Blake Alcott’s Cut & Paste Defence of the Indefensible
|Alcott's article in defence of Atzmon|
Despite the fact that this blog was originally set up to combat the influence of Gilad Atzmon, his racism and anti-Semitism, I have ignored him in recent months. After the issuing of a statement by Ali Abunimah and many other Palestinians and Arabs, and similar statements by activists, it is fair to say that Atzmon’s bubble burst. The film that had been made of him bombed. Activists were turned off by his attacks on BDS (very similar to those of the Israeli government which outlawed support for Boycott).
|The imagine on the Redress site. Note the 'subtle' alignment of Ali Abunimah, a key Palestinian activist, with Alan Dershowitz, a virulent Zionist zealot.|
Nonetheless there are times when it is useful to go back over some of the arguments. My attention was brought to a 20 page long apologia for Atzmon by one Blake Alcott, who describes himself as an ‘economical ecologist’ in his article in the anti-Semitic Counterpunch magazine, whose founder Alex Cockburn ended his life as a supporter of the French fascist leader Marine Le Pen. One thing is certain and that is that Alcott was certainly being economical with the truth. Just how ecological it was I shall leave to others to judge.
|Atzmon blows his own trumpet|
The fact that this article is carried on Counterpunch, which provides space for out and out holocaust deniers such as Israel Shamir speakes volumes. When Mary Rizzo denounced Jews Against Zionism and myself in particular, Counterpunch not only refused to carry a response but it refused even to acknowledge the response of Roland Rance and myself. But what does one expect from a web site that a sympathiser with the French National Front and Marine Le Pen, Alex Cockburn, ran?
When an essay begins with a lie then it is pretty clear that it’s going to be all downhill from thereon. Alcott states that ‘I ignore denunciations of Atzmon by Alan Dershowitz, Tony Greenstein and Jeffrey Goldberg because they consist of associative thinking and are based on often-unreferenced quotations out of context.’
This is a demonstrable lie since anyone who takes the time and trouble to read my Guide to Atzmon’s sayings will know that everything is sourced back to what Atzmon himself has written. If Alcott finds that ‘associative thinking’ (I assume that associating Atzmon with his own writings is not unfair) is a problem then that demonstrates the limits of his own analysis. Neither Goldberg nor Dershowitz are capable of any analysis worthy of the name because both are Zionists who defend Israel and Zionism without question. I do not. Hence the intellectual contortions of Alcott as he tries to make a case for Atzmon:
ColonialismAlcott tries to square the circle by saying that ‘Atzmon is basically asserting that the settler-colonialist paradigm is not sufficient to explain Zionism:’
That is one way of putting it. However it is not the way that Atzmon puts it. Atzmon is a somewhat better guide to Atzmon than Alcott Through Atzmon’s Looking Glass (with a tint of pseudo-left sophistry). Alcott quotes argues that Atzmon doesn't reject the idea that Israel is a settler colonial entity. He merely states that it is not the entire explanation. However in order to sustain this thesis, Alcott only cites the quotation in bold in Atzmon's book. He deliberately excises all that follows. Let me remind him of what Atzmon wrote in toto:
‘Zionism is not a colonial movement with an interest in Palestine, as some scholars suggest. Zionism is actually a global movement that is fuelled by a unique tribal solidarity of third category members. To be a Zionist means to accept that, more than anything else, one is primarily a Jew.’ p.15, Wandering Who?.
A global movement fuelled by a ‘unique tribal solidarity’. Clearly it is not a settler-colonial movement, it is part of a wider conspiracy. And Atzmon continues in relation to the Organismus that
‘It is more than likely that ‘Jews’ do not have a centre or headquarters. It is more than likely that they aren’t aware of their particular role within the entire system, the way an organ is not aware of its role within the complexity of the organism…. This is probably the Zionist movement’s greatest strength. It transformed the Jewish tribal mode into a collective functioning system.
Looking at Zionism as an organismus would lead to a major shift in our perspective of current world affairs. The Palestinians, for instance, aren’t just the victims of the Israeli occupation, they are actually the victims of a unique global political identity, namely the third category people who transformed the Holy Land into a Jewish bunker.’ p.17.
In fact Atzmon rejects the settler colonial paradigm in its entirety, whilst paying lip-service to it rhetorically.
‘These events [Mava Marmari & others] have nothing to do with the colonialist nature of the Jewish state as some Marxist ideologists insist. They may have something to do with the racist, supremacist, chauvinist ideology that fuels Zionism.’ Indeed Atzmon agrees with Alan Dershowitz that Israel cannot be a colonial state because it has no mother country. ‘Fair enough, I say, he may be right. I myself do not regard Zionism as a colonial adventure.’
An absurd formulation since Britain was the initial mother country. It is what settlers do that counts. The American settlers continued to colonise America after breaking with the British mother country. Why not Zionism with the sponsorship of Britain. So Alcott, having accused me of taking quotes out of context, does exactly the same and worse. He selectively cuts his quote and thus distorts the meaning in order to bolster his case.
When Atzmon draws a straight line from Moses to Netanyahu he is in practice asserting a unique racial continuum, from. Atzmoncites Moses oration to his people thus:
‘The Judaic God, as portrayed by Moses in the above passage, is an evil deity, who leads his people to plunder, robbery and theft. Yet there are many ways to deal with this negative image of the Almighty…. For more than sixty years, the Biblical call for theft has been put into legal praxis.’
What we have here is a Jewish race, a group of people who retain their characteristics, including their inclination to plunder and despoil, over the millenia. I know that Atzmon denies he ever makes so much as a mention of biological race, but since race is a political construct, it can be based on biology, culture, ideology or a mixture thereof. It is interesting that in his book (p.16) he writes that
‘In his book, Ostrovsky refers to it as racial solidarity; I call it third category brotherhood and Weizmann calls it Zionism. But it all means the same thing.’
Indeed it does all mean the same. When we penetrate beneath Atzmon’s surface justification we see that he does indeed mean Jewish race and he ascribes to that race, bound together by a supremacist ideology (Jewishness) all that has happened in Palestine. It is also the only way of justifying his comparison between the anti-Semitism experienced by the Jews of Europe and the dislike of Zionists (Jews to Atzmon) in Israel. Both made themselves unpopular because of what they did. The Bundists, who wished to confiscate the wealth of the capitalists [Atzmon singling out ‘Jewish socialism’ and the Bund is itself anti-Semitic – were all other socialists in favour of private property? We should be told!).
As for ‘Jewishness’. How can there be one Jewish ideology? Is there just one Christian ideology? Clearly there is more to Jewishness than meets the eye. It is the ideology of all those who consider themselves Jewish and it is only those who believe in race who succumb to the idea of a homogenous Jewry. Atzmon ignores simple facts such as the rejection of Zionism from Herzl until 1945 by Jews themselves. Atzmon has no explanation because for him to be Jewish is to be a Zionist. [see ‘Not in my name’ for an expansion on this].
Let us be generous. Alcott has never read my Guide to Atzmon so he is unaware of the passage which was omitted from his book. Yet Atzmon made his views very clear and demonstrated that he was quite prepared to get into the sewer with the far-right.
We even have the fascist canard that ‘Throughout the centuries, some Jewish bankers have gathered the reputation of backers and financers of wars’ and even one communist revolution. Though some rich Jews have been happily financing wars using their own assets, Alan Greenspan, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States, found a far more sophisticated way to facilitate or at least divert the attention from the wars perpetrated by Libby, Wolfowitz and PNAC.’ p.20
This combines the traditional far-right thesis of the Jews financing the communist revolution with them controlling capitalism. Alan Greenspan was apparently acting at the beck and call of Aipac in destabilising the American economy, presumably at the Jews behest. It is what is commonly known as the World Jewish Conspiracy Theory, beloved of fascists and Atzmon. Presumably the ‘leftist’ ecologist Alcott also has no problems with it either.
Holocaust DenialIn ‘Truth, History & Integrity’ Atzmon writes that:
‘I am left puzzled here, if the Nazis ran a death factory in Auschwitz-Birkenau, why would the Jewish prisoners join them at the end of the war? Why didn’t the Jews wait for their Red liberators?’
I think that 65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, we must be entitled to start asking questions… We should strip the Holocaust of its Judeo-centric exceptional status and treat it as an historical chapter that belongs to a certain time and place. The Holocaust, like every other historical narrative, must be analysed properly… Why were the Jews hated? Why did European people stand up against their neighbours? Why are the Jews hated in the Middle East, surely they had a chance to open a new page in their troubled history? If they genuinely planned to do so, as the early Zionists claimed, why did they fail? (pp 175-176)
Atzmon conveniently misses out the first paragraph of the essay in the chapter of his book of the same name. Alcott also doesn’t mention it. Perhaps he is unaware of it or more likely it didn't fit his thesis. He clearly decided that it would be impossible to maintain the pretence that Atzmon doesn’t deny or query the factual aspect of the holocaust, i.e. that millions of Jews (& others too of course) were deliberately exterminated. I can now understand Alcott’s objection to associative thinking. Far better to stick with Atzmon’s denials and ignore the substance of his argument.
Instead Alcott cites with approval Atzmon’s trite and ludicrous observation that
‘People who place such questions out of bounds “are doomed to think that anti-Semitism is an ‘irrational social phenomenon that ‘erupts out of nowhere’. Accordingly they must believe that the Goyim are potentially mad.” (p 182) Alcott comments that ‘It is a matter of simple logic that to ask why Jews were hated in Europe is not to presuppose that there were good reasons.’
It is also a matter of simple logic to ask whether Atzmon’s statement is true or not. This is, however, something Alcott is incapable of. In fact it is quite possible to offer a rationale explanation for anti-Semitism which doesn’t assume that they were hated by everyone. Anti-Semitism was for example a means by which aspiring and indebted rulers could scapegoat Jews for the ills that the peasants faced. This however runs counter to Atzmon’s conspiracy theory of a straight line from Moses to present-day Israel. In fact it is Atzmon’s explanation which is irrational. Someone with a bit more intellectual depth would have asked who did the hating, why did they hate, what was the context in which they hated, always assuming they did hate.
And then one gets a far more nuanced understanding. Incidentally the rolling up of ‘anti-Semitism’ as one long unchanging constant is itself an acceptance of a Zionist/Atzmon thesis. In Germany the irony is that when Hitler came to power anti-Semitism was waning. In many countries non-Jews did their best to protect Jews. We all know that Ann Frank was hidden with her family by non-Jews, but this was not exceptional. In Italy, the fact that 85% of Jews survived was on account of people, not least the much reviled Catholic Church, being willing to shelter them.
Alcott’s superficial apologia leads him to accept Atzmon’s nonsense. Denmark’s whole Jewish community was rescued and taken by fishermen to Sweden. There were large protest movements in Bulgaria, led by those wicked communists, which prevented the government deporting even one Jew (apart from the annex territories of Thrace and Macedonia). In Amsterdam there was a general strike against the attacks on the Jewish community. Atzmon speaks about the need to research the ‘historical narrative’ whilst pronouncing on something he has no knowledge. He himself has made no attempt to acquaint himself with any research. Instead he flatters the historical revisionists with their ‘research’ activities. Alcott is his apologist. The fact that the openly anti-Semitic Redress site, which Atzmon has a large influence over, has posted Alcott's article suggests that Alcott is nothing more than Atzmon's willing foot servant.
Other ObservationsAlcott seeks to acquit Atzmon of the charge of racism by comparing him with Benny Morris, whose statements today are those of an overt Jewish racist, with Nazi overtones. Morris defends his sweeping assertions about Arab culture by saying he is speaking of a dominant political culture. So dominant that he regrets not expelling every single Palestinian in 1948. Sorry Mr Alcott but comparing Atzmon to Benny Morris doesn’t excuse him. If anything it compounds the case I and others have made.
Alcott says ‘Abunimah’s position is of course untenable’ referring to the blaming of Jewish ‘culture’ for Zionism. Of course Alcott is unable to say why it is untenable. Abunimah’s logic, that it is like blaming Afrikaaner ‘culture’ for Apartheid or British ‘culture’ for the crimes of British imperialism is meaningless is anything but untenable.
Alcott also confuses (or maybe doesn’t understand) Omar Barghouti’s position. It is perfectly acceptable to cite, as Israel Shahak did, aspects of the Talmud which provide justification for the most barbaric practices of the religious Zionists. The Talmud (compilation of Oral Law – there are 2 versions but the Iraqi version is more authoritative) is indeed as a form of legitimation but it is not the cause of Zionism. It is only because Atzmon not only ignores Jewish opposition to Zionism but positively attacks Jewish anti-Zionists today, that he can maintain his thesis.
Alcott betrays his own motivation and beliefs when he talks of Atzmon’s ‘Exhibit A’ which is the ‘relatively large number of Jews in the UK Parliament (all hard or soft Zionists).’ Alcott writes pompously that ‘To declare out of bounds the subject of Jewish, as opposed to merely Zionist, influence in politics, finance and media is to claim that support for Zionism by many powerful people has nothing at all to do with the fact that they are Jewish, or rather, that they politically identify as Jews.’
Of course most Jews identify as Zionists. That is the main basis of their being Jewish today. There is no other socio-economic reason. It is a trite observation. But I am interested in the description of Jews in the UK Parliament as ‘hard or soft Zionists’ whatever that means. Until the last general election the Jewish MP Harry Cohen identified himself as anti-Zionist. The MP who made the most powerful speech denouncing Operation Cast Lead was none other than someone who is hated today by Zionism – regardless of whether he still calls himself a Zionist. I refer to Gerald Kaufmann, who stated that his grandmother hadn’t died at the hands of Nazi butchers in order that Israeli butchers could murder Palestinian grandmothers. No doubt this was a great aid to Olmert and Livni.
Alcott says that ‘Wandering does not demonstrate to my satisfaction that Jewish-ness is supremacist.’ Again he accepts the assumption that there is such a thing as ‘Jewishness’. As such he goes down the road with Atzmon despite his protestations. Alcott refers to the British Jewish Socialists. Presumably he means the Jewish Socialists Group.
Alcott believes that ‘Atzmon is here too severe in his critique’ when he attacks Jewish anti-Zionists for merely trying to rehabilitate the idea of being Jewish. If that were true then the next question would be so what? Isn’t that another way of saying that there are some people who wish to assert a secular Jewish identity apart from Zionism. Is that wrong? In fact those of us who are Jewish and anti-Zionist face the most bitter attacks of the Zionists, as ‘traitors’ as Rabbi Shochet tried to do on BBC1’s Big Questions today when I disagreed with him. The reason for their vitriol is that we are the living proof that there is nothing ‘Jewish’ about what Israel does. Further that supporting the Palestinians is anti-Semitic. The fact that Atzmon reserves most of his bile, not for Dershowitz but us shows where he is really coming from.
Alcott realises how difficult it is to defend Atzmon when he says of these attacks on Jewish anti-Zionists that he ‘overstates his case. It also seems merely polemical to claim that “when it comes to ‘action’ against the so-called ‘enemies of the Jewish people’, Zionists and ‘Jewish anti-Zionists’ act as one people – because they are one people.” (p 102)
It is not Jewish anti-Zionists who proclaim their opposition to BDS as a Jewish-organised campaign to take the heat off any focus on Jewish racial solidarity. It is Atzmon who opposes BDS! Unfortunately, in eschewing my very-well researched essay on Atzmon’s writings, Alcott is left scrabbling around reconciling opposites. Take BDS, which let us not forget was a call from Palestinians and is universally accepted now by Palestine solidarity groups as the way ahead. Atzmon does his best to pour scorn on it. He has not a word to say in its favour. To me has been explicit privately. It is a Jewish con.
interview with Silvia Cattori he says explicitly that ‘If anything, it has led to further intensified radicalisation within the right in Israel.’ Precisely the argument of apartheid supporters and apologists, like Thatcher. It would only strengthen the Right. Leaving aside that Atzmon believes there is a ‘right-wing’ Zionism as opposed to a ‘left’ – which in the past he has associated with the Israeli Labour Party) why is Atzmon opposed to describing Zionism and its fruit, the State of Israel, as colonial? Because it ‘locates Zionism nicely within their ideology… we first equate Israel with South Africa, and then we implement a counter-colonial strategy, such as the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions).’ Far better to concentrate on Jews as Jews with useful idiots, to use August Bebel’s famous phrase, seeking to pretend that Atzmon is just a bit confused and clear. In fact, despite the attempts of Alcott to raise a smokescreen, Atzmon’s statements are very explicit and clear.
Alcott finds it impossible to defend the singling out by Atzmon of Alan Greenspan, who has not identified (to the best of my knowledge) as a Zionist, certainly is not prominent in so doing, but apparently was wrecking the US economy on behalf of Jewish interests. If this is not an example of what Atzmon’s real motivation is then words are useless. Yet Alcott merely says that ‘Atzmon’s digression on Greenspan is harmful or at least pointless in the battle for justice for Palestinians.’ In fact all his digressions are harmful. This is but one of many. His singling out of Wolfowitz, as if all the neo-cons were Jewish is another example.
Alcott’s essay is an exercise in exorcising the demons created by the Palestinians who signed the ‘Granting No Quarter: A Call for the Disavowal of the Racism and Antisemitism of Gilad Atzmon’. The reason why he therefore ignores what Atzmon actually says and writes, and why the work which I’ve done is disparaged by association to Dershowitz, is that it is impossible to reconcile the anti-Semitism of his writings with his professed support for the Palestinians.
Although I have vowed not to spend much time any longer on Atzmon, because his whole intention, to divide the Palestine solidarity movement, is ultimately aided by focussing on him, it is sometimes necessary to rebut those who try to pretend that Atzmon is a jolly anti-racist type.
The primary fault of both Atzmon and Alcott is that they operate ideologically within the parameters set by Zionism. Alcott cites, presumably with approval, Atzmon’s own citation of Chaim Weizmann to the effect that there are no British or French Jews, merely Jews who are French. Atzmon’s whole argument is based on an acceptance is this quite crucial aspect of Zionist argument. However it is one which any self-respecting anti-Zionist would reject. Jews living in Britain are British, unlike what the most inveterate anti-Semites, Atzmon and presumably Alcott argue. It’s not a good idea to take one’s cue from the Zionist’s politically but that is Atzmon’s cardinal mistake, from which all the others – including his anti-Semitism follow.