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Who is Lenni Brenner?

This is a guest post by Paul Bogdanor

Interviewed about his suspension from the Labour Party, Ken Livingstone made this comment:

Everything I said yesterday [about Hitler being a Zionist] was true and I will be presenting the academic book about that to the Labour Party inquiry.

The book, it turns out, is the notorious tract Zionism in the Age of the Dictators by Lenni Brenner.

Brenner is a lifelong Trotskyist activist and propagandist. An acquaintance from the 1960s described him as

a non-student “Marxist agitator” who would stand near the Bancroft strip and rail about the Pope, the Bay of Pigs, and marijuana, indifferent to the fact that most passersby thought he was “certifiably crazy.”

Brenner’s claim to fame is simple: born to an Orthodox family, his rhetoric can be exploited as a “Jewish” certificate of legitimacy for almost any form of antisemitic incitement. And the bigots understand this: his writings were pirated by Noontide Press, one of the world’s foremost neo-Nazi publishing outfits.

When antisemites inveigh against the “dirty Jew,” they can quote Brenner:

Karl Marx was only being matter-of-fact when he remarked that “the Jews of Poland are the smeariest of all races.” [1]

When antisemites invoke the stereotype of the “grasping Jew,” they can quote Brenner:

What [Herzl] proposed reduced Jewish nationalism to the level of a Shylock operation… [2]

When antisemites accuse Jews of buying excessive political influence, they can quote Brenner:

Historically Jews were frequently courted by demagogues, today they are courted for their money. However, foreign readers would be wrong to conclude that all the Zionists have to do is just walk right into an ol’ Democrat’s office and buy him. No. First they must make an appointment. [3]

When antisemites blame “Zionists” for the Nazi genocide, they can quote Brenner:

Zionism had come full turn [during the Holocaust]: instead of Zionism being the hope of the Jews, their blood was to be the political salvation of Zionism. [4]

When antisemites proclaim their “solidarity” with organisations fighting for the destruction of the Jewish state and the murder of its Jewish population, they can quote Brenner:

I am for the Palestinians. I don’t care if they scalp the Israelis. On the other hand I might say “Stop scalping the Israelis.” [5]

In the mid-1980s, Brenner produced a book attacking the American Jewish community for its alleged betrayal of the working masses. American Jews, he announced, had become a “pillar of capitalism.” [6] They were (and presumably still are) beyond redemption:

Their “prophetic heritage,” their “passion for secular justice,” their “contribution to world culture” is just so much wood on the tribal totem pole…

The belief that American Jewry, in its majority, will play a progressive role in the future is racist and utopian. [7]

Brenner detailed “The Characteristics of the Jewish Capitalists.” [8] He commented:

The magnitude of the Jewish proportion among the wealthy automatically raises questions for modern Americans, for whom affirmative action is an immensely controversial topic: Are there too many rich Jews, and should something be done to lower their percentage?

(Not that “rich Jews” would be his only targets: “It is the expropriation of the capitalist class as a whole that is the order of the day.”) [9]

Brenner’s tour of this country three decades ago is a point of pride for Livingstone (“He came to Britain to publicise his book and we did a public meeting together.”) It’s worth recalling what happened during that trip:

At Middlesex Polytechnic, where only 2 people turned up to see him, his posters were banned by the student union for being antisemitic.

At Manchester University, the union executive rejected a J-Soc motion calling for Brenner to be banned on the grounds that he was a racist. However, Brenner’s talk was so offensive that the executive later regretted their decision and have been writing to other unions warning them of Brenner’s “definite antisemitic overtones.”

At the LSE, the invitation to Brenner from the college anti-racist campaign was rescinded after evidence of Brenner’s antisemitism was presented to the committee. [10]

If Lenni Brenner’s views about the Jewish people are easily judged, what about his credibility as a “historian”? The answer is that his mishandling of facts, sources and quotations was exposed in detail long ago. But I’ll have more to say on the subject soon.


[1] Lenni Brenner, The Iron Wall (Zed Books, 1984), p. 11.

[2] Ibid., p. 38.

[3] Lenni Brenner, Jews in America Today (Al Saqi Books, 1986), p. 140.

[4] Lenni Brenner, Zionism in the Age of the Dictators (Lawrence Hill Books, 1983,), p. 238.

[5] City Limits, June 15-21, 1984.

[6] Brenner, Jews in America Today, p. 61.

[7] Ibid., p. 358.

[8] Ibid., p. 78.

[9] Ibid., p. 80.

[10] Aleph Magazine, December 1983.