Gun­ning for Ler­man

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT & ANALYSIS -

Over the past two weeks, read­ers of the JC will have no­ticed what ap­pears to be an in­creas­ingly con­certed cam­paign to desta­bilise the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Jewish Pol­icy Re­search (JPR), Antony Ler­man. Mr Ler­man “en­dorses the de­struc­tion of Is­rael” as a Jewish state, ac­cord­ing to a speech ex­tracted on our com­ment pages by Isi Leibler, a wealthy and out­spo­ken for­mer Aus­tralian Jewish leader now liv­ing in Jerusalem. It was “ob­scene”, Mr Leibler claimed, that a man who had pre­vi­ously ex­pressed the view that Zion­ism and the Is­raeli state had been “fail­ures”, and Is­rael the per­pe­tra­tor of “hu­man-rights abuses”, should be al­lowed to re­main in his role. This week, days af­ter Mr Ler­man mounted a vig­or­ous defence on th­ese pages of his call for “Jewish val­ues” to guide a re­con­structed Is­rael, and called for a “rig­or­ous, pas­sion­ate, truth-seek­ing de­bate” to en­able a strength­ened Jewish peo­ple, Lord Kalms and Henry Grun­wald have added their voices of crit­i­cism to what the for­mer calls Mr Ler­man’s “dan­ger­ous and un­ac­cept­able views”. Al­ready one JPR board mem­ber, An­thony Spitz, has re­signed in protest at Mr Ler­man’s views, adding to those who quit on his ap­point­ment last De­cem­ber; Lord Kalms im­plies that his own role, as hon­orary vice-pres­i­dent, may also be short-lived. Yet be­fore the “oust Ler­man” band­wagon is al­lowed to move too far fur­ther for­ward, it is im­por­tant to ex­am­ine what ex­actly he is ac­cused of do­ing wrong. In March 2005, months be­fore he took up his cur­rent role, Mr Ler­man made a speech in which he sug­gested that a fed­er­ated Is­rael/Pales­tine might solve some of the cur­rent state’s prob­lems; that the Jewish law of re­turn should be re­pealed; and that Zion­ism had been a “fail­ure”. Th­ese are con­tro­ver­sial views, cer­tainly, and rather too far to the left to please many of to­day’s se­nior com­mu­nity fig­ures. Yet Mr Ler­man heads not a Zion­ist lobby group or a rep­re­sen­ta­tive com­mu­nal body, but a think-tank whose re­mit is to re­search, an­a­lyse and de­bate is­sues that will af­fect Jews in Europe and be­yond. It would be detri­men­tal to the di­ver­sity and health of Bri­tish Jewry if a few com­mu­nal lead­ers — even if they do ar­tic­u­late the po­lit­i­cal views of a ma­jor­ity — were able to sup­press dis­sent in pub­lic de­bate on mat­ters Is­rael-re­lated and have re­moved from of­fice any who dis­agree with them. Mr Ler­man’s views may not be uni­ver­sally wel­comed, but it is right that he is free to ex­press them in a per­sonal ca­pac­ity and be judged in his day job sim­ply by his in­sti­tute’s per­for­mance. But what he should be con­cerned to ad­dress — in ad­di­tion to the naivety that al­lowed him to at­tend a con­tro­ver­sial pub­lic event on a Satur­day — is his in­sti­tute’s in­suf­fi­ciently clear agenda. If the com­mu­nity knew ex­actly what the JPR stood for — a per­cep­tion hin­dered by its re­cent strat­egy shifts — then its own con­fi­dent pub­lic profile would draw at­ten­tion away from Mr Ler­man’s per­sonal views. So let com­mu­nal lead­ers give him an op­por­tu­nity to prove him­self in the job.

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