5 July 2009

Gilad Atzmon's attack on Judeo-Marxism and Israeli anti-Zionist Moshe Machover

Atzmon's Racist Attack on Israeli anti-Zionist Moshe Machover

As Gilad Atzmon moves further and further down the road of anti-Semitism and away from any anti-Zionist critique, he focuses what passes for his ‘analysis’ on Professor Moshe Machover, an Israeli anti-Zionist living in London.

For those who don’t know, Machover founded Matzpen, the Socialist Organisation in Israel which he helped found in 1962. Machover has been an inspiration in his conviction and articulation of anti-Zionist politics. As such, he is an obvious target for the bile of Atzmon, who prefers the analysis and company of outright Zionists to that of Jewish anti-Zionists.

In his ‘Tribal Marxism for Dummies’ Atzmon achieves what many of us thought impossible. A new low. He informs us that with Israel’s war crimes now proven to the world ‘No one needs the odd kosher ‘righteous Jew’ to approve that this is indeed the case.’ Quite.

Moshe Machover is a secular Marxist as well as being Jewish, yet this doesn’t stop Atzmon from attacking his ‘tribally orientated pseudo-analytical vision of reality.’ After all ‘Jewish Marxism is very different from Marxism or socialism in general.’ An interesting thesis. Even Hitler might have had trouble with that one! The erudite Atzmon informs us that ‘While Marxism is a universal paradigm, its Jewish version is very different. It is there to mould Marxist dialectic into a Jewish subservient precept.’

The fact that Marxism is, above all, predicated on rationalism whereas religion, in all its manifestations is based on received wisdom and faith in the irrational is passed over. There is Marxism and Jewish Marxism. Leave aside that many of the founders of the Marxist and Communist tradition were themselves of Jewish origin, including Marx himself, what Atzmon is peddling is no more than an updated version of the idea that Marxism is a Jewish conspiracy to enslave the non-Jew.

But having told us that ‘Jewish Marxism’ is merely a ‘Judeo-centric pseudo intellectual setting which aims at political power.’ Atzmon informs us that Marxism in all its guises is irrelevant because there is ‘little in common’ between Gaza and Nablus today with 19th century Europe.' Atzmon in this phrase demonstrate his intellectual and philosophical prowess. The whole point of Marxism is that it is a tool of analysis and understanding that isn’t confined to one particular geographical area or era. Hence why it’s understanding of capitalism has laid bare the vacuity of New Labour with its ‘end to boom and bust’. Capitalism is nothing if not crisis ridden.

But I digress. ‘Jewish Marxists had a far more adventurous plan for Palestinians, Arab people and the region in general.’ They wanted all Arabs to become ‘cosmopolitan atheists’ and “drop ‘reactionary Islam’”. Of course Atzmon doesn’t deign to source or footnote his assertions, because that is all they are, the assertions of a conspiracy theorist who has all but lost touch with reality.

Atzmon takes particular exception to Machover’s unremarkable statement that Islamic anti-imperialism is ‘backward looking’. Of course any Marxist worth their salt would share the position that not only Islam, but all religion is backward looking and when it comes part of the ideology of an oppressed people it cannot but become a hindrance in terms of being able to appeal to a wider audience.

Hamas, which Atzmon flatters to deceive, is a good case in point. The attraction of Hamas to Palestinians was not because of their fundamentalist ideology but they represented an opposition to Zionism and the Israeli occupation which, unlike Fatah, had dined so long at the table of the ‘peace process’ that all they could look forward to was a few crumbs of comfort. Of course Hamas too is not without original sin. As Avi Shlaim and others have pointed out, Hamas was all but the creation of Israel’s secret police, Shin Bet, in the 1980’s as a counter-weight to secular Palestinian groups.

As is well known, Atzmon detests Moshe Machover because he represents everything he is not. Machoer never felt the need to swap one form of racism for another coming from a long tradition of Jewish opposition to racism. Atzmon comes from the tradition of Zionist racism, except that he has transferred that racism in the direction of other Jews, in particular anti-Zionist Jews. Hence his nonsensical statements that ‘Jewish Marxism is there to… stop scrutiny of Jewish power and Jewish lobbying.’ Note ‘Jewish Power’ not Zionist power or lobbying even. What Atzmon doesn’t tell us that this comes from someone who has swapped Jewish fundamentalism for Christian fundamentalism!

Unlike the good Atzmon ‘Machover’s reading of Zionism is pretty trivial.’ And what is the triviality that this genius of Jewish power detects? “ ‘Israel’, he says, is a ‘settler state’. For Machover this is a necessary point of departure because it defines Zionism as a colonialist expansionist project.”

And therein lies the rub. Atzmon being a plain vanilla anti-Semite rejects the idea that Israel is a product of the colonial era and is the only surviving example of a settler-colonial state. The idea that Zionist settlers came to dispossess, with the might of the British army to protect them, is anathema to Atzmon. It all happened because they were Jews! No doubt the oppression of the Irish was on account of the peculiar racial qualities of the British. But this is important to Atzmon because ‘As long as Zionism is conveyed as a colonial project, Jews, as a people, should be seen as ordinary people. They are no different from the French and the English, they just happen to run their deadly colonial project in a different time.’

Leaving aside Atzmon’s conflation of Jews and Zionists, this is the heart of Atzmon’s reactionary rejection of the colonial explanation. If it were all a matter of imperialism and colonialism then Jews might be seen as ‘ordinary people’ when we all know that they are the devil’s spawn.

But unfortunately Machover, when putting forward his tribal thesis forgot to take account of the Atzmon genius. ‘His entire premise can be demolished in a one simple move.’ And here is the killer punch. ‘If Israel is a ‘settler state’ as he says, one may wonder, what exactly is its ‘motherland? In British and French colonial eras, the settler states maintained a very apparent tie with their ‘motherland’. In some cases in history, the settler state broke from its motherland…. However, as far as we are aware, there is no ‘Jewish motherland’ that is intrinsically linked to the alleged ‘Jewish settler state…. The lack of material Jewish motherland leads to the immediate collapse of Machover’s colonial argument.’

Or so Atzmon hopes. Unfortunately his one semi-argument is itself built on sand. The essential feature of settler colonialism, except in its earliest phase, is not the tie to the motherland. Anyone in the least acquainted with the history of the white British colonies – Australia, Canada, the USA, South Africa – will be aware of one thing. As soon as the settlers have achieved critical mass and are able to go on to the offensive against the natives, then they begin to turn their minds to rebellion and revolt, or at the very least to loosening if not breaking those very same ties with the mother country. Hence why, by the beginning of the 20th Century, most of the white colonies had achieved a form of semi-independence, i.e. Dominion Status. This was in fact the demand until 1945 of Ghandi and Congress. In return for control over things like foreign and military affairs with ultimate constitutional power residing in the British Crown, the white settler states achieved home rule and de facto independence. Even the Irish Free State (Eire) was given Dominion status and therefore a place within the British Empire until 1945.

In fact Israel too had a mother country, in terms of a sponsor. It’s just that Atzmon knows nothing about the history of Zionism. That sponsor was Britain, which in 1917 issued the Balfour Declaration. Although the Zionists went to war with the British after 1945 this was not at all unique. In South Africa there was the Boer War. In the USA there was a War of Independence. In Rhodesia there was UDI under Ian Smith. And in South Africa a majority of the settlers didn’t even see Britain as a mother country and in the American colonies this also was true. And from 1945 onwards Israel replaced Britain with the United States as its sponsoring power.

But to Atzmon ‘it may be true that Zionism carries some colonial elements and yet, it is not a colonial project per se, for no one can present a material correspondence between Jewish ‘motherland’ and a Jewish ‘settler state’. The Jewish national project is unique in history and as it seems it doesn’t fit into any Marxist materialist explanation.’ Of course there is an obvious and gaping hole in what passes for Atzmon’s logic. Whether a state is a settler colonial state is not dependent on whether the colonists look towards a motherland. After all South Africa declared itself a republic in 1961. Australia is likely to do the same within the next decade. The American colonies did just that but in none of these cases did that prevent them from being settler-colonial states. Settler-colonialism is nothing more than settlers creating their own distorted class structures, including a settler working class, who colonised the land and either drove the indigenous population out, exterminated them or exploited them. The question of a motherland is in fact largely irrelevant.

But to the Jewish conspiracist Atzmon “Machover’s ‘settler state’ is just another Judeo Marxist spin that is there to divert the attention from the clear fact that Israel is the Jewish state.’ But of course. What is unique about Israel is not that it is the product of western imperialism but the fact that it is Jewish , even though what is being created is a Hebrew-speaking people whose primary difference from other peoples is their language. There is no other specificity.

Atzmon takes especial except to Machover’s claim that “Islam “is backward looking and inherently unable to deliver progress.” He sees it ‘important to make sure that every Muslim on this planet grasps that an Elder Jew Marxist from London is convinced that they should throw away their Qur’an.’ Note ‘Elder Jew’. Atzmon just loves paraphrasing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Hitler loved the book and it was a source of inspiration to the Nazis. It is likewise a source of metaphor and understanding to Atzmon. The fact that it is a forgery, something The Times discovered in 1921 is irrelevant.

One might have thought that Atzmon would pause to take on board the actions of the Islamic state of Iran and draw some conclusions from how it is doing to its own people what Israel is doing to the Palestinians. But no doubt Atzmon, like his mentor Israel Shamir, is fully supportive of Ahmedinajad’s open rigging of the elections, his attack on workers and students and his anti-gay (& anti-Arab) politics. To Atzmon, the most reactionary aspect of Hamas’s politics, its anti-working class practices, its elitism and patronage, is what appeals most. An anti-socialist organisation in the forefront of the resistance.

Now all socialists support the oppressed and when Hamas is under attack from Israel one defends it unconditionally. But when Hamas attacks fellow Palestinian trade unionists, women and democrats one opposes them. Such subtleties are too much for Atzmon to take in.

Indeed Atzmon gives every appearance of having got lost amidst the conspiracies. He praises Nick Griffin of the BNP, a good Zionist incidentally, for being ‘kind enough to offer ‘foreigners’ £50,000 to go back to their ‘homeland’,” whereas ‘our Kosher Marxist Machover is set to rob the indigenous of his belief on his land.’

Note the sleight of hand. The BNP merely want to expel the foreigner but at least he offers them some compensation! Machover is far worse. He wants to take away their belief in Islam, because in his fevered mind, all Palestinians are Islamicsts. Of course Palestinians are not the monolithic ideological bag carriers that Atzmon imagines them to be in a typically racist view of colonial peoples. Palestinians have many views about religion, as is appropriate to a people who have emulated the Jews of the diaspora in their devotion to education.

And continuing his ludicrous attempt to find a stick to beat Machover and ‘Jewish Marxism’ with he criticises the statement that equal rights are a precondition for resolving the conflict in Palestine. Apparently ‘Machover somehow failed to realise that the Jewish state is not going to willingly approve any form of equality, for Jewish political ideology does not succumb to the belief in human equality.’ I have a strong suspicion that Moshe Machover is all too aware that Israel is not going to concede equal rights without a fight! Name me a settler-colonial state which did!

As far as I know, Atzmon still rejects the idea that he is a racist. However it is clear beyond any doubt now that Atzmon is not only a reactionary politically but a racist as well. It is not, of course ‘Jewish political ideology’ that rejects human equality. This is the touchstone of all settler-colonial ideologies, be it Protestant Supremacy in Ireland, Afrikaaner and White nationalism in South Africa or the Jim Crow laws and segregation in the USA. In other words supremacism has nothing whatsoever to do with the inherent nature of any particular religious ideology. Religion may justify racism but it doesn’t cause it.

Atzmon takes particular exception to Machover’s call for the de-Zionisation of Israel. He informs us that ‘Machover, who doesn’t even live in Israel, believes that he can tell the Israelis in what kind of country they should live in.’ So applying this logic Atzmon too should shut up! Noone should have any view of anything outside their own anthill. No one is entitled to express any opinion about anything outside of their own lebensraum.

Atzmon also doesn’t like the call for a single state to be democratic and therefore secular. ‘Once again the Elder Jew Marxist… is telling the Palestinians and the Israelis that if they want to live together they better be secular. One should admit by now, it indeed takes some chutzpah to be a Judeo Marxist.’ Note the Nazi phrase ‘Judeo Marxist’ or as they preferred it ‘Judeo-Bolshevik’. Despite his protestations, Atzmon has moved another step down the road to becoming a fully fledged and open anti-Semite and neo-Nazi supporter. I don’t say he has reached that destination yet but ideologically that is the direction he is moving in. Quite why there is anything ‘Jewish’ in advocating secularism and seeing it as a pre-condition for the resolution of the Israeli Jewish-Palestinian conflict within the borders of one state is never explained. That the removal of religion from the confines of the state to the privacy of one’s home is an essential prerequisite for the liberation of all within Palestine doesn’t seem to have occurred to Atzmon, for whom the more ‘Islamic’ as opposed to ‘Jewish’ a state is the better.

For Atzmon ‘Islam is the rising force, whether our four Judeo Marxists like it or not, Hamas scored astunning win in the first Palestinian parliamentary election which it has taken part in.’ err yes. But why did they win? Anything to do with the quisling administration in Ramallah? Perish the thought. Atzmon supports them too!

And posing now as the potential saviour of the socialist movement, Atzmon intones that ‘the time may be ripe for Socialists and Marxists to save themselves from the Judeo political grip.’

What is interesting about this otherwise deadly dull and racist article, with its homage not only to religioud obscurantism, but the most backward elements within those religions, is that even on the Palestinian Sink Tank’s own pages, Atzmon has been criticised. His racist rant has been seen as completely over the top even by the Sink Tank’s usual Palestinian supporters. Even Mary Rizzo has come out with criticisms of Atzmon citing, in the comments section, the criticism of one Hussein Ibish of the colonial analysis. Ibish is an Arab American commentator who calls for the recognition of Israel, opposition to the Boycott and of course opposition to the idea that Israel might be a colonial entity. In other words in his search for allies Atzmon is forced to seek comfort from the most reactionary, quisling elements in Arab society.

This article is only interesting in that it pinpoints the trajectory that Atzmon is taking as he consorts openly with holocaust deniers such as Michelle Renouf, the only person to keep David Irving company through his libel trial battle with Penguin Books some years ago.

Almost unbelievable is the fact that the Socialist Workers Party, who are reputed to have dropped Atzmon, nonetheless still carry a statement by him Gilad Atzmon and Marxism 2005 denying that he is a holocaust denier or an anti-Semite. accessed 5.7.09.


  1. Please let me know. Do you like Ibish or not? Is he a valid resource or not? Is he just good to be quoted when he is on your same obsessed battle horse?

    You got a lot of mileage out of him a while ago, is he no longer on your friend list?

    Wasn't this from your fingertips? In 2001 an article, Serious Concerns About Israel Shamir by Ali Abunimah & Hussein Ibish stated that ‘We do not have any need for some of what Israel Shamir is introducing into the discourse on behalf of Palestinian rights, which increasingly includes elements of traditional European anti-Semitic rhetoric.’

  2. In other words in his search for allies Greenstein is forced to seek comfort from the most reactionary, quisling elements in Arab society.

  3. Of course any Marxist worth their salt would share the position that not only Islam, but all religion is backward looking and when it comes part of the ideology of an oppressed people it cannot but become a hindrance in terms of being able to appeal to a wider audience.

    You are welcome to advocate your (and Machover's) secular fundamentalist ideas, but please don't project your hatred of religion on "every marxist". Religion is not inherently "backward looking", some of it is, indeed often most of it is, but them most of everything is. And quite a few Marxists have been backward looking themselves. These are ignorant generalizations that classify and dismiss people based on social identity, and come close to, and often more than close to, racism.

    Nor is religion "a hindrance" any more than non-religion is. It isn't like materialist analysis, not to mention the willingness to get mobilized in pursuit of justice and liberty, are widely popular attitude among people who define themselves as "secular". If you think "secular" is "progressive" you need to get out more. This is lazy and arrogant. Perhaps you should do some penance for your sin of pride and make a blog entry about Gustavo Gutiérrez, or the work of Christian Peacemakers Team in Hebron.

    Respecting people who are different from you may be a better way to be appealing to a wider audience than blaming their not-getting-you on their difference.

    (PS. This is not an attack on the rest of the article, which to my mind is pretty obvious.)

  4. Levinsohn asks me whether I like Ibish. I've never met him. He's never been on my 'friend list'. What Ali Abunimah and Ibish wrote about Israel Shamir was, of course, spot on. And they were proved correct as Shamir became an open fascist and holocaust denier - Auschwitz was an internment camp and Leiberman was just fine!

    So the comment about seeking comfort from reactionary quisling elements in Arab society is just crap, since I have clearly criticised him and ironically you should say the same about Atzmon, who quotes Ibish approvingly when it comes to the colonial nature of Israel but ignores his and Abunimah's comments about Shamir!

    Evildoer's comments are more serious of course and I don't have time to do them justice. So quickly:

    i. Secularism is not a fundamentalist ideology because secularism really means the separation of religion from the State. Nothing more. Secularists therefore come in all shapes and sizes.

    2. Marxism is a means of understanding and analysis as well as a guide to action. That is why it is forward looking. Of course there are those, primarily but not only Stalinists, who look backward to a reified Soviet Union divorced from anything other than stage puppets.

    3. Religion can indeed be a hindrance. It can also be the medium through which people organise, as with the Shah of Iran. The danger is that its backward looking ideology, looking at a golden age of the Ummah etc. acts to chain people to the past socially whilst the society itself has all the trappings of modern society. Or to put it another way. In religious societies such as Saudi Arabia or Iran, religion legitimises the most reactionary and barbaric elements of that society in the repression they meet out in order to sanctify the operations of modern capitalism.

    This of course breeds corruption and hypocrisy, as the religious ideology becomes a tool in the hands of the ruling clique in order to ward of criticism.

    Not all those who are religious are fundamentalist and if I didn't make that clear in the article I am doing so now. There are those, the Christian Peacemakers of the Catholic Living Stones in Britain, under whose founder the late Father Michael Prior, I studied. They apply the best of the religion and its most humanistic aspects.

    Witness the debate between the univeralist rabbi Hillel and the authoritarian rabbi Shamai. But who does Zionism take as its guide? Not Hillel or the Prophets either. They prefer the Book of Joshua (the Book of Genocide).

    But I say this bearing in mind that the largest pro-Zionist lobby in the USA is not AIPAC or Jewish supporters of israel but the Christians for Zionism, who certainly are biblical fundamentalists with their Revelations and Rapture.

  5. Atzmon deliberately conflates Islmist politics with Islam and all Muslims.

    This is exactly what he does with Jewish people and zionism.

    There is no such thing as an Islamic monolithic worldview anymore than there is a Jewish monolithic worldview.

    In fact, what Atzmon claims of Muslims and Islam is exactly what the likes of Melanie Philips, Harry's Place blog and the rest of the grotesque Islamophobes claim about Islam and Muslims.

    Great article and great comment by evildoer.

    I'll get back to TGB with some more observations later if I may.

    Just to chime in with evildoer's observations that not all secular politics are progressive, even those on the Left, but which claim the article by Hisham Bustani deploys in order to allege that us western lefties are arrogant and racist - I can recommend lenin of Lenin's Tomb first book (and hopefully not his last) -
    The Liberal Defence of Murder

  6. Secularism is not a fundamentalist ideology because secularism really means the separation of religion from the State. Nothing more. Secularists therefore come in all shapes and sizes.

    You are right but for the wrong reason. Secularism isn't fundamentalist per se because it isn't a "return to the original text." (and that is why radical Shiite Islam is also not fundamentalist btw). I was using the term facetiously, my apologies, as a synonym for "fanatic." And I do consider secularism today, the idea that religion is a malignant force, a fanatic ideology.

    Besides, I support the separation of religion from the state in order to safeguard religion from the malignant influence of the state, not in order to defend the state from religion; the state can get lost.

  7. In religious societies such as Saudi Arabia or Iran, religion legitimises the most reactionary and barbaric elements of that society in the repression they meet out in order to sanctify the operations of modern capitalism.

    It is important to understand how politics and religion intersect in any particular configuration. But this is not what you are doing. Instead of a serious analysis, you offer anti-religious prejudice.

    Any ideology that can mobilize people can be turned against them, the same way any knife that can cut a salad can cut a throat. Bait and switch is not unique to religion. Wasn't the promise of (earthly) paradise also used to enable the most barbaric and reactionary elements of actually existing socialism? Is feminism inherently "backward looking" because Laura Bush used it to justify bombing Afghanistan?

    Any political analysis opens space for both reactionary and progressive forces. This is the great fetish of politics, the thing we are not allowed to acknowledge in our quest for the political holy grail, a politics so pure that it can only move us forward. But that is as likely to exist as a knife that only cuts salad. Marxism is an excellent analytical toolbox. Over the long term it has proven a lousy mobilizer. The big religions have been much better at mobilizing people, but as an analytical toolkit is has been far less impressive. Both have been very good at cutting our own throat with. So let's respect these complex legacies (to which I hardly do justice here) without prejudice and without phony "patriotism" (my language is better than yours because I use it).

  8. My advice to Gilad Atzmon is to paraphrase Frank Zappa -- 'Shut up and play your saxophone.'

  9. I admire Atzmon and own his albums, but I am afraid he is full of crap, and therefore I keep my distance. I don't think anti-semitism is any kind of threat nowadays, but wishing to resurrect it is evidence of political reaction and a retrogressive mentality. Moshé is an honourable man, tireless in the defence of Palestinian rights, and to call him a "Judaeobolshevik" is ridiculous and doesn't stand a moment's examination. Atzmon separates Karl Marx, whom he admires, from "Judaeobolshevism" when Marx himself was a secular Jew. It doesn't make any sense at all.


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