The abuse of dissenting Jews is shameful

If you missed my op-ed – which was a kind of trailer for my just-published book – in the Guardian on Tuesday 21 August, here it is below. Judging by the over the top reaction from Jeremy Newmark of the Jewish Leadership Council on Twitter and Alan Johnson of BICOM on the Cif thread, I must have hit a raw nerve.

Is the US state department’s decision to label extremist settler violence as ‘terrorist‘ going to make the Israeli government more likely to enforce the law to protect Palestinians? Those diaspora Jews already critical of Israel’s trajectory will surely doubt it. But is the Israeli government really bothered by the doubts of Jewish critics abroad?

The fact is that Jewish diaspora support is vital for Israel, whose governments have taken that support for granted for decades, exploiting it to bolster the country’s international position. But they also treat Jewish communities as subservient to Israel by claiming to speak and act on behalf of Jews everywhere. Were that support to weaken dramatically and Jewish diaspora critics of the Netanyahu government’s policies become dominant, Israeli officials privately acknowledge that the state would face an unprecedented crisis.

While this outcome is far from realization, fear that growing Jewish criticism could seriously challenge Israel’s assumption of Jewish solidarity is a principal reason why the country is devoting resources to strengthen Jewish support, in close collaboration with Jewish communal leaders and pro-Israel advocacy groups worldwide.

One method of achieving this is to make it harder for Jews to criticize by accusing them of disloyalty, succumbing to ‘Jewish self-hatred’, and being ‘fellow travellers’ of antisemites – spurious and groundless charges. Jewish critics with radical ideas for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – particularly those who stress there is a Jewish moral obligation to support Palestinian rights and that this is in Israel’s own interests if it wants to be a genuinely democratic state – are subjected to a process of vilification, demonization and marginalization. Since such Jews often describe themselves as being outside the organized Jewish community, ostracising them has been effective.

The Jewish establishment in the UK – which includes the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, the Zionist Federation and numerous private groupings of the great and the good – is highly experienced at this. I saw it happen in the 1980s when communal leaders sought to make life impossible for the small but highly active radical Jewish Socialists’ Group. And I became a target for such treatment myself when I was appointed head of the influential Jewish Policy Research (JPR) thinktank for a second time in 2005, an experience I recall in my book The Making and Unmaking of a Zionist.

By then I had served the community professionally for 26 years. A Zionist for decades, I was one no longer. But I wished passionately that Israel would become a democratic state for all its citizens, end the occupation, recognise the Palestinians’ right of return, and acknowledge that Israel’s establishment in 1948 was a Nakba, a catastrophe, for the Palestinians. I had no intention of using JPR as a platform for advocating these views but rather made one of my principal aims creating space for Jewish critical thinking and debate about how Jews should relate to Israel, to its policies towards Palestinians and to the serious impact of its actions on European Jews. I believed that only through open and civil discussion of these issues could the necessary change in diaspora Jewish opinion occur.

But those who thought my views were beyond the pale had other plans for me. As head of one of the community’s major institutions, I represented far more of a danger than so-called marginal Jews. Brazen efforts were made to prevent my appointment, and then, once hired, to force me out. Prominent public figures staged high-profile resignations from JPR’s board. Communal leaders secretly sought to silence me and undermine JPR’s work. After three years, I concluded it was impossible to carry out my responsibilities effectively, and at the end of 2008 resigned.

In the four years since then, has anything changed? Is it any easier for critics to find a receptive communal audience? There are reasons to think it should be. A 2010 survey of Jewish opinion in the UK revealed that while 72% described themselves as Zionists, 74% opposed settlement expansion and 35% said Jews should always feel free to voice public criticism of Israel. New ‘pro-Israel, pro-peace’ groups that support a two-state solution and an end to occupation have emerged. Even one of British Jewry’s most senior leaders – Mick Davis, chair of Britain’s largest pro-Israel charity and CEO of the mining conglomerate Xstrata– criticized Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, questioned some of Israel’s policies and called for criticism to be voiced freely throughout the community.

But even as opportunities for expressing dissent appear to have grown, rightwing Zionists staged a media-savvy fightback, using the usual accusations of disloyalty and ‘giving succour to our enemies’, especially targeting liberal Zionist Jewish critics. 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. Even Mick Davis was attacked and has since been tellingly silent. Many leading Jewish communal professionals I know have grave doubts about Israel’s direction but censor themselves for fear of losing their jobs, funding or establishment support.

Yet attacks on Jewish critics are becoming desperate, for obvious reasons. Even many liberal Zionists are demonstrating their support for a ‘selective’ boycott, aimed at shunning everything to do with the Jewish settlement enterprise in the occupied Palestinian territories. So, too, are some prominent Israelis, including Avraham Burg, the former speaker of the Knesset, a well-known and influential figure among diaspora Jews, who publicly announced his position in an Independent op-ed. Many young British Jews are exposed to the reality of life in the occupied West Bank through visits and contact with Israeli human rights groups. While a just Palestine-Israel peace has never seemed more distant, the tectonic plates of Jewish diaspora awareness of Israel’s self-destructive path are definitely shifting.

That dissenting Jews are still demonized is shameful and undermines Jewish pluralism. But it’s manageable. Because the Jewish diaspora’s support matters so much to Israel’s leaders, the quest for serious, open and civil debate among Jews about what is really best for Israel must continue.

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24 Responses to The abuse of dissenting Jews is shameful

  1. Patricia Kahane says:

    Thank you Antony!

  2. Patricia Kahane says:

    Dear Antony, I can’t find the comments… Kind regards, Patricia

  3. levi9909 says:

    Antony, I blogged your Cif article and noted that you hadn’t linked to your book on Cif though you have here. Is there a reason why the link was left off of the Cif piece?

  4. Ken Kelso says:

    Barak and Olmert offered the Palestinians a state, something no Arab or Islamic country ever did.
    Israel offered the Palestinians a state, even though there was never in history any state called Palestine governed by Palestinians.
    I have 2 words for you. Palestinian Rejectionism.
    The Palestinians refused to end the conflict as long as it meant that they would have to accept the legitimacy of Israel as a sovereign, permanent country and neighbor. Only when the Palestinians extremist/rejectionist/supremacist attitude changes will peace really be possible.

    Why dont you go on Palmediawatch see how the Palestinians glorify terrorists who massacre Israeli civilians, names streets after these terrorists and talk how Israel will be eliminated.
    Can you show me on your site where you condemn the Palestinians for their racist media against Jews?

    Have you been on Palmediawatch. Why dont you go on Palmediawatch

    As Israeli ambassador Prosor said, find me one Palestinian leader who talks about 2 states for 2 people? You cant do it.
    The Palestinians want a state free of Jews and to flood Israel with millions of Arabs for the 2nd Pal state.
    Great speech by Ron Prosor at the UN
    It is really compelling to hear someone tell the truth in a hall of lies:

    Even the crazies who run Sudan agreed to a 2 state solution with South Sudan.
    Imagine North Sudan telling South Sudan you have to take in millions of Arabs.
    South Sudan would have laughed at them.
    99% of South Sudanese voted to be free from the Arabs.

    ISRAEL which is defending itself against Pan-Arabism, Arab imperialism and Arabization of the Middle East – that is the “problem you dont like.

    The real problem is global Arab/Moslem insistence to spread hate, violence, wars, terrorism, lies, false accusations against Jews and reducing Jews to subhumans or second class citizens – slaves or servants – without any human rights.

    When you have Palestinian leaders teaching their people, If their are 10 Jews and you kill 6 of them, how many Jews are Left?
    When you have these same wicked leaders telling their people that Jews are the sons of Pigs and Apes.
    When you have Palestinian Mufti’s teaching in Mosques that all Jews must be exterminated, are we shocked when Palestinians celebrate butchering Jews.

    Arabs CANNOT make peace with Israel. Without Israel to blame for all the death, poverty, destruction, misery and oppression across Islam, who will the Islamic people blame?
    Wait, they’ll blame the Mossad Shark, Mossad Vulture, the 4000 Jews who didn’t show up at the World Trade Center, and the new crazy Arab theory that Bugs Bunny doesn’t like Muslims.

    If only the Arab could put himself in the 21st century.
    Even the 19th century would be an improvement.

    The barrier to Palestinian statehood has never been the Jews or the State of Israel. The Jews offered Arabs a two-state solution in 1919; accepted the two-state solution of the Peel Commission in 1937; accepted the UN two-state solution in 47-48. Israel offered the Palestinians a state in 2000; accepted the Clinton Parameters in 2000-01; and offered a state again at the end of 2008. The Palestinians rejected every offer, becoming the first people in history to reject a state 6 times and then set conditions for discussing another one.

    The Palestinians continue to assert they will never recognize a Jewish state. They can’t – it is inconsistent with their identity, and the purpose for which the Palestinian identity was forged. From the Palestinian standpoint, the “peace process” is not about peace, or even about a state, but about reversing history: they seek a state on the 1967 lines to reverse the 1967 war and seek to flood Israel with millions of Arabs to reverse the 1948 war — to return to the time before the wars the Arabs started and lost, and before there was a Jewish state. The real barrier to Palestinian statehood is Palestinian hatred, lies and Rejectionism.
    73% of Palestinians Believe Jews Should Be Killed Wherever They Hide
    Jim Hoft

  5. Ken Kelso says:

    The Palestinians got it good with Lerman. The Pals know they can send terrorists to cut the throats of Israeli babies, blow up buses full of Israeli civilians, massacre Israeli kids at Disco’s, pizzeria’s and cafe’s and Lerman will be silent. Even when the Palestinians celebrate these massacres of Israeli civilians and name streets after these Islamo fascist homicide bombers, Lerman still cant condemn Palestinian Nazism. Hopefullly sain people can see the Pals for their animalistic acts of terror and acts of war they commit.

    These are the Islamo fascists Israel is dealing with.
    Female Palestinian terrorist does not regret murder of 15 civilians at Sbarro pizza shop that she planned.
    Oct 23, 2011
    Ahlam Tamimi was happy to learn that 8 Israeli children were murdered at the Sbarros terrorist attack in 2001 instead of the 3 children she thought originally.
    Read her interview. Again i ask you, do the Palestinians have a conscience?
    PA Religious Official Publicly Calls for Genocide of Jews
    PA’s principal religious leader presents the killing of Jews by Muslims as a religious Islamic goal.
    Elad Benari
    Hamas MP: A Palestinian Who Kills One Jew Will Be Rewarded As If He Killed 30 Million
    PA TV honors Sbarro pizza shop terrorists
    Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik
    Sept. 4, 2011
    PA TV host sends “best wishes” to “our glorious” prisoner who transported suicide bomber to attack that killed 15, including 7 children.

  6. Alan Johnson says:

    It’s not really on, to just dismiss my objection (and ignore the evidence I provided) with ‘oooh, I touched a nerve!’.

    This is what I wrote at CIF comments.

    “Dear Antony Lerman, you are dead wrong. In Comment is Free today you allege ‘Jewish critics with radical ideas for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict … are subjected to a process of vilification, demonisation and marginalisation [by] the Jewish establishment in the UK – which includes the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre…’ Rubbish. BICOM ran my interview with Michael Walzer ‘In Defence of Little Israel’ and a much-praised symposium on Peter Beinart’s book The Crisis of Zionism, the centre-piece of which was an in-depth interview with Peter. We have also run columns by Hannah Weisfeld of Yachad and the academic Alexander Yacobson, as well as briefings by Gershon Baskin. All ‘Jewish critics with radical ideas for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’. What you allege is untrue and you know it is. Alan Johnson.

    You accuse us of ‘vilification, demonisation and marginalisation’ sans evidence and then you complain about… the quality of the debate about the issue.

    Conor Foley, a man very critical of Israel, has written ‘BICOM does provide space for alternative views and opinions and should be congratulated for that.’

    • I read your Cif comment on my article and yes, you’re right Alan, I owe you a fuller exposition as to why I think that BICOM must be seen as part of the nexus of demonization of Jewish radical dissenters. I’ll give a brief answer here and will prepare a longer response later if you can answer a question I’ll put to you at the end.

      Just by way of background, I should mention (if you don’t know already) that I have a long acquaintance with BICOM and its predecessor BIPAC. So much so that in the early days of BICOM, when I was running a major Jewish grant-making foundation, I was twice (or maybe more) involved in discussions about BICOM’s future as various power-brokers and pr consultants in the Jewish community fought over how to reform/relaunch the organization as there was so much dissatisfaction over its brief and how it was carrying it out. They all wanted the support of my foundation’s Chairman who sensibly kept at arms length from the entreaties, something he was naturally inclined to do and which I also advised him to do.

      If I’d had more space in my Guardian piece, I’d have expanded a bit in that paragraph to explain that the organizations and groupings I mentioned were not all involved in demonization in the same way. There are different kinds of demonization and in my view BICOM, now at least, is at what might be called the ‘soft’ end of the spectrum. Part of the way BICOM works is to delineate what it regards as acceptable discourse on Israel, by giving space to the views of people like Walzer, Beinart and Weisfeld, and thereby implying that that anyone to the ‘left’ of them–although I don’t think ‘left’ is really an appropriate word–is beyond the pale.

      And what you seem not to know (though I think you do know it really) is that most of the people you mention are not Jews with radical ideas at all. As I argue in my book, The Making and Unmaking of a Zionist, liberal Zionists like Walzer, Beinart and Weisfeld, although they subscribe to some ideas reviled by right-wing settler Zionism, they are actually providing cover–not consciously I should add–for that extreme Zionism by nonetheless buying into certain ideas that are integral to the right-wing settler Zionism agenda. Meanwhile, by calling such Jews ‘radical’ you are making it clear that Jews like me who have the kind of views I summarised in my article can legitimately be ostracised, vilified and called ‘self-hating’, as CiFWatch did in response to my piece.

      That this is what BICOM is up to is confirmed by what your colleague Luke Akehurst is doing in his role as Director of ‘We Believe in Israel’. The very raison d’etre of this body, with its surely deliberate attempt to elide belief in Judaism with belief in Israel, is to demonize, since it sets up the notion that if you can’t subscribe to ‘belief in Israel’, you are somehow an inadequate Jew. Personally I think this campaign is appalling. Israel is not Judaism; supporting a state does not require ‘belief’ in that state. Belief for Jews should be reserved for their Judaism or, if they subscribe to some other Jewish ideological way of thinking, for that too, if they wish to use the word belief to describe the way they relate to it.

      Also, and finally for now, surely your organization’s underlying demonizing philosophy was revealed when Luke Akehurst used a Holocaust analogy to attack the Coop for its decision to end trade with companies that export produce from illegal Israeli settlements. To liken such action to the Nazi boycott of Jews in Germany, as Luke did, is both to trivialize the Holocaust and to smear the Coop with the taint of antisemitism–classic demonization. Precisely the kind of tactics used by other elements of the Jewish establishment to demonize Jews who support the idea of boycotting Israel in some form.

      As I wrote at the start, I’ll prepare a longer analysis–if you can answer this question for me: Who are the members of the Board of Directors of BICOM and what are their affiliations, and who are the top 50 donors to BICOM and what are their affiliations? Because BICOM is now such an open ‘space for alternative views’, you must surely subscribe to the values of transparency and this would very easy for you to do. Wouldn’t it?

  7. Maria says:

    Antony, one of the first things you did when you took over at JPR was to remove 2 articles from the JPR website, written by CST staff on anti-semitism.

    If this had been done in the opposite way, you’d have written a book about it.

    • Maria: When you make accusations and speculate on ‘what I would have done if’, it might be a good idea to get your facts right. The 2 articles you refer to were from a number of pieces posted on the JPR website in advance of intended publication in a volume of essays on right-wing extremism. The volume was being edited by Dr Paul Iganski and Professor Barry Kosmin and delivery to the publisher, Profile, was long overdue. When I looked at the material I was very concerned at the academic level of much of it and at the political bias some of the pieces manifested. Before doing anything I was approached by Dr Iganski wo wanted to discuss the project with me. I was shocked to hear that he himself was very unhappy with the quality and apparent bias of much of the material, was trying to do something about it but felt he was being blocked by his co-editor. After a full discussion I suggested that the best thing would be for JPR to withdraw from the project and although he was disappointed, he agreed that this was the best thing to do. Meanwhile, he and Professor Kosmin were perfectly free to take the essays and find another publisher if they wanted to continue with the project. There was never any question of censorship. Most of the writers were more than capable of having their pieces published elsewhere if they so wished. JPR was under no obligation to publish what now emerged as mostly sub-standard material.

      Nevertheless, I did not feel that I could act alone on this, so I laid out the entire situation–which had some other more complicated and disturbing aspects to it–to the Board of JPR, told them what I proposed to do and was given full support to do it.

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I admire the monitoring and research on antisemitism that the CST does. But the interpretive papers written by CST staff are not sacrosanct, and I don’t think they believe such papers are sacrosanct. It’s one thing to produce high quality data; it’s quite another thing to interpret that data. And it’s again even more different when CST staff turn their attention to matters not directly connected with the data they produce. At this moment, I don’t recall precisely the nature of the 2 pieces your refer to. They may have been among the better essays in the planned volume, or they may not. But that’s not the point. JPR felt it had to withdraw from the whole project, which is why the pieces were taken down from the website, and this was done by Dr Iganski himself.

      Now perhaps you might reconsider the comment you made.

  8. Maria says:

    ” When I looked at the material I was very concerned at the academic level of much of it and at the political bias some of the pieces manifested.”

    So it’s a value call isn’t it. Yet you complain when people who don’t hold you views do the same thing and challenge your views.

    As i say, you’re a hypocrite. It’s a shame you can’t stand people disagreeing with you. The problem is Tony that you won’t accept that most Jews disagree with you, until you act in a mature manner (i see the childish remarks about people such as Shalom Lappin and David Hirsch in previous articles on your blog) then you won’t achieve anything.

    I think you’re very bitter and frustrated but hopefully you will realise that people have heard what you have to say and accept their right to criticise you and dismiss your views. Even the head of the New Israel Fund was against your JPR appointment.

  9. Maria says:

    I did Antony but you didn’t let my comment thru’.

    I’ll write a book about being silenced by you !

    • I don’t know who you are Maria. You’ve used 3 different email addresses in your three responses, so clearly you are going to some lengths to hide your identity. You seem to think you know something about me. Maybe you know me from somewhere, but while I don’t hide behind a pseudonym and multiple email addresses, you, like cowards everywhere on the Internet, do, and from that position feel safe enough to insult, lie and level abuse.

      As you can see, I allowed your comments to appear and always intended to do so, however much they completely misrepresent me, my views and my state of mind. And that, Maria, is because I believe in open debate, the value of mutual criticism and frank exchanges. I think there are many very reasonable people who would have immediately sent your comments to the trash bin. But I thought it best to show anyone reading this blog the kind of abuse that comes my way from time to time.

      I also thought that I should give you one last chance to make a comment that is not ad hominem, doesn’t lie, doesn’t make up things about my state of mind, doesn’t resort to insult, but rather makes some serious points, however critical, in a fair-minded and clear fashion. If, however, you reply with the same kind of thing you’ve posted already, I won’t let it appear. You’ll then have to find somewhere else to troll.

  10. harmless pedant says:

    it’s worth noting that the Jim Denham who appears here to plug his blog asserting that it is absurd to suggest that people like Tony Lerman are accused of being antisemites is the same person as the “Charlie the Chulo” who appeared here to comment on the UCU discussion and, er… to accuse Tony Lerman of being an antisemite.

  11. Rich James says:

    Most readers seemed to be hostile to your article, Tony; but I thought is was timely, and wish more people spoke out in like manner. Thanks for writing it.

  12. Ben says:

    It’s always amusing to me when the lunatic fringe is astonished that the non-lunatic majority absorbs their free-spoken views and then uses their own freedom of action rights to treat those views like the ignored prattle that they are. The one-state movement is part of the lunatic fringe and the author of this blog is part of it. I think reacting with great anger to such views is pointless, and contempt-filled dismissiveness is a better response to one-staters.

  13. 17 Gratton Terrace London NW2 6QE says:

    I’ve just finished reading your book. I don’t want to make this comment too long so will rein in my tendency to “exceed the word limit”. It is an absorbing account of what was clearly a difficult and increasingly painful personal journey for you. It must now be very upsetting to read the shrill and unreasoning comments of some of those who have chosen to slander you here. Negotiating one’s way through the ideological and emotional minefield that discussion of Zionism/anti-Zionism/ antisemitism and Israel has become, is indeed a daunting task. What I find most admirable about your book, and what differentiates it from so much else written from one side or other of the Zionist/anti-Zionist divide, is that you chart meticulously and calmly, through careful argument and presentation of the facts, how over the course of many years, you came to reject Zionism.

    Rather than say more about your book, I would like to suggest an analogy that came to me while reading it. It concerns events with which I had some personal experience some 54 years ago. Khrushchev’s 1956 speech denouncing Stalin, followed as it was by the Hungarian uprising and the Soviet invasion of that country, led to about 7.000 people leaving the British Communist Party. I remember attending a packed meeting in a London hotel addressed by Professor Hyman Levy, (now long-forgotten, but then one of the CPGB’s leading intellectuals and a friend of Chimen Abramsky). He had condemned the invasion of Hungary and criticized the USSR, which he accused of antisemitism. The Daily Worker had refused to publish a critical article, so he sent it to the New Statesman. The party hierarchy roundly condemned him. After the London meeting, Levy, who like many others who suffered the same fate, was expelled. The arguments that raged at the time “behind closed doors” in CP branches, went more or less like this: Yes, it was legitimate to criticize the Soviet Union. Of course, there was much to criticize. But when all was said and done, the “Soviet comrades” had a great deal of experience and they knew best what was in the best interests of the world communist movement. Members should on no account “wash our dirty linen in public”; it was one thing to conduct the discussions inside the party, in the party press BUT in no circumstances was it permissible to go outside the part, to the “bourgeois press”. This simply gave grist to the mill of our enemies. Those who did so, showed themselves to be enemies of socialism, enemies of the party. You could not be a genuine communist if you were hostile to the Soviet Union. Had not Lenin said “From now onward, anyone claiming to be a revolutionary will be judged on his attitude to the Soviet Union”. After the “Levy affair”, the party’s guru, R.Palme Dutt, wrote an article attacking the professor. He said that his criticism of the Soviet Union proved that Levy was no longer a Marxist, and had set out deliberately to damage the communist cause. Levy had been a much respected intellectual in the CP from the mid-1930s. He was now, as far as the hierarchy was concerned, a “non-person”.

    Sorry I have exceeded the word limit! I hope to see you on Thursday evening.

  14. Mike Faulkner. says:

    The preceding comment was from me.

    • Mike: Thanks for your appreciative comments on my book and also for the very interesting story about Hyman Levy. The analogy seems very apt.

      I hope it’s not unethical to suggest this, but if you had a moment to adapt your comment and post it as a review on the Amazon page of my book, that would be very helpful.

      I guess by Thursday you mean the event with Ian Black at the London Jewish Cultural Centre. If so, it’s on Wednesday 31st, at 7.30 not Thursday. Hope still to see you on the right day! (I’m doing another event discussing my book on Tuesday 6 November at the London Review of Books Bookshop at 7 pm. This time with Jacqueline Rose.)

  15. Mike Faulkner. says:

    I have just finished reading your book. I shall try to keep my comments short and resist my tendency to “exceed the word limit”. It is a a fascinating account of what was clearly a very painful personal journey for you. You have recounted it vividly, from the time of your earliest, idealistic experiences with Habonim and your embracing of Zionism, through your years’ long questioning and heart-searching, to your more recent disillusionment with the Zionist experiment and Israel’s trajectory. The particular value of the book for me lies in the way you have carefully and painstakingly documented every stage of your life-long involvement with the Zionist movement, presenting each institutional engagement and intellectual controversy calmly and honestly. Surprisingly, considering the misrepresentation and abuse to which you have been subjected, you have managed to avoid the appearance of anger or vituperation in dealing with your critics.

    Instead of saying more about the book, I’d like to mention a (possible) analogy that came to mind while reading it. It concerns events in which I was involved some 54 years ago. In 1956 Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin’s tyranny and the Soviet invasion of Hungary later that year led to about 7.000 people leaving the British Communist Party.In 1957 one of the party’s leading intellectuals, Professor Hyman Levy, who had remained in the party accompanied the party’s guru, R. Palme Dutt, to the Soviet Union to investigate charges of antisemitism in the Soviet Union. Levy was shocked by what he found and wrote a critical article for the Daily Worker. The paper refused to publish it. Levy sent it to the New Statesman where it was published. Levy came under severe attack by the party. He addressed a packed meeting in a London hotel, where he faced both supporters and critics. It was a heated meeting. I recall one of his critics, in a largely Jewish audience, shouting at him words to the effect that “If it hadn’t been for the Red Army, we wouldn’t be here today.” The next day Levy was expelled from the CP. He had been one of its leading intellectuals since the mid 1930s, and with Chimen Abramsky, he was one of the party’s leading authorities on Jewish affairs. In an article intended to demolish Levy’s credability, Dutt wrote that after his criticism of the Soviet Union and its leadership, Levy could no longer call himself a Marxist. As far as the CP was concerned, he was a “non person”.

    Post-Hungary the CP was plunged into crisis. Party loyalists turned on the growing number of critics in their midst. Discussions in CP branches tended to go as follows: Of course the Soviet union is not beyond criticism. But the Soviet leadership had great experience and they knew what was best for their country and for the world communist movement. BUT party members should not “wash our dirty linen in public”. Criticism should be “behind closed doors” within the branches, or confined to the “party press”. In no circumstances was it permissible for party members to air critical opinions of the Soviet Union or the party in the “bourgeois press”. After all, had not Lenin said in 1917 “From now on everyone calling himself a socialist will be judged by his attitude to the Soviet Union”

    Apologies for exceeding the word limit. Apologies also to Rich James. His comment was not from me.

  16. Martin Hughes says:

    This comment is far too late in the day but I’d just like to make a supplementary point to the question I asked at your London Review meeting. The question of Zionism is full of emotion and anger but it is not helped by lack of definition. I didn’t think your old definition of Z as the belief that there should be a state in the ME that belongs to all Jewish people as well as to its non-Jewish citizens is that far off the mark. It’s better to say something like that than to say ‘Just look at what Israel is doing’ because that does not allow us to distinguish between supporting/opposing policy and supporting/opposing the basic idea. It could be that Israel’s actions are inadequate or excessive for the effective promotion of the real Z ideal or idea. Or it could be that the idea is so noble that a few bad things hardly count or that the idea is a moral horror and a terrible mistake. We won’t know unless we say – I don’t know about standing on one leg but certainly in compass brief enough to be held steadily in mind – what the term Z means.

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