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
Category Archives: Gilad Atzmon
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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