Mr Disraeli, Mr Oborne, Mr Gladstone and Mr Lerman

This is a guest post by Professor Geoffrey Alderman. Professor Alderman is the Michael Gross Professor of Politics & Contemporary History at the University of Buckingham

In 1876 Bulgarian Christians rebelled against their Ottoman oppressors. Tsar Alexander II determined to exploit this crisis to further Russian influence in south-east Europe. Benjamin Disraeli, the British prime minister, determined to stop him. At a peacemaking congress held in Berlin in 1878 Disraeli sided with Muslim Turkey against Christian Russia, and made it clear that he would only agree to recognise the independence of Bulgaria, along with Rumania, Serbia and Montenegro, if the Christian (and pro-Russian) leaders of these countries agreed to recognise and respect the rights of minorities – in particular Jewish minorities.

The anger of Disraeli’s arch-rival, William Ewart Gladstone, knew no bounds. “I deeply deplore [he proclaimed] the manner in which what I may call Judaic sympathies … are now acting on the question of the East.”  Because, of course, Disraeli, though then a Christian, had been born a Jew and had never ceased to advertise and be proud of his Jewish origins. Gladstone decided to make political mischief out of this fact. He – and a group of leading intellectuals and socialists – jumped eagerly upon an anti-Semitic bandwagon: Jewish interests, they alleged, were undermining British politics and subordinating British interests to international Jewry’s Jewish preoccupations.

I recalled these events as I watched Peter Oborne’s rather boring documentary Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby. And I recalled them again as I read Tony Lerman’s equally boring – and very lame – defence of it on the Guardian website.  The documentary told us nothing that we did not already know.  So there’s the Conservative Friends of Israel and the Labour Friends of Israel. So there’s the Conservative Friends of India and the Labour Friends of Iraq. So there’s the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre (BICOM) and the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding.  So there’s the Lord’s Day Observance Society and the British Humanist Association. So what?

Many years ago (1984) I wrote a book examining Pressure Groups and Government in Great Britain.  Two points that I made in that volume are worth repeating here.  The first was that in a liberal democracy pressure groups – lobbies if you like – are the lubricants that oil the machinery of government. They are as necessary to democracy as is freedom of expression.  The second was that more transparency was needed in respect of the manner in which such groups went about their work. Well, we have come a long way since I published that book, and we certainly have more transparency now than we did then.

I agree that there is still room for improvement. But the Dispatches documentary produced not a single skeleton in the cupboard. Instead we had a succession of moaners – including, I regret to say, academics (such as professor David Newman of Ben Gurion University) who should know better – bemoaning the fact that their opinions did not carry much weight within Britain’s Jewish communities. Newman’s assertion that groups such as BICOM “tend to close down” debate on Israeli policies vis-à-vis Judea and Samaria is – frankly – fatuous to the point of absurdity. As for Oborne, he himself was forced to admit, near the end of the programme, that although there were indeed “conspiracy theories” surrounding the influence of pro-Israel lobbies, such theories “have no basis in fact.” And in his dissection of political donations made by CFI board members Oborne was at pains to point out that such donations were “entirely legal.”  Indeed, Oborne even documented cases where donations had been made to politicians who, nonetheless, had continued (would you believe?) to publicly voice sentiments critical of Israel.  And Oborne certainly missed a trick when he failed to follow up instances of failure on the part of pro-Israeli lobbies – the UK’s recent refusal to condemn the Goldstone report being a case in point.

It’s in this light that I reject Tony Lerman’s defence of the programme. Just because anti-Semites might exploit the programme, says Lerman, that’s no reason not to make it, and not to air it. “Does that mean [he asks in his Guardian CiF blog] you can never shine an objective, critical light on any Jewish activity for fear of giving succour to antisemites?”

Tony, boychick, of course it doesn’t. Jewish lobbies are as fair game for the investigative journalist as are non-Jewish lobbies.  But – by his own admission – Peter Oborne had no story to tell, did he? Nothing illegal.  Nothing illicit.  Nothing conspiratorial. Mind you, some of his logic was questionable: X funds Y; X funds Z; therefore Y controls Z. This type of reasoning defies common sense. But we’ll let that pass, for now. The point is – Tony – that Oborne had no story to tell.

Or did he? According to Mr. Lerman, Oborne produced “strong evidence that the Israel lobby maintains and pursues a view of Israel’s interests that is neither conducive to furthering the cause of a genuine Israel-Palestine peace nor helpful for British Jewry, in whose interests the lobby claims to operate.”  Well, of course, that all depends on the opinions you hold on the wider issues.

So let’s return to William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli.  Gladstone accused Disraeli of operating British foreign policy in the interests of international Jewry rather than in the interests of the United Kingdom. Disraeli demolished this mischievous thinking. It was – he and his supporters argued – in Britain’s interest to support the rights of oppressed minorities in the disintegrating Ottoman Empire and resist Russian designs both on broad humanitarian grounds and because of Britain’s long-term strategic interests in what we would now call the Middle East.

Disraeli was right. And so are those contemporary politicians who, whilst they may be critical of individual actions of individual Israeli governments, support Israel’s right to a peaceful existence within defensible borders. Of course, when Lerman asserts that the activities of Britain’s Israel lobby are not “helpful for British Jewry” what he really means is that they’re not helpful for British Jews who think like him. Or – to put it another way – when push comes to shove all that Mr. Lerman can offer us in defence of Mr. Oborne is a large bunch of sour grapes.

25 replies »

  1. Geoffrey, let’s not forget that Lerman has to defend the programme. As one of the Guardian’s Theobald-Jews his “reputation” there depends upon getting the boot into Israel and Jews in whatever way he can.

    Antisemitism? Feh! It’s over-reported he would say.

    I like your analogy of Lerman with Gladstone, but I am sorry, too, that you made it – Lerman is narcissistic enough without being compared to a great British statesman, however unfavourably.

    And those in this country and government who blindly follow the Guardian’s “Israel is always wrong” lost sight of what is in their best interests decades ago.

  2. Thank you Professor Alderman for gracing this sordid little scheme with your scholarship.

    The perspective of history informs our vision of Oborné’s rather mediocre presentation and his attempts to convey an atmosphere of ill-doing by trickery despite his lack of proof.

    Lerman is even further dwarfed by the comparison with Gladstone and his limp championing of the Oborne mediocrity reveals that his efforts to denigrate Israel are without fruit.

  3. Great piece. The Israeli/Gladstone story was very interesting and your put down of Lerman entirely appropriate.

    Up till now I have thought very poorly of Tony Lerman. I am now beginning to feel sorry for him as frankly a bit of a nebish.

  4. Nicely presented article with a fine message.

    Oborne is just using a sensitive subject to make a name for himself. I had noticed but you articulated it so much better than I ever could.

    Tony Lerman is going ‘up’ in the world. “Tony, boychick” will stick in my memory. The fact that I knew this prick as a young “Habonimchick” rather horrifies me.

  5. For those who value flabby-cheeked innuendo and dark hints of nefarious deeds the Dispatches programme was a stepping stone to greater things. But since

    ” – by his own admission – Peter Oborne had no story to tell, did he? Nothing illegal. Nothing illicit. Nothing conspiratorial. Mind you, some of his logic was questionable: X funds Y; X funds Z; therefore Y controls Z. This type of reasoning defies common sense. But we’ll let that pass, for now. The point is – Tony – that Oborne had no story to tell.

    The whole thing was an exercise in Depression reporting – making the most of the little we have. That is no way to nourish a growing career.

  6. It took a few days for CiF to find one of their asajews who was willing to write a thread in defence of Channel4. My odds-on favourite was Lerman. Too bad we didn’t start a betting pool here ….

  7. JerusalemMite, I too – I might even have met you!!!

    I would dearly love to know how such a one (who, to the best of my recollection of him was very pro-Israel during his Habonim days) could do such a 180 degree turn and end up writing as one of al-Grauniad’s Theobald-Jews. This smacks of pernicious jealousy to me – that he was deprived of status because of a mistake by him or his unfortunate personality, and sought to hammer into the ground anyone who he perceived to have caused that.

    More scary still seems to be the global nature of this revenge, if revenge it is. He directs it at all pro-Israel people, particularly Jews, whom he tries to punish by minimalising the impact of the very antisemitism that he himself feeds, rather than at only the people who may have wronged him.

    CiF has provided him a home for the venting of this narcissistic rage.

  8. Louise et al, don’t forget that “la la land” is where Lerman has to live in order to maintain his overinflated view of himself.

    The most helpful way to deal with such a person is to force him to reality-test his perception of himself and to substitute that with a realistic one, rather than, as CiF does, feed his overweening pride.

  9. MITNAGED – CiF has provided him a home for the venting of this narcissistic rage.

    The Guardian will provide a home for anyone who denigrates and de-legitimizes Israel. They seem to have a special penchant for Jews who do this. It gives them ‘cover’ against charges of anti Semitism.

  10. Tony Lerman has a conflict of interest in defending Peter Oborne. Oborne considers Tony Lerman to be “a good Jew” meaning that Lerman is one Jew who will disparage Israel with regularity (Lerman usually refers to Israel as “the neighborhood bully). Tony Lerman has some deep psychological need to separate and distnguish himself from most other Jews. In a recent column, he bragged about data (all of which was flawed and bogus) that showed that Jews in the UK were not identifying with Israel. Lerman found that a positively delightful trend and took pains to tell his readers that he is one Jew who feels no kinship, no sympathy and no identification with the State of Israel. Lerman made sure that his readers knew that he did not care whether Israel has a Likud, Kadima or Labor government. To him, they are all the same.
    I find it rather sad that Lerman, a man now in late middle age, still has a deep seated ambivalence about being Jewish. AntiSemitism from the left or from the Arab world does not bother him. He takes pains to show that he shares the same loathing of the State of Israel that the antiSemites of the Left and the Jew haters in the Arab world have. Lerman will try to show that he is not selfloathing by finding some obscure crackpot on the far right who nobody has heard of and condeming the guy.
    But this is simply a cover your rump effort from Lerman, who is a terribly conflicted man. I actually feel pity for Lerman.

  11. Callie, I’m afraid I find it difficult to pity anyone to adds to the hatred of his own people. He seems hell bent on adding to the antisemitism which is around by giving it a specious “asaJew” approval.

    My own sketchy memories of Lerman as a Zionist youth leader are that he was committed to Zionism and Israel. I can’t remember him being as fanatically pro-Zionism as he now seems fanatically anti- although his leadership role in Habonim, a Zionist youth movement, will have required him to be pro-Israel.

    My main beef with him is that he minimises the antisemitism of the ignorant in response to Israel’s defence of herself and indeed blames Israel and British Jews’ support of Israel for that antisemitism, and that he does this on the most anti-Israel and antisemitic British blog.

    Alongside that we get his pernicious envy which, because Lerman has been deprived of the status he believes he deserves in Jewish society, he is determined to punish all British Jews for denying it to him.

    Lerman lacks the insight to realise that he himself, and probably his unfortunate personality, is at least partly responsible for that, so busy is he in projecting that hatred onto the Jews he believes turned against him.

    The global nature of his antipathy towards British Jews who support Israel is mirrored in his anti-Israel fanaticism. It is primitive and undifferentiated and, coming as it seems to do from the gut, is not amenable to reason.

  12. I think it would be great to have Prof. Alderman’s take here more often, not least because the historical perspective he brought in here offered a context that is sorely missing from the world view of most of Cif’s favorite I/P/Jewish issue writers, who seem to churn out their pieces oblivious to the fact that their own self-centered take doesn’t amount to a whole lot of anything.

  13. I never met Tony Lerman at Habonim. That’s because I didn’t go to Habonim when I was young. Nor did I need to rebel against my Jewish upbringing because I didn’t have much of one to start with.

    Some of us fell in love with Israel almost by accident and it’s a lifelong thing.
    We’re not indoctrinated or paid to defend Israel. Nor do we need to say that of course we criticize Israeli policies or politicians when necessary. Actually, I can’t think of the last time Israel did anything seriously wrong in the past 50 years.

    Israeli society isn’t perfect, of course. I don’t know any country that is – especially in view of the difficulties and dangers Israel has faced from the very beginning.

    Geoffrey Alderman, if this is your first article on CiFWatch you are most welcome on it and to it…

  14. Fairplay – I never met Tony Lerman at Habonim. That’s because I didn’t go to Habonim when I was young. Nor did I need to rebel against my Jewish upbringing because I didn’t have much of one to start with.

    Are you of the ‘Nick Cohen’ type. I believe that he never had considered his probably Jewish ancestry until he was appalled when reading The Guardian’s interpretation of reality.

    If so. Welcome.

    Perhaps Nick Cohen will have noticed CIFWatch and grace them/us with an article at some time in the future.

    (What I really like about Nick Cohen, apart from the resonance that I feel with his ‘take’ of any situation that he writes about, is that the denizens of CI(F) hate him just as much, if not more, than they hate Israel.)

  15. Nick Cohen comes, if I’m not mistaken, from a totally assimilated English background with not a hint of Jewishness, apart from the name. That’s not my case at all, JerusalemMite.

    Professor Alderman and Nick Cohen would be very welcome here, but it will have to be a labour of love as CiFWatch can’t pay them, can it?

  16. Oh, and I appreciated your belated welcome, JMite.

    It’s very nice to be on a Website where Jews can shmooze in public without fear of CiF antisemites.

  17. Geoffrey Alderman wants to see a Greater Israel.

    Nobody here got a problem with that?

    @ Fairplay

    “It’s very nice to be on a Website where Jews can shmooze in public without fear of CiF antisemites.”

    I see this site as a place where Likudniks can promote a Greater Israel.

    You do not speak for Jews in general.

  18. And neither, thank God, do you, pretzelberg.

    And don’t you have any difficulty at all with the Palestinian (and for that you may read Hamas’ and its fellow travellers’ (since CiF never tires of reminding us that the Palestinian people “democratically elected” Hamas) wish for a greater, Judenrein or Jews and Christians as dhimmis, Palestine?

    It’s been said often, but I think it bears repeating – that if successive Palestinian governments had spent as much time in state building as in raising their young to hate and kill Jews, then they would have their own state by now, along with Israel’s support for it as it grew.

    As it is they are so consumed with hatred, pernicious envy and the wish to destroy, and even offer up their children as instruments to this end, that I doubt they would know what to do with their own state.