The Stern Gang: Ideology, Politics and Terror 1940-1949
by Joseph Heller
London: Frank Cass, 1995. 358pp. $47.50.
Reviewed by Amos Perlmutter
Middle East Quarterly
Heller has written a comprehensive study of Lehi (aka the Stern Gang), Israel's most militant underground movement in the period 1941-48. He focuses on the ideology of the movement and explains that Lehi split from the broader Etzel (IZL) movement because it felt Etzel was not engaged in real terror and Lehi ideologically disagreed with Etzel on the main enemy (Etzel targetted the British only in Palestine, Lehi took on the whole British Empire). Also, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism, believed in a formal military Jewish organization, not underground activities. Lehi saw Jabotinsky as a an old reactionary.
Like any other radical nationalist movement, Lehi's outlook was influenced by a variety of extreme nationalist orientations. It rejected not only diaspora Jewry but also Zionism, espousing instead ideas borrowed from the Canaanite movement calling for the creation of a new Israeli movement without the diaspora. Israel Eldad, the chief Lehi ideologist, even believed in the restoration of the Jewish monarchy and in the glory of Jewish history, hardly a Hebraic-Canaanite ideological occupation.
While an excellent, well-researched, and probably unsurpassed study, Heller over-intellectualizes a revolutionary terrorist movement. Given that Lehi was less an ideological forum than a terrorist organization, Heller's extensive and highly commendable research should have been directed less to Lehi's ideas and more to its terrorist activities. Lehi contributed to the ouster of the British in Palestine but it played a very minor role in the development of radical nationalist ideology. Further, when Lehi's leading terrorist, Yitzhak Shamir, many years later became prime minister of Israel, he ignored the presumed ideology of Lehi and instead adopted Jabotinsky's doctrine of a "complete Eretz Israel."
Related Topics: Amos Perlmutter | June 1996 MEQ
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free mef mailing list
This text may be reposted or forwarded so long as it is presented as an integral whole with complete and accurate information provided about its author, date, place of publication, and original URL.