Antony Lerman’s new autobiography, The Making and Unmaking of a Zionist (Pluto, 2012), has been reviewed positively in Middle East Monitor (MEMO) by Samira Shackle. For those of you wondering what the book is about, have a read of this extract from the review:
Antony Lerman has spent his whole working life at the heart of the Jewish community. While he is now well known for his radical views on Israel, it was not always thus. This book traces his personal involvement with Zionism over the course of 50 years, exploring his transformation from a teenager immersed in the 1960s Zionist youth movement to a leading Jewish critic of Israel.
Despite his parents being rather apolitical, as a teenager in London’s Golders Green, Lerman was attracted to the socialist Zionist movement Habonim. Prizing the kibbutz, with its communal ownership and dedication to agriculture, as the purest expression of Zionism, Habonim was a community of its own and Lerman was very involved, travelling eventually to Israel to train as a youth leader. In 1970, at the age of 24, he returned to Israel, this time moving there and becoming an Israeli citizen. Despite his ideological zeal, he remained there for only two years, finding it difficult to adjust to life on the kibbutz. In particular, his experience of serving in the Israeli army unsettled him as it exposed a side of the country which he had not expected. Lerman has gone to great pains not to justify any of his past actions or to tint his recollections with hindsight. While this is occasionally frustrating, it makes the account of his Zionist activism particularly interesting as it offers evidence of a different time. In the 1960s and 1970s, the myth that Palestine was “a land without a people for a people without a land” was accepted widely. The young Lerman had no idea about the Nakba (“catastrophe”), or the Palestinian exodus. Instead, he believed that the Arabs do not believe in the Jewish right to self-determination, but have no genuine grievance. Nothing in the wider culture caused him to question his assumptions.
Returning from Israel, Lerman completed his university education and began what would turn into decades of work in Jewish think-tanks and research organisations. Taking him to the centre of Jewish political and intellectual life, this work included the foundation of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in the 1990s. Avowedly not an autobiography, the book traces the evolution of Lerman’s opinions over this time. It is written sparsely – the whole book is just over 200 pages – and in blank, unassuming prose. While at times, particularly in busy periods of his career, this risks reading like a CV, overall the simplicity makes it easy to follow the thread of some dense intellectual grappling. Much of the book consists of summaries of what Lerman thought at different points, with extracts from speeches, articles or book proposals, and summaries of debates he had with colleagues and friends. These (mostly) brief summaries give an interesting cross-section of the high-level intellectual debate taking place about Zionism and Israel, although there are points at which more personal detail would have been illuminating.
To read the rest of the review, click on the link to MEMO, here.
A Personal and Political Journey
Powerful memoir of the personal and political journey of a leading figure in the UK’s Jewish community, from idealistic Zionist to critic of Israel.
“An honest and moving account of how Antony Lerman – like so many Jewish liberals of his generation – fell in and out of love with the Zionist dream as translated into Israeli reality. A singular figure of principle in the grubby world of communal politics, Lerman retells factually and with a commendable lack of bitterness his shameful treatment at the hands of the British Jewish establishment.” – Rabbi David J. Goldberg author of This Is Not the Way: Jews, Judaism and Israel (2012)
“In this very courageous, personal yet intellectual exposé, Antony Lerman, who, unlike many of his peers, refused to cross the red lines into the ideological territory of ethnocentric particularism, explores his journey to and from Zionism. His critique contains sharp insights and the inspiration of an optimistic prophet who believes that peace, justice and human rights are the true Jewish values.” – Avrum Burg, former Speaker of the Israeli Knesset and author of The Holocaust is Over: We Must Rise From its Ashes (2008)