31 August 2018

Debating with Gilad Atzmon, the anti-Semitic Jazzman

For both anti-Semites and Zionists, to be a Jew is to be a Zionist

Just because 99% of supporters of the Palestinians are anti-racist it doesn’t mean that occasionally a supporter of the Palestinians is found to be anti-Semitic. Gilad Atzmon, a former Israeli Jew is one such person.  My first encounter with him was way back in 2005 when he wrote informing me Paul Eisen, that a Holocaust Denier, had written a ‘great text’ entitled Jewish Power and describing a Swedish fascist and resident of Israel, Israel Shamir, as a ‘unique and advanced thinker.’  
Eisen, the British director of the now-defunct Deir Yassin Remembered, went on to publish such insightful essays as Why I Call Myself a Holocaust Denier.  Shamir has gone one better.  In Who Needs Holocaust? he described Auschwitz as an 'internment facility, attended by the Red Cross’. Lest this be thought of as guilt-by-association Atzmon has also questioned whether the Holocaust has occurred'
Pictured here is Israeli Marxist Moshe Machover - Atzmon has developed a unique concept of Jewish as opposed to non-Jewish Marxism!
In Truth, History and Integrity Atzmon described how
‘It took me years to accept that the Holocaust narrative, in its current form, doesn’t make any historical sense. ... If, for instance, the Nazis wanted the Jews out of their Reich (Judenrein - free of Jews), or even dead, as the Zionist narrative insists, how come they marched hundreds of thousands of them back into the Reich at the end of the war? 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 to ask the necessary questions. We should ask for some conclusive historical evidence and arguments rather than follow a religious narrative... 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.’
Atzmon went on to ask
‘65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz we should reclaim our history and ask why? Why were the Jews hated? Why did European people  stand up against their next door neighbours? Why are the Jews hated in the Middle East, surely they had a chance to open a new page in their troubled history?’
When I challenged him on this passage Atzmon retorted that this essay had been integrated into his book The Wandering Who and if it had suggested Holocaust denial then ‘the book would’ve been  banned and I’d have been arrested” when he set foot in Germany since Holocaust denial is illegal there. What Atzmon omitted to say was that everything before ‘65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz..’ had been omitted from the book!
Blowing his own trumpet
In 2005 Jews Against Zionism held a picket outside the SWP’s Bookmarx shop when Atzmon was invited to speak to the collective faithful.  I have published a number of articles on Atzmon such as Guide to the Sayings of Gilad Atzmon and Time to say goodbye.
In mid-July Tony Gosling, who hosts a community radio station in Bristol invited me to debate Atzmon for the first time on a programme. Despite finding it difficult at times to hear everything he said, it was clear why Ali Abunimah, Omar Barghouti, Professor Joseph Massad and many other Palestinians had issued a joint statement Granting No Quarter: A Call for the Disavowal of the Racism and Antisemitism of Gilad Atzmon six years ago. (see below for statement).
From the Palestinian Ali Abunimah to the Zionist Alan Dershowitz everyone is out to get Atzmon
Atzmon’s paints all those who are what he calls politically Jewish as one and the same.  To him, regardless of whether your are an anti-Zionist or a Zionist if you are what he terms politically Jewish you are all the same. He takes particular exception to Jewish groups which are formed to oppose Zionism.  This is apparently a specific example of Jewish supremacy.
Atzmon is one of those few anti-Semites who opposes Israel, not because it is a settler-colonial state but because it is Jewish. Historically most anti-Semites supported the idea of a Jewish state as it was an ideal place to send all their unwanted Jews.
Throughout the debate Atzmon insisted that he cannot be anti-Semitic because he never mentions the word 'race', even though he consistently accuses anti-Zionist Jews of being 'racially oriented.'  It is clear to me that if you assert that all Jews are Zionists, i.e. politically the same, because they are Jewish, then you are invoking an anti-Semitic stereotype which says that all Jews share the same beliefs and opinions because they are Jewish. It is clearly as assertion of race by any other name.
In Not in My Name Atzmon declares that

By contrast, I really do not understand those who fight Zionism in the name of their secular Jewish identity. I have never understood them. I have never really understood what secularism means for the Jewish people.... To demand that Jews disapprove of Zionism in the name of their Jewish identity is to accept the Zionist philosophy. To resist Zionism as a secular Jew involves an acceptance of basic Zionist terminology, that is to say, a surrendering to Jewish racist and nationalist philosophy. 
As Atzmon conceded in the debate, Jewish identity is not and never has been fixed.  The idea that Jewish identity can only take the form of Zionism or Orthodox Judaism is an essentialist view of what it is to be Jewish.  In stating that to be Jewish is to be a Zionist Atzmon mirrors what Zionist ideologues themselves say. To say, as Atzmon says above that to oppose Zionism as a Jew is to accept basic Zionist terminology only makes sense if you accept that being Jewish and Zionist are interchangeable.

In Saying NO to the Hunters of Goliath Atzmon repeats a theme that he is particularly fond of.  The Jews were exterminated by the Nazis because they were ‘unpopular’. Nothing to do with fascism, racism, the need for a scapegoat.  And now Israel is ‘at least as unpopular in the Middle East as their grandparents were in Europe just six decades ago.’ In other words it not because Israel is a settler colonial state, rather Jews behave badly wherever they are. After all Israel is a Jewish state and being Jewish is a timeless quality. Atzmon wrote that:
Jews are now more than welcome in Germany and in Europe, yet, the Jewish state and the sons of Israel are at least as unpopular in the Middle East as their grandparents were in Europe just six decades ago. Seemingly, it is the personification of WW2 and the Holocaust that blinded the Israelis and their supporters from internalising the real meaning of the conditions and the events that led towards their destruction in the first place.
In the present climate when false accusations are the principal weapon of the Labour Right and the Zionists in their attempt to remove Jeremy Corbyn from the leadership of the Labour Party, then people like Atzmon can point to what is happening as an example of what he calls ‘Jewish Power.’

Granting No Quarter: A Call for the Disavowal of the Racism and Antisemitism of Gilad Atzmon

For many years now, Gilad Atzmon, a musician born in Israel and currently living in the United Kingdom, has taken on the self-appointed task of defining for the Palestinian movement the nature of our struggle, and the philosophy underpinning it. He has done so through his various blogs and Internet outlets, in speeches, and in articles. He is currently on tour in the United States promoting his most recent book, entitled, ‘The Wandering Who.’
With this letter, we call for the disavowal of Atzmon by fellow Palestinian organizers, as well as Palestine solidarity activists, and allies of the Palestinian people, and note the dangers of supporting Atzmon’s political work and writings and providing any platforms for their dissemination. We do so as Palestinian organizers and activists, working across continents, campaigns, and ideological positions.
Atzmon’s politics rest on one main overriding assertion that serves as springboard for vicious attacks on anyone who disagrees with his obsession with “Jewishness”. He claims that all Jewish politics is “tribal,” and essentially, Zionist. Zionism, to Atzmon, is not a settler-colonial project, but a trans-historical “Jewish” one, part and parcel of defining one’s self as a Jew. Therefore, he claims, one cannot self-describe as a Jew and also do work in solidarity with Palestine, because to identify as a Jew is to be a Zionist. We could not disagree more. Indeed, we believe Atzmon’s argument is itself Zionist because it agrees with the ideology of Zionism and Israel that the only way to be a Jew is to be a Zionist.
Palestinians have faced two centuries of orientalist, colonialist and imperialist domination of our native lands. And so as Palestinians, we see such language as immoral and completely outside the core foundations of humanism, equality and justice, on which the struggle for Palestine and its national movement rests. As countless Palestinian activists and organizers, their parties, associations and campaigns, have attested throughout the last century, our struggle was never, and will never be, with Jews, or Judaism, no matter how much Zionism insists that our enemies are the Jews. Rather, our struggle is with Zionism, a modern European settler colonial movement, similar to movements in many other parts of the world that aim to displace indigenous people and build new European societies on their lands.
We reaffirm that there is no room in this historic and foundational analysis of our struggle for any attacks on our Jewish allies, Jews, or Judaism; nor denying the Holocaust; nor allying in any way shape or form with any conspiracy theories, far-right, orientalist, and racist arguments, associations and entities. Challenging Zionism, including the illegitimate power of institutions that support the oppression of Palestinians, and the illegitimate use of Jewish identities to protect and legitimize oppression, must never become an attack on Jewish identities, nor the demeaning and denial of Jewish histories in all their diversity.
Indeed, we regard any attempt to link and adopt antisemitic or racist language, even if it is within a self-described anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist politics, as reaffirming and legitimizing Zionism. In addition to its immorality, this language obscures the fundamental role of imperialism and colonialism in destroying our homeland, expelling its people, and sustaining the systems and ideologies of oppression, apartheid and occupation. It leaves one squarely outside true solidarity with Palestine and its people.
The goal of the Palestinian people has always been clear: self determination. And we can only exercise that inalienable right through liberation, the return of our refugees (the absolute majority of our people) and achieving equal rights to all through decolonization. As such, we stand with all and any movements that call for justice, human dignity, equality, and social, economic, cultural and political rights. We will never compromise the principles and spirit of our liberation struggle. We will not allow a false sense of expediency to drive us into alliance with those who attack, malign, or otherwise attempt to target our political fraternity with all liberation struggles and movements for justice.
As Palestinians, it is our collective responsibility, whether we are in Palestine or in exile, to assert our guidance of our grassroots liberation struggle. We must protect the integrity of our movement, and to do so we must continue to remain vigilant that those for whom we provide platforms actually speak to its principles.
When the Palestinian people call for self-determination and decolonization of our homeland, we do so in the promise and hope of a community founded on justice, where all are free, all are equal and all are welcome.
Until liberation and return.
Ali Abunimah
Naseer Aruri, Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
Omar Barghouti, human rights activist
Hatem Bazian, Chair, American Muslims for Palestine
Andrew Dalack, National Coordinating Committee, US Palestinian Community Network
Haidar Eid, Gaza
Nada Elia, US Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
Toufic Haddad
Kathryn Hamoudah
Adam Hanieh, Lecturer, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London
Mostafa Henaway, Tadamon! Canada
Monadel Herzallah, National Coordinating Committee, US Palestinian Community Network
Nadia Hijab, author and human rights advocate
Andrew Kadi
Hanna Kawas, Chair person, Canada Palestine Association and Co-Host Voice of Palestine
Abir Kobty, Palestinian blogger and activist
Joseph Massad, Professor, Columbia University, NY
Danya Mustafa, Israeli Apartheid Week US National Co-Coordinator & Students for Justice in Palestine- University of New Mexico
Dina Omar, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine
Haitham Salawdeh, National Coordinating Committee, US Palestinian Community Network
Sobhi Samour, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London
Khaled Ziada, SOAS Palestine Society, London
Rafeef Ziadah, poet and human rights advocate

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