“abusive references to ‘Zionism’ … go far beyond direct reference to Israel. An ideology of national self-determination, applicable in one tiny part of the world, has become a universally applied epithet, a fundamental evil responsible for most of the world’s problems…. The ways in which Zionism is referred to are so far-fetched and have such little bearing on the real world that what is needed is a correct meaning and use of the word…. The distortion of Zionism is deliberate and calculated and not just a product of sloppy thinking.” – Antony Lerman, Research Report No. 20, “The Abuse of Zionism,” published by the Institute of Jewish Affairs in December 1981.
“the…Community Security Trust reports a dramatic increase in anti-Semitic incidents since the beginning of the Gaza war. This is not a new phenomenon. For some decades, incidents have increased at times of high tension or violence in Israel-Palestine. Jewish leaders and commentators are indignant at the implication that Jews worldwide are responsible for Israel’s actions. Don’t conflate Jews and Israel, they say. But matters are far more complicated. Most Jews support Israel; they feel it’s part of their identity; official Jewish bodies defend Israel when it’s criticised….But we can’t have it both ways. If you’re close to Israel, you can’t just own your connection with the country when all is quiet; you have to own it when what Israel does provokes outrage. The consequence of this is recognising that by provoking outrage, which is then used to target Jews, Israel bears responsibility for that anti-Jewish hostility.” Antony Lerman, ‘Must Jews always see themselves as victims‘, Independent, March 2009.
How Antony Lerman was transformed from an outspoken critic of those who demonize Israel to a proponent of the hideous logic that Israel is responsible for antisemitism is a vexing question.
While a conclusive answer would be difficult to ascertain, it is clear that his comment in 2009 was not a one-off.
In September 2008 Lerman attacked the widely accepted Fundamental Rights Agency Working Definition of Antisemitism (accepted by the US State Department and the UK Parliamentary Committee on Antisemitism). He wrote that the working definition “puts out of bounds the perfectly legitimate discussion of whether increased anti-Semitism is a result of Israel’s actions.”
In 2006 Lerman attacked the Board of Deputies (The representative organisation of British Jewry) for lodging a complaint against then London Mayor Ken Livingstone for telling a Jewish reporter that he could have been a guard in a concentration camp.
On June 25th, 2010 – on the pages of CiF - Lerman accused Israeli leaders of “taking Jews back to the perceived ghetto mentality of diaspora Jews that Zionism was meant to eradicate.”
So Lerman’s recent return to ‘Comment is Free’, after a two-year absence, represented a reprise of his Guardian role ‘AsAJew’ to decry the “abuse” which “dissident Jews” like himself are subjected to by the Jewish establishment, (Abuse of dissenting Jews is shameful, August 20th).
Lerman begins by arguing that “[Israeli] governments have taken support [for Israel by diaspora Jews] for granted for decades” and then explains why many, like himself, feel disconnected from the Jewish state:
“[Israelis] should stop accusing [diaspora Jews] of disloyalty, succumbing to “Jewish self-hatred”, and being “fellow travelers” of antisemites…[those] Jewish critics with radical ideas for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…“
Of course, the radical idea he’s referring to – and for which he has advocated before - is what is known as a ‘one-state solution’: the end of the world’s only Jewish state.
Jews who oppose Israel’s existence as a Jewish state within any borders are, per Lerman, “subjected to a process of vilification, demonisation and marginalisation.” Lerman then argues that “The Jewish establishment in the UK…is highly experienced at such [exclusion].”
While Lerman does concede that, of late, opportunities for expressing dissent appear to have grown, he nonetheless warns:
“… right-wing Zionists staged a media-savvy fightback, using the usual accusations of disloyalty and “giving succour to our enemies”, especially targeting liberal Zionist Jewish critics.”
Who are these “right-wing Zionists” with their media-savvy silencing tactics? Lerman explains:
“The latest charge is ‘Jew-washing‘, Jews using their Jewishness to give token cover for [boycotting Israel] and even antisemitism” – a calumny, itself redolent of antisemitism, promoted by the Israel-based, rightwing NGO Monitor. Spearheading this crusade is an assortment of columnists, bloggers and thinktankers of an aggressive and apocalyptic mindset who smear their targets to the edge of actionable defamation.” [emphasis added]
It is not at all surprising that Lerman would decry the term ‘Jew-washing’ because the term – referring to the cynical use of token Jews to legitimize antisemitism and the demonization of Israel – is exactly what the Guardian does by using commentators like him to impute liberalism to such inherently illiberal views.
Lerman not only seeks the end of Jewish national sovereignty, but feels entitled to do so without any corresponding critical scrutiny or public opprobrium. He not only believes that the first sovereign Jewish state in 2000 years needs to be radically reconstituted into an Arab/Muslim state – with Jews, once again, the minority at the mercy of a hostile majority - but wants respect from Zionist Jews and even the very Israelis whose state he believes is illegitimate.
Lerman ends thus:
“…the tectonic plates of Jewish diaspora awareness of Israel’s self-destructive path are definitely shifting…the Jewish diaspora’s…quest for serious, open and civil debate among Jews about what is really best for Israel must continue.”
Indeed, in an essay at Ha’aretz in 2008, Lerman bizarrely suggests that “advocacy of a one-state solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict” is not “prima facie anti-Zionist”.
This argument is not only morally obscene, but also fundamentally illogical.
A one-state solution is, by definition, anti-Zionist, as Zionism merely refers to support for the existence of a Jewish state.
As Gerald Steinberg and Yitzhak Santis argued in their essay on ‘Jew-washing’:
“While the term “Jew-washing” is an ugly expression, the practice is not only much uglier, but extremely dangerous to real Jewish lives.”
Those arguing for a one-state solution are legitimizing the logic of ethnic cleansing. They are saying, in effect, that the Arabs were right in emphatically opposing Israel’s existence, and that Jews were wrong to demand sovereignty in their ancient homeland.
Lerman’s logic suggests that the Arabs (both state and non-state actors) who sought Israel’s destruction in 1948, and in subsequent wars throughout the Jewish state’s first 64 years, were justified and that Jews who have insisted on arduously protecting political freedom, based on legal and moral right, as well as a keen understanding of Jewish history, have been on the wrong side of history.
While Lerman has the right to advocate policies which, by definition, endanger six million Jews – only with breathtaking hubris can he believe that he can do so while enjoying moral impunity.