be rescued from their effete, assimilated lives and transported to remote collective settlements in rural Palestine — there to create ‘and, as the ideology had it,’ a living Jewish peasantry, neither exploited nor exploiting.”  
In August 1964, Lerman left Victoria Railway Railway Station in London on the boat train for Marseilles and a ship to Haifa. Nine members of the British Habonim were to spend six months studying in Jerusalem and five months living and working on two kibbutzim. “I was,” writes Lerman, “a second generation, assimilated, English-born Jew, living comfortably in suburban London and yet I was preparing to give all that up to live in, and if necessary fight for, a country on another continent with a different culture and a far lower standard of living.”  
Jewish Nationalism and Socialism  
The philosophers of Labor Zionism were largely Eastern European Jews imbued not only with Jewish nationalism but with socialism. Ber Borochov (1881-1917) was born in Russia and was a central leader and ideologist of Poale Zion (Workers of Zion), the Zionist Marxist Workers Party. He saw it as inevitable that Palestine was the place where territorial autonomy would be obtained and believed that the socialism to be built there would also be for the benefit of the Arab population as they had common class interests with Jewish workers. In his view, a “normal people” had a mass working class that formed the basis of the pyramid, with a small capitalist class at its apex. For the Jewish people, he argued, the capitalist class was proportionately larger, the working class much smaller. Before the revolution could come, he believed, this imbalance had to be corrected and it could only be done when Jews were gathered in a country of their own.  
Another leading advocate of this philosophy was Aharon David Gordon (1856-1922), a native of the Ukraine who took his family to Palestine in 1904 when he was already middle aged. Doing ill-paid and exhausting manual work, he finally found his way to Kibbutz Dagania. A self-educated intellectual, he urged students to give up education for manual labor. He believed that the only way Jews would cease to be an “abnormal, parasitic people,” cut off from nature for 2,000 years, would be by returning to the Jewish homeland.  
The Habonim youth group Lerman joined in London was, he writes, “born out of the idea of educating young Jews about Zionism through Jewish scouting.” This socialist Zionist youth movement, he points out, “had more in common with the left-wing versions of the German Wandervogel, the nationalist, romantic, back-to-nature youth movement in the early 20th century, than with Baden-Powell’s Boy Scouts. By the beginning of World War II, it had adopted as its principal aim the sending of young Jews to settle on kibbutzim in the emerging Jewish state.”  
Leader of Movement  
At 22, Lerman became leader of the movement in 1968 and found himself heading an organization with over 20 employees, five emissaries from Israel, five youth centers, a large house in north-west London where many London full-time workers lived. “For most of us,” writes Lerman, “the Palestinian national movement had not yet impinged on our consciousness and we showed no sympathy for Palestinian rights. I seem to recall that some who objected to settling beyond the Green Line did so because they believed in the principle of not settling on land taken by force. But while writing this book, former new left Habonim members told me that they left the group planning to join a new kibbutz because they opposed settling on occupied Palestinian land and believed that it should be returned to its inhabitants. Those who chose to join a Golan settlement certainly believed that not all the land taken in 1967 would be given back to the Arabs.”  
In 1964, Lerman traveled to Israel with eight other 18-year-olds. By then he was an Israeli citizen and entered the Israeli military. He remembers that, “We had to make a route march from our base to Hebron. Before we set out, our commanding officer addressed us … He began describing the dangers we would face on the way. Using extreme, demonizing language, he spoke about ‘the Arabs’ we would encounter. As a precaution we had live ammunition in the breaches of our rifles and Uzi sub-machine guns. Until the CO’s address, I had never heard anyone in Israel talk like that about Arabs … I knew them only in the abstract as the ‘enemy,’ both from what we were taught in the youth movement about their opposition to Zionism and from the very fact that Israel needed an army to defend itself. But the language grated with my conception of a humanistic, socialist Zionism. And even at the time I thought it hinted at a brutality that was hardly justified.”  
Slowly, Lerman’s views about Zionism began to change. In the last chapter of an uncompleted manuscript he wrote, “The English (Jewish) attitude to Zionism loudly echoed the tenets of British Imperialism. Not only was Palestine seen as an undeveloped country with an ignorant native population looking for national identity, but colonization was also seen as the solution for co-religionists who were unable to survive in their present environments — the same solution was proposed by Imperialists for Englishmen who were unemployed and was seen as an answer to overpopulation and a rising birth-rate.”  
Palestine’s Arab Population  
Neither as a youth movement member nor as an Israeli citizen had Lerman ever seriously asked questions about Palestine’s Arab population but, he writes, “I now began to ask them as I studied the educational documents and the summaries of discussions among the leadership in the 1930s. ‘It hardly seems probable that the early Habonim settlers gave much thought to the Arabs at all,’ I wrote. ‘When settlements were attacked, and there were riots and disturbances, the individual Arab lost his identity and was submerged … He was seen as an ignorant peasant, easily influenced, and led by unscrupulous leaders. Zionism was clearly envisaged as being a civilizing instrument which the Arabs should welcome because it would lift them out of squalor and poverty…Even the intending Halutzim (socialist Zionist pioneers) realized the exclusiveness of Zionism.”  
Lerman returned to England and applied for a job as research officer at the Institute of Jewish Affairs (IJA) in London. The post involved research and writing on issues affecting Jews throughout the world. The IJA was the research arm of the World Jewish Congress. Lerman was thrown into working on a project dealing with changing public perceptions of Zionism and Israel.  
In 1982, he reviewed a book by Professor Shlomo Avineri which caused him to consider the link between Jewish universalism and the aims of Zionism. In “The Making of Modern Zionism, The Intellectual Origins of the Jewish State,” Avineri argued that “the founding fathers of Zionism all saw the solution to the crisis of the Jewish people in universalistic terms.”  
He wrote: “The crisis of the 20th century is posing a threat not only to the Jewish people but to the world at large. Therefore, the solution to this crisis cannot just be a particularist redemption of the Jews, it will have to involve a universal redemption.”  
Fundamentals of Zionism  
Lerman’s assessment at that time was that Avineri’s book was “important because it clearly set out to show that the Zionism of Menachem Begin, Israel’s prime minister and heir to the legacy of Jabotinsky, was antithetical to the fundamentals of Zionism. Avineri clearly felt that the Zionist movement had drifted from the central core of Zionist ideas and that re-evaluating the essence of Zionism — as he defined it — would bring it back to its true purpose … Part of me wanted to believe that Avineri was correct in seeing Likud Zionism as an aberration. And yet I thought that the reality of Israel just before the 1982 Lebanon War proved the opposite, so I found Avineri’s central argument unconvincing. The war, and in particular the Sabra and Chatilla Palestinian refugee camp massacres in September 1982, seemed far removed from Avineri’s ‘far-reaching social revolution.’”  
Lerman wondered what the term “Zionism” really meant in the wake of the creation of Israel. “One can no longer say that Zionism is the idea of establishing a Jewish state in Eretz Israel,” he wrote. He suggested this definition: “Zionism is the principle that the State of Israel belongs not only to its citizens but also to the entire Jewish people.” Looking back, he writes, “It now seems bizarre that I seemed to see no confusion between talking about a country belonging to its citizens, a significant proportion of whom were not Jewish, and at the same time belonging to Jews who didn’t even live there and had no intention of doing so.”  
Lerman became increasingly disturbed by those in the Jewish community who called anti-Zionism, or criticism of Israeli policies, the same as “anti-Semitism.” He was removed from his position as editor of The Jewish Quarterly because he departed from a policy of defending whatever the Israeli government did, and refusing to label all critics of Israel as “anti-Semites.” In his first editorial, in the issue produced at the end of 1984, he set out what he wanted the magazine to be, stressing that it had “always functioned according to the fundamental principle that pluralism and tolerance must prevail in the Jewish community — a principle that pluralism greatly favored in some sectors of Anglo-Jewry today … In 1953 Israel was widely seen as a beacon of progress and enlightenment; today much of the public discourse of international affairs contains ritual condemnation of the state and a permanent attempt to undermine its legitimacy. Zionism has become a dirty word … It is far too easy to raise the spectre of anti-semitism, call for unity and thereby ignore the changes in the Jewish position in the world that these developments represent.”  
Political Use of the Holocaust  
Referring to the Holocaust and how politicians and ideologues feel free to make political use of this “tragedy of tragedies,” he wrote: “The perceived threat of another attempt to annihilate Jewry is too rapidly invoked for the purpose of stifling genuine and crucial differences of opinion. Jewish life is not only about survival … The real crises (for the Jewish people) are in Zionism, in the nature of the Jewish state and in relations between what should be an independently-minded and assertive Diaspora and Israel. It is because these issues are so troubling and so difficult to confront that the source of anxiety is sought in the age-old common enemy: anti-Semitism. In Israel, the debate on these issues goes on daily in the newspapers. Here, the debate is avoided. Rather than concede that the Arabs have an ideological case, we treat their anti-Zionism as prejudice. Rather than admit that Israel’s mistakes fuel anti-Semitism, we prefer to brand critics as anti-Semites.”  
Bernard Kops wrote in 1985 that, “Tony Lerman … has fallen foul of a power-mad cabal who got him the chop because he didn’t conform to their particular, paranoid way of looking at things.” Sir Alfred Sherman declared in 1986 that, “Antony Lerman combines Jewish self-hate and loony Leftism in a blanket attack against the Anglo-Jewish community in general and in particular against those of us who have taken a stand against anti-Israel bias and the new Left-wing anti-semitism in the British media.”  
Many voices rose to Lerman’s defense. A long letter expressed outrage at his removal, criticizing “the guardians of official communal policy” and noting that his departure “can only cause dismay among those who value the cultural vitality and intellectual integrity of Anglo-Jewry.” Among those signing this letter were the literary critic, Prof. George Steiner; the novelists Bernice Rubens and Clive Sinclair; the historian of modern Israel, Dr. Noah Lucas; the writer on Jewish theology, Hyam Maccoby, and a host of others. “Once again,” the signatories wrote, “the official community has taken a step towards enforced conformity, crudely imposing a monopoly over the right to represent Jews and Jewish opinion.”  
Right to Publish  
Rabbi Julia Neuberger insisted that instead of attacking Lerman, communal leaders should have “defended to the last” his right to publish the editorial. She declared that, “Instead, the reaction within the Board of Directors and elsewhere seems to be a sign of precisely that paranoia which the offending editorial described … For a long time now we have been told about ‘Jewish solidarity’ and begged not to rock the boat in public. That was always reprehensible and distasteful. But the denial of a free press is quite different, for it implies a totalitarian view of the Jewish community where the expression of only some views is acceptable. I reject that view and despise it. And I am sure that I am not alone.”  
In an article for Index on Censorship, Rabbi Neuberger saw the Jewish Quarterly affair as an example of the way “powerful Jewish organizations, on both sides of the Atlantic” which increasingly interpreted criticism of Israel as being anti-Semitic, were also regarding internal criticism as dangerous, “if publicly exposed.” She continued: “The people who rock the boat, the ones who cannot quite be described as ‘self-hating Jews,’ nor even as anti-Zionists (the ones who) do not toe the line … this spells danger to the leaders of the community convinced that unity must always be displayed to the outside world … and their reaction is to fight. It is a story that is likely to reflect ill on Anglo-Jewish institutions and their leaders.”  
Lerman recalls that during his time at the Jewish Quarterly and the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, “Practically all the Anti-Defamation League in New York wanted from us was material about anti-Semitism, the more sensational the better. This would enable them to generate publicity thereby enhancing their profile in Europe, where they had ambitions to become a major force in making public pronouncements on the threat of anti-Semitism, and pleasing their supporters at home.”  
Especially troubling to Lerman was the Project for the Study of Anti-Semitism at Tel Aviv University, a new body set up with the sponsorship of the Israeli Government Monitoring Forum on Anti-Semitism and of the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service. “Its aim,” writes Lerman, “was to sensitize young Jews to the danger of anti-Semitism and thereby encouraging aliya. So, in short, the Israeli government’s civil arm devoted to monitoring and dealing with the problem of anti-Semitism, working hand-in-hand with the Mossad was acting as a Zionist recruiting tool of the crudest kind … The more we took an independent line on anti-Semitism, the more these Israeli institutions tried to isolate and bully us.”  
On March 15, 1994, Lerman explained that much of the work of Tel Aviv and the Mossad was “highly alarmist and exaggerated and is directed at vulnerable communities of young people.” He declared that, “It is entirely wrong for Israel to be attempting to dominate this work, since the country’s interests as a state are bound to diverge at times from the interests of Jewish communities. I tried to persuade the Israelis to allow us to operate without interference, but was given short shrift by the Mossad representatives at the Israeli embassy in London and by the Israeli ambassador himself.”  
At a conference in Israel in June 1999, organized by the Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Hebrew University, Lerman’s message was frank: “We see (the exploitation of anti-Semitism for ideological ends) also where the study and monitoring of anti-Semitism is too closely bound up with the Zionist imperative, and as a result is easily muddied. Clearly, if Jewish perceptions of anti-Semitism in the Diaspora are full of foreboding and fear, this may lead to increased immigration to Israel … The danger is that in recent years, more Israeli institutions have taken up the study of contemporary anti-Semitism and their influence in the field has grown … Zionist ideological assumptions can easily color the work of these institutions. This stricture would especially apply to any institution that has close links with or is supported by the Israeli government and international Jewish political organizations which combine an ideologically determined approach with an avowedly Zionist political orientation.”  
Jewish Life in Europe  
In 1999, Lerman was involved in establishing a grant-making program for Lord Rothschild for support of Jewish life in Europe. He was focusing on the revival of European Jewish communities and the work of Jewish academics, writers, film-makers and journalists who were both creating and responding to the conditions in the new Europe. “Many of them,” he writes, “had complex, insightful and challenging views on Israel. Barely nine months into my tenure, the second intifada erupted and I no longer felt vulnerable to Jewish communal pressure. I no longer regarded myself as a Zionist. If asked, I would have described myself as a non or post-Zionist. I thought Israel should repeal the Law of Return and introduce a fair and liberal immigration policy.”  
At this time, notes Lerman, “I still had faith in the 1993 Oslo Accords and the prospect of a two-state solution, which I thought was very close despite the turn to violence. I opposed the building of more settlements in the occupied territories and I wanted Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders, with land swaps mutually agreed with the Palestinians. I had concluded that the Zionist and Israeli notion of a special bond between Israel and the diaspora was a myth. Israel would always put its national interests above those of diaspora Jews. And sometimes it seemed that its national interests were best served by exaggerating levels of anti-Semitism, to the detriment of Jewish life. The sooner Jews worldwide and the State of Israel recognized that it was perfectly natural that Israel should go its own way, the better off for all concerned.”  
At a meeting of the European Council of Jewish Communities (ECJC), a body facilitating cooperation on welfare, education and culture, in Prague in November 2002, most of the talk was of threats to Jews, solidarity with Israel, and how “not to lose the propaganda war in Europe.”  
“State of War”  
Roger Cukierman, head of the French Jewish community’s main representative body, CRIF, said “there is state of war against the Jews of the world.” Cobi Benatoff, ECJC president, declared that, “Europe is no longer an open society in which we can bring forth Jewish values.” David Harris of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) “lectured European Jews on why they should adopt the priorities of his organization. Of the ten challenges the AJC was dealing with, he told us, the first three stressed shoring up support for Israel, three more focused on anti-Semitism and four were about Islamic fundamentalism and the Arab world.”  
In Lerman’s view, “The intense preoccupation with perceived threats to Israel and Jews worldwide on the part of heads of major organizations, couched in Holocaust-inflected language, stood in marked contrast to the desire to explore how Jews could preserve the new openness in Europe, maintain the resurgence of a flourishing Jewish life and chart a new way of fully participating in the European project, as expressed by Jewish activists, academics and intellectuals in panel discussions at the meeting. Back in Israel later that month, I heard the same negativism about Europe and warnings about threats to the Jewish people.” This time it was at an international conference considering the current state of world Jewish demographic studies. The event also marked the launch of a new think tank, the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute (JPPPI), sponsored by the Jewish Agency for Israel.  
A long article in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz on Dec. 28, 2001 by the prominent Israeli journalist Avi Shavit, entitled “Our Good Mother Medea,” argued that Europe, like Medea, was continually devouring her Jewish children and that Jewish life in Europe was rapidly coming to an end. The conclusion to be drawn, he declared, was that Zionism remained the sole path to a sustainable Jewish future.  
Revival of Jewish Life  
Antony Lerman was asked to write a response. His answer to Shavit, he writes, “was colored by having already worked for two years to get the new European grant-making foundation up and running. I had traveled extensively around Europe and witnessed the amazing revival of Jewish life … in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and elsewhere. Seeing authentic progress for myself, it angered me that Israel, acting through such institutions as JAFI in the narrow interests of the Zionist ideology and state policy, was working for the end of Jewish life in Europe by encouraging Jews to shut up shop and emigrate.”  
Jews, Lerman believed, face two fundamentally different ways of living in the modern world: “The first meant embracing pluralism, universalism, diversity, multiple identities, and drawing strength from the encounter between Jewish culture and values and the wider world. The second was grounded in guarding Jewish exclusivity, rejecting multiculturalism, stressing the centrality of Israel and acknowledging Zionism as the primary political ideology uniting the Jewish people. This was the option chosen by JAFI, the JPPPI and the Israeli government.”  
In 2003, Lerman helped to launch the Jewish Forum for Justice and Human Rights (JFJHR) at the Commonwealth Club in London. He spoke of how “Jewish leaders were now playing on Jewish fears of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and the alleged failures of multiculturalism, thereby creating a perception that Jews as a whole are unwilling to face up to the fact of human rights abuses by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories, that Jews are turning their faces away from those seeking a refuge from oppression in this and other countries, that Jews pay lip service to the fight against racism but seem to have eyes only for anti-Semitism … And there is a genuine danger that, in the minds of too many people, Jews would become permanently associated with the abuse of human rights and not with the moral and ethical tradition which has both informed the development of human rights values and places the pursuit of justice at the center of Jewish values.”  
Jews In Europe  
In a discussion among Jewish intellectuals on the position of Jews in Europe at Chateau Canisy in the Normandy countryside in March 2003, Lerman asked: “Has Israel become a liability for Jews rather than a reinforcement of positive Jewish identity? This went to the heart of the question of the relevance of Zionism and many of the participants made it clear that it was a central question for them too.”  
Goran Rosenberg, one of Sweden’s leading columnists, authors and broadcasters, speaking of what constituted his “Jewish voice,” referred to “inward bound values” and “outward-bound values.” The former were defensive, they stressed memory, “never again,” and were about “the unopposed adherence of Zionist values.” But, he declared, “I refuse to be bound by those. The latter values are about pluralism and diversity; religion that explains the world. Jews have thrived in more pluralistic societies … The antithesis to those outward values is homogeneity — the nation-state is not a good Jewish idea.”  
Professor Lars Dencik, a social psychologist at Roskilde University in Denmark lamented that European Jews were lapsing into victimhood again. He argued that the misrepresentation of anti-Semitism was partly responsible for this and that Israel had a much greater impact on European Jews than anti-Semitism. What the public now saw as Judaism “has been colonized by Israel To combat this we need an opposition force.” Another participant signaled his agreement, saying, “Israel was partly an answer to anti-Semitism, today it’s part of the problem.”  
For Lerman, it is not hard to understand the historical, psychological and emotional reasons why Jews would want a specifically Jewish state, but he sees “a contradiction between Jewish support for an ethno-religious homogeneous state with a Jewish majority guaranteed in perpetuity, and Jewish support for a fully democratic, multicultural Europe promoting equal rights for all minorities and citizenship status for all.”  
Israel-Palestine State  
His preferred option, Lerman argues, is “for the eventual evolution of one Israel-Palestine state — possibly in a federal or confederal structure — a state of all its citizens, in which Palestinian and Jewish nationalisms are superseded by a civic patriotism based on the recognition of the legitimacy of the historical narratives of two peoples — Jews and Palestinians — and the reality of the presence of living communities of those peoples in the state. The law of return, which exclusively favors Jewish immigration, would be repealed and the issue of Palestinian refugees would be dealt with on the basis of a recognition of the right of return. Written into the revised constitution of the state would be safeguards for the continued cultural and religious distinctiveness of all national, cultural and faith groups, but also principles designed to guide the state toward social and civic cohesiveness.”  
Lerman laments that, “Zionism and state policy increasingly conflicted with human rights principles and universal values. Born out of the new universal human rights system and seen as progressive, Israel then followed a narrow nationalist and ethnocentric path. Initially, that ethnocentrism was hidden. But for right-wing and religious Zionists, universalism was seen as weakness … Post-1967 Zionist messianism ripped the mask off ethnocentricity: ‘Our destiny is all the land. It’s the fulfillment of God’s promise,’ such Zionists argued. And when Palestinians took extreme and evil measures to resist, Israel said the world hated us anyway so we’ll respond however we liked. Being the ultimate victims seemed to imply that Jews could not abuse others. And anyway, protecting the national project superseded human rights.”  
At a meeting of the Westbury Group of International Jewish Grant-Making Foundations in 2005 in London, the last to be held under Lerman’s chairmanship, the focus was partly on developments in the Middle East that affected Europe. Lerman was scheduled to introduce a session on the centrality of Israel for the Jewish people. “I decided,” he writes, “to challenge the assembled foundation executives by exposing the concept. Most members of the group knew I thought that the threat of anti-Semitism was exaggerated. Israel’s policies held dangers for European Jews and there was a need for greater European Jewish autonomy and assertiveness, but I had never addressed the issue of Israel’s centrality before.”  
Links Between Israel and Jews  
Lerman suggested that the emotional, psychological and mythical links between Israel and Jews outside of Israel was unsustainable. “In essence,” he notes, “the notion of the centrality of Israel was a restatement of the Zionist case. I presented six propositions on which the idea of the centrality of Israel was based and then demonstrated how each was deeply flawed. (1) Jews were one people united around the central pillar — Israel. In reality, there were always differences, and there were more divisive ones now — over Israel, religious observance, and who is a Jew. (2) There was an identity of interest between Israel and the diaspora, what Israel did was good for Jews everywhere. But on numerous occasions, Israel had put national interests above those of Jewish communities in countries with which it had relations.”  
He continued: “(3) Because of Israel-Diaspora unity, Israeli leaders could and did speak in the name of Jews everywhere. However, no Jewish community had given Israel a mandate for this and when practiced it is used as a means of exporting Israel’s internal crisis with the Palestinians and gaining diaspora Jewish support. (4) It was natural for Jews to manifest a form of unconditional national loyalty to Israel. And yet given how sensitive Jews have been to charges of dual loyalty, automatically labeling them anti-Semitic, Israel’s uncompromising demand for solidarity from diaspora Jews had placed them in invidious positions. (5) Israel was the spiritual and cultural center of the Jewish people. But while this sounded plausible, in Israel itself the Jewishness of Israeli youth was being questioned, rabbis and sages endorsed racism and religious leaders manipulated the Israeli political system. The frontier of the struggle for Jewish spirituality and culture was arguably in the Jewish diaspora where Jews sought to maintain their distinctiveness and embrace modernity, universal values, human rights and racial equality. (6) The State of Israel was a moral actor and entity, the concrete realization of Judaism and Jewish values. The truth was more prosaic; states sometimes did moral things; sometimes they did brutal things; no state was a moral entity.”  
Passed Sell-By Date  
For 40 years, Antony Lerman had called himself a Zionist. Slowly, he came to the conclusion that, “Zionism had passed its sell-by date. Its worst features had come to the fore and could never be expunged. This was not a cause for despair. On the contrary, if Israel and Jews worldwide recognized that a relationship based on a spurious notion of centrality was untenable, it would permit a new beginning, a totally different kind of relationship — and this would be good for us all.”  
One conference participant who broached this wall of denial was Avrum Burg, former speaker of the Israeli Knesset, who responded: “If I answer these six questions correctly, what’s the next one? What kind of Jewish people do I want my children to be part of? A post-fears Jewish people. In the last couple of decades we’ve constructed our fears. Now we must be post-trauma, post-guilt feelings. We must help Jews and Israelis to trust the world and give up the claim to be the world’s only victims.”  
Most in the organized Jewish community in the U.S. and Europe, Lerman believes, have acquiesced in the Israeli government’s claim to speak for Jews as a whole. What they did, he declares, is accept “the argument that all Jews had to show solidarity with Israel at a time when it was under mortal threat, and that only Israel could act as protector and refuge for Jews experiencing growing anti-Jewish hostility. Israeli and diaspora Jewish leaders could therefore hardly be surprised when Israeli actions provoked a backlash against Jews. Nor did it make any sense suddenly to deny the connection between the Jewish people and the Jewish state when Jews outside of Israel were implicated by default in the actions taken by the state.”  
Promoting Anti-Semitism  
Writing in Prospect magazine in December 2004, Professor Tony Judt stated: “It is the policies of the Israeli government in the past two decades that have provoked anti-Jewish feelings in Europe and elsewhere.”  
Elaborating on this, Lerman pointed out that, “Israeli leaders and many Jewish leaders … outside of Israel, have in recent years embraced a form of Jewish particularism or ethnocentrism that sees the universalist impulses in the Jewish tradition as an aberration, a form of weakness. The enemy is always Amalek (the biblical archetypal enemy of the Jews); Palestinians are Nazis; the human rights movement promotes everyone else’s rights at the expense of the rights of Jews; Israel and the Jews forever dwell alone, forever condemned to be victims. And if the world is so totally against us, there is no need to be shy in justifying brutal actions in the name of divine or tribal prerogatives, in the name of an interpretation of Jewish history that places the Holocaust at its absolute center. I therefore find myself reluctantly concluding that the intensification of anti-Jewish hostility, although certainly not deliberately incited by Israeli actions, serves to legitimate them nonetheless …”  
The assault upon Antony Lerman and other Jewish critics of Zionism and Israeli policies who formed the group Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) was brutal. Columnist Melanie Phillips described IJV as “Jews for Genocide (the British arm of the pincer of Jewish destruction).” Rabbi Sidney Brichto, who held a senior administrative post in the central organization of the Progressive (Reform) Jewish movement in England, said of Jewish critics: “It wasn’t enough for these traitorous Jewish individuals to enable Gentiles in attacking Israel to say, ‘Look, this is what leading Jews, even Zionists, are saying,’ but to go further by claiming, ‘This is really what most Jews think but are afraid to say because of their fear of the heavy handedness of the Jewish establishment’ … It is said that some Jews in concentration camps began to think that they had done something wrong in order to reconcile themselves to their situation and to relate to their persecutors. Could these Jews be suffering from the same pathology? But for whatever reason they need to be utterly condemned because they have acted in a manner to deserve the biblical punishment of ‘being cut off from their people.’”  
For Antony Lerman, “The concept of ‘self-hating Jew’ strengthens a narrow, ethnocentric view of the Jewish people. It exerts a monopoly over patriotism. It promotes a definition of Jewish identity which relies on the notion of an external enemy, and how much more dangerous when that enemy is a fifth column within the group. It plays on real fears of anti-Semitism and at the same time exaggerates the problem by claiming that critical Jews are ‘infected’ by it too. And it posits an essentialist notion of Jewish identity. How much easier to dismiss the arguments of dissenting Jews by leveling the charge of Jewish self-hatred than by engaging with them.”  
Personal Attacks  
Discussing the personal attacks upon Lerman, Professor Svi Shapiro, writing in Tikkun (Spring 2013) notes that, “… the notion that Lerman is a self-hating Jew is simply absurd. He is someone who has devoted forty years of his professional and public life to regeneration of Jewish life in the communities of Europe, whose intellectual life centers on Jewish scholarship and research, who continues to hold Israeli citizenship, and who passionately embraces his Jewish identity and consciousness. If there is any naïveté here, it can only be in his belief that raising fundamental questions about the nature and relevance of Zionism, Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, the rights of Palestinian-Israelis, and the extent to which Jewish identity is or should be defined by anti-Semitism would be received in a spirit of tolerance by the Jewish establishment. He has stood his ground in refusing to allow any litmus test that would qualify one as a ‘true’ and loyal member of the Jewish community, insisting that the Jewish community has always been a community that represents a wide diversity of religious, political and cultural perspectives.”  
Lerman sums up his evolving views this way: “Having rejected the ethnocentricity of Zionism and the moral and practical implications of taking coercive, racist and illiberal measures to secure a state with a Jewish majority in perpetuity, I can no longer subscribe to a project the logical conclusion of which is to attain such a maximalist nationalist end. No people or state is obliged to follow a path laid down by the exponents of the most extreme interpretation of its national destiny, I became an Israeli citizen in 1970 and I intend to remain so. But it’s not an act that requires endless repetition through an open-ended project of national self-realization. So I see no incompatibility between being an Israeli and not being a Zionist, just as I am a citizen of the United Kingdom and can call myself British and English, but I’m not a British or English nationalist. When Israel came into being it became possible for any Jew to cease to call himself a Zionist.”  
Limiting Free Speech  
The Jewish community does itself — and Jewish values — -a great disservice by condemning and isolating Jewish critics and severely limiting free speech within the Jewish community. Lerman declares that, “It is a mistake to demonize dissenting Jews; they care, but care differently. Entering into dialogue with them is a constructive act; it will not make you unclean. A discourse through which we make judgments about each other on whether or not we love Israel or define ourselves as Zionists, is a trap. It sets up false opposites. The absence of love is not hate. The person who isn’t a Zionist does not, a priori, wish to destroy Israel … Those who wish to interrogate Jewish dissenters in this way and counter what they wrongly assume is Jewish hatred and delegitimization of Israel and Zionism by holding events entitled ‘We Believe in Israel’ are relegating Judaism to being a subsidiary of Zionism. It makes Judaism less important than Israel. But Judaism, Jewishness, Jewish identity and Jewish ethnicity are much more than Zionism. As one of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the 20th century, Abraham Joshua Heschel, wrote: ‘The State of Israel is not the climax of Jewish history … Judaism is not a religion of space and does not worship the soil. So, too, the State of Israel is not the climax of Jewish history, but a test of the integrity of the Jewish people and the competence of Judaism.’”  
Speaking for Many Others  
Antony Lerman believes that he speaks for many others in the Jewish community. He argues that “a significant line was crossed” when Mick Davis, the chairman of the United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA), the main and largest pro-Israel body in the United Kingdom, openly criticized the Netanyahu government during a public discussion moderated by Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland. Davis warned that Israel could become an apartheid state if a two-state solution failed to materialize. “If such views are now being expressed by the head of the UJIA … anything is possible in terms of a broader sea change in the public expression of what we already know is widespread private uncertainty and doubt about Israel’s path,” he writes.  
Lerman’s journey is one shared by many in the Jewish community, in Britain, the United States and throughout the world, including Israel itself. This is a hopeful sign. Lerman himself concludes that, “In so far as my personal and political journey has brought me to believe that justice for both peoples is attainable without unbearable sacrifices, it has only been possible because I have not disowned my past but taken responsibility for who I was.”  
This book deserves a large audience, both among Jews and others. It points us in a hopeful direction and reaffirms a universal and humane Jewish tradition many have overlooked in recent years. •  
Allan C. Brownfeld is a nationally syndicated columnist and serves as Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues. The author of five books, he has served on the staff of the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President.

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