Antony Lerman, Jacqueline Rose and David Hirsh

thejc1David Hirsh had this piece published in the Jewish Chronicle which criticized Antony Lerman, Jacqueline Rose and Caryl Churchill’s parallel projects to portray Jews as being psychologically incapable of forging good relations with their neighbours in the Middle East.  Their approach explains the war in Gaza by reference to the allegation that Jews bring up their children in a neurotic way, and in a way which teaches them to be unconcerned by Palestinian  suffering.

Some of these issues are explored in greater depth in these exchanges.

Antony Lerman and Jacqueline Rose had a letter published in last week’s Jewish Chronicle and David Hirsh responded this week:

Antony Lerman and Jacqueline Rose:

David Hirsh (“Do not confine Israel to the couch”, April 10th) performs the double feat of misrepresenting our views and showing his ignorance.

Jacqueline Rose neither inspired Caryl Churchill to write the play “Seven Jewish Children” – Churchill has not read her work – nor did she brief the actors. She was invited to talk to them about the history of the conflict.

Antony Lerman did not offer his own view of Professor Bar Tal’s research in his “Independent” article but quoted from the “Haaretz” summary of it; nor does he say or believe that it is a scientific discovery to assert that “the Jewish public does not want to be concerned with the facts”. Nowhere do we imply that Jews indoctrinate their children to be indifferent to non-Jewish suffering or that the Holocaust explains the attack on Gaza.

We do not transform political questions into psychological diagnoses. Nor are we practising therapy on anyone. Jacqueline Rose’s writing is rather based on the premise that there is a psychological dimension to all political conflicts that merits the most serious attention. The idea that there is a disjunction between psychology and politics (or between psychological and political explanations of human behaviour) is so ludicrous that no one who thinks this can be taken seriously as a social scientist. Is Professor Bar Tal wrong to be deeply concerned about the political implications of his research into the psychology and “collective memory” of Israeli Jews? Perhaps Hirsh thinks that the International Society of Political Psychology is based on a false premise.

Sadly, Hirsh is so incapable of engaging with our ideas that he invents some which he then ascribes to us. He then resorts to the odious ploy of implying that these fictitious views bear resemblance to those of David Irving and President Ahmadinejad. Surely your readers deserve better than this shoddy tactic from someone who purports to be an academic.

Antony Lerman, Jacqueline Rose

David Hirsh’s response:

It is hurtful but no longer surprising that Jacqueline Rose, a professor at my own university, and Antony Lerman, have responded to my arguments only with ad hominem attacks. They accuse me of misrepresentation, of ignorance, of holding a view “so ludicrous that no one who thinks this can be taken seriously as a social scientist”; of being incapable of engaging with their ideas; of only purporting to be an academic.

JC readers who have heard that discussion of antisemitism on campus is not always rational, have now seen for themselves an example of how those of us who take the issue seriously are often dealt with by colleagues who cannot bear to see their own words reported back to them.

If people read Lerman’s piece in The Independent, Rose’s books and Churchill’s play, they will see for themselves that I have misrepresented nothing.

The issue which Rose and Lerman seek to avoid is antisemitism. The campaign to exclude Israelis from the academic, cultural, sporting and economic life of humanity flows from the way of thinking which Rose and Lerman fight for. Rose works for the exclusion of Israeli colleagues, but no others, from UK universities. Lerman legitimizes the antisemitic demonization of Israel by blurring the distinction between this and political criticism of the policies of Israeli governments.

Rose and Lerman do not answer my points concerning the way they single out Jews as having a pathological inability to live at peace with their neighbours. They leave untouched my criticism of their psychological explanation, which essentializes the conflict as a Jewish neurosis. Rather, we should treat it as a political problem for which we can strive to find political solutions.

Rose and Lerman are fond of speaking “as Jews”. The effect of their project is to reassure the British intelligentsia that antisemitism is not currently an issue about which we need to be seriously concerned. This reassurance, doggedly and consistently offered, is dangerous because it educates anti-racists to recognize claims of antisemitism only as manifestations of dishonest pro-Israel propaganda. We should support the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements but we must never think that working for reconciliation is incompatible with vigilance about antisemitism.

Given that all too often people come up with homespun and offensive psychology to explain why some Jews side with antisemites against Jews, Howard Cooper’s response, which was to psychologize David Hirsh, was rather daring:

David Hirsh doesn’t agree with bringing psychological insights to bear on”political questions”. So he ends up aligning Professor Jacqueline Rose’s nuanced, psychoanalytically informed critiques of Israeli intransigence, and Antony Lerman’s remarks on the phenomenon of Jewish belligerency and sense of victimhood, with David Irving’s “antisemitic” stereotyping. Perhaps Hirsh’s ugly distortion of their positions demands its own analysis.

He suggests that “we expect our therapist to be on our side”, but the problem for any therapist is: what if the patient is in denial? If the patient cannot see his or her own aggressiveness, he or see will often experience the therapist’s comments as persecutory.

Further, the patient may twist the therapist’s words into a perverse parody of what has been said: thus Hirsh’s egregious allegation that Rose and Lerman “imply that Jews indoctrinate their children to be indifferent to non-Jewish suffering”.

These distortions occur when patients fear looking honestly at their own
failures and come up with thoughts like “It is not ‘the Jews’ but the occupation which is oppressive” – a remark indicating a typical wish to shift responsibility away from the personal to the impersonal “context”.

Of course Hirsh is right that the issues of post-Holocaust Jewish attitudes involve political questions. But to divorce politics from an examination of the deep subjectivities that inform any political position is both naive andintellectually flawed.

(Rabbi) Howard Cooper

For more on Jacqueline Rose’s work, people should re-read the exchange in Democratiya between Rose and Shalom Lappin.  Lappin reviewed The Question of Zion.  Rose responded.  Lappin answered.

See also this from Ben Gidley.

23 Responses to “Antony Lerman, Jacqueline Rose and David Hirsh”

  1. Joshua Says:

    (Rabbi) Howard Cooper on anti-Semitism:

    “What we do know is that while anti-Semitism is real, our aggressive feelings towards the experience of being abused or hated means that we can never see clearly what is happening ‘out there’, because our view of ‘out there’ contains bits of our own disowned, unacknowledged hatreds – parts of ourselves that we might not even be conscious of, or would be shocked to discover are aspects of our psychological makeup. So the issue about the strength of alleged and real feelings directed against us as Jews is never simple. Or, to put it another way, it is certainly more complex than those who see things in black and white wish to know about.”

  2. Siggy Says:

    “patient”…………………begs the question really.

    Maybe Cooper would be better focussing on those who apparently have “worked through” the trauma, who think they are “psychologically healthy”, can diagnose others, and yet, despite such health, respond to criticism with personal attacks.

    In other words, “Perhaps [Rose’s and Lerman’s] ugly distortion of [Hirsh’s] position demands its own analysis”.

    As anyone will tell you, there is always a thin line between the chair and the couch.

  3. zkharya Says:

    “But Rose thinks that the Jews’ inability to put the trauma behind them in a psychologically healthy way explains Israel’s attack on Gaza. She does not explain how “Germans” have been able so successfully to recover psychologically from their part in the Holocaust and to build a peaceful and multicultural society. Can we congratulate post-national Europeans for having learnt the lessons of Auschwitz while we berate “the Jews” for having failed to do so? And how have Rose and Lerman themselves emerged so healthily from the traumatic family history which so damaged the rest of us?”

    I think this is a very proper sociological argument. One might mention that Holocaust survivors who went elsewhere than Palestine/Israel.

  4. zkharya Says:

    My essential problem with Rose is this: I am not sure psychoanalysis is especially well equipt to investigate history as it is itself an offshoot of modern historiographical method and science.

    Freud assumed that the root of neurotic conditions was to be found in a patient’s life and experiential history: hence “case history”.

    While Freud unfortunately tended to medicalize ethical and other patient behaviour, his breakthrough was to see neurotic conditions as more than mere “medical” or demonic illnesses which settled on the patient will-nilly. It assumed that ethical and other behaviours were cause-generated effects.

    Of course we are more than merely what we are done to. We are also the choices we make with what we are done to, which is why my psychiatrist father set such great store by a Socratic elenchic method that brought the patient to recognise what responses to his or her situation were helpful and what were not.

    This is why proper psychoanalys should be both diagnostic and prescriptive as to patient deeds or actions, and should have a sound ethical basis, howevesoever one defines it.

    But the analysis of what was done to the patient, as well as how the patient has responded to his or her situation, derives from the same principles that inform modern (and the best ancient) historiography: it assumes no effect without cause, be that passive cause i.e. experience, or active cause i.e. agent’s choice and action.

    But that is why historians study history: to assemble the best “case history” of the subject/patient they can.

    I am not sure the psychoanalyst has anything special to offer, except in so far as they strive to assemble the best “case history” they can.

    And it is this in which Rose has been found so wanting by the likes of Shalom Lappin, or academic historians like David Cesarani.

    In this case, Rose’s “patient” is the European Jewish people who, for some reason, are only born in the 17th century under Shabtai Tzvi. They exist in a vacuum, so that notions of Jewish peoplehood are addressed without regard to the fact that Jews have been regarded and treated as a people/nation, a people/nation dispossessed of temple, city and land, for most of Christian and Islamic history.

    If a psychiatrist judged a patient’s age to be only a quarter of the true one, and if he judged how such a one regarded himself without reference to that being how he or she was regarded by his or her fellows for most of his true age, we would say that one was a very poor doctor.

    Or, to put it another way, a very poor Case Historian.

  5. Richard Says:

    Lerman says : “Jacqueline Rose neither inspired Caryl Churchill to write the play Seven Jewish Children – Churchill has not read her work – nor did she brief the actors. She was invited to talk to them about the history of the conflict.”

    Yet Howard Jacobson points out that the castlist expresses gratitude to her.

  6. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    From the Lerman/Rose letter in the JC: “Jacqueline Rose neither inspired Caryl Churchill to write the play “Seven Jewish Children” – Churchill has not read her work – nor did she brief the actors. She was invited to talk to them about the history of the conflict.”

    This is sheer sophistry. It would be interesting to know how Rose distinguishes between “briefing” the actors and and “talking to them about the history of the conflict”, because few others would. It was also insulting to at least some of the actors who were both Holocaust survivors and had lived in Israel that she should bring her psychologising to such a sensitive subject. It is especially insulting given that she is a Professor in English, and thus has no more qualification for pontificating about alleged Jewish neuroses and their effect on Israeli-Palestinian relations than I do. Of course, I don’t attempt to pontificate about national neuroses.

  7. jacob Says:

    zkharya “My essential problem with Rose is this: I am not sure psychoanalysis is especially well equipt to investigate history as it is itself an offshoot of modern historiographical method and science.”

    I agree that psychoanalysis is not well equipped to investigate history. In the US, at least, psychoanalysis does not have the kind of intellectual legitimacy it seems to have in Europe, especially in the UK and France. It is used mostly among literary critics while it is eschewed by most professional psychologists.

    It is therefore ironic that a literary critic should have published a book psychoanalyzing Jewish history.
    A number of critics have shown that her knowledge of Jewish history is very modest. One should also question her qualifications as a psychoanalyst.

    In any case, Rose’s “psychoanalitic” argument is dangerous in that it sees all modern Jewish history as the result of a trauma. This is an argument that used to be very fashionable among antisemites in the 19th and early 20th century. This kind of thinking questions the very legitimacy of the Jewish people since it argues that what holds Jews as a people together is antisemitism. It is therefore telling that Rose should focus on Shabtai Tzvi a figure reacting to the larger scale pogroms that took place in Poland and the Ukraine in the 17th century.

    Rose’s argument that the Holocaust has so traumatized the Jewish people that they basically can’t tell get along with non Jews can be used retrospectively to justify the antisemitism of pre Holocaust days. If Jewish history is one long trauma and if as a result Jews can’t get along with non Jews then antisemites are in effect justified to some degree in their hatred.

    If Rose doesn’t believe this she needs to explain not just the post Holocaust trauma of the Jewish people but pre Holocaust antisemitism.

    I don’t believe that Rose argument is legitimate. Her book offers no comparative analysis of other people’s experiencing large scale traumas. There is no mention of Irish famine and hoe Irish society dealt with it, or of post Slavery Black Americans or of the many peoples like Armenians, and others.

    Why, and how, have these other peoples been able to overcome their own historical traumas and not the Jewish people?

    Finally, Rose argument is dangerous because once it becomes part of mainstream thinking it will in the minds of the average person lay the onus of responsibility of Jewish suffering on the Jews themselves. It will in effect absolve antisemites of all responsibility for their actions.

    Rose argument also needs to be judged by her own belief that Jews should cease being a people and either assimilate or to live like Marranos. This is a view she expressed in a later book:

    Jacqueline Rose’s The Last Resistance. Reviewed here by Ben Gidley:

    “’The Marranos’, Rose writes, ‘cherish their identity as something to be hoarded that also sets them irrevocably adrift. Jacques Derrida liked to compare his Jewishness with theirs, because they do not belong, while still remaining Jewish, even if they reached the point where they “no longer knew in what their Jewishness consists.”‘ (p.17)”

    Rose’s post modernist view of Jewish identity is of a piece with her critic of Zionism.
    From this point of view there is no stable identity and Jews and only Jews should cease insisting on holding on to such an identity.

    Identities though are not a matter of personal choice and to exchange the identity of the Jews for that of the Marrano (a term coined by their enemies and which means pig in Spanish) is to accept the status of a non person in the modern world.

  8. Lizzy P Says:

    Lerman says Hirsh isn’t a proper academic.

    But Lerman doesn’t even have a PhD and has never had a job in a university. What has Lerman published on antisemitism?

    And the bit I love in particular is this:

    “Antony Lerman did not offer his own view of Professor Bar Tal’s research in his “Independent” article but quoted from the “Haaretz” summary of it…”

    So Lerman admits proudly that he has never even read Bar Tal’s work. He crows that his Independent piece was a summary of a Ha’aretz piece, which summarized Bar Tal’s work.

    So what could this possibly be, if not a Lerman view of Bar Tal’s research?

    And Lerman purports to be an academic. Oh no, I forgot. He doesn’t. Because he isn’t. And never has been.

  9. zkharya Says:

    Sociology requires the rigorous collation of empirical data. Do you suppose Rose’s historico-pychoanalysis was as rigorous?

    For a start, she could have had her work and conclusions reviewed by academic historians in the field of modern (post 17th century) European and middle eastern Jewish history. That would have provided a modicum of a scientific control.

    She could have used the sociological scientific control of comparison with other ethno-national groups, such as the Germans, as Hirsh suggests.

    That would have been ideal, as well as “in house” with a fellow lecturer.

    But that would have put a break on the free-flowing creativity to which her academic English department doubtless accustoms her.

  10. zkharya Says:


    “But that would have put a BRAKE on her etc”

  11. Jonathan Romer Says:

    Jacob says: “I don’t believe that Rose argument is legitimate. … Why, and how, have these other peoples been able to overcome their own historical traumas and not the Jewish people?”

    By and large, the “psychological component” of politics and history is dealt with in one of three ways. In the vast majority of cases it is simply ignored. People mention in passing how Germany has faced up to its Nazi past and how Austria hasn’t, and then move on to more fruitful ways of relating to these countries. In the remaining situations, group psychosis is used as a defence or excuse: “Of course they lash out; of course their thinking is distorted. What could you expect of a people that has been oppressed the way they have? You must make allowances.” I can think of no other country beside Israel, and no other people beside the Jews, where the analysis is reversed. In that one case, past oppression — but not by us or anyone alive today — has made them criminal, but these criminals are fully responsible for their sins and their expiation.

    Rose’s argument is illegitimate because it is dishonest. She starts from the conclusion she wants to reach — Israeli/Jewish culpability — and works backwards to dress it in a rationale.

  12. Sabato Says:

    Jacqueline Rose is modern day Portia who sees Jews who fight back to protect their community as Shylocks.

  13. Frank Adam Says:

    First ad feminam: I will take Jaqueline Rose’s word – not without reserving the right to question – on novels, poetry and nursery rhymes- all originally scurrilous “music hall”- but I object to psychoanlysing the entire Jewish people over Gaza – which was already ghastly when I saw a bit of it in Oct 67. However, read Jaqueline Rose’s own potted autobiography in the Observer 19 Aug 2002. She has not got over her own self and family never mind the Jewish People’s tensions and adventures in the 20th century.

    More broadly: there are perfectly good policy reasons why the Gaza Campaign happened for military and political reasons and I do not intend to recite all the wars back to the Arabs opening their Great Rebellion in April 1936 by stopping the Jerusalem – Haifa bus near Nablus and selecting two Jewish passengers to shoot and leave their corpses by the roadside; but no other nation would have been so patient about being shelled / rocketed (7000+ on Sderot). The British regularly patrolled, retaliated and fined the border tribes of India and Aden, not in money but in rifles. As a literature don Jaqueline does not need assistance to close read Kipling’s Ballad of East and West and note what punitive expeditions did to villages harbouring “border thieves.”
    “They will feed their horse on the standing crop, their men on the garnered grain.
    The thatch of the byres will serve their fires when all the cattle are slain….”
    There are also Mandate memoirs that [local Arab] veterans of the Turkish police service in the British PP thought the British a bit pussy footed for not eating hostile villages out of house and home.

    Finally ad hominem myself: like many others, my Parents were directly shaken up & about by the events of the century. I am born and bred in Paddington, London W2, and spent ten years walking to school or the shops or to Paddington Station along roads that bordered bombsites. There is no need to psychoanalyse me nor my contemporaries. The war is over and we have all moved on, but I do not holiday in Germany, and I do not buy a German car.

    Just not to be too tribal: in 1914 -15 the German fleet commander Admiral Ingenohl tried to tempt the RN to battle in the southern North Sea where he had advantages of space and underwater weapons and he did so by sending his scouting force to shell East coast towns as far North as the Hartlepools for which the Admiral Hipper his battlecruisers commmander was labelled “Baby-killer ” by the Allied press till the shindig was over. Everybody who lived through the World Cup month of 1966 could see & hear the “pike” and displacement / diversionary psychology – and it did not need fancy analysis nor excusing by rearing methods.

    Arab apologists have been very ready to wonder aloud ie accuse the persecuted Jews for turning into Israeli persecutors. Accusing Jews of being deranged or bent excuses the Arabs from looking honestly at themselves in their own mirror. It is just another diversion/ scapegoat as the Tory tabloids campaign to slash benefits only to do it directly would lose votes; so they attack immigration and attack immigrants for being bees drawn to a honeypot by Britain’s “generous” “benefits culture.”

  14. Denis MacEoin Says:

    What I don’t understand is why Rose and others spend so much time on perceived Jewish or Israeli neuroses while ignoring so egregiously the much more problematic behaviour of the Palestinians. I don’t necessarily mean Palestinians today, since it’s facile to argue that their psychological issues derive form the Israeli occupation. The Arab problem goes back to 1948 and beyond, and involved then a considerable unwillingness to work with an easily resolvable situation and to turn it into the nightmare it has become. Today, we have the phenomena of suicide bombers, including one woman 8-months pregnant, of the indoctrination of children into the martyr cult, of the staggering intransigence of the Hamas Charter, of the belief that it is better to hurt ourselves if we can’t get everything we want. All of these are studied, but not by those who push a pro-Palestinian narrative and, as often as not, an anti-Semitic agenda. If it’s important to study the psychology behind the conflict, why focus on the Israelis, who have, by and large created a stable, liberal, and successful society, and not on the Palestinians who have never acted in their own best interests. Not long ago, a young Palestinian woman was badly injured in a domestic fire, treated in an Israeli hospital (Hadassah?), and discharged to return as an out-patient. On one occasion she returned wearing a bomb belt, ready to kill the doctors and nurses who had treated her. I want to know more about her psychology and that of the people who set her up or forced her to do this. Let’s set the balance straight for once.

  15. MITNAGED Says:

    As a psychologist and psychotherapist as well as a part-time lecturer in postgraduate psychology, Rose’s and others’ psychologising pronouncements are chilling in their absolute certainty that they are correct. There seems to be no room in them even to countenance the fact that they may be wrong, much less to take on board opposing arguments and synthesise them into an updated viewpoint which includes them or may even discard them altogether, and thereby possibly reach a different conclusion. Nothing about psychology or human behaviour and motivation is set in stone. Whoever trained these people has done them a grievous wrong.

    Rose et al have nailed their colours to their masts so publicly that they cannot deal with the dissonance caused by accepting, equally publicly, that they may in fact be wrong. They have invested a great deal in being “right” and publicly right. Therefore, the more they are argued with publicly, the more their views are shown to lack substance, the more entrenched they become in those views, having stated them with such certainty. “I have made up my mind, so don’t confuse me with facts” was probably formulated with them in mind.

    Denis, your question is complicated. It seems to me that the commonality, where it exists, among Jewish haters of Israel and supporters of Palestinians at the expense of Israel, is a psychological phenomenon called splitting, whereby the person who does this is too emotionally immature to “hold” both the good and the bad and synthesise them into a realistic model of whatever they are attached to. Thus, Rose et al split off all that they perceive to be “bad” in the objects to which they have formed an attachment (because it makes them feel very uncomfortable and they cannot tolerate discomfort) and project it onto Israel so that the Palestinians can be all “good” and they be “good” by supporting them.

    That, however, is a hypothesis only, as is all psychological analysis of behaviour and motivation. I am not at all worried or defensive if people want to disagree!

  16. MITNAGED Says:

    Denis, the woman with burn injuries was Wafa Samir al-Biss and treated in the Soroka hospital near Beer Sheva. A Palestinian doctor who works there wrote an open letter to the “Jerusalem Post” subsequently, condemning her actions in themselves and for the threat they posed to continued Israeli acceptance of Palestinian patients for treatment in Israel.

    So far as I know, al-Biss’ actions have not done that.

  17. zkharya Says:

    Returning to psychoanalysis: Freud did not regard Jewish historical tradition as irrelevant He was not an anti-Zionist. He himself wrote that he could see himself, a physically timid man, dying in defence of the temple. He would have regarded the notion of psychoanalysing the Jewish people as though they had only been born in the 17th century and lived in contextless vacuum, despite living in Christendom and Islam for most of the last 2000 years, as absurd.

    Rose’s problem is that she is, essentially, an English lecturer. That is a very poor position from which to make an historical survey of European or any other Jewish history.

    The same, of course, goes for Caryl Churchill.

    Rose thinks that pyschoanalysis grants her the keys to the kingdom, allowing her, in effect, to reconstruct Jewish history and “psyche” on the basis of alleged psychoanalytical principles. Rather as certain intellectuals e.g. John Game, think they can compensate for their general ignorance of Jewish and other histories by reconstructing it according to general Marxist principles.

    The trouble is, both Marx and Freud were deeply historically minded individuals, both classically educated. Freud set great store by what Jewish tradition had to say about the “Jewish psyche”, as well as the Christian context in which it evolved and developed as European Jewish history.

    I think Rose’s psychoanalysis is as flawed as her history.

  18. Anthony Posner Says:

    Are Hirsh, Lerman and Rose really expecting readers of this blog to take their “debate” seriously? It is bad enough for “academics” to waste their time discussing such issues within the confines of Goldsmiths!
    The Royal Court should be encouraged to stage any crap that emerges from Caryl Churchill’s arse. Such theatrical displays should be treasured for illuminating the zeitgeist.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      We’re more likely to take their debate seriously than your comments seeking to denigrate debate and serious efforts to defeat antisemitism.

  19. Antony Lerman is misrepresenting the views of UK Jews – again « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism Says:

    […] the last time Lerman mistrepresented the views of UK Jews, follow this link. Posted in Uncategorized. Leave a Comment […]

  20. Some Engage Classics « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism Says:

    […] Hirsh, D ‘Do not confine Jews to the couch‘ Jewish Chronicle, 10 April 2009  (and then this, between Hirsh, Lerman & Rose: […]

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