The Stern Gang

The Stern Gang : Ideology. Politics and Terror 1940-1949 (Frank Cass) by Joseph Heller

Blood in Zion (Brasseys) by Saul Zadka

Jerusalem: Backgrounds or Memory (Biblios) by Amos Elon

Jerusalem: the Endless crusade (Century) by Andrew sinclair

When Joseph Heller’s comprehensive study of the Stern Group (Lehi) was first published in Hebrew, it aroused the ire of its surviving members. His emphasis on Lehi’s ideology rather than the heroism of IS participants was not welcome.

Avraham Stern broke with the lrgun in 1940 over its pro-British orientation following the outbreak of the war. As far as Stern was concerned, the conflict in Europe was essentially a struggle between Gog and Magog which could be turned to the advantage of the Jews.

Thus, the enemy of the British enemy would be the ultimate saviour of the Jewish people. This initially took the shape of contact with the Polish military, then the Italian Fascists, followed by the German Nazis and, finally, the Soviet Union at the outset of the Cold War.

Stem admired the examples of the Irish government and the Indian National Congress, which refused to join the British against Hider.

During the Battle of Britain, Stem offered “active participation” in an approach to the German legation in Beirut There was, he argued, a common desire, quoting a line from one of Hitler’s speeches “to exploit any combination and coalition to isolate England and smite her.”

Stern believed — as did Zionists of all political colours at that time — that Germany simply wanted the Jews to leave. Stern proposed that the Nazis equip 40,000 Jews in occupied Europe and send this army of liberation to Palestine.

A second approach to the Germans, and an enthusiasm for Rommel’s expected invasion of Palestine, astonished even the Irgun and the official Revisionists, who published British “wanted”. posters of Stern in their newspaper.

After Stern’s killing by the British for his half-cocked insurrection, the Nazi connection was played down. His disciple, the Lehi ideologue and publicist, the late Israel Eldad, transformed him into a martyred, self-sacrificing patriot.

In this definitive, fascinating work, Joseph here (not the Austrian novelist) has monitored every twist and turn, from Stern’s religious mysticism and his study of IRA strategy, to Yitzhak Shamir’s praise for East European Communism in Lehi’s final pro-Soviet phase.

Saul Zadka’s unstructured account of the Irgun also attempts to BB the gap ‘between historic truth and distorted fact.” Familiar ground is covered, but there are few insights. And Menachem Begin’s lrgun is described as both “Jewish guerrillas” and “an urban terrorist group”

Zadka cites Lord Moyne’s exclamation “what would de with a million Jews?” — which Lehi has propagated for over 50 years to justify his assassination. Yet the alleged recipient of the remark, Joel Brand, claimed long ago that it had actually been made by an Englishman at the Anglo-Egyptian club.

Zadka shows that the Irgun’s campaign was a factor in the British decision to withdraw from Palestine, but it is still unclear from this book how important a factor it really was.

The hype surrounding “Jerusalem 3,000” probably persuaded Amos Elan to update his biography of the city. It is beautifully written, informative and intelligent.

Elon’s prophets of ancient Jerusalem certainly would not have felt at home in the spiritless 1990s, where radicalism has given way to smoother, more efficient modes of management

“Jerusalem” Elon comments, “is a necrocracy, the only city where the vote is given to the dead.” Yet this presence of the past attracts an “ideological tourism” where visitors try to marry the earthy reality with the heavenly imagery of their tradition.

Andrew Sinclair’s book tells the story of “the endless crusade” to conquer and control the city. His lack of familiarity with Jewish issues produces several inaccuracies and some unfortunate stereotyping. He writes that the Israeli response to terrorism was “always more than biblical — ten eyes for an eye, a jaw of teeth for a tooth.”

Some things never change; on to the next 3,000 years.

Jewish Chronicle 1996

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