I oppose the ban on Atzmon not only because it's an attack on artistic freedom but because it's aimed at upholding not opposing racism
Gilad Atzmon has been banned by Islington Council from playing a jazz concert with the Blockheads under the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. Yet the IHRA policy itself is both racist and anti-semitic. Ipso facto any ban enacted under it can only be aimed at supporting and entrenching racism and anti-semitism.
I recently wrote about the disparity in sentencing between Israeli Jews and non-Jews in Israel. An Israeli, Evyatar Damari, who was part of a lynch mob that killed an Eritrean refugee, Haftom Zarhum, in Beer Sheba's bus station received 4 months imprisonment. That was the most severe sentence. Most of the lynch mob either received community service or in the case of members of the prison service were simply not prosecuted.
I contrasted this with 16 year old Ahed Tamimi whose cousin, half an hour before, had been shot in the head by a plastic bullet. Ahed slapped a soldier who invaded the grounds of her house. She received an 8 months sentence and the Education Minister, Naftali Bennett suggested she should spend the rest of her days in prison.
Yet if I call this racist then according to the IHRA misdefinition of anti-semitism, which states that calling Israel a 'racist endeavour' is itself anti-semitic, it is me who is anti-Semitic. Not only is the IHRA racist but in suggesting that Jews support Israeli racism it is also anti-Semitic. Yet this is the policy that is being used to ban Gilad Atzmon. Clearly he isn't being banned on anti-racist grounds.
The Board of Deputies which opposes Atzmon's antisemitism is wholeheartedly in favour of Israeli snipers mowing down unarmed Palestinians - it sees no contradiction
Noone has been a greater critic of Atzmon over the years than me. Nearly 12 years ago I wrote one of the first critiques of Atzmon’s anti-Semitism, The Seamy Side of Solidarity in the Guardian’s Comment is Free, at a time when the Guardian wasn’t afraid of debating issues such as Zionism. I also organised a picket of Jews Against Zionism in June 2005 when Atzmon came to talk on Otto Weininger at the SWP’s Bookmarks.
|Salvador Dalli was an admirer of Zionism, which he saw as a kindred spirit|
My blog was initially set up in order to combat the pernicious influence of Atzmon in the Palestine solidarity movement. I have written dozens of articles analysing why Atzmon’s writings are both anti-Semitic and unhelpful to the struggle for Palestinian liberation. I produced A Guide to the Sayings of Gilad Atzmon, the anti-Semitic jazzman and in a review of his book The Wandering Who I described it as Worthless and Devoid of All OriginalityOther articlesincludedGilad Atzmon Comes Out - Now an open anti-Semite. I penned a number of articles in Weekly Worker such as Time to say goodbye. Atzmon was not reticent in attacking me either, e.g. The Green(stein)-Eyed Monster.
In a debate with Atzmon, which has been widely quoted, I demonstrated how he was undoubtedly anti-Semitic and sympathetic to the arguments of holocaust denier Paul Eisen. During the course of this debate Atzmon described Eisen’s Holocaust Wars, which was paean to Ernst Zundel, an open Hitler worshipper, as ‘a great text’.
|Salvador Dalli's Theatre/Museum at Figueres - Perhaps this too is not kosher?|
You might therefore think that I would welcome the decision by Islington Council to ban Atzmon from playing a concert. I don’t. My objection was always to Atzmon’s politics. I have never objected to his music. Although jazz is not my preferred musical form I recognise that Atzmon is a brilliant performer. For example he won the BBC Jazz Record of the Year in 2003 with Exile. Nor is he a fascist like many of his detractors.
It is utterly indefensible as well as being undemocratic to ban Atzmon’s music. It fits in well with the police state methods of the Israeli state which recently gaoled an Israeli Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour for writing a poem. This is the same Israeli state which does nothing and says nothing when hundreds of Israeli Jews add ‘death to the Arabs’ to their twitter id.
|The Jewish Chronicle's opposition to the antisemitic Atzmon does not apply to the racism of Zionism|
The ban on Atzmon has nothing to do with anti-racism and is part of the Zionist attack on freedom of speech for Palestinians and anti-Zionists in Britain. To support it or say nothing is to give comfort to the racist supporters of the Israeli state.
The Article I wrote on Why Atzmon is Antisemitic
The ban on Atzmon is nothing less than cultural McCarthyism. It is wrong in principle. When you prevent someone performing because you disagree with their politics it is a slippery road to an authoritarian state. Perhaps we should ban T.S. Elliot’s poetry and Wasteland since Elliot was, without doubt, anti-Semitic. Maybe we should also ban the works of Ezra Pound who was far worse and a sympathiser with the Nazis. Undoubtedly we should ban anything connected with Salvador Dalli since he supported Franco and Hitler. [See When The Surrealists Expelled Salvador Dalí for “the Glorification of Hitlerian Fascism” (1934)] I confess here to having recently visited his theatre-museum in Figueres and found it thoroughly enjoyable (and also learnt that he was something of a Zionist – not unusual in fascist circles).
|Salvador Dalli's Museum/Theatre at|
For those doubting Thomases and professional searchers after anti-Semitism in the Jewish Labour Movement and other racist circles we should also ban Charles Dickens. Fagin, who ran a school of pick pockets, is perhaps the most notorious of all Jewish characters in English literature. In 1854 the Jewish Chronicle asked of Dickens why "Jews alone should be excluded from the 'sympathizing heart' of the author.
|My review of Atzmon's Wandering Who|
Dickens was a racist who also supported the infamous Governor Eyre, who declared Martial Law in Jamaica when there was a Black rebellion in 1865. Over 400 were hanged and 600 flogged (including women). This caused a massive controversy with Darwin on one side and Dickens alongside the white colonists and Tennyson.
And if the ban on Gilad Atzmon stands then we should definitely ban Shakespeare from the syllabus because there is no doubt that the Merchant of Venice with his pound of flesh is also anti-Semitic. Some people even believe that we should rewrite the Merchant of Venice and for good measure we should also ban Wagner’s music.
|There is no love lost between Atzmon and myself but principles are somewhat more important|
This is the cultural philistinism and barbarism that wretches like the Jewish Labour Movement’s Adam Langleben would have us indulge. The JLM, which is calling for the whip to be withdraw from Chris Williamson MP, whom it terms a ‘Jew baiter’ because he initially opposed the ban on Atzmon, is a group that has war criminal Ivor Caplin, a Defence Minister in Blair’s government at the time of the Iraqi invasion, as its Chair. At least Atzmon doesn’t have the blood of thousands of innocent people on his hands but Langleben, Caplin et al would have Atzmon’s music, which has hurt no one, banned.
‘This is the cultural philistinism and barbarism that wretches like the Jewish Labour Movement’s Adam Langleben would have us indulge.’
Whereas the Nazis banned books, the Zionists would ban music. As Heinrich Heine presciently remarked, those who burn books later burn people. The same is true of those who would ban Atzmon. There is a debate over politics and art but it is not one that the Langlebens and Caplins would even begin to understand.
|Chris Williamson wasn't aware of Atzmon's antisemitism but nonetheless he is wrong to support a ban|
The relationship between the artist and what they produce has always been a difficult and controversial one. Artists can create great music and art despite themselves because of the influence of society in all its forms upon them. Their art is greater than them. Art and culture does not belong to the individual who created it but the society in which it is created.
Artists often create what they do despite their own politics and preferences. To expect that only politically correct artists or musicians will produce acceptable music or art is a form of cultural barbarism that reminds one of the Stalinist concept of socialist realism and art as a function of politics. The Nazis and Hitler in particular had a similar attitude to what they termed ‘degenerate’ art.
The reality is that people like Bob Dylan produced great music not because of their own intrinsic worthiness but because of the impact of the wider society upon them and their ability to synthesise that music into the moods of the time. The genius of Dylan’s music is despite his worthlessness as an individual.
The attempt to ban Atzmon should be laughed out of court but given the intellectual poverty of the Labour Party’s Zionist witchunters and its machine politicians with their endorsement of the incoherent fulminations of the IHRA, the decision of Islington Council has not met with any substantive criticism. People have been intimidated. Even Chris Williamson has been forced to row back and apologise for his initial opposition to the ban when apprised of Atzmon’s anti-Semitism.
This campaign is utterly hypocritical. Atzmon’s anti-Semitism is not dangerous to Jews. Atzmon’s nonsense is a danger to Palestinians. That was why Ali Abunimah and other Palestinians issued a statement Granting No Quarter: A Call for the Disavowal of the Racism and Antisemitism of Gilad Atzmon because it tarnishes their struggle. ‘Anti-Semitism’ today is primarily either verbal or on social media. Noone has died because of a Tweet or Facebook post.
What anti-Semitism exists today is either on social media or a reaction to Israel’s murderous barbarities. Where anti-Semitism does have strong social roots, as in areas of Eastern Europe – Poland, Hungary – then one finds that these regimes are the best friends of Israel! Indeed the absurdity is that it is European’s far-Right governments which are the strongest supporters of the IHRA, e.g. the neo-Nazi Freedom Party in Austria’s Government. Indeed Israel has been arming the neo-Nazi Azov Batalion in the Ukraine.
In reality Atzmon, who sees Zionism as the authentic expression of being Jewish, is a Zionist who doesn’t like what Zionism has become. Unfortunately he expresses his dislike in anti-Semitic terms thus reinforcing Zionism. That is why he spends most of his time attacking Jewish anti-Zionists like me! I fully agree with the statement of Ali Abunimah and the other Palestinians. That is also why I disagree with this stupid, reactionary and counter-productive ban.
Jazz saxophonist and writer Gilad Atzmon was recently banned from playing at an assembly hall in Islington, a borough of London, by order of the Islington Town Council. This came about as a result of an e-mail from one person – Martin Rankoff – saying nothing more than that if Atzmon was going to be at the venue on December 21 he would give a ticket that was given to him to someone else.
Rankoff wrote, “Mr Atzmon’s news and beliefs I personally find repulsive and do not wish to be in the same place as him, let alone listen to his music.” Rankoff included links to ADL and Israeli news outlets accusing Atzmon of antisemitism. Incredibly, on the basis of this letter alone, the Islington Council went way out of its way and contacted the show’s promoter to get Atzmon banned—something Rankoff didn’t even ask for.
Imagine the situation in reverse: Gilad Atzmon writes a letter to the Council saying he is uncomfortable with Martin Rankoff appearing in the audience at Islington assembly hall. He refers to Mr. Rankoff’s pro-Israel Twitter page where Rankoff calls Jeremy Corbyn “A F***ing Antisemite and Racist” and where Corbyn is pictured on a bike with a comment suggesting Corbyn should be rammed by a car. Atzmon says that he doesn’t feel safe with Rankoff in the audience. He finds Mr. Rankoff’s support for Israel repulsive because Israel was founded on genocide against the people of Palestine. As proof he provides links to news reports on the slaughter of unarmed protestors in Gaza since March 30, 2018, and a story on the Deir Yassin massacre of 1948.
This imaginary second complaint would have been scorned as an abridgement of Rankoff’s rights. Indeed, since the Islington Council has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, in which criticism of Israel is deemed antisemitic, the Council would probably feel obliged to forward the letter to the authorities as evidence of hate speech.
The Council provided a statement on the banning in which it says:
“under the Equality Act 2010, the Council must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to foster good relations between different races and religions within the borough. The Council took account of the fact that Mr Atzmon’s presence at the Hall, and knowledge of his presence among residents of the borough, might harm such relationships, as well as the Council’s duty to tackle prejudice and promote understanding within the borough.”
This begs the question — in what way would either the “presence” of Gilad Atzmon or “knowledge of his presence among residents” harm the relationship between different races and religions in the borough? Atzmon was to appear at the venue as a saxophone player in a jazz group. It’s hard to imagine a more severe inversion of the concept of discrimination. On the basis of the feelings of one complainant, the right of a musician to work or even be present in Islington is taken away.
What lies behind this is a familiar tactic. Zionists have no argument to counter critics of Israel, so they try to shut them up by attacking their character and robbing them of their livelihood. Now AIPAC and other lobbies are working to make it illegal to criticize Israel, as we see in the recent case of a Texas speech therapist whose yearly contract was denied because she refused to sign a pledge not to support a boycott of Israel. One might ask, what does a teaching position in Pflugerville, Texas have to do with one’s opinions about a country seven thousand miles away? And why does that country have the right to compel anyone in the US to sign a loyalty oath?
If the BDS movement doesn’t do it, zealotry and fanatacism will be the undoing of the Zionist project. People don’t like being told what they are allowed to think and say. When our words and thoughts are policed, it makes us question all the more. What were once decent leftist positions against racism and discrimination have been twisted into a new kind of totalitarianism, one in which it is racist to question the racist, and discriminatory to question discrimination; one in which we are told to think something doesn’t exist when we can see with our own eyes that it does. The self-righteous members of the Islington Town Council have set a very dangerous precedent, and have been used as fools on top of it.