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The Vindication of Gilad Atzmon

Gilad Atzmon_DSC0108b

Gilad Atzmon

I publish below the introduction by Gilad Atzmon to a review of his book The Wandering Who by Norton Mezvinsky, the highly respected Jewish anti-Zionist professor and co-author (with the late Israel Shahak, the celebrated Israeli fighter for Arab rights) of Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel. The review is critical, and attempts to address various perceived problems with Atzmon’s work, all of which helps advance the cause of rational political debate on the questions Atzmon raises about world politics and the Middle East. Indeed it could be regarded in some ways, not as a demolition of Atzmon’s work by any means, but as a much more challenging criticism from a generally politically fraternal perspective than virtually any other progressive critique, including my own modest effort. Mezvinsky is not a Marxist, but on questions connected with Jews and Judaism he really knows of what he speaks. He is undoubtedly one of the most prominent authorities on this particular subject alive today

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Lib-Dem and Labour Zionists purge Jenny Tonge

Jenny Tonge

Jenny Tonge, the Liberal Democrat peer, has been driven out of the party for her outspoken defence of the Palestinians. She was effectively sacked after speaking at a meeting at Middlesex University, where she was quoted as saying the following:”Beware Israel. Israel is not going to be there for ever in its present form… Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown.”

She allegedly went on to say: “One day, the American people are going to say to the Israel lobby in the USA: enough is enough.”

She was immediately denounced by Labour leader Ed Miliband in a tweet where he said: “No place in politics for people who question existence of state of Israel. Nick Clegg must condemn Jenny Tonge’s remark and demand apology”.

Clegg did just what Miliband demanded, but to her great credit she refused to apologise for her opinions. And so the Lib Dems, previously the least Zionist- influenced of the three main parties in British politics, ran up the white flag before the Zionist lobby by purging their most outspoken defender of Palestinian rights.

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The Jewish Question and Racial Oppression today

Jewish Children Liberated from Auschwitz, 1945

Palestinian Prisoners of Israeli Army

One reason why the years-long controversy over Gilad Atzmon has generated such rancour, and why conflicts related to it such as the recent purge of ‘anti-semites’ from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign have been so bitter, is because they threaten to re-open the Jewish question. There was a time when the Jewish question was a matter of considerable debate and public controversy among those seeking greater democracy and social and economic equality. Witness Marx’s celebrated essay The Jewish Question, among many others.

It was of course, also a subject of dispute among those with the opposite aims as well. But since WWII the Jewish question has not really been explored as previously. It is as if the Nazi genocide set a seal on it and made it one of those questions that had been ‘decided’, notwithstanding controversies around Israel which often involved major debates but which were ultimately considered to be something confined to the Middle East region. But now the decline of Israel’s moral authority, and the threat it poses to ‘world peace’, and crucially the nature of its worldwide support, means the Jewish question must be addressed again. 

Re-opening it is not something that can be done lightly; the nature of the Jewish people and its historical role is intertwined with some of the most tragic and barbaric events in human history. It contains a number of paradoxes and subtleties and is complex and not easy to analyse. It has also undergone major, arguably fundamental changes since the Second World War, that have mainly been so far analysed almost exclusively through the narrow prism of looking at Israel and Zionism.

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PSC witch-hunt – a letter republished from the Weekly Worker

I am pleased to concur with comrade David Ellis’ suggestion to publish this worthwhile contribution to the debate about the recent expulsions from PSC from Ruth Tenne of Camden PSC, not least because unfortunately WW does not have comments on its website. Therefore in the interests of the free exchange of ideas it appears here.

Tony Greenstein’s piece, ‘No room for anti-Semites’ (Weekly WorkerJanuary 19), seems to have a lot in common with Tanya Gold’s comments in The Guardian’s ‘Comment is free’ (‘LSE Nazi games in context, January 16). Gold claims that “Anti-Semitic discourse is now mainstream and to say it all comes from the crimes of the Jewish state feels disingenuous and a denial of the past. Anti-Semitism is too old to sprout anew from nothing.”

Tony, a Palestine Solidarity Campaign member, will by Tania’s definition be regarded as “one of the leftwing anti-Semites [who] despise Israel, but are vocal on the crime of other oppressive countries”. Yet, Tony, like Ms Gold and the pro-Zionist camp, is bent on cleaning out PSC of any alleged holocaust deniers and anti-Semites. He claims: “It would be futile to deny that this has not caused major problems for PSC … Up and down the country, individual branches have experienced problems … In Camden, Gill Kaffash was forced to step down as PSC secretary after her holocaust denial sympathies became clear.”

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“An Essay by a Young Jew as to Why he has Rejected Zionism”, or “The Wondering Jesse”

As I have noted previously, both sides of the acrimonious dispute between the left-wing Jewish trends personified by Gilad Atzmon and Tony Greenstein respectively, have a fundamentally anti-racist thrust. Despite the fact that they spend much of their time virulently slandering each other, they actually agree on a great deal. This is despite the incredibly acrimonious war of words between them whose thrust I will not recap here as there is plenty of material elsewhere that details what is involved.

But as I stated before,for this reason this blog is proud to link both to Gilad Atzmon’s website, and to Tony Greenstein’s blog, as representatives of two different anti-racist, anti-Zionist, Jewish trends.

One interesting, and symptomatic indicator of this is that they are competing to win over the same kind of people. Progressive Jews who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. This recent case is emblematic of this.

On 18 January Gilad Atzmon published a posting titled ‘The Wondering Jesse’ praising a very moving and articulate essay by Jesse Lieberfeld, a young 11th Grade (year) Jewish-American student explaining his move away from Judaism and Zionism in solidarity with the Palestinians, and making very apposite comparisons between their struggle today and the struggle of Black Americans for basic human rights and equality in the civil rights movement a generation ago. Atzmon linked to the original, and recommended it to his readers. The essay jointly won the 2012 Martin Luther King Jr. prize for prose written by a young person – the obvious and powerful echoes and comparisons between such epic past struggles and those of those oppressed by Israel today make it particularly appropriate that he should win such an award for anti-racist writing.

Then on 30th January, the same essay was republished on Tony Greenstein’s blog. What can you say except to welcome this, and say the more the merrier? In neither case is there anything out of place or incongruous about this essay being published, since much of the material published on both sites consists of fervent anti-racist criticism of Zionism and the crimes of Israel.

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“Western-Centred Arrogance” and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign – a comment

Harpal Brar

The following extended comment was put on the Socialist Unity blog in response to their cross-posting an article by Tony Greenstein about the recent Palestine Solidarity Campaign conference, where a number of supporters of some of the kind of views expounded by Gilad Atzmon, were thrown out. Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with this subject matter, others who may not are encouraged to read earlier articles on this question, particularly my review of Gilad Atzmon’s book ‘The Wandering Who’ from last year.

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The problem is with this is that these people are not Nazis at all.

In fact most of them are Jewish themselves. And even when they are not, the people they look to for inspiration, are.

They actually represent an important non-European, Middle Eastern, view on the Jewish question. These kind of views, even if false, are widely held in the Middle East and just hammering them at a conference in the UK won’t do you much good.

The victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian elections, and the high vote the Salafists got also, mean such people are going to be anything but isolated.

It is particularly symptomatic that Harpal Brar and his organisation, who can hardly be accused of being soft on or sympathetic to Nazism (!!!), can see this. They are not often right, indeed they are often wacky third-worldists, but on this position their insights from a non-Eurocentric position stood them in good stead. Even a stopped clock is sometimes correct.

From a non-European perspective this looks like Western-centred arrogance. European Jews and Brits lecturing non-European Jews about not being soft on the Arabs and their terrible anti-Jewish prejudices.

The Atzmonites are not entirely wrong either. Insofar as they are sceptical about the Holocaust, which some are more than others, they are of course wrong as the Brarites also noted.

But some of the other things they say about the Israel lobby in the West are much closer to reality. Atzmon’s division of Jews into different categories based on the embrace or otherwise of identity politics is not ‘anti-semitic’ at all, but almost exactly analogous to a pretty mainstream understanding of the (in some ways) similar phenonemon of political Islam. (See my article on Political Islam and ‘Jewish Identity Politics’)

Another point, being as these people are not fascists or Nazis, but mainly Jews and other sincere Palestinian supporters.

Is it only being badly wrong on the Jewish Holocaust that is grounds for chucking people out of the Palestine movement, or is it the same for other similar events as well? Like the Armenian genocide? Note that the French bourgeoisie is just in the process of banning denial of this event also.

Is anyone who supports the Turkish government’s views on this to be chucked out and shunned? Or is the Jewish genocide ‘special’, despite the disclaimers?

Because if people take this to its logical conclusion, they are going to have rather a hard time not just with many Palestinians – particularly Hamas supporters – and some of their Jewish supporters. But a big problem with many other Arabs, not to mention Turks as well. Given as the Turkish government has quite a lot of authority among those oppressed by Israel at the moment, this is not smart.

Don’t kid yourself that these people are ‘isolated’. The Brarities are not stupid when it comes to non-European politics, their stance says otherwise. This is another example of the British left shooting itself in the foot.

 

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Political Islam and ‘Jewish identity politics’ – a comparison

Political Islamist - Osama bin Laden

Theodore Herzl - Jewish analogue of political Islamist?

The controversy over Gilad Atzmon and his book The Wandering Who, which I recently reviewed on this blog, raises a lot of important questions about history and the politics of the last two centuries. I make no apology for writing about this question again because some of the issues he raises are of great importance to questions relating to war and peace, the nature of contemporary capitalism, national questions and the composition of major classes in society, particularly the capitalist class. All these questions are of central importance to anyone who wants to see capitalism superseded by socialism – they also touch intimately on questions intertwined with the causes of at least one world war in living memory, as well as other traumatic and world historic events including the currents wars and now revolutions shaking the Middle East and neighbouring regions and states. So its pretty important.

Atzmon is not a Marxist thinker, but an idiosyncratic left-wing liberal, born and raised in a racist ethnocracy. His own rejection of a racist upbringing and his privileged birthright as a Jew in a Jewish state, has generated some ferocious rhetoric and not a little incoherence and misunderstanding by friend and foe alike in some cases. But Atzmon’s writings are significant: this is also acknowledged by his enemies, usually rabid Zionists though also a few semi-Bundist socialists who on most issues are on the opposite side of the barricades to the Netan-yahoos. My point here is not to dwell on that conflict, but to acknowledge the significance of his work on ‘Jewish identity’. If it was just, as his enemies proclaim, reheated anti-semitism from the pre-WWII years, Atzmon would be unable to defend himself against a tidal wave of universal opprobrium.

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United against Cultural Fascism – A Letter to Every Cultured Person in This Country

This open letter was cross posted from Gilad Atzmon’s website. It deserves the support of all socialists, defenders of democratic rights and opponents of racism and imperialist war.

By Gilad Atzmon

There was a time when Jewish politics and culture were associated with liberalism, human rights, pluralism and freedom of expression. Those days are clearly over. Nowadays, it is pretty much the opposite.

Here in Britain, Jewish nationalist lobbies are engaged in several kinds of repressive behaviour. Their practices include: bullying and harassment, disinformation, and smear campaigns.

This kind of activity does not serve the Jewish community or its interests. In fact, it gives the Jewish community, as a whole, a thoroughly bad name.

Last week, American academic Norman Finkelstein and I were on the front of the Jewish Chronicle  (JC). We were presented as Public Jewish Enemies Number One. We were branded together with BNP leader and a racist Nick Griffin. This was obviously a clear outburst of Zionist hysteria.

This week, in an embarrassingly crude attempt to stop my new book The Wandering Who, the JC now appear to be launching an attack on music. Together with the Board of Deputies of British Jews and other Jewish groups they attempted to pressure the British Arts Council to withdraw its funding from a music festival I am playing at.

To read the JC, click here.

What we see here is scarily similar to the experience of  Jazz musicians in Germany during the Nazi era. Astonishingly enough, it is Jewish representative bodies such as the Board of Deputies  that are actively engaging  in trying to restrict artistic expression. Apparently, some people out there, really drew the wrong lesson from that disturbing era.

Needless to say, they didn’t get far. The Arts Council, stood by its principles of freedom of expression and in a statement responding to the JC’s demands, they suggested that The Arts Council shouldn’t “restrict an artist from expressing their views.” They stated that the council believes in funding events and artists that show “a diverse view of world society”.  Once again, their campaign had backfired.

Of course, the JC wasn’t at all happy. It appears to want to transform the British music scene, cultural gatherings and festivals into Stalinist enterprises and demands the right to dictate its own political agenda to the British public. The JC even went as far as to openly call for its subservient lobby-funded politicians to impose an “immediate sanction”.  Reading the JC today, I wonder how long it will take before Hava Nagila becomes a compulsory part of our national musical curriculum.

This is the reality: The most radical exponents of the most vile form of Jewish racist and supremacist ideology are accusing me, an anti-racist campaigner, of being an anti-Semite. Considering that I lead one of the most ethnically varied musical ensembles on this planet – this accusation is absurd, amusing or sad and probably all three.  But here’s the good news. On every possible front they are failing. No matter how much these Zionist supremacists convince themselves that I am the ultimate Jew-hater, they have failed to convince anyone else.

By bullying British cultural institutions and harassing artists in the name of the Jewish community, Jewish organizations are achieving nothing but the defamation of the whole of British Jewry.

So, to the Jewish Chronicle and the Board of Deputies of British Jews: You are acting against openness, pluralism, freedom of expression and artistic freedom – probably the most precious values this country has. Perhaps it is worth bearing this in mind.

All the best

Gilad Atzmon

 

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From Atzmon to Dreyfus: a reply to communalists and Stalinists

Israel Shamir and Julian Assange

Israel Shamir and Julian Assange

Gilad Atzmon

Gilad Atzmon

Tony Greenstein’s extended comment criticising my review of Gilad Atzmon’s new book The Wandering Who is indicative of a political method that can only lead to a ‘dialogue of the deaf’.  It is a characteristic flaw of the fragmented far left that in political disputes someone is quoted out of context in such a way as to distort the meaning of their views, and a whole extended narrative is concocted to attack the falsified or caricatured version. This is not a good method, it not only actually leaves one’s interlocutor’s real views untouched, but it also makes the exchange impossible to follow to the uninitiated layperson.

Such practices make the left a laughing stock. In this case, however, there is an additional element of communalism in that Atzmon is being ‘punished’ by left-wing members of his own Jewish community not merely for being right or wrong about something, but also for speaking ‘against’ his own people.  The peculiar ferocity of the attack not only on Atzmon, but also on anyone who disagrees with these people’s most extreme characterisations, is shown by the contribution of another Jewish leftist, Evildoer, who baldly admits he does not seek a rational discussion at all with leftists who disagree with him about Atzmon.

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Occupy London: A Germ of Socialist Democracy in Action

capitalism is crisis banner

Telling it like it is

“Capitalism Is Crisis” reads the main banner at the Occupy London camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral. This new anti-capitalist movement seems to have a lot more going for it than the previous anti-globalisation movements that pursued the leaders of the G7 advanced capitalist countries from summit to summit a few years ago. The difference this time is the economic context. Starting in Spain, with the Indignados protesting since May against the massive austerity imposed by the social-democratic government at the behest of the IMF, EU and bankers, protest movements fuelled by rage at economic disaster and rampant inequality have spread widely.

Most notably to the United States, where the Occupy Wall Street movement rapidly took off in reaction to the continuing economic crisis and impoverishment of working class America. From Wall Street and Manhattan it has spread around the country. In many major and not-so-major cities there is an ‘Occupy’ movement, camps and protests. This has flowed outside the traditional expressions of working class organisation, the trade unions, whose leaders have been co-opted and whose members have been hammered for decades. But this movement could well be a spark that leads to a new radicalism in the unions also.

At the Occupy London public assembly

And now it is underway here. Occupy London is not huge … yet. But it has huge potential. The resonance is palpable, and so is the fear in the capitalist media. The movement itself is highly democratic in the way it is organised, with public assemblies twice a day, and all decisions taken pretty much on a principle of unanimity. It is possible for minorities to vote to ‘block’ a measure that might have majority support which undoubtedly leads to the formulations of decisions that really do have broad support. A ‘block’ can only be overturned with a 75% majority. It could appear that this kind of ‘ultra-democracy’ might lead to paralysis, but it hasn’t yet.

Indeed, the idealism and decency of those involved shines through in the statement of solidarity issued by the occupation with those resisting the eviction of the Travellers site at Grange Farm, Essex. This produced something of an outcry from elements online who claim to support the aims of the occupiers but not ‘divisive’ stands like Dale Farm. But of course, it would be wise take such claims to ‘support’ the aims of the movement with a very large pinch of salt, as indeed the occupiers have done. In fact, as is to be expected, the dawning of this movement has produced a rash of such people, patronising the occupiers that ‘of course’ they support what they want, if only they would refrain from raising ‘divisive’ issues like anti-capitalism, or anything remotely at odds with the status quo.

A whole brace of such trolling critics have appeared in the comments on their website, and it is testament to the energy and openness of the people running it that they have kept it open for free discussion despite such aggravations.

Occupy London statement of principles

Democracy In Action - agreed Occupy statement of principles on public view

I went along this afternoon to the St Paul’s camp for a couple of hours, having been unable to make it last weekend and unfortunately also yesterday. At the public assembly, at this point there was little real controversy among the occupiers. There was considerable cheer at the establishment of a second camp, at Finsbury Square, on the other side of the City Of London, as a further sign that the movement is making progress.

The most contentious point was the closure of St Paul’s Cathedral by the Dean, who after an initially friendly feint towards the occupiers, now has reverted to the archetype of the Church Of England as the ‘Tory Party at prayer’, closing the Cathedral on spurious ‘health and safety’ grounds and complaining bitterly that the Cathedral’s commercial interests are suffering because of the camp.

In fact, the occupiers have made considerable efforts to accommodate the Dean, and have liaised with both the Health and Safety Executive and the London Fire Brigade about issues concerning fire risk and other safety matters. They have written to the Dean and management of the Cathedral seeking details of their alleged concerns, but to date have received no response. Which needless to say, is not surprising.

Their openness also extended to allowing a couple of people to denounce them for supposedly ‘closing’ the Cathedral from the mike at the assembly. One of them was an elderly woman who seemed misinformed, the other was a fairly vehement Christian who oozed contempt for the occupiers, but was counterbalanced by a Christian minister who was supportive and said that not everyone in the Church supported what the Dean had done.

The occupiers are mainly young people, many unemployed, some students, and a smattering of older people, academics, and others who have the free time to devote to something like this, who will undoubtedly be a kind of vanguard of the movement. But the movement is only going to be successful if it works with lots of workers who have jobs and/or family responsibilities who are not going to be able to camp out overnight. As indeed, they seem well aware, and are very welcoming, though for obvious reasons decision-making is the preserve of those actually involved in the occupation itself.

public assembly open mike

Open mike at the public assembly

One thing they are doing with apparent flair is the organisations of discussions, seminars, public meetings etc in the new public space that the occupation has given birth to. I attended a session of ‘Tent City University’, in which a moderator ran a pretty informal discussion on ‘human nature’. It was not the conventional kind of meeting where you have a presentation, followed by a discussion. Rather, the discussion is the meeting, the moderator gives out a printed sheet containing points relating to the topic being discussed, and invites free-flowing comments and discussion on them.

It was a novel way of discussing, and somewhat unfamiliar, but i managed to speak a couple of times in the discussion, putting a communist view of the malleable and socially conditioned nature of ‘human nature’, and found a considerable degree of agreement with many of the participants. Whether this is the best format for discussions of a more complex and controversial nature is open to doubt, but it certainly was a change from the usual format of left meetings where a single person (or sometimes a panel) gives the main content of the meeting in a presentation and the discussion from the floor is something of a subordinate event. Here the discussion from the floor was the main event.

Anyway, Occupy London needs your support. It has the potential to really shake up this country in a way not seen for many years, it has resonance with a very wide layer because it is capturing a mood of anger and betrayal by all the parties that promote the interests of big business. It needs the support of socialists, trade unions and all opponents of oppression and seekers after progressive social change.

 

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