Gilad Atzmon: what you see is what you get
15 November 2011
Gilad Atzmon is an ex-Israeli jazz musician whose new book, The Wandering Who? is quite probably the most antisemitic book published in this country in recent years.
As a result of this book, Atzmon spoke last week at Exeter University, at a meeting organised by the Friends of Palestine society (FOP). Next week, he is due to speak at the 'Raise Your Banners' festival in Bradford.
The Exeter University meeting was - according to an advert on Atzmon's website - co-organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign; presumably the local branch, as the national PSC have condemned Atzmon, although at the end of his talk Atzmon thanked PSC as well as FOP. The Bradford festival is part-funded by the Arts Council and the Co-operative Membership, and will take place at the Kala Sangam Centre - itself supported by the Arts Council and Bradford District Council.
Those organisations who host Atzmon, and the bodies who support them financially, should be aware that their platforms and support will be used by Atzmon to make the kind of grossly offensive and anti-Jewish statements usually only heard at neo-Nazi meetings. They need to consider whether this is an appropriate use of their facilities and funding, and whether they want to be associated with his views. This post will give examples of what he is likely to say in any public talk that he gives.
- Criticism of "Jewishness", not just Zionism or Israel
It is a mistake to think that Atzmon's work is a critique of Israel of Zionism. He makes it very clear that his critique is of what he calls "Jewishness". For example, in this interview with Argusoog Radio, a fringe online radio show in Holland:
Jewishness means supremacy and chauvinism and chosenness, and when it comes to Jewishness I am not a Jew because I am not a follower of Judaism...I deal mainly with Jewishness. What is Jewishness? Jewishness is different forms of tribally or racially oriented supremacy."
This theme of "Jewish Supremacy" is a constant in Atzmon's writing. In another article, he claims that "every single Jewish political discourse" is "either already supremacist or on the verge of becoming supremacist."
The idea of "Jewish supremacism" is most commonly associated with American neo-Nazi and former Klan leader David Duke, who wrote a book of that name. Unsurprisingly, Duke has expressed his admiration for Atzmon's writings.
Atzmon also insists that any critique of Zionism or Israel only deals with the symptoms of a deeper problem, which is "Jewishness". For example, in the Q&A session after his talk at Exeter University, he said (audio here):
Israel must be, if you want to be politically correct, must be de-zionised, first, it must be de-zionised, but if you want to tell the truth it must be de-jewdified.
- Praising "self-hatred" of Jews
The phrase 'self-hating Jew' is an insult usually used as a pejorative description of Jewish anti-Zionists. Atzmon actually embraces this description for himself. On p.73 of The Wandering Who? (and also here) Atzmon describes himself as "a proud self-hating Jew." He has written elsewhere (in the comments here):
It is not a coincidence that the great Jews who contributed to humanity and humanism (Jesus, Spinoza, Marx, Simone Weill and others) were self-haters.
Asked why he is a self-hater, Atzmon stresses that he is in good company. "The Jews who ultimately contributed to humanity are those who hated themselves," he says in an interview. "Jesus was a self hater, and so were Spinoza and Marx."
In other words, Jews who do not hate themselves - Jews who have a positive Jewish identity - do not contribute to humanity. Indeed, according to Atzmon positive Jewish identity is a form of racist supremacism that endangers the world.
- In the future, people may think Hitler was right
Atzmon argues, in his book and in his talks, that events in the Middle East may follow a hypothetical future path that leads people to conclude that Hitler may have been right about the Jews. For example, on p.179 of The Wandering Who? Atzmon discusses the possibility of nuclear war between Israel and Iran, and then writes:
I guess that amongst the survivors of such a nightmare scenario, some may be bold enough to argue that Hitler might have been right after all.
He repeated this idea in this talk to students at Exeter University. Free speech is an important commodity at a university, but, in the balance between that and safeguarding the well-being of its students, it should not extend to the idea that Hitler may have been right about Jews.
- Support for Holocaust Deniers
If you look for instance at the Jewish academics looking into the notion of the Holocaust, the history of the Holocaust, the research is really lacking. I think that the Holocaust must be looked again and again and again and again and as it happens, actually the only people who are doing it are actually Revisionists."
Atzmon also flirts with Holocaust Denial himself. For example, in his interview with Ynet, Atzmon said:
the [Nazi] death marches were actually humane.
- Crude racist humour
Atzmon used the Holocaust-mocking title "Swindler's List" for chapter 15 of The Wandering Who? He uses crude jokes about Jews in his public talks too. For example (via Harry's Place), just last month at a talk in Norway, Atzmon told this joke:
Nobody speaks about throwing the Jews to the sea.
No no. No. And its not fair on the sea as well. I never thought of that one
Atzmon claims that he is not antisemitic, because he does not base his views on race or ethnicity and he exempts certain types of Jews from his criticisms. But as the above examples show, any talk he gives is likely to include many components of contemporary antisemitism: the idea that Jewish identity is racist; that collective Jewish behaviour is a negative force in society; that Holocaust Deniers are ethical people doing valuable work; that the future may show the Holocaust in a different light; and that Jewish sensitivities about antisemitism should be mocked. Because of this, he has been condemned as antisemitic by Jewish and non-Jewish anti-Zionists as well as mainstream Jewish organisations. This is not simply a case of harsh disagreements over Israeli policy.
If somebody else made similar comments about Muslim identity, or black British identity, they would be generally condemned as Islamophobic or racist. We see no reason why Gilad Atzmon should be treated any differently. It is entirely plausible that audience members, after hearing his ideas, will develop hostile attitudes towards the Jewish Society in their Student Union, or their local Jewish school, or active members of Jewish communities up and down the country. Anybody considering giving Gilad Atzmon a platform to spread these views, needs to ask themselves whether they want to help facilitate the spread of anti-Jewish hostility in this country.