Gunning for Lerman
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a federated Israel/Palestine might solve some of the current state’s problems; that the Jewish law of return should be repealed; and that Zionism had been a “failure”.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.