27 April 2009

The Humiliation of David Aaronovitch

On April 6th, at the Sunday Times Literary Festival, a debate took place between David Aaronovitch (& fellow war-monger Nick Cohen) and Gilad Atzmon. Choosing between warmongering imperialists and an anti-Semite might seem like a choice between the devil and the deep-blue sea. However, given the choice between those who acted as Blair’s cheerleaders for the Iraq war, which cost over a million lives and who supported Israel’s blitzkrieg in Gaza, and a puffed-up anti-Semite, the audience preferred Atzmon.

I first met David Aaronovitch in student politics 30 years ago when he was in the running to become President of the National Union of Students. I was a member of the far-left Socialist Students Alliance. Aaronovitch at that time was a member of the Communist Party, though the only thing that was red about him was the colour of his socks. His politics were as right-wing then as they are now. Even then Aaronovitch was a died-in-the-wool Zionist and he did his unsuccessful best to have me banned as a delegate to NUS Conference for ‘anti-Semitism’, something that Atzmon has since quoted to ‘prove’ that it is his critics who are anti-Semitic not him!

Unfortunately the renowned Israeli historian Professor Ilan Pappe had to pull out of the debate resulting in an invitation being extended to Atzmon instead. Clearly the organisers of the Sunday Times festival had as little idea of the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism as Aaronovitch.

Aaronovitch believed that there was no need to enter into a debate with Atzmon. All he had to do was read out some of Atzmon’s anti-Semitic sayings. Unfortunately for Aaronovitch, the audience was not as stupid as his normal readership and they clearly didn’t take to someone who has supported very imperialist war going and a few more he’d like to get going. Presumably Aaronovitch thought he would get a round of applause for his support of Israel’s barbaric attack on Gaza, which killed over 1,400 civilians.

When he realised that the applause had gone to Atzmon instead, Aaronovitch threw an almighty tantrum, as befits someone who believes that his lifeless and reactionary prose contains undreamt of pearls of wisdom. How, he wondered, could people applaud an anti-Semite as opposed to an imperialist? And the answer is so obvious that even someone in possession of Aaronovitch’s mediocre talents might be expected to work it out. The wars and blockades that Aaronovitch has supported in different parts of the world have killed upwards of 2 million people. Atzmon’s anti-Semitism has killed no one because, as far as I’m aware, death by boredom cannot be entered as a cause of death on a death certificate.

After 3 weeks, by which time his pride had presumably recovered, Aaronovitch penned an article for the Jewish Chronicle of 23rd April 2009 ‘Gilad Atzmon's discordant notes’ Unfortunately the passage of time doesn’t seem to have helped Aaronovitch’s critical(!) faculties. He still doesn’t seem to have worked out why, in front of an audience, he is less popular than in the admiring company of the Euston set. However the answer is so simple that I thought that the least I could do was to write him a letter explaining just where he had gone wrong. Indeed it is simplicity itself.

When you attack Palestinians and anti-Zionists, not least Jewish anti-Zionists, as being anti-Semitic, then what you do is let the real anti-Semites like Gilad Atzmon off the hook. When you deliberately confuse and conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism it is not the anti-Zionists you hurt but the anti-Semites you help. The only reason Gilad Atzmon can pass himself off as an anti-Zionist, when he is politically at one with Zionism’s founding creed, that diaspora Jewry is a hideous thing and that being Jewish and Zionist is one and the same thing, is because anti-Zionists and anti-Semites are tarred by the Zionists with the same brush of anti-Semitism.
If you cry ‘wolf’ for long enough, don’t be surprised if people no longer believe or listen to you when the wolf makes an appearance. And that is the real contribution of David Aaronovitch and Zionism to the fight against racism and anti-Semitism.
If Paul could repent on the road to Damascus then even David Aaronovitch is not beyond redemption!

Indeed the only interesting thing about the affair is that Atzmon is now openly consorting with people such as 'Lady' Michèle Renouf, an ardent supporter of assorted holocaust deniers.

Tony Greenstein

Open Letter to David Aaronovitch
Dear David,

When I first read reports that Gilad Atzmon had triumphed over you in a debate at the Sunday Times Literary Festival of April 1st, I assumed they owed more than a touch to Atzmon’s normal self-promotion and his gaggle of semi-literate acolytes. Modesty, after all, is not something that Atzmon does.

It is clear though, that in this case, the reports of what took place are true, since you yourself confirm them (‘Gilad Atzmon's discordant notes’).

What is most surprising though is your bewilderment at being routed by a crude anti-Semitic loudmouth, someone who finds the company of Michèle Renouf and assorted anti-Semites and holocaust deniers congenial. Yet despite your failure to comprehend what took place, it is easy to understand what happened and why.

By your own admission, one of those applauding Atzmon was not anti-Semitic but someone who had hoped to hear the critical Israeli Jewish academic, Avi Shlaim, speak instead. Far from suggesting that white phosphorous had been dumped on his judgement, it is your own judgement that you should question. Perhaps if you had not let your own, self-admitted arrogance get in the way and you had stopped to think, you might have experienced your very own ‘eureka’ moment.
You are a columnist on the Jewish Chronicle. Not once in the years you have been writing, have you ever criticised or even analysed, the outrages that Israel commits in the name of all Jewish people. Not once have you offended your paymasters or the JC's diminishing readership. When a controversy broke out 2 years ago over the right of the Jewish National Fund to allocate land to Jews only, David Aaronovitch remained silent, even though the JC itself staged a debate of sorts. sd

When Jewish anti-Zionists, myself included, were accused in the Jewish Chronicle of being ‘self-haters’ (22.4.09.) you thought it very amusing to pen an article alongside that stated that ‘Jews active in the movement to boycott Israel don’t hate themselves they hate their parents.’ A vacuous combination of offensiveness and childishness. Presumably if never occurred to you that those who support a Boycott of Israel do it not because they hate anyone but because they hate racism and apartheid and the massacres we have seen in Gaza recently.

When Israel Railways began sacking workers last week because they are Arabs, on the pretext that they had not served in the Army, [except for the Druze, Arabs don’t serve in the military] you again kept silent. Yet if Jews in Britain experienced the same treatment as Arabs in Israel you would be the first person to jump up and down shouting ‘anti-Semitism’.
Although you would never tell by reading the pages of the Jewish Chronicle, most civilised people are outraged by what happened in Gaza. And if the truth be known, most Jews are embarrassed by what happened and find it indefensible. Under the pretext of a rocket bombardment from Hamas, Israel launched a veritable blitzkrieg on Gaza, having broken the ceasefire unilaterally by entering Gaza to kill 6 members of Hamas on November 4th 2008.
Instead you fondly imagined that quotes from the writings of Atzmon would thereby negate yours and Nick Cohen’s open support for the Iraq War and the Gaza slaughter. You seem to forget that Jews are not dying from pogroms today nor are they being attacked on the streets of Britain. However 1,400 Palestinians died in less than a month of Israeli bombing of Gaza, amongst them over 400 children.

People will not easily forget the use of phosphorous bombs on schools and will also not be persuaded by the Israeli military’s self-serving exculpation of what most people rightly consider war crimes.
You complain that your unnamed critic was not able to distinguish between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. If that is true, then who is to blame but those like yourself who have repeatedly criticised anti-Zionists and supporters of the Palestinians as anti-Semitic? Only last week the decision of the Scottish TUC to support a campaign of Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions against Israel was denounced as ‘anti-Semitic’ by its opponents.
It should have been easy to demonstrate that Gilad Atzmon’s anti-Semitism served no cause but his own. That attacks on Jews do not aid the Palestinians, quite the contrary. Indeed without anti-Semitism there would have been no Zionism and no Nakbah since Zionism and anti-Semitism have always shared the belief that Jews do not belong in non-Jewish society. But to do that, as a sine qua non, you would have to oppose all forms of racism, Zionism included. And that is your problem – you have supported all imperialism’s wars and acted as a cheerleader for the Israeli state.

Condemning racism and supporting imperialism was always going to be a difficult act, as you found out at Cambridge recently!

Tony Greenstein


  1. I remember a tv debate on (uk) Channel 4 - David Aaronovitch represented the case FOR military action against Iraq, which had attacked and invaded Kuwait.

    One of the first called to give evidence was George Galloway, who immediately proceeded to indulge in a character assassination of Aaronovitch.

    George, pointing the finger of scorn at David, expostulated something along the following lines (this was c.1990),
    "I know you! The last time I saw you, you were a card carrying communist. You even had a beard to match, but you had to shave it off because Tony was complaining that it was tickling his backside too much".

    Top-drawer debate!

  2. One thing in your article is totally illogical -- it seems that ( with good reason ) you don't like Arronovitch's work and ideology and politics, and you probably ( again, with good reason ) don't trust the veracity of much of his writing.

    So -- why do you trust Arronovitch when he says that Atzmon is friends with Renouf? It's highly likely it's just a smear : After all, we have all read again and again about how Chomsky is friends with holocaust deniers, and how Finkelstein knowingly courts neo nazis.

    All just smears, as is Arronivitch's comment in all likelihood : the fact that you parade Arronovitch's ( likely ) smear, lowers the tone of your otherwise very fair article.

    On another point, I don't believe Atzmon is an anti semite -- sure, he uses extremely provocative language and is indeed, regularly offensive -- but that is his strategy to wake people up to Zionist nationalism.

    My feeling is that if nationalist secular Zionism's strength ever waned, then Atzmon's provocative stance would change. Finkelstein has used similar 'shock tactics' in the past, though has dropped much of that now.

    Remember, Atzmon is an artist, not a political scientist.

  3. No I don't like Aaronovitch's politics. An ex-communist war monger and Zionist for one thing.

    But when Aaronovitch said that Renouf turned up to the debate to support Atzmon and was warmly greeted by him I have no reason to dispute this. And of course Atzmon himself hasn't said it's a lie which he could have quite easily done.

    I accept that there are times that Aaronovitch has lied blatantly about matters but that doesn't mean he always lies and I don't believe he would lie about something like this which is too easy to demonstrate is a lie, were it to be so.

    I have no absolutely no doubt about Atzmon's anti-Semitism. Leave aside his writings, which I have copiously documented, I spoke to someone today who went to his gig at Shrewsbury last year. His comments were laced with 'jokes' about foreskins, snide references to Jews etc. Actually the first 'joke' I heard in this vein came from a Zionist (though neo-Nazis share the same humour) when I was told that when I was circumcised they threw away the wrong bit!

    But then you add Atzmon's writings and he is not only anti-Semitic (repeatedly calls into question the holocaust, blames Jews' unpopularity for the holocaust) but he is a Zionist in his ideological frame of reference. Hence why he agrees with Anthony Julius about how terrible anti-Zionist Jews are. He accepts the Zionist premise that Jews are a nation and that Zionism is its national movement. He just happens not to like that movement BUT he hates anti-Zionist Jews even more.

    We are, in his view, neither fish nor fowl. Have you ever wondered why his attacks on anti-Zionist Jews - Moshe Machover, Roland Rance and myself for example - take precedence over any criticism of Zionists? He accepts their definitions he just doesn't agree with the outcome.

    And all his analysis and writings, apart from being reactionary, point in the same direction.

  4. Thoroughly enjoyed this article. Extremely good argument for the case. That Aaronovitch guy seems like a nutcase. Just my opinion.

  5. Were it so simple. Aaronovitch isn't so much stupid as malign, as well as pompous. Glad u liked the article though!

  6. Thanks Tony for a great article pointing to the obvious strings attached to Aaronovich's mind, he is led to deceive and it is obvious that he's not happy.

    It is also ample proof that once erstwhile hard line Stalinist are not that far removed from the rabid expressions and shades of today's right wing excesses.


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