The Blundering Who?

02 Oct
Gilad Atzmon_DSC0108b

Gilad Atzmon

The Wandering Who?, by Gilad Atzmon, Zero Books 2011, pp202, £8.99 (paperback)

Gilad Atzmon’s first substantive political book has caused a significant public controversy, particularly as it has been published by Zero Books, a well known publisher of what could perhaps be cynically dubbed as radical chic, works by various up-and-coming left-wing intellectuals and thinkers. A number of other authors have protested against its publication, accusing Atzmon of being close to a Nazi and certainly a Holocaust Denier. Aztmon, a very outspoken and passionate opponent of the oppression of the Palestinians by Israel, the country of his birth, is one of a small fringe of radicalised pro-Palestinian Israel Jews, who have not only rejected Zionism as a project necessarily involving the expulsion of the native Arab population of Palestine to make way for Jewish settlers, but have also drawn conclusions about the nature of ‘Jewishness’ as an identity. These appear to be a mixture of sometimes useful, sometimes off-the-wall criticisms of the notions of Jewish ‘nationhood’ or identity explicit in Zionism and Atzmon argues, implicit in other Jewish, secular political trends, with much more dubious extrapolations about 19th and 20th Century history, and particularly the persecution and massacre of Jews by Nazi Germany.

A lot of the book consists of re-edits of essays that Atzmon already published either on his website, or various other publications. Many of them contain virulent attacks on the activities of leading American and other Jewish organisations, which he accurately accuses of suppressing even mildly and thoroughly non-radical opposition to pro-Israel US policies. On this he is on strong ground, at least empircally, as one of the most striking things about the US attitude to the Middle East is how easy it is to shut up criticisms of Israel even from thoroughly mainstream US bourgeois politicians. Organisations such as AIPAC have only to click their fingers and Presidents make humiliating U-turns after having made some statement that the Israel lobby deems to be against Israel’s interests. This has at times lead to a peculiar situation when the foriegn policy of the United States, still the most powerful country in the world, appears to many thoroughly respectable bourgeois political observers, let alone anyone to the left of that, to be subservient to that of Israel.

This phenomenon has itself given rise to major controveries in the US and elsewhere, with accusations coming from many, not just the Zionists, that those highlighting the empircal facts about this are in some way speaking of a world Jewish conspiracy. Johm Mearshiemer and Stephen Walt, two prominent, mainstream centre-right academics, made a major contribution to this issue a few years ago with an essay, and then a full-length book, titled ‘the Israel Lobby’ which pointed out that the functioning of pro-Israel, largely Jewish lobbying groups and political action committees like AIPAC, were contrary to US interests in that they stopped full debate about what those interests involve. But this begged the question, how is this possible? Defenders of Israel averred that even to raise this question was tantamount to agreeing with the thesis of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion that there is a sinister Jewish conspiracy to control the world. Which of course, was one of the key tenets of the ideology of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party, the way they justified to themselves their campaign to exterminate the Jews in the ‘final solution’, the genocide of European Jews during WWII.

This is a political minefield. When one does a serious study of the influence of Jews who with political links to Israel in positions of power in US governments going back decades, you find that it is completely out of proportion to the number of Jews in the American population, which is only around 3%. What inevitably causes concern to many not-particularly radical Americans is not so much that they are Jews, but their ties to Israel. The empirical facts are verifiable; if, as many say, it feeds anti-semitism to even discuss these somewhat unusual figures, the question arises whether it undermines, or in reality helps, anti-semitism to sweep this under the carpet and deny that it is a legitimate subject for discussion. One suspects that the latter may do more to feed conspiracy theories about Jewish influence over the government than the former. Given that one of the basic tenets of democracy is that all government figures and officials, individually and collectively, should be open and accountable about everything that they do and stand for politically. The allegation that to question this disparity, and the reason for it, is in itself racist is likely to fuel resentment and a further rise in conspiracy theories about Jews.

Atzmon waded into this minefield a few years ago with an essay titled ‘The Protocols of the Elders of London’ (2005). In it he stated some basic facts about this disparity and concluded:

“We have to ask ourselves what motivates American Jews to gain such political power. Is it a genuine care for American interests? …. Since America currently enjoys the status of the world’s only super power and since all the Jews listed above declare themselves as devoted Zionists,we must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously. American Jewry makes any debate on whether the ‘Protocols of the elder of Zion’ are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews do try to control the world, by proxy. So far they are doing pretty well for themselves at least. Whether the Americans enjoy the deterioration of their state’s affairs will no doubt be revealed soon.”

Petrol on the flames. Atzmon was little known outside Jazz at the time, but he gained notoriety for this and other remarks in the same vein. He gained the enmity of Zionists, that is a given. He also made enemies of leftist Jews who are principled opponents of Israel and Zionism, for his attacks on Jewish identity, and a prolonged and very bitter conflict with them has ensued, with them more or less treating him a far-right, dangerous anti-semite. Yet there are several things about this that do not add up when people say that he is a racist or far right figure.

Most of all there is his musical involvement. His music is a true melange of Jewish, Arab and black American Jazz, which many who most admire the capacity of musical innovation to break down barriers would probably get very enthused about. I certainly appreciate such things, and appreciate his work. Some have compared him to Richard Wagner, but this seems incongruous, as Wagner was a very important and innovative figure on the mainstream of German art and culture, but despite a brief revolutionary period in his youth, he was not exactly known for creating a melange of many different ethnic styles and influences in his music. If he had done this, he would not have become such a major cultural and artistic influence on German nationalists (and worse).

Atzmon is a Jewish heretic, the very opposite of this. His heresy, however, is not directed against the Jewish religion, about which he does not really have that much critical to say. His attack is rather against secular ‘Jewishness’ which he sees as a basically racist and supremacist ideology. In other words, being Jewish can be justified logically if someone believes in Judaism, but Jewishness makes no sense in the absence of God. Jewishness is thus an artificial attempt to make a quasi-national identity out of a religious tradition, and since it is not based on any distinct territory and cannot therefore play the role that many other territorially-based national identities have played – in absorbing newcomers to the territory, assimilating them and thus renewing the ‘nation’ with ‘new blood’ (so to speak) – it must therefore have a very narrow and restrictive ‘ethnic’ basis. It cannot but be tribal and racist in conception, even though for Atzmon the Jews’ belief that they are a racial or ethnic group is also false.

That appears to be one of his key arguments, and this dovetails very well with more coherent innovators who attempt to deal with the Jewish question such as Shlomo Sand, the Tel Aviv history professor who wrote The Invention of the Jewish People’ (2010). But whereas Sands produces much historical evidence to argue that the Jewish ‘national’ identity, that was the basis not only for Zionism but other forms of quasi-nationalism such as Bundism, was purely an invention of ideologues imitating the more growing and successful forms of European nationalism in particular, Atzmon goes further.

And this is where allegations of anti-semitism find purchase. Because Atzmon’s concept of Jewish ‘identity’ appears to ascribe almost demonic powers to the bearers of this secular Jewish identity. Certainly the power to exert influence, way out of proportion to their numbers, over the government of the United States. How does the mere possession of a racist Jewish identity allow the American Jews (or even Zionists) to try to control the world, and to exert such an influence over the US as a superpower? What is the secret that is lodged within the secular Jewish identity that enables them to do that? Is it the racism and chauvinism that is allegedly lodged within that identity that gives them such powers? If it is, then surely it is something very dangerous that could potentially be detected, isolated and imitated by any other racist or chauvinist movement elsewhere in the world to allow them to exert such apparent control over the ruling class of a much larger and more powerful nation. Remember that the Jewish population in the US is less than 3%. How on earth do they do it?

Atzmon is dismissive of Marxism. He has spent years studying Philosophy at post-graduate level, and is able to give a pretty good account of the innovations of Kant, Wittgenstein et al. At one point in his book he dismisses Marxist historical materialism as ‘psuedo-scientific’. But he cannot explain this logical problem, and does not even try. Marxism can however, explain it. It is not that difficult. The US ruling class, which is overwhelmingly European derived and non-Jewish, though with a minority Jewish component, is committed, in its overwhelming majority, to a strategic military and political alliance with Israel. Its purpose in doing so is to divide and render powerless the Arab population as much as possible, and thus make easier US and allied control of the world’s most important strategic energy resources.

However, the American ruling class is also aware that this is a policy with risks. One day it might blow up in its face. Despite its best efforts, and that of Israel, one day there might be a unified Arab and Middle Eastern revolution. Or some other unforeseen development that is just as serious for the US. If that happens, it will need someone to blame. And this is where a kind of ruling class version of ‘affirmative action’ for devoutly pro-US, pro-Israel Jews, comes in. They are very useful as long as things are seen to be going well in the Middle East for the US. They will be even more useful – as scapegoats – if something goes wrong. Its a win-win scenario for the US ruling class – a bit like an insurance policy. And of course, as long as things are judged to be going OK, the Jewish beneficiaries of this ethnic/ideological selection can be given a lot of leeway to sit on and shut up discordant voices even among the mainstream. It just means that there is more that they can be blamed for if things go wrong. But in materialist terms, it is the wealth and power of the US ruling class, still the most powerful on the planet, that weighs most heavily here. Not the various Jewish neocon ideologues it considers so useful at this point. Atzmon, with his philosophical penchant for heavyweight, usually idealist bourgeois philosophers, is blind to this obvious materialist analysis.

Atzmon is self-evidently not motivated by racism. The allegation does not make sense, he describes himself as a ‘proud, self-hating Jew’. Elswhere  he has decribed himself as a ‘Hebrew-speaking Palestinian’ and an ‘ex-Jew’. If he were a racist/essentialist, he would not believe in the possibility of renouncing Jewishness, which is what he continually urges those who in his terms adhere to a ‘tribal Jewish identity’ to do. He advocates assimilation, not persecution, let alone genocide. The idea that there is anything racist about advocating voluntary assimilation is something that could only occur to seperatists, such as Zionists, and those on the left who tail them. Which is not to say that some of Atzmon’s ill-judged, provocative rhetoric does not raise some understandable suspicions about him. That is one of his worst blunders.

And in fact, he manages in his book to score some telling points even against left-wing or revolutionary socialist activists who define themselves politically as being Jewish. He cites a well-known case of a socialist, atheist Jewish couple who insisted on having their baby son circumcised despite their non-belief in Judaism as a religion – because they wanted to been seen as a ‘legitimate’ part of the Jewish community. This is indeed incongruous – one cannot imagine a publicly atheist couple of Christian background insisting on having their child baptised. And circumcision is rather more drastic – and permanent – than being dunked in a font. We are talking of a communal identity that is not national in any meaningful sense, but is linked to religion even when there is no belief, contrary to the norms of most actual nations, even initially very religious ones, where the decline of religious belief tends to simply mean the decline of religious practices.

More to the point is his defence of the Palestinians against his own government and people, and his identification with them. This takes considerable courage, to defy the society in which one is born and defend a persecuted people. Indeed Atzmon goes further in identifying himself as a ‘Hebrew-speaking Palestinian’. Atzmon speaks eloquently of his disgust at finding himself, as a military bandsman, expected to play for Israeli soldiers guarding Arabs who had been incarcerated in a camp during the 1982 Lebanon invasion. His realisation that Israel was running concentration camps played a major role in driving him away from his Zionist upbringing and into an emotional, though not always coherent, rejection of the racism of the society in which he was born. Any decent socialist or even liberal person must empathise with this.

On the other hand, there is his scepticism about the Nazi genocide. His remarks about this have been contradictory and hard to pin down. Probably the explanation is he has not fully made up his mind about it. He has been repeatedly accused of holocaust denial, usually by the Jewish left that he excoriates, somewhat unconvincingly, as being crypto-zionist (though among the Jewish leftists that are attacking him are some of the most outspoken anti-Zionists, hated for it by Israel supporters, that you will find anywhere). He has vehemently denied that he rejects the historical reality of the Nazi genocide. But at the same time he has made statements that imply that he considers that it may have been exaggerated, that he is sceptical of the existence of gas chambers, that many people died from disease and shooting, not from industrialised killing in death factories like Auschwitz. He talks at length about what he calls the ‘Holocaust religion’ in Israel, and even goes so far as to say in his book that the Holocaust has replaced Judaism as the religion of the Jews.

Two different things have to be separated here. One is the historical events of the Nazi genocide. Numerous testimonies, from Germans, from British, American and Russian, Polish and other East European, and of course Jewish sources exist that narrate in great detail the extermination of millions of European Jews, along with Gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals, communists, socialists and others. Then there is the Israeli version, in which the other victims somehow seem to disappear – Jews only tend to feature – and the overwhelming message is that this is inevitable while Jews are not compacted together in their own state, and that therefore everything must be done to ensure the ‘security’ of Israel, particularly its ‘security’ against the Palestinians who were expelled from its territory and the satisfaction of whose elementary demand for justice and equality means that Israel cannot continue to exist as an exclusive Jewish state.

It is perfectly comprehensible that a radicalised fringe of Israel Jews, subjected to the latter narrative for the whole of their lives and seeing through the grotesque cynicism and racism behind it, should not see much difference between the former historical truth and the latter cynically modified version. It may be comprehensible, but it is still a very damaging blunder. Atzmon cannot be accused of seeking the line of least resistance, and that is a good thing when seeking to face down Zionist witchhunters and bully-boys. But with this blunder, he has made adversaries of people who should be allies, and caused no end of confusion and rancour. Atzmon’s monumental blunder is actually the product of seeing everything through an Israeli-centric set of blinkers, which he would do well to throw away if he is fuffill his proclaimed ambition to join with the rest of humanity in a struggle for liberation, not least the liberation of Israel’s victims.

On the other hand, many of Atzmon’s most vehement critics, on the Western and/or Jewish/diaspora left, have their own Western-centric blinkers which prevent them from analysing why it is that a fringe of radicalised Jews, mainly of Israeli origin are inclined to at least be sceptical and question the historical truth of the Nazi genocide. There is also a strange element of guilty liberalism from those who can comprehend why many Arabs may be susceptible to demonology about Jews, in whose name the Israeli state oppresses them, but when a minority of alientated, radicalised Israeli Jews express similar views and suspicions, suddenly start growling about how they have become neo-Nazis etc. It actually shows a curious lack of empathy to be unable to comprehend this, which must in fact be political in origin, and be derived from an element of liberalism, western-centric arrogance and even some element of disapora Jewish communalism in some cases. In any case, some of Atzmon’s most outspoken critics are just as politically foolish as Atzmon himself.

So there is some useful and interesting stuff in this book, but mixed up with paranoid nonsense that indeed could be useful to genuine anti-semites – if such creatures were politically active and had real purchase today. Fortunately they don’t, at least not in the advanced capitalist countries of the West. Anti-semitism does have a purchase in the former Eastern bloc, but this is something that is likely to dissipate, not because of any benevolence of the body politic in Eastern Europe, but simply because it is a left-over paranoia from a different historical epoch. The identification of Jews with revolution and later communism- which was the basis for the classic racist anti-semitism that characterised the 19th and early 20th centuries – has long since ceased to have any even tenuous connection with reality. Latent, long-standing prejudices from previous times were driven underground under Stalinism, but paradoxically because of that being pushed down, they were preserved in the depths, only to re-emerge with the collapse of the Stalinist regimes.

And of course, there is the question of anti-semitism in the Arab and Muslim world, which is more or less a product of impotent rage at the Zionist colonisation project, the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, not to mention the potent Israeli nuclear threat to the Middle East region. That a radicalised element of Israeli Jews, such as Atzmon, is prepared to stand up to Zionism to the point of identifying with the Palestinians is to be welcomed. That some of them are not immune from the kind of demonology about Jews that prevails in the Arab world is unfortunate, but hardly a big surprise given that they are subject to similar pressures, on taking the side of the Arabs, as the Arabs themselves and some will react in the way that quite a few Arabs do.

This can only be resolved by debate and discussion, which may at times be hard, but which must not involve demonisation of people whose basic tendency is to side with the oppressed against the oppressor, even if they do make rather large blunders. This review, which does not pull any punches in terms of criticism, will hopefully contribute to that process and help promote the discussion that is necessary.


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12 responses to “The Blundering Who?

  1. skidmarx

    October 2, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    An intersting point about Atzmon’s attempt to distinguish Jews and Jewishness here

  2. jayn0t

    October 5, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    This is the most balanced review of Atzmon’s book I have read so far. Usually, he provokes polarization: he comes out with provocative formulations, and his opponents react predictably and revealingly, accusing him of anti-semitism and saying you shouldn’t talk about the Lobby. His defenders then leap to his defense, throwing words like ‘crypto-Zionist’ around willy-nilly (I know I do). This piece is a lesson to us all – though the author disagrees with the ‘lobby’ hypothesis, preferring ‘US strategic interests’ as the explanation of Western groveling to Israel, he or she maintains a civil tone. Those of us who think it IS the lobby owe this writer an equally civil reply.

  3. redscribe

    October 8, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    I am pleased to note that Gilad Atzmon has republished my article above on his website

    Hopefully this will contribute to generating some light from the issues at stake, instead of merely heat.

  4. Roo

    October 9, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    I have just raced through a reading of your review and would thank you for your civil tone and approach. One disagreement I have would be on your assessment that Atzmon has made ‘blunders’ by alienating not conciliating his natural Jewish anti-zionist ‘constituency’. I believe he has been genuinely surprised to find that in reality their anti-zionism is so thin that they act in concert with rabid zionists trying desperately to suppress criticism of Israel and its lobbies. My copy of his book is in transit so I do not know all the areas he covers. But I would like to make the point that “By Way Of Deception Thou Shalt Do War” is not just the default OS of Mossad and its sayanim spread across the US and all those parts of the globe where the Israeli state is pursuing its geo-strategic interests. In Australia I have noted the efforts of the zionist lobby to herd the possible straying of left activists, intellectuals and academics into Jewish groups which ‘encourage’ and ‘allow’ mild criticism of some details of Israeli policy and actions. Many Jewish friends are very frightened of making any admissions critical of Israel to close friends, let alone in public because, I feel, they cannot bear to face the character assassins who will pounce upon them. The famous example is, of course, the total public humiliation and destruction of Justice Richard Goldstone.

    I like and support Gilad Atzmon and the clash and crash of his iconoclasms: he’s like an arresting ancient Chimera, an Etrurian Indiana Jones – part archaeologist, part geologist, part siren warrior – following the music of his spheres, with trowel, brush or hammer, he sifts through the psychological artifacts of of Jewish identity, and smashes open the stone tablets to reveal the fascinating fossils within… I look forward very much to following his journey and illuminating our thoughts with plenty to discuss if we are to stabilise and save Humankinde from it’s headlong fate.

  5. Tony Greenstein

    October 13, 2011 at 2:30 am

    This is a serious review but one with which I fundamentally disagree.
    1. Unfortunately this review is wide of the mark. Atzmon is distinguishable from most Israeli critics of Zionism precisely because of his anti-Semitism, which is largely ignored in the review. He repeatedly holds Jews responsible for things like the banking and economic crisis, with Wolfowitz being a particular villain. Note his attempt to interpret a naïve Christian capitalist’s suggestion, one John Reynold’s, about introducing a more Christian ethic into the City of London as being the equivalent of ‘spiritual Judaification’ his personal anti-Semitic comments ‘socialist Jewnity’ etc.
    2. His open espousal of the Jewish conspiracy theory, complete with Jewish responsibility for Christ killing and his defence of holocaust deniers such as Paul Eisen and Israel Shamir, who is a paid up fascist. Eisen is merely ‘proud’ to be a holocaust denier but nonetheless his holocaust denial text is a ‘great text’ according to an email to me.
    3. What the review misses also is his embrace of holocaust denial ‘historians’ as legitimate rather than pseudo historians attempting to rewrite the history of fascism. He openly welcomes the support of white supremacists and neo-Nazis such as David Duke, Kevin MacDonald and treats them as legitimate. He ascribes to them a legitimacy which is wholly lacking for example in ‘Esther to Aipac’ he writes that ‘. ‘Most of the scholars, if not all of them, do not challenge the Zionist narrative, namely Nazi Judeocide, yet, more than a few are critical of the way Jewish and Zionist institutes employ the Holocaust…’
    4. You can get the sourcing from my essay in March this year ‘A Quick Guide to Atzmon’ but the obvious comparison is with differing arguments in astronomy and physics. The origin of the black hole, are there anti-matter galaxies, how does quantum mechanics and relativity co-exist etc. But does anyone seriously argue whether the sun goes round the Earth?
    5. You also don’t mention the very focus on identity because if you did you’d find it isn’t fixed, unchanging. This is an essentialist viewpoint consequence on a racist outlook. Jewish identity changed with Zionism and is changing again as increasing layers break from its stranglehold. Whether it is possible to make a successful break I doubt but in calling all but a few Jews like himself or Neturei Kara, ‘3rd category Jews’ and hence lumping in Zionist and anti-Zionist Jews Atzmon is simply reflecting Zionism’s own frame of reference.
    6. And if you go to Atzmon’s favourable review of Antony Julius’s attack on anti-Zionist Jews, saying he has a point that we are hypocritical in supporting Palestinian nationalism but not Jewish nationalism (which Zionism is not – since there is no Jewish nation) you begin to understand that whilst Atzmon does indeed condemn Israel’s barbarous behaviour he accepts the logic of an Israeli state, a Jewish state in the fullest Zionist terms and that those of us who are secular Jews but not Zionists are either hypocrites or ‘crypto-Zionists’. Hence our recent disruption of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, which Palestinians everywhere welcomed, is condemned as a ‘Jewish campaign’ in an e-mail to me which then goes on to explain why this will only antagonise the Israeli right and create problems for Palestinian performers. The exact mirror of Thatcher’s argument that sanctions hurt the Blacks, whose welfare was her main concern.
    7. Indeed Atzmon has begun to make a clear distinction between anti-Zionist, which is Jewish, and being pro-Palestinian. If every this was to become reality it would destroy the Palestinian solidarity movement as you would merely make the Palestinians another human rights cause, whereas one of the reasons for prioritising it is because it is representative and symbolic of the oppression of the Arab peoples. Again a thoroughly reactionary project.
    8. Hence Atzmon also rejects the idea that Israel is a settler-colonial project. It is a Jewish project. It derives from ‘Jewishness’, Jewish ideology and the Jewish spirit. If you can’t see where these derive from try reading a few pre-Nazi race theoreticians. I don’t incidentally argue that Atzmon is a neo-Nazi but he certainly does consort with their ideas.
    9. I don’t doubt that the question of Jewish identity is problematic but Atzmon offers no solutions as he looks through the telescope from the wrong end. Instead of asking how Jewish identity has been instrumental in forming the Israeli state (try Balfour and other anti-Semites) one should instead ask how Jewish identity outside Israel has been changed by Zionism and Israel. Not a question that Atzmon even begins to ask because the holocaust is as old as the Jews. (Esther to Aipac) Despite paying tribute to Israel Shahak there is no doubt he would have been instantly disowned by the boyhood survivor of the Warsaw ghetto and Belsen-Bergen.
    10. I don’t doubt that Jews are over represented in the US Senate and British houses of parliament but only if one takes Jews as some form of collective, this mysterious ‘Jewish power’ that Atzmon is wedded to. But Jews are not a collective despite the best efforts of Zionists. There are quite rational explanations such as the use of Jews as an ideological cover for western imperialism. That the use of the holocaust as an ideological weapon is of recent origin and the West as much as Israel is guilty of this. Just as ‘democracy’ is another western instrument. So it makes sense that it becomes easy for Jews, who for the most part are Zionists, to climb the political ladder. But it’s a chicken and egg situation. The political complexion of the White House doesn’t depend on the religious affiliation of its members. Power resides in the boardrooms of the main conglomerates not in the Senate.
    11. It is somewhat unfortunate that Mearsheimer has just blown his cover. His essay and book highlighted the Christian Zionists and that was right in so far as most American Jews
    12. So now Atzmon is not a Jewish heretic, battling against an establishment as per Spinoza. He is a Jewish reactionary. Hence his embarrassingly laudatory comments re Obama and his illusions in Amir Peretz, the Israeli Labour Leader prior to his role in launching the invasion of Lebanon in 2006!
    13. Yes it is Atzmon’s attack on Jewish secularism which stands out because ANY Jewish secularism, be it of left or right, Zionist or anti-Zionist is one and the same, governed by the same ‘Jewishness’. Racist? Perish the thought. Hence his repeated attacks on the Jewish Bund, who are a bunch of thieves and swindlers for coveting and ‘robbing’ the rich. Familiar? Hence why he aligns historically with the Zionist opposition to the Bund. A Jewish secular identity is quite possible as the Bund demonstrated and which Atzmon hates. For many, opposition to Zionism also constitutes a major part of their Jewish identity, but we too are Zionists! I happen to think that a non-Zionist Jewish identity is quite possible, for a long period of time and would possibly flourish in the absence of a Zionist state but that is for the future. Atzmon’s conception though is totally racist and essentialist.
    14. And the quote incidentally is from ‘on anti-Semitism’ not Learned Elders of London.
    15. You say that ‘Atzmon is self-evidently not motivated by racism.’ Why self-evidently? The description of himself as a ‘proud, self-hating Jew’ is in itself an inverted form of racism. Why? Because the term ‘self-hater’ which the Nazis used against German anti-fascists presupposes that all Jews (except for this psychologically crippled anti-national minority) is itself racist, a concept that Atzmon adopts, he doesn’t fight against it. You say that ‘If he were a racist/essentialist, he would not believe in the possibility of renouncing Jewishness.’ Not so. Take Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Black woman who has become one of the foremost racists in the Netherlands. To hold to the concept of race doesn’t mean you can’t leave that race (or join it). I won’t go into the Nazi debates about the Mishlinge (mixed races) but they indeed held just that, hence all the dispensations Hitler granted to functionaries and others who were first or second degree Jews. Or honorary whites in S Africa and indeed Nazi Germany too.
    16. There is nothing ‘telling’ in his description of the circumcision of their children by 2 left-wingers David Rosenberg and Julia Bard. It reflects more than anything else the conflict between generations. Circumcision is indeed a religious sign of being Jewish but one increasingly rejected. Anti-Semitism unfortunately did force Jews together and these ancient rituals have taken longer to die out. I have 3 boys, one of whom was circumcised and the other two weren’t. The eldest circumcision was justified on health grounds – cervical cancer etc. – and it was carried out by a trained surgeon. Just as Muslims and indeed members of the British Royal Family and many other non-Jews and non-Muslims have carried it out. In fact Dave and Julia regret this now and this was a brave attempt to raise a taboo amongst the organised Jewish community but Atzmon once again fails to understand such subtleties.
    17. In essence Atzmon’s holocaust denial views are ascribed to ‘Israel centredness’. I disagree. Most Israeli anti-Zionists feel no need to question the holocaust but rather the Zionist misuse of it. I have written a number of essays on this and Norman Finkelstein and Lenni Brenner have done both this and document the actual Zionist record during the holocaust. Atzmon goes further and this is nothing to do with the Palestinian struggle and played right into the hands of the worst Israeli propagandists by associating the Palestinian struggle (and he supports the most backward Islamist elements) with holocaust denial. It owes nothing to the horrors of Zionism and everything to do with people like Eisen and Shamir.
    18. I don’t accept the equivalence between Palestinians who deny the holocaust (and who are on the right of Palestinian/Arab politics) and this alleged ‘minority of alientated, radicalised Israeli Jews’. In fact its major proponents aren’t Israeli – Dan McGowan, Paul Eisen, Jeff Blankfort, Israel Shamir etc. If anything it is a section of diaspora Jews who have become so ashamed of being Jewish that they have given a free pass to Nazism.
    19. I agree that ‘The identification of Jews with revolution and later communism- which was the basis for the classic racist anti-semitism that characterised the 19th and early 20th centuries – has long since ceased to have any even tenuous connection with reality.’ But I suggest you tell that to Atzmon who does indeed believe that Jews were behind and indeed financed the Bolshevik revolution and that Lenin was also Jewish, as the racists and anti-Semites argued. As his Credit Crunch or Zio Punch argues: ‘Throughout the centuries, Jewish bankers bought for themselves some real reputations of backers and financers of wars [2] and even one communist revolution [3]. Though rich Jews had been happily financing wars using their assets, Alan Greenspan, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States, found a far more sophisticated way to finance the wars perpetrated by his ideological brothers Libby and Wolfowitz.

  6. Evildoer

    October 13, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    A good review tries to articulate what an author has to say, where the author is coming from, and what is missing. Your eagerness to be “fair,” coupled with dollops of ignorance and refusal to follow ideas both to their origins and to their conclusions results in a blundered and bland review. The only good review of Atzmon published so far was written by Kevin Macdonald ( ). The reason for that is that Macdonald, being an open white supremacist, isn’t afraid of Atzmon’s ideas and doesn’t have to work overtime to prevent seeing them. He embraces them. Macdonalds points out that Atzmon’s key “insight” about the history of the holocaust is essentially that he agrees with Hitler. Now this is not an “accusation” that Atzmon is a “closet Nazi” or the devil incarnate, nor is it, as the utterly stupid Roy Rathcliffe suggests above, an attempt to prevent discussion of AIPAC, which I have not only discussed many times, but also personally participated in organizing protests against. It is simply an example of the application of a skill, informed, knowledgeable reading (c.f. ). You should try it sometimes.

    I’m glad that Atzmon published your review. That is one hell of a kosher stamp. You’re somebody!

  7. redscribe

    October 14, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    I would observe that the problem with diatribes like the above it that you don’t win arguments by such means, you merely cause people to avoid dialogue for fear of being harangued. Winning a shouting match with a megaphone or a foghorn voice, and winning a reasoned argument, are two completely different things.

    The technique employed is: you take a hotly disputed question and declare it ‘solved’ in your own mind.You then make a big song and dance about your ‘solution’ to this controversial question,
    brush aside or completely distort, and in any case fail to address the arguments others make to the contrary (or pretend that no such arguments exist) and launch into a prolonged exploration of the consequences of the conclusion which you have drawn without caring that few reasonable people are with you on your starting point. Thus you get enormously long, unreadable contributions appearing in the comments sections of blogs. Or thus you pick up a densely-typed four paged unreadable leaflet in the street outside a meeting for instance, which in most cases ends up in the bin pretty quickly.

    It is a chronic weakness of the British left that the only way many can respond in debate is by producing such question-begging, shallow nonsense. I have no intention of replying in the same way because that would simply derail the discussion.

    However, I will be writing an analysis pointing out these flaws in some detail. The combination of sectarian swagger and communalist venom involved in the above two comments (particularly the latter) does deserve to be replied to, but not on its own terms nor within its own self-reinforcing and circular pseudo-logic.Contrary to the misleading disclaimer in the latter contribution, the real thrust of the above is ‘Atzmon is a an anti-semite/Nazi/Satan worshipper’ (delete according to mood) and anyone who disagrees can be denounced as one of the very bastards of creation.

    Even the Atzmon issue is not of primary importance in this regard, it is the method of discourse itself that needs deconstruction.

    That this is not a useful or rational way to conduct political debate should be obvious to anyone. Its pretty tragic when you see some tiny, impotent and shrill sectarian group behaving in this way, convinced that their own micro-group possesses unique insight by virtue of their small size and impotence (the ‘chosen few’, etc). Its even more tragic when it is mixed with a communalist element, and designed to isolate individuals deemed heretical within a minority community like the Jewish community.

    Fortunately that kind of nonsense has little impact on those outside a very limited and claustrophobic milieu. I don’t regard the opinions of the above people as particularly important in themselves. But they will be a useful peg on which to hang a critique of some chronic weaknesses and deformations on the left, so even in the case of these miserable contributions, their efforts may not have been entirely in vain. Watch this space!

  8. Evildoer

    October 15, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    Your mistake is to think that I am trying to have a reasoned debate with you. Reasoned debate is possible within a framework of basic common ground. Those who share that common ground will get the arguments, as they are pretty straightforward. We’re talking about the claim that there is a “Jewish ideology,” across time, space, and culture, that it is in evidence whenever Jews act collectively as Jews, that this ideology is racist and bad in all sort of ways, and that this badness explains all sorts of things, including 1. the recent financial crisis, 2. Israeli oppression of Palestinians, 3. why Hitler got “furious” about Jews in general and Marxists in particular.

    This is, in a nutshell, the encyclopedia definition of the term “classical antisemitism.” Those who don’t get that are uninformed or unclear, which is of course common and not blameworthy. Those who do not get that after it the matter is pointed out to them, up to and including comparative quotes from Mein Kampf, are not my partners for a reasoned debate about anything. Since you don’t get that, your critique of “left discourse” is of no interest. Because we do not have minimal common ground politically. Of course, I do find some right and far right critiques of the left interesting and useful for leftists to think about. But then I prefer the critique of people who a) are perceptive, and b) don’t hide where they are coming for, perhaps even from themselves.

  9. redscribe

    October 15, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    Well, I have to observe that posting on a blog with no intention of engaging in rational debate is a chemically pure defintion of trolling. As for the rationale, once again something is asserted without evidence since even Atzmon does not claim that the ‘Jewish ideology’ he attacks is independent of time and space. He follows Shlomo Sand in saying it originated in the 19th Century.

    The essence of our troll’s case is that he is not saying that Atzmon is a Nazi, but that he ‘agrees with Hitler’ (i.e that he is a Nazi, since we can safely assume he is not accusing Atzmon of agreeing with Hitler’s vegetarianism but rather Hitler’s views about Jews in toto). He also is saying there is nothing to debate with anyone on the left who does not agree with the troll’s strange, two-faced logic on this. But strangely his apparent co-thinker on this, Tony G, is planning to hold a public debate with Atzmon on the issues in dispute between them, so he obviously thinks there is something to debate with the man himself, let alone with others who are critical of him for his erroneous views on ‘Jewishness’ and Zionism but do not accept that he is a racist, let alone a Nazi.

    Actually, our troll is so obsessed with heresy-hunting anyone on the left who does not go along with his campaign against Atzmon that he actually posted a link to a review of Atzmon’s book by a genuine Jew hater and white supremacist on my blog, with the rather strange and outrageous statement that he prefers this person’s review to mine. Perhaps he thinks that Kevin MacDonald is a better writer than me; perhaps he thinks he is more honest. But that does not really make any sense politically. Actually he is grasping at straws, and in that state, any weapon will do, even if it comes from the real far right, to refute those who refuse to place Atzmon politically on the far right. Very strange.

    (I could have deleted the link I suppose, but I left it in place so that our troll cannot wriggle out of responsibility for posting a link to the website of a self-confessed racist and essentialist on a socialist blog).

    But actually, reading this review, its author accuses Atzmon of not so much denying the holocaust, but only the Israeli rendition of it (possibly too charitable, since I suspect GA has not actually made up his mind about this as I said in my review). He also says, accurately in my view, that Atzmon is a liberal. And he upbraids Atzmon for not being an essentialist and for not saying anything in support of his genuinely vile and anti-semitic view that Jews are engaged in some kind of terrible conspiracy to flood Western ‘white’ societies with non-white immigrants.

    But since this person has stated openly that he is not interested in rational debate, and since he has egregiously and cynically posted links to racist material on my blog, I shall not be accepting comments from him for the moment at least. Though Tony G, who had not done these things, is welcome to post if he wants to.

  10. jayn0t

    November 1, 2011 at 2:55 am

    I presume, when you accuse ‘Evildoer’ of linking to ‘racist material’, you are referring to the link to Kevin MacDonald, rather than the one to ‘Jews Sans Frontières’.

  11. redscribe

    November 1, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    That is true


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