18 March 2008

Oren Ben-Dor - Southampton University Lecturer Who Supports Bigots In the Name of Free Speech

Oren Ben-Dor is an ex-Israeli and a law lecturer at the University of Southampton. He is also someone who has aligned himself with a small, anti-Semitic current on the fringes of the Palestinian movement.

In an article for Counterpunch, Freedom of Speech, Free Speech and Their Enemies - The Silencing of Gilad Atzmon Ben-Dor explains that he recently signed a petition that ‘condemns the constant attempts to silence Gilad Atzmon’. Gilad Atzmon is also an ex-Israeli, as well as being a well-known jazz player and an almost equally well-known anti-Semite. who has adopted the politics of holocaust denial.

What Ben-Dor condemns as the attempted silencing and censorship of Atzmon is in fact criticism of him. For some strange reason, racists believe that not only should they be given a free license to abuse others, but they are also entitled to immunity against criticism. The petition Ben-Dor signed was initiated by anti-Semites and signed by a number of well known holocaust deniers, including Paul Eisen and The Radical Press, (later removed after the Petition’s author Mary Rizzo had tried to defend it). The latter site specialises in articles such as AMERICA IS RUN BY JEWS . It is a site to which Ben-Dor’s friend Atzmon regularly posts articles.

Who is Gilad Atzmon?

Atzmon is best judged by what he writes and says. Describing himself as an ‘ex-Jew’ he believes that to be Jewish is to be a Zionist. His writings are a throwback to the conspiracy theories that were prevalent in the early part of the last century. In his essay ‘On anti-Semitism’ he writes that:

"we must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously…. …. American Jewry makes any debate on whether the 'Protocols of the elder of Zion' are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews do try to control the world…."

Atzmon has replaced ‘Jewish people’ by Zionists but the meaning remains the same as he himself has admitted.

In response to accusations that he was a holocaust denier Atzmon responded (Post 19) ‘With Levy and Abrahams making the headline, the Protocols are MAINSTREEM NEWS.. rather than a remote Tsarist forgery…’ Hitler in Mein Kamp said that the Protocols must be genuine because what they describe is true. Atzmon's take is that whether they are a forgery is irrelevant, since regardless they are true! A distinction without a difference.

Atzmon, demonstrates just why why it is that Oren-Dor was so moved to exclaim that ‘No thinking person could fail to be stimulated by the deep connections Gilad makes.’ Indeed. Reaching back into the Middle Ages for the myth of Jews as Christ killers is certainly stimulating, if not breathtaking:
‘I would suggest that perhaps we should face it once and for all: the Jews were responsible for the killing of Jesus who, by the way, was himself a Palestinian Jew.’

And though Oren Ben-Dor may not have meant to be ironic, there is no doubt that Atzmon makes some very deep connections. None more so than when he comes to describing the relationship between Israel and the United States. Those who cling to the quaint notion that the US subsidises the Israeli State because it serves the US’s politico-strategic interests in the Middle East should think again.

‘it looks as if Zionist lobbies control American foreign politics. After so many years of independence, the United States of America is becoming a remote colony of an apparently far greater state, the Jewish state.’

In the Observer of 17th April 2005, in a talk given to students at the School & African of Oriental Studies, Atzmon is quoted as saying that attacking a synagogue is a ‘rational act.’ Does anyone doubt why Ben-Dor complains that Atzmon’s critics ‘do not really do justice to the intellectual game’ of Atzmon.' That, Ben-Dor argues, is ‘the essence of this petition.’ I couldn’t put it better myself.

Ben-Dor calls ‘Peacepalestine’, where Atzmon posts most of his articles ‘one of the more enlightening internet platforms on Palestine.’ That is certainly one way of describing it. It is also the place where holocaust deniers and cranks such as Paul Eisen, a close friend of Atzmon, declare their disbelief about the Holocaust: ‘Regarding gas, again I am not sure but the evidence for the use of homicidal gas-chambers is not good at all. The evidence against it is much, much stronger.’ Atzmon however cannot be accused of lacking a sense of humour. His description of the Socialist Unity site as ‘socialist Jewnity’ was certainly a gem. As Ben-Dor notes, ‘it is the task of an intellectual to touch the untouchable and liberate thinking from its blackmailed, somewhere idle, comfort zones.’ Well that is certainly one was to describe Atzmon’s gutter anti-Semitism.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said of Oren Ben-Dor’s deliberately impenetrable thicket of prose. Apparently:

‘Zionism can be conceived as a symptom the non-empathetic manifestations of which are historically and existentially continuing certain facets of Jewish being and thinking.’

Or his other blinding insight:

‘Zionism can be conceived as a symptom the non-empathetic manifestations of which are historically and existentially continuing certain facets of Jewish being and thinking. It is very important to ask whether the originary aggression of victim mentality as well as the choseness-begotten separateness existentially links the Zionist and the Jewish question.'

Stripped of its pretentiousness, there is a clear message. Zionism, a political movement, is not the product of anti-Semitism nor is it a settler-colonial movement. Rather it is something intrinsic and inseparable from being Jewish. So despite all the intellectual sophistication of Atzmon and his defenders, what we have is the rather mundane Zionist argument that to be opposed to Zionism is to be anti-Semitic. It is no wonder that Atzmon’s only message to Jews is to stop being Jewish!

Ben-Dor confirms this with his remark that ‘There is need to fathom the extent to which the slogan "Jews against Zionism" may be an oxymoron.’ It can only be an oxymoron if the idea of Jews opposing Zionism is itself contradictory.

Just as Zionism was a reaction to anti-Semitism, so the anti-Semitism of Atzmon and his supporters echoes with the themes of Zionism. Stripped of its pseudo-academic and flowery language, Oren Ben-Dor’s article is but a reflection of that which he purports to oppose.

Tony Greenstein


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Just to say,
    references to this article appeared yesterday (Mon 17 Mar 2008) on -
    - the Cork database 'Palestine Information With Provenance' (PIWP)
    - Atzmon's own wikipedia page.

    Not much sign of Tony Greenstein's recent slew of brilliant articles on Atzmon appearing in PIWP - and Tony is supposed to be the one who is the 'gatekeeper' as well.

    Although, to be fair, Tony does have one of his recent articles listed on PIWP, but that is only so as one of Atzmon's pals at PIWP can give themselves the opportunity to slag Tony off in the most outrageous fashion -

    The other irony I love is Atzmon's wikipedia page being updated so quickly - seeing as he has a thing about others who are actively involved in that project. He even goes so far, in his own charming way, as to refer to others as 'wiki'.

    all the best AZAAS!

  3. I have actually posted a few more articles to the Cork database, at the request of Jim Bowen. Nothing to do with Jazzmon either. One is the article I wrote for Hodder & Stoughton's dictionary of philosophy and ethics on Zionism and a few of the Return articles, as the ones there have broken links.

    Strange to say they haven't appeared. I suspect a certain Paul Rooij isn't happy to have anti-Zionist are opposed to pro-Atzmon articles up!

  4. I'd just like to clarify my last comment. This post was written at a time when there was a dispute with one of the editors of the Cork Database and I feared that some of my articles weren't being posted or their links were being allowed to remain unbroken. This was as well as certain comments which had been appended to the facing page.

    I'm happy to say that all the articles I've sent in have in fact been published by the editor, James Bowen and everything has been satisfactorily resolved.

    Tony Greenstein


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