A month ago, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) issued a call for a Herem (excommunication, Hebrew) against the remarkable activist and writer Alison Weir. The call was distributed internally amongst JVP’s chapter leaders and was leaked to me by a few JVP dissenters. The publication of the call led to a massive surge of resentment towards JVP within the dissident movement. JVP was compelled to explain their move.
The call for Herem is deeply rooted in Jewish culture. Throughout their history, Jews have called for the expulsion of some of their most articulate and sophisticated minds. Spinoza, and Uriel Da Costa are famous examples. Christ, another dissent voice, found himself nailed to the cross for advising his people to love their neighbours. Though Rabbinical Jews rarely call for a herem, contemporary so-called ‘liberal’ Jews are obsessed with that ugly, primitive medieval ritual. Since I immersed myself in solidarity matters two decades ago, I have been witness to the relentless chasing, harassing and slandering of every Jew who crossed the 100 IQ barrier. First it was Israel Shamir, then Paul Eisen, and then Norman Finkelstein who dared speak the truth about the Jewish Left and BDS operating as a secret society (cult). Consistent with their Jewish heritage, ‘progressive’ Jews like to employ a ‘Sabbos Goy’, a gentile who is willing to surrender to their whims. The liberal Jews at JVP have used Ali Abunimah as their favourite ‘partner’. He has apparently been happy to provide his Palestinian voice to issue the Palestinian stamp. Although rabbinical Jews employ the Herem solely against Jews, liberal Jews, fuelled by peculiar sense of righteousness, extended the Herem to include some ‘Goyim’. For years they have attempted to excommunicate me (an ex-Jew). They chased Free Gaza Founder Greta Berlin. Currently their target is Alison Weir and, in a surprising move, the American people whom JVP has outrageously dubbed a racist collective.
A rapidly growing number of activists and commentators see JVP and the Jewish liberal attitude as a corrosive, yet dominant, element within the solidarity movement. The publication of the leaked JVP’s call for herem against Alison Weir drew a lot of negative attention. JVP and its Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson could have easily saved what was left of their reputations by issuing an apology and perhaps vowing not to engage in herem tactics. But such a humane and reconciliatory approach would be totally foreign to the culture JVP succumbs to. For JVP to word such a statement would mean an engagement in genuine self-reflection, pretty much thinking the unthinkable. It just wasn’t going to happen. Instead JVP offered another clumsy and lousy attempt to ‘justify’ its primitive call for a herem. Lacking elementary imagination, this progressive synagogue re-cycled its banal Judeo-centric diatribe. JVP’s new statement achieved little except to offer another view into tribal morbidity. Their statement has nothing to do with peace or the Palestinians but is, instead, an embarrassing manifestation of goy hatred and anti white inclinations. They reveal, yet again that liberal Jews are not the solution. They are, actually, the core of the problem.
In their new diatribe against Weir, JVP’s board informs us that they have chosen not to work with her because their central tenet is “opposition to racism and oppression in all its forms, and she (Weir) has consistently chosen to stay silent when given the opportunity to challenge bigotry,” which they find “repugnant.”
It is amusing to find out that the people who are operating within a racially Jewish exclusive club are preaching against ‘racism.’ Yet, what was Weir’s crime exactly? Apparently, Weir has been ‘a friendly guest’ of ‘white supremacist’ Clay Douglas on his hate radio show, “the Free American.”
Without even addressing the horrid labels that JVP and liberal Jews often attribute to others (gentiles), I wonder whether JVP would have the same reaction if Weir appeared on Israeli TV. Israeli TV is suffocated with Jewish supremacy and racism. Of course, the answer is NO – JVP has yet to call for a Herem against a single activist for appearing on Israeli TV or any other Jewish supremacist outlet. I guess that in the eyes of ‘liberal’ Jews at JVP & Co., Jewish racism is somehow kosherish.
“Clay Douglas,” according to JVP, “is concerned primarily with the survival of the White race and sees malign Jewish influence everywhere.” To start with, ‘seeing Jewish influence everywhere’ has now become mainstream news and for good reason. Furthermore, if it is bad for a white person to be primarily concerned with the survival of his ‘race,’ should we apply the same ethical standard to all identities and sectarian activism? Would JVP also denounce a lesbian activist for caring primarily for her sisters and their libidinal and cultural survival? Would JVP denounce Jews who primarily care about the survival of their ‘race’? I guess that within their liberal tribal mindset, universal ethics evaporate wherever the ‘White’ appears. I admit that I am puzzled by this brutal tribal animosity towards Whiteness, particularly the vile language that some Jewish progressive ‘peace’ activists use. If JVP truly believes in diversity, shouldn’t it include Clay Douglas in its phantasmic multi layered society? Seemingly ‘White’ people are unwelcome within the imaginary Jewish liberal ‘diverse’ universe. What a shame, some of my best friends are white. In the mirror I look pretty white, almost as white as Rebecca Vilkomerson and her junta of progressive Rabbis.
Apparently the JVP are really upset with Weir because back in “August 25, 2010”, Weir “was silent when Douglas invoked the Protocols of the Elders of Zion”. Now the real picture begins to emerge. In the eyes of JVP’s rabbinical board, unlike Ali Abunimah, Weir has refused to operate as a Sabbos Goy. Her sin is venal: rather than fighting for Judea, Weir is an American patriot devoted to the education of the American people.
While reading the JVP pamphlet I asked myself what is the principle that makes one call for equality ‘kosher’ and another call for equality a ‘racist’ and ‘chauvinist’ crime? JVP fails to provide any guidance. Perhaps this bunch of progressive Jews believes that their hatred of Whites will make them into a popular movement. Possibly, they believe that anti White politics is good for Palestine. I wonder whether the JVP grasps that such a belligerent approach may backfire? Following the mass outrage over JVP’s conduct, some people have already completely disassociated from cliques that are formed by or connected with any Jewish organisation or politics.
Complete disregard for logic is by now entrenched in JVP thinking. Towards the end of the statement, JVP comments “Weir and IAK have a fundamental political framing that the U.S. is not implicated in the same racist and white supremacist structures as Israel.” One would assume that, if true, this view attributed to Weir and IAK should be discussed and examined in scholarly manner. Apparently not in the JVP’s synagogue -“this ‘tail wags the dog’ theory is a form of chauvinistic nationalism that absolves American interest in perpetuating injustice–not just in Israel but in other regions around the world.” It would take a lot of imagination to grasp why the JVP regards arguing that the U.S. is ‘not implicated in the same racist and white supremacist structures as Israel’ is ‘chauvinistic’ and ‘nationalist.’
Surprising argument given that JVP attempts to define the discussion of Jewish racism and the Jewishness of Israel provide proof that JVP is itself a Jewish chauvinist, supremacist apparatus dedicated to the concealment of the roots of the conflict in Palestine. In fact, the JVP is far worse than Israel and ultra Zionists – while Zionists manifest their Jewish symptom proudly, the ‘liberal’ Jewish ‘allies’ at JVP invest all their time and energy in suppressing discussion of that very dangerous symptom.
JVP is clearly desperate to prove that that IAK and Weir are immersed in supremacy. They quote the IAK webpage: “[Alison Weir] founded an organization to be directed by Americans without personal or family ties to the region who would research and actively disseminate accurate information to the American public.”
JVP deduces from this innocuous statement that “according to Weir and If Americans Knew, only non-Arab, non-Muslim, non-Palestinian, and non-Jewish voices can be trusted to speak the truth, based solely on their ethnic or religious identity.” In psychoanalytical terms this is called projection. JVP attribute their own exclusivist, chauvinist and racist symptoms to Weir and IAK. It is the board of JVP that is made up of Jews only. No Arabs, No Palestinians, No Muslims, let alone White Goyim are racially qualified to be part of the leadership of this disgusting collective. Even the Israeli Knesset has as its 3rd biggest party an Arab party and is more diverse and pluralist than JVP’s Knesset.
Apparently their mental segregation causes these ‘liberal’ Jews to fail to recognise that Weir and IAK are driven by a true inclination towards justice. In order to produce an impartial reading of the conflict, Weir formed an organisation of people less inclined to prejudge the situation because they are not somehow tied to the region, spiritually or physically. This is what people out of the Jewish ghetto do sometimes when they are interested in forming a genuine and truthful judgment. They require that the parties not have a stake in the conflict. JVP interpreted IAK statements as racist only because JVP itself is bounded to Jewish racist thinking.
It is sad that JVP missed a great opportunity to amend its ways. Instead of presenting an exemplary case of humanist universal virtues devoted to pluralism and diversity, they responded with a spectacularly gruesome manifestation of Jewish bad behaviour. “Despite her support for Palestinian rights, Weir ultimately does a disservice to the Palestinian struggle for self-determination.” Jews are claiming the exclusive right to tell others what is good for those who are oppressed by their own Jewish State.
The campaign against me and my work fell apart a while ago. I assume that my Jewish detractors came to realise that I enjoy their attention and use it to affirm my criticism of their tribal and exclusivist identity politics.
But yesterday I had a nostalgic moment reading Max Blumenthal dissing me publicly. When Blumenthal was asked about Israeli critics he ended up talking about the vile ‘anti Semites’, ‘neo Fascists’ and the ‘racists’ in the movements. Interestingly enough, he failed to remember any name but one – Gilad Atzmon.
Atzmon is a “pure anti Semite who believes that all of the problems of Israel flow not from colonialism but from Judaism.” said Blumenthal.
Apparently, not buying into the clumsy ‘colonial paradigm’ makes me into a ‘neo Fascist’, ‘anti Semite’ and a ‘racist’.
It is obviously clear that Blumenthal didn’t read a single word by me. I naively believe that if someone insists to criticise my work, he or she better spend some time to read me first. It is an established fact that Palestinian activist Ali Abunimah also called for my disavowal while admitting to Prof. Norton Mezvinsky that he has never read a single word by me. Tragically enough, the fear of intellectual exchange and open discourse is endemic within the Jewish progressive ghetto but also within some quarters of the solidarity movement.
However, those who are even mildly familiar with my thoughts know that Blumenthal reacts out of hysteria rather than knowledge. My scholarship is not concerned with Judaism (the religion) nor am I referring to Jews (the people). I am critical of Jewish Identity politics and Jewish ideology. I elaborate on Jewish-ness and Jewish culture as opposed to Judaism. Race, genetics or biology have never been part of my study. If anything, I am critical largely of Jewish secular politics and culture rather than the Jewish religion.
I am indeed critical of the ‘colonial paradigm’ which Blumenthal adheres to. Colonialism is defined traditionally as a material exchange between a settler state and a mother state. Israel is clearly a settler state, however, it is far from being clear what is its ‘mother state’. Is it the USA, Britain or actually the Jewish people? In fact I argue adamantly that the colonial paradigm is there to divert the attention from the embarrassing fact that the Jewish State being racially driven, nationalist and expansionist is actually closer in its political nature to Nazi Germany rather than to South Africa. I guess that Max Blumenthal, who operates within Jews-only political cells doesn’t like this equation. Yet, such an argument doesn’t make me into a neo Fascist or an anti-Semite. If anything, it secures my status as an out-spoken observant mind.
Unlike Blumenthal and his comrades, I also believe that if Israel defines itself as the Jewish State, we are more than entitled to verify what its Jewishness stands for. Does this make me into a racist? I guess that the huge lists of scholars and humanists who decided to endorse my work didn’t think so.
But I also believe that since Max Blumenthal identifies politically as a secular Jew who operates within Jews-only political cells (and even signs on ‘Jewish letters’, as he himself admits), is actually a legitimate case study of Jewish tribal political operation.
Sooner or later Blumenthal and his comrades will have to make an effort and tell us what their ‘Jewishness’ stands for. Is it a love of chicken soup they share, or is it something more profound?
Being an expert on the matter and an avid reader of Jewish history, I know pretty well why Blumenthal is tormented by my work. Jewish hegemony within radical movements always backfired. My work indeed exposes an intrinsic dishonest element within the Jewish Left in general and Jewish anti Zionism in particular. I guess that the vastly growing popularity of the descriptive abbreviation AZZ (Anti Zionist Zionists), only suggests that Blumenthal & Co have a good reason to panic. In The Wandering Who I give this very panic a name – Pre Traumatic Stress Disorder (Pre – TSD).
I would like to take this opportunity and advise Blumenthal that killing the messenger is not going to rescue his cause: it would only attribute him the characteristics of just another Judas and he has himself to blame for it.
Panel at Cooper Union NYC led by Anne-Marie Slaughter, 28 September 2006:
Tony Judt: I just… I’d just like to say one very quick thing about [the difficulty of getting anything critical of Israel into the mainstream media]. When I submitted an article about the Israeli Lobby debate — that Mearsheimer and Walt kicked off — to a very well known American, North American, newspaper [NY Times], I was asked by the editorial directors would I mind telling them whether I’m Jewish or not. They felt it was something they would like to know before they published it.
Martin Indyk: But they published it.
TJ: I told them I was Jewish. (Audience laughs.)
This review of Gilad Atzmon’s book The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics and the anti-Atzmon essay by Ali Abunimah and some 20 co-signatories called Granting No Quarter: A Call for the Disavowal of the Racism and Antisemitism of Gilad Atzmon is an effort to unite the movement for one secular, democratic state (ODS) in historic Palestine of which both Atzmon and Abunimah are adherents. Edward Said wrote,
The absence of a collective end to which all are committed has crippled Palestinian efforts not just in the official realm, but even among private associations, where personality conflicts, outright fights, and disgraceful backbiting hamper our every step.
In his last years Said put such a “collective end” into words – for coexistence between Jews and Arabs in one state – and now, at the end of a decade that has witnessed outstanding articles, books and conferences articulating this vision, a chasm opens up. If our effort is not to be crippled both sides must bury the hatchet.
Abunimah, Omar Barghouti, Rafeef Ziadah and other signatories, as well as other ODS supporters known to me who have disavowed Atzmon, have made enormous contributions to justice for Palestinians. Their accusations are worth examining, which requires examining The Wandering Who? and some of Atzmon’s blogs and videos with an eye out for the racism, ‘antisemitism’ and Holocaust denial of which Granting accuses him. I haven’t read everything, of course, and there are certainly mistakes in my judgment, so I welcome any feedback and debate.
The call for disavowal accuses Atzmon of 5 trespasses:
(1) He claims to speak for Palestinians.
(2) He denies that Zionism is settler-colonialist.
(3) He believes that to self-identify as a Jew is to be a Zionist.
(4) He denies the Holocaust.
(5) He is an ‘antisemite’, a racist.
Two general observations: First, Granting’s accusations are formulated indirectly, not ‘in so many words’; but a reading of the short document shows that these are what it boils down to. Second, Granting itself does not include any proof or evidence for the accusations; there are no examinations of Atzmon’s texts, even out of context. Neither are there explicit definitions of the terms ‘racist’ and ‘antisemitic’ that would by rights accompany such severe accusations. For such more detailed definitions and arguments I have searched the web in vain, but of course the web is large, and if I have missed something I hope somebody tells me. I’m restricting my analysis almost entirely to Wandering on the assumption that evidence for the accusations would be there, if anywhere.
Strictly speaking there is thus no case, only claims. Atzmon is innocent till proven guilty. It is unfair, difficult and inefficient to put the burden of proof on the accused. Nevertheless, I’ve read the book carefully and ended up writing a defense of it that includes several criticisms, quoting Atzmon at length along the way. Please also see the favourable reviews by Mazin Qumsiyeh and John Mearsheimer, and a less favourable one by Elias Davidson. I ignore denunciations of Atzmon by Alan Dershowitz, Tony Greenstein and Jeffrey Goldberg because they consist of associative thinking and are based on often-unreferenced quotations out of context. Preceding Granting, in late February 2012, was a similar critique of Wandering that actually contains 12 quotations from Atzmon.
The five accusations
(1) Guiding the Palestinian struggle
Granting claims that Atzmon “for many years now… has taken on the self-appointed task of defining for the Palestinian movement the nature of our struggle, and the philosophy underpinning it.” Since I am sure the Granting signatories do not reject all ideas of all outsiders, this leaves it unclear what counts as acceptable opinion and support. It is moreover legitimate for Atzmon and other Israeli citizens to advocate visions of the future of their country – necessarily including Palestinians.
Granting’s concern becomes clearer through the further statement that “As Palestinians, it is our collective responsibility, whether we are in Palestine or in exile, to assert our guidance of our grassroots liberation struggle.” Atzmon has in fact elsewhere agreed with this:
It is our duty (as human beings) to show our support to the Palestinian people but we are not allowed to tell them what to do. We are not allowed to tell them what is right or wrong, we can only offer ourselves as soldiers…
Ignoring the absurdity of the idea of ‘telling Palestinians what to do’, roles between the oppressed and those in solidarity with them must always be negotiated. In this case however I know that there is almost total agreement between Atzmon and the “principles” of the movement guided by the signatories: Right of Return, equality not apartheid within Israel, liberation of the West Bank and Gaza, and perhaps even a preference for one over two states.
Granting claims that “Zionism, to Atzmon, is not a settler-colonial project… ” The text of Wandering does not support this claim. Atzmon in several places explicitly affirms that Zionism is settler-colonial. (pp 9, 88, 101, 165) In apparent contradiction, he does in one place write that it “is not a colonial movement with an interest in Palestine”. (p 19) In my reading this means it is not just a run-of-the-mill colonial movement out for economic or geopolitical gain: there is no mother country unless it is world Jewry, and Zionism’s only colony is Palestine, which was chosen over Argentina and Uganda for cultural and/or religious reasons. Atzmon elsewhere objects to the “misleading” colonialism paradigm because he regards Zionism as a unique racialist project, not motivated by material exploitation for the (non-existent) homeland.
Atzmon is basically asserting that the settler-colonialist paradigm is not sufficient to explain Zionism: Zionist events like the attack on the Mavi Marmara, dropping White Phosphorus on Gaza, slicing up the Holy Land with separation walls, and indeed the original expulsion of “the vast majority of the Palestinian indigenous population just three years after the liberation of Auschwitz… have nothing to do with the colonialist nature of the Jewish state…” (pp 181-182) To be sure, the term “nothing” overstates the case, but his claim is that more than colonialism is involved. I’m inclined to agree when I read for instance Netanyahu’s December 2012 statement that “We live in a Jewish state, and Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The Western Wall is not occupied territory. We will build in Jerusalem because this is our right.”
(3) Jewish political identity
Granting interprets Atzmon’s complex sociological concept of Jewish-ness to mean that
Zionism… is… part and parcel of defining one’s self as a Jew. Therefore, he claims, one cannot self-describe as a Jew and also do work in solidarity with Palestine, because to identify as a Jew is to be a Zionist.
Now, to say that self-identifying as a Jew entails Zionism is prima facie absurd, and I do not find the claim in Wandering. I agree with Granting that Atzmon is wrong in his blanket criticism of anti-Zionist Jewish groups. I also find Atzmon at places abstruse on this issue of the relation between world Jewry, “Jewish ideology” and Zionism.
But confusion is abated when we realise that his definition of Zionism differs from the standard, broad ‘movement for a Jewish state in Palestine’. Rather: “I suggest that it makes far more sense to regard Zionism as a tribal Jewish preservation project [aiming at] the prevention of assimilation…  Accordingly, Zionism should be seen as an amalgam of different philosophies specialising in different forms of tribal separatism, disengagement and segregation.” (p 70) Atzmon is thus talking only about a political self-identity, so Granting misrepresents him.
Atzmon sets up three non-exclusive basic categories: “Jews (the people), Judaism (the religion) and Jewish-ness (the ideology)… or identity politics, or political discourse”. (p 15) The book does not criticise Jews, the first category, does criticise a few aspects of Judaism, the second, and argues for 200 pages against the third, Jewish-ness, and against those who “put their Jewish-ness over and above all of their other traits.” (p 16)
I am confused as to whether Atzmon wants to say that politically identifying with Jewish-ness entails Zionism. In numerous places criticises or laughs at Jewish tribalism (pp 19, 32, 56, 113, 116, 164-165, 172, 181-184), writing that “to identify politically as a Jew and to wonder what is ‘good for the Jews’ is the true essence of Jewish tribal thinking...” (p 184) Zionism “united the tribe on many levels” (p 46) and “is grounded on a very specific realisation of the Jewish identity as a synthesis of racial awareness, religious awareness and nationalistic awareness”. But while Jewish-ness is an ethnically-based political ideology, Atzmon doesn’t show that non-Zionist Jewish political identities are inconceivable.
Granting’s signatories must have misread the sentence, “To be a Zionist means to accept that, more than anything else, one is primarily a Jew.” (p 19) This says that all Zionists are 3rd-category Jews, not the reverse. The context moreover is a specific discussion of sanayim, Mossad agents living abroad.
I do however fault Atzmon’s statement that “… considering the racist, expansionist Judeo-centric nature of the Jewish State, the Diaspora Jew finds himself or herself intrinsically associated with a bigoted, ethnocentric ideology and an endless list of crimes against humanity.” (p 48) What does “intrinsically” associated mean? Merely being “associated” (by others) with something bad is one thing; but when this is “intrinsic” it could mean that the bad thing is indeed “part and parcel” of being a Diaspora Jew.
(4) Holocaust denial
Atzmon throughout acknowledges the Holocaust, shoah or Judeocide, asserting however that it should be studied historically like other ethnic exterminations. (pp 43, 70, 130-131, 154, 175-176, 182, 185-186) And we need to see how the Holocaust is used in the destruction of the Palestinians – a position shared by Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Adi Ophir, Norman Finkelstein and Marc Ellis. (pp 148-152, 162) I do find imprecision in his statement that the “Holocaust… [is] not an historical narrative, for historical narratives do not need the protection of the law and politicians” (p149); to be consistent with everything he writes about the Holocaust this should read “not merely an historical narrative”.
As much as I was a sceptic youngster, I was also horrified by the Holocaust. In the 1970s Holocaust survivors were part of our social landscape. They were our neighbours, we met them in our family gatherings, in the classroom, in politics, in the corner shop. They were part of our lives. The dark numbers tattooed on their white arms never faded away. It always had a chilling effect. Yet I must mention that I can hardly recall a single Holocaust survivor who ever attempted to manipulate me emotionally.” (pp 185-186)
Further, “It is the Holocaust that eventually made me a devoted supporter of Palestinian rights, resistance and the Palestinian right of return.” (p 186)
An earlier blog reads,
[T]he form of Holocaust denial that really bothers me is the denial of the on-going Palestinian Holocaust. This Holocaust is documented and covered daily by the western media. The turning of residential Palestinian cities into concentration camps; the deliberate starvation of the Palestinian population; the withholding of medical aid from Palestinian civilians; the wall that tears the holy land into isolated cantons and Bantustans; the continuous bombardment of civilians by the IAF are known to us all. This Holocaust is committed by the Jewish state with the support of world Jewry.
This accusation by Granting is absurd.
(5) Racism and ‘antisemitism’
Atzmon writes nothing against Jews by origin, i.e. against anybody based on their genetic heritage or ‘race’; yet this would be the precondition for justifying the allegation of ‘antisemitism’/racism because ‘semitic’ refers to an ethnos or race. I trust moreover that ‘some of his best friends are Jewish’, and he vows:
I will present a harsh criticism of Jewish politics and identity. Yet… there will not be a single reference to Jews as ethnicity or race… This book doesn’t deal with Jews as a people or ethnicity. If anything, my studies of the issue suggest that Jews do not form any kind of racial continuum…  I also refrain from criticisng Judaism. Instead, I confront different interpretations of the Judaic code. I deal with Jewish Ideology, Jewish identity politics, and the Jewish political discourse. I ask what being a Jew entails. (p 15; also pp 147-148)
Again, his first two categories – religious Jews and Jews by origin – are “harmless and innocent”. (p 16) No one is calling for harm to Jews. (p 131)
Atzmon does once lambaste Judaism for tribalism because it so closely adheres to an ethnic rather than religious concept of itself (p 113) and sees a continuum between the Bible and Zionism (pp 120-122). But he says clearly,
I am against racism and in fact in my writing you won’t find a single racial reference. Moreover, when I write about Jewish identity I analyse it in ideological and philosophical terms. For me Jewishness is a mind set. Nothing to do with the quality of one’s blood or the religion of one’s mother.
He does unfortunately make several statements that refer to “Jews” where “Jewish-ness” or “Zionist” would be more accurate and consistent with the whole book. He for instance writes of “European and American Jews” who have assimilated and cast aside their “Jewish identity”, where he means their Jewish political identity or identification with the “tribe”. (pp 64-65) He rightly says that all Jewish Zionists sign up to the Jewish-ness ideology, but he should avoid any ambiguity suggesting that all Jews adhere to Jewish-ness.
Blurring occurs when he omits the qualifier ‘political’ in writing of “the Jew within”, “the Jewish understanding of the past” or occasionally of “Jewish identity”. (pp 95, 173, 135) He does however usually precisely include it, for example in writing that one “can hardly endorse a universal philosophy while being identified politically as a Jew.” (p 39; also pp 102, 138, 145, 174) Imprecision burdens as well the statement that “Jewish people… can never be like ‘other people’, for those who demand to be seen as equal must feel inherently and categorically different.” (p 52) I also miss clear definitions for the phrases “the Jewish condition” (p 184) and “the wider Jewish problem”. (p 15)
Atzmon’s use of the phrase “Jewish lobbyists” (pp 152, 171) has been challenged, clarity speaking for “Israel lobby” or “Zionist lobby”. It is however at least mitigating that most Jewish Zionist lobbyists themselves refer to themselves and their organisations as ‘Jewish’, and that Zionists themselves appropriate Jewish identities to oppress Palestinian Arabs – for instance with the Holocaust (pp 130-134) or Judaic symbols on fighter planes (p 140). As Zionist Michael Bar-Zohar puts it, “If you’re attacking Israel, this means you are attacking Jews.” But why should one language-rule be valid for pro-Israel lobbies and another for its critics? (pp 149-151)
Granting in addition accuses Atzmon of ‘”allying” himself with “conspiracy theories, far-right, orientalist, and racist arguments, associations and entities”, but offers no evidence, nor even a definition of what “allying” would look like. I urge Atzmon to make his language less ambiguous, but given that he is criticising what he sees as the dominant Jewish political culture, not Jews in general, his book in fact supports Granting’s position that “our struggle was never, and will never be, with Jews, or Judaism, no matter how much Zionism insists that our enemies are the Jews. Rather, our struggle is with Zionism.”
Benny Morris, in an interview with Jewish Chronicle and Guardian Zionist Jonathan Freedland, defends himself against Freedland’s suggestion that his critical, negative claims about Arab culture “could be seen as” racist by rejoining that he [like Atzmon] is speaking of a dominant political culture, not Arabs as a genetically defined ethnic group. Morris’s ambiguities are between statements that ‘all Arabs’ or ‘a majority of Arabs’ or ‘Arabs’ or ‘Arab culture(s)’ place relatively low value on human life, but it seems the generalising nature of sociological analysis always entails a degree of conflation between (1) the dominant norms of the group and (2) all members of the group. Nietzsche walked the same tightrope in his Kulturkritik of Christianity. But the issue is the quality of Morris’s or Atzmon’s or Nietzsche’s empirical evidence and cultural analysis – a well-known academic field – not whether any such investigation is racist. It is not, since there is no appeal to ethnic causality which is the criterion for both positive (e.g. ‘philosemitic’) and negative (e.g. ‘antisemitic’) racism.
The advertisement for Wandering claims: “Since Israel defines itself openly as the ‘Jewish State’, we should ask what the notions of ‘Judaism’, ‘Jewishness’, ‘Jewish culture’ and ‘Jewish ideology’ stand for.” The Jewish state and its behaviour is an explicandum of the first order, costing as it does Palestinian lives and livelihoods. He quotes Israel’s first president: “‘There are no English, French, German or American Jews, but only Jews living in England, France, Germany or America.’ In just a few words, Weizmann managed to categorically define the essence of Jewish-ness.” (p 16) With this concept he hopes to correct and add to our understanding of Zionism.
Atzmon told Ha’aretz:
The Israelis can put an end to the conflict in two fucking minutes. Netanyahu gets up tomorrow morning, returns to the Palestinians the lands that belong to them, their fields and houses, and that’s it. The refugees will come home and the Jews will also finally be liberated: They will be free in their country and will be able to be like all the nations, get on with their lives and even salvage the bad reputation they have brought on themselves in the past 2,000 years. But for Netanyahu and the Israelis to do that, they have to undergo de-Judaization and accept the fact that they are like all peoples and are not the chosen people. So, in my analysis this is not a political, sociopolitical or socioeconomic issue but something basic that has to do with Jewish identity.
The anti-Zionist as well as the pro-Zionist discourse cannot be separated from the Jewish discourse.
At a One Democratic State conference in Stuttgart in 2010, attended by both Atzmon and Abunimah, the latter argued that this ‘culture’ category is useless:
I think that to use language that blames a particular culture – [Atzmon] was talking about Jewish culture – is wrong [applause] because such arguments could be made about anyone. We could blame German culture for the history of Germany, we could blame British culture for the history of British imperialism, we could blame Afrikaner culture for apartheid in South Africa. And this really doesn’t explain anything at all. (emphasis added)
Atzmon counters that this is
what historians, sociologists, anthropologists, intellectuals are doing when they try to understand historical and political development. The historians and sociologists who look into the Nazi era, don’t they look into German culture, into German philosophy, into the work of Wagner, both as a writer and as a composer, into the work of Hegel, and the German spirit, into Christian antisemitism, and the impact of the Protestant church, don’t they look into a Martin Luther, and his infamous book about the Jews and their lives? Don’t they look into German Early Romanticism? We are in the 21st century. We understand very well that culture, politics, history, heritage, religions, are all bonded together.
Abunimah’s position is of course untenable, while at the same time it remains to be seen whether Atzmon’s concept of ‘Jewish-ness’ really earns its keep.
Perhaps “Jewish-ness” is not strictly necessary to refute Zionism and support ODS. However, on the principle of ‘know thine enemy’ it may assist us in fighting Zionism and negotiating with Israel – were it ever to come to the table. I moreover submit that analysing the hoary topic of ‘what it is to be a Jew’ is of much interest to many Jews who are now doubting their support of the Jewish state. It seems to me that the issue can contribute to both an intra-Jewish discussion and to the discussion of how to stop the Jewish state’s murderous ethnic cleansing. Why should it do only one or the other?
One Granting signatory, Omar Barghouti, has sought in terms similar to Atzmon’s to explain Zionist crimes against Palestinians, the “relative-humanization” of Palestinians, and how Zionists live with it. His explanatory concept is ‘Jewish fundamentalism’, relying partly on the thought of Israel Shahak to find cold-bloodedness and justification for Jewish ethnic superiority in some “tenets of Jewish Law”. The Midianite genocide and certain Torah passages provide precedents for what is happening today. Atzmon likewise relates Israeli behaviour to Biblical precedents (pp 120-122, 157-162), yet in the main looks at secular Jewish culture, whereas Barghouti is perhaps focusing only on religious Jewish culture. Or, if it is not Atzmon’s anti-Jewish-ness that Barghouti finds racist, antisemitic and Holocaust-denying, what is it?
As for the content of Jewish-ness – in the broadest terms merely “Judeo-centric political discourse” (pp 88, 55, 145, 197) – Atzmon characterises it as (1) exclusivist, (2) based on the uniqueness of Jewish suffering, (3) supremacist and (4) uncannily paralleling some Old Testament stories. (pp 121, 160, 188) He writes for instance that
assimilation has never been presented as a Jewish political call. It was rather individual Jews who welcomed and enjoyed European liberal tendencies. The Jewish political call was inspired by different means of tribal, cultural or even racially-orientated segregation. (p 32)
As evidence that it is more “tribal” than many other groups Atzmon points to a relatively high resistance to assimilation, strong halachic marriage rules (procreative isolation), and high hurdles for conversion to Judaism. (pp 19, 32, 56, 113, 116, 164-165, 172) The bridge to Zionism, in Atzmon’s view, seems to be that a combination of exile, cohesion and chosenness, together with feelings of unique suffering, led to both a strong desire for an ethnically-defined rather than secular-democratic state and a sense of righteousness (and thoroughness) in its establishment at the expense of indigenous people.
I don’t know much about either Judaism or Jewishness, but I think Atzmon’s evidence for the trait of supremacy is inadequate. (see pp 2, 101, 181-182) True, Zionist acts are racially supremacist, but the book does not give a rigorous proof that feelings of ethnic superiority inhere in the Jewish political culture. But this is a question of content; that he writes about it is certainly kosher.
We should perhaps not forget that Hess, Jabotinsky, Weizmann and all Israeli politicians have tied the state as closely as possible to Jewish history and culture. (pp 16-17, 139) The Law of Return, the Jewish National Fund, Jews-only settlements and roads, the very concept of Eretz Israel, and Israel’s Declaration of Independence are racist. Negative Kulturkritik is not.
Atzmon unexpectedly even has a good word for Jewish-ness in seeing its “complexity” and the “duality of tribalism and universalism… at the very heart of the collective secular Jewish identity… ” (pp 148, 162, 56) “Secular collective Jewish identity” is made up of both elements, “Athens” and “Jerusalem”. (pp 56, 57, 78) In conciliatory mode he ambivalently asserts that while there is no such thing as a “Jewish humanist heritage’… there are some remote patches of humanism in Jewish culture, [which however] are certainly far from being universal.” (p 113) By reference to the ethnic particularism of Jewish-ness he suggests an answer to the question “How is it that… Israel and its lobbies are so blind to any form of ethical or universal thinking?” (p 177, emphasis added)
Another writer seeking connection between “Jewish resources” and a universal, egalitarian ethics is Judith Butler, whose new book Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism promises a rewarding look at this topic which should be debated, not silenced by the charge of ‘antisemitism’ or denying the legitimacy of cultural explanations in principle.
Imagine an exam question: “Is the following statement antisemitic?:
The reopening of the tunnel [beneath al-Haram al-Sharif] seems… an act of arrogant triumphalism, a sort of rubbing of Palestinian and Muslim noses in the dirt. This had the added effect of pouring fuel on the smoldering sectarian competition that has been the city’s long-standing bane. I do not think there is any doubt that this Lukud assertion of what is unmistakably Jewish power over Muslim holy places was intended to show the world… that Judaism can do what it wants.
Atzmon speaks of “Jewish nationalism, Jewish lobbying and Jewish power” (p 145), interpreted perhaps by Granting with the somewhat vague phrase “attacking Jewish identities”. But cannot one speak of a political ideology that sees itself as Jewish using the term ‘Jewish’ with its bundle of ethnic, religious, and political meanings?
Atzmon asks several taboo questions.
I think that 65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, we must be entitled to start asking questions… We should strip the Holocaust of its Judeo-centric exceptional status and treat it as an historical chapter that belongs to a certain time and place. The Holocaust, like every other historical narrative, must be analysed properly… Why were the Jews hated? Why did European people stand up against their neighbours? Why are the Jews hated in the Middle East, surely they had a chance to open a new page in their troubled history? If they geniunely planned to do so, as the early Zionists claimed, why did they fail? (pp 175-176)
People who place such questions out of bounds “are doomed to think that anti-Semitism is an ‘irrational’ social phenomenon that ‘erupts out of nowhere’. Accordingly they must believe that the Goyim are potentially mad.” (p 182) It is a matter of simple logic that to ask why Jews were hated in Europe is not to presuppose that there were good reasons.
It took me many years to understand that the Holocaust, the core belief of the contemporary Jewish faith, was not at all an historical narrative [for] historical narratives do not need the protection of the law and political lobbies. It took me years to grasp that my great-grandmother wasn’t made into a ‘soap’ or a ‘lampshade’ as I was taught in Israel. She probably perished of exhaustion, typhus or maybe even by mass shooting… The fate of my great-grandmother was not so different from hundreds of thousands of German civilians who died in deliberate, indiscriminate bombing, just because they were Germans. Similarly, people in Hiroshima died just because they were Japanese… [As devastating as it was], at a certain moment in time, a horrible chapter was given an exceptional meta-historical status. (pp 175, 149)
The “Holocaust religion” freezes a certain narrative in law while Holocaust research follows normal historiographic rules; the claim of its uniqueness is ‘philosemitic’, and its severity is used to justify, with the logic of two wrongs’ making a right, the ethnic cleansing of people having nothing to do with the Holocaust. (pp 148-153)
Evil questions came naturally to Atzmon:
[At age 14 he] asked the emotional tour guide if she could explain the fact that so many Europeans loathed the Jews so much and in so many places at once. I was thrown out of school for a week. (p 184)
“As long as we fail to ask questions, we will be subjected to Zionist lobbies and their plots. We will continue killing in the name of Jewish suffering.” (p 176)
Ben White has similarly asked, “Is it possible to understand the rise in anti-semitism?” This requires defining both ‘antisemitic’ and ‘understand’. One poll question asked people if they “can understand very well that some people are unpleasant towards Jews”. While White is not anti-Semitic and not unpleasant towards Jews, he “can… understand why some are.” First, Israel subscribes to the racial supremacy of Jews, and Zionists “equate their colonial project with Judaism”, and although reacting to this racism and injustice with “attacks on Jews or Jewish property [is] misguided”, it can be understood politically. Second, since the Western media are overwhelmingly pro-Israel, some people believe, again “misguidedly”, the idea of a “Jewish conspiracy”. We must live with the ambiguity of the word ‘understand’.
Similarly, when Atzmon calls violence against non-combatants who are Jewish by origin “rational”, we must acknowledge the ambiguity of the term ‘rational’, which doesn’t mean ‘morally justified’. Atzmon defends his statement that burning down a synagogue can be “a rational act” by explaining that by “rational” he means that “any form of anti-Jewish activity may be seen as political retaliation. This does not make it right.” One can ask why such violence occurs, just as we can ask why the Jewish state commits and condones violence against innocent Palestinians and the destruction of olive trees and water cisterns. It can be Israeli racism, but it could also be ‘rational’ behaviour for Israel’s security. Antisemitism expert Antony Lerman, also, has noted that many acts against Jews in Europe were tied to Israel’s unjust behaviour – they were political, not irrational in the sense of arbitrary, or necessarily motivated solely by hate of Jews.
Another hot topic that might can approach solely in terms of Zionism, not Jewish-ness, is that of the economic, political and media power of Zionists who are also Jews in part motivated by allegiance to their ethnic group. Atzmon covers this briefly (169-172), his Exhibit A being the ardently pro-Zionist Jewish Chronicle’s listing of the relatively large number of Jews in the UK Parliament (all hard or soft Zionists). Exhibit B is billionaire Haim Saban who says, according to a New Yorker portrait, “I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel… [The Arab] terrorists give me a potch in the panim…”; he openly seeks influence in “political parties,… think tanks… and media outlets…”, has tried to buy the LA Times and NY Times to push his agenda, and “harbors a wariness of Arabs that may stem from growing up as a Jew in Egypt.”
To declare out of bounds the subject of Jewish, as opposed to merely Zionist, influence in politics, finance and media is to claim that support for Zionism by many powerful people has nothing at all to do with the fact that they are Jewish, or rather, that they politically identify as Jews. Xstrata boss Mick Davis’s charity ‘United Jewish Israel Appeal’ (‘Powering young people in the UK and Israel’, ‘Strengthening Jewish identity and the connection to Israel’), is merely pro-Israel; in spite of its name, its slogans and its activities furthering Judaisation in “the Galil” and the Negev, it has nothing to do with Jewishness, no ethno-cultural content whatsoever. The Anti-Defamation League in the US, on this view, is merely a group protecting Jews from ‘antisemitism’, only coincidentally pro-Israel. Everybody knows this is fiction, and the subject appears taboo for critics but not for supporters of Zionism.
Again, one can strip Herzl’s movement for a Judenstaat to its settler-colonialist bones, but given an interest in promoting pro-Palestinian public opinion, one can look at this subject soberly, with no ‘antisemitic’ intent. Whether Jewish-ness and Zionism connect here, and whether this makes any difference in understanding Zionist oppression of Palestinians, are open questions, and I for one look for ‘Zionist’ rather than ‘Jewish’ publicists. But why should this be taboo? At any rate, on this subject Atzmon delivers a one-liner: “As I have said earlier, I do not believe in Jewish conspiracies: everything done in the open.” (p 76) But his real view is that “In fact the opposite [than a conspiracy] is the case. It isn’t a plot and certainly not a conspiracy for it was all in the open. It is actually an accident.” (pp 30, 21)
To be avoided is the situation where only supporters of Israel can point to ethnic-ideological connections while critics of Israel cannot. If we want to understand the entity committing the Palestinicide, the only line to be drawn is at hate speech based on ethnic, racial and religious criteria.
The ambiguity of ‘Jewish’
As shown above, some of Atzmon’s statements fail to distinguish clearly between his 2nd and 3rd categories – between Jews by biological origin and those whose priority is their (Jewish) cultural identity – and could thus be read as ‘antisemitic’. I find however no evidence of hate of, distaste for, or even criticism of, ‘Jews’. Complicating judgment of these statements is the fact that when they are ‘philosemitic’ they are not, in our mainstream discourse, seen as objectionable. (p 51) Not only ‘Jewish humour’, but quotidian political analysis routinely refers to ‘Jewish’ – not ‘Zionist’ or ‘Israeli’ – identity.
One Israeli analyst for instance correlates Israeli “right” and “left” stances with “where on our scale of identity we place Jewish identity”, quoting Netanyahu saying, “The leftists have forgotten what it is to be Jewish.” Still, I believe Atzmon should avoid sentences that use the unqualified terms ‘Jews’ or ‘Jewish’ when the subject is identity politics. The statement “I grasped that Israel and Zionism were just parts of the wider Jewish problem” (p 15) is understood by those familiar with a long intra-Jewish discourse, but not by the wider world. It takes a lot of context to de-fuse a statement like, “With contempt, I am actually elaborating on the Jew in me” – the context coming three paragraphs later, namely that “Jewish-ness isn’t at all a racial category… ” (pp 94-95)
As already touched on, while the Jewish supremacy of the Jewish state’s Zionism is obvious, Wandering does not demonstrate to my satisfaction that Jewish-ness is supremacist. Now if Jewish political culture (‘Jewish-ness’) is Zionism, the claim is tautologically true, but Atzmon maintains throughout that they are different. To be sure, adherence to any ethnically- or religiously-defined group arguably implies a belief that the group is a bit better than rival groups: upholding türklük, or saying ‘I am a Christian’ says something about Kurds, and perhaps Islam, as well. But Atzmon’s claim is not only open to empirical examination, it is not a claim about (all) Jews as an ethnicity, and therefore not racist. Nevertheless, because this claim is so central to building the bridge between Jewish-ness and Zionism it deserves more argument.
Jews Against Zionism
Atzmon criticises groups that mix ethnic Jewish identity with the non-ethnic political goals of socialism and anti-Zionism; they put their Jewish-ness above the content of their political stance in addition to excluding non-Jews. (pp 62, 71-76, 86-87, 102-105) Groups such as British Jewish Socialists, Jews for Boycott of Israeli Goods, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, or Jewish Voice for Peace remain, he says, within the discourse of ethnicism rather than universal humanism:
Even saying ‘I do not agree with Israel although I am a Jew’ is to fall into the trap. Having fallen into the trap, one cannot leave the clan behind – one can hardly endorse a universal philosophy while being identified politically as a Jew. (pp 38-39)
He gives an instance of the conflicting loyalties of Jews who oppose Zionism or support socialism as Jews by relating a Jewish Chronicle interview with two founding members of British Jewish Socialists who want also to belong to the Jewish ethnic group or nation.
I do differentiate between ‘the leftist who happens to be jewish’ – an innocent category inspired by humanism, and ‘the Jewish leftist’, which seems to me to be a contradiction in terms, for the left aims to universally transcend itself beyond ethnicity, religion or race. Clearly ‘Jewish left’ is there to maintain a Jewish tribal ethnocentric identity at the heart of working class philosophy. (pp 116-117)
The Marxist European Bund also mixed pro-socialist and pro-Jewish goals (pp 56, 116, 181), but I am not aware of what substantial differentiae would set Jewish socialism off from other brands.
It is however Atzmon’s attack on Jewish anti-Zionists that prompts the passage in Granting stating,
We will not allow a false sense of expediency to drive us into alliance with those who attack, malign, or otherwise attempt to target our political fraternity with all liberation struggles and movements for justice.
Yes, Atzmon targets that part of the pro-Palestinian movement defining itself as ‘Jewish’, believing that in the long run the cause is best served if we shed our ethnic political identities. He is asking whether, when the message is that “not all Jews are Zionists” (p 102), the main goal is to protect the good name of Jews, to retain some Jewish-ness, or to further the Palestinian cause. I believe Atzmon is here too severe in his critique, firstly because many such Jews fighting for Palestinian rights have impeccable motives, and secondly because there is a gain for Palestinians when a message to world opinion is that criticism of Israel does not entail being against Jews as Jews.
I am not aware that investigations into both ‘Jewishness’ and ‘Jewish ethics’ in connection with Zionism have revealed any difference in content between ‘Jewish’ anti-Zionism and ethno-religiously neutral anti-Zionism (i.e. universal ethics). I also accept the common observation that “Anti-Zionist (or Israel-critical) organizing, then, plays a crucial role in establishing a new secular Jewish identity, a field dominated by Zionism in Western nations for decades.” But again, the groups often identify themselves as Jewish for public-relations reasons, and indeed, why shouldn’t some such activists promote both anti-Zionism and the good name of their Jewish ethnos?
The social-marketing desirability of de-coupling Jewishness from criticism of Israel, which Atzmon misses or rejects (p 102), is expressed by the group ‘Jews for Justice for Palestinians’ (which nota bene supports the two-state solution and is thus not anti-Zionist):
As well as organising to ensure that Jewish opinions critical of Israeli policy are heard in Britain, we extend support to Palestinians trapped in the spiral of violence and repression. We believe that such actions are important in countering antisemitism and the claim that opposition to Israel’s destructive policies is itself antisemitic.
While in the long or even medium run it is good to eliminate ethnocentricity from politics, there is perhaps now still some benefit for the Palestinian cause in having explicitly Jewish allies.
Finally, it slanders the many sincere anti-Zionist Jews organised as Jews to claim that they “hate the Goyim” (p 55), that they are (only) there “to keep the debate within the family” (p 102). While I sympathise with Atzmon’s attempt to “untangle the knot” (p 15) of religion, ethnicity and Jewish identity politics, and agree we should first and foremost explicitly embrace universal ethics, he here overstates his case. It also seems merely polemical to claim that “when it comes to ‘action’ against the so-called ‘enemies of the Jewish people’, Zionists and ‘Jewish anti-Zionists’ act as one people – because they are one people.” (p 102) Philosophical analysis of what Zionism has to do with Jewish-ness is still a nascent field, and I urge Atzmon to criticise but not ridicule all organised ‘anti-Zionist Jews’.
Atzmon offers a cogent argument that Alan Greenspan’s economic policies were disastrous, but asserts that Greenspan, by creating an economic boom, “found a… way to facilitate or at least divert… attention from the wars perpetrated by the largely Jewish neo-conservatives in Afghanistan and Iraq.” (pp 27-30) He however neither offers evidence that Greenspan intended the boom to enable the expensive warmongering, nor criticises him for Zionism. He merely calls him a “rich Jew”. (p 27) This not only feeds the ‘antisemitic’ picture of the unscrupulous Jewish money-grubber but is based on Greenspan’s being a Jew by origin, not any purported Jewish political identity or culture. I also happen to know that the foreign-policy views of Greenspan are much closer to those of Ron Paul, and that in 1969 he paid for the bail and lawyer of my best friend who had refused to be drafted to go fight in Vietnam. Atzmon’s digression on Greenspan is harmful or at least pointless in the battle for justice for Palestinians.
An objection to Granting
The anti-colonialist ‘self-determination’ discourse must today compete with the individual-rights discourse. While Atzmon adheres strictly to the latter and sees the dangers in the self-determination of groups (pp 52, 105-106), Granting refers to the Arab-Palestinian “homeland” and the “self-determination… of the Palestinian people” (emphasis added); the text speaks of “our native lands”. The “our” can refer to those comprising the large majority of those who have lived there during the last dozen-plus centuries and happened to be ‘Arabs’ or ‘Semites’ and overwhelmingly Moslem; or it can be ethnicist, meaning Arab Semites, perhaps describing the signatories. Here perhaps we have contrasting visions of the one-state vision broadly shared by Atzmon, Barghouti and Abunimah, the latter seeing the constitution more in terms of bi-nationalism rather than the state’s absolute blindness towards ethnicity and religion. Yet why would this would be a reason to “disavow” Atzmon?
The signatories speak of “the struggle for Palestine and its national movement” and of theirs as “the Palestinian movement”. They also claim some rights in “defining for the Palestinian movement the nature of our struggle” and “the philosophy underpinning it”. Some sectarian as well as secular anti-Zionist Palestinians might disagree with this but, recalling the very first accusation against Atzmon (above), the point is that unless one excludes Israeli Jews from voting in the future secular, democratic state, Atzmon can speak not only universally but for himself as a citizen. I agree that one state is a bigger ask for the Palestinians than for the Israeli Jews, who as colonists are being invited to remain. But even outsiders like myself have the right to support any part of the ‘Palestinian movement’ we agree with. These questions about homelands and leadership deserve discussion rather than disavowal.
Granting speaks as well of Atzmon’s “obsession with ‘Jewishness’”, but this would surely be only Atzmon’s problem. The call moreover characterises Atzmon’s “attacks on anyone who disagrees with his [alleged] obsession with ‘Jewishness’” as “vicious”. However, in Wandering he aims no criticism at critics of his concept of Jewish-ness, and while I find sarcasm that occasionally goes too far, “vicious” is a crass mis-characterisation.
Other takes on Jewishness
How does Atzmon’s anti-Jewish-ness compare with other types of pro- or anti-Jewishness? Witness a Jewish-critical statement of Meron Benvenisti:
I would say that what characterizes us collectively is ethnic hatred, ethnic recoil, ethnic contempt and ethnic patronizing.
He balances this generalising take on the Jewish “collective” with the caveat that “I would not categorize us all as racists”, exactly paralleling Atzmon’s distinction between 2nd– and 3rd-category Jews; he attests racism only of a “large segment” of Jewish Israeli society. Benvenisti by the way also makes the statement that he is “proud to be a white sabra [native-born Israeli Jew]”. Is Benvenisti an anti-Jewish racist, a pro-Jewish one, or neither?
Philo-Jewishness statements likewise may or may not be ‘philosemitic’. In a Guardian interview Arnold Wesker utters, “A reverence for the power of the intellect is for me a definition of Jewishness:…” Now, a definition has a genus and one or more differentiae, so what distinguishes “Jewishness” as a type of sociological reification is a reverence for the power of the intellect. The inescapable corollary is that other ethnic (religious? cultural?) groups have no, or less, such reverence. It is perhaps evidence of this purported reverence that a website proudly lists Jewish Nobel laureates.
What are we to make of the observation of one of these Nobel laureates, Saul Bellow, on a trip to Jerusalem, that “a few Arab hens are scratching up dust and pecking”? That “Jewish claims in Jerusalem are legitimate”? That Israelis have a tough life “all because [they] wished to lead Jewish lives in a Jewish state”? That “When the Jews decided, through Zionism, to ‘go political’, they didn’t know what they were getting into”? That (according to A.B. Yehoshua) “Perhaps there is something exceptional in all our Jewishness [which] to us… is clear and we can feel it…”? That Bellow’s one academic colleague who criticised Zionism “went out to jog on a boiling Chicago afternoon and died of heart failure”? Bellow, who believes in “the moral meaning of Israel’s existence” and that it “stands for something in Western history”, uses ethnic, political and culture concepts interchangeably. Is Bellow an anti-Arab racist, a pro-Jewish one, or neither?
Many Jews-by-origin reject Zionism but retain Jewishness. Paul Knepper writes of Michael Polanyi:
In making the case for a Jewish state as the solution to anti-Semitism, Zionists had thrown up an array of mistaken identities, defining Jewishness in political, religious, and cultural terms. Polanyi rejected this as inward-looking, even reactionary; he pursued an outward-looking understanding based on the relationship of Jews to non-Jews. Polanyi saw assimilated Jews [like himself] not as running away or denying Jewish identity, but instead, as pursuing a truer and more significant expression of Jewishness.
Atzmon agrees with the first sentence but argues against finding identity in what one is not, and abandons the quest for Jewish-ness as such. (pp 31-36, 58-63, passim)
Eric Hobsbawm, the unobservant Jew who called himself a “non-Jewish Jew” and “not a Jewish historian [but an] historian who happened to be Jewish” (also Atzmon, pp 16-18), similarly saw a need to retain some “Jewishness”, even if it consisted merely of not being ashamed to be Jewish. He said of his friend Isaiah Berlin in contrast, “His Jewish identity implied identity with Israel because he believed that the Jews should be a nation.”
I have read only the introduction to Judith Butler’s Parting Ways, where she outlines the Jewishness of her formation and many of the ethical sources she draws on but acknowledges the paradox – perhaps contradiction – of holding values that are simultaneously universal and Jewish. (pp 26, 18) As the jacket of her book states,
Jewish ethics not only demand a critique of Zionism, but must transcend its exclusive Jewishness in order to realize the ethical and political ideals of living together in radical democracy.
She is a proponent of one secular, democratic state in Palestine searching for “a different Jewishness… [and] the departure from Jewishness as an exclusionary framework for thinking both ethics and politics.” (p 2) Her book promises [recalling Polanyi, above] “to locate Jewishness in the moment of its encounter with the non-Jewish, in the dispersal of the self that follows from that encounter [mainly with Edward Said and Mahmoud Darwish].” (p 26)
Within Israel’s left, Atzmon’s ideas and formulations ruffle few feathers. As Ha’aretz journalist Yaron Frid says, lamenting Israel’s loss of Atzmon, “The score, for now: 1-0, Palestine leading.” In Israel Atzmon’s mother commented, “[The book] is not at all anti-Semitic. Gilad has a problem with Jewishness, he talks about three categories of Jews, but you have to read everything to understand – rather than bring quotations and take them out of context… I am very proud of my son.” (ibid.) But a mother would say that, wouldn’t she?
Atzmon insists that the desire for a Jewish nation arises out of Jewish suffering’s experienced specialness and asks what is then left of Jewish-ness when identification with (the uniqueness of) Jewish suffering is overcome. He asserts that Israel is not just another colonial power, but one driven by a distinctly Jewish ideology, and he convinced me that we must understand this Jewish-ness to understand for instance AIPAC, or to see that the West Bank to be given up by Israel in some phantasmagoric two-state settlement is not the West Bank, but Judea and Samaria. Yes, talking about a culture as opposed to some number of that culture’s members holds risks of conflation and ambiguity, and some of Atzmon’s discussion is an intra-Jewish one. But his book undoubtedly illuminates the ‘prosemitic’ racist ideology fatal to Palestinians. Perceptions differ, of course, but I do not see how anyone can read the whole book, with open ears, and find Atzmon ‘antisemitic’ or racist.
Granting’s signatories write that they “stand with all and any movements that call for justice, human dignity, equality, and social, economic, cultural and political rights.” I urge them to re-read (or read) Wandering, present a definition of ‘antisemitic’ racism, and based on textual evidence debate whether Atzmon’s words fulfill it. Because Jew-hatred has been so trivialised by Zionists, accusations of ‘antisemitism’ must be especially well-argued. For the ODS movement unity at any cost is not essential, but we need our energies to help transform Israel into a normal country respecting all humans’ rights. Unless racism is proven, one should bury the hatchet.
Blake Alcott is an ecological economist living in Cambridge, England. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Why we must defend those who dare to speak about the ideology of Jewish supremacy (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Lasse Wilhelmson and Freedom in Sweden (alethonews.wordpress.com)
A lucky few had front row seats at Great Berlin’s Oyer and Terminer cybertrial.
The hall was packed and it was standing room only for most attendees.
Hushed whispers, excited twitters, and face-to-face exchanges in the back seats created an ominous droning sound.
“What did she do exactly?”
“You don’t know?! She posted a video.”
“No, I mean one of those.”
“No friggingfreespeech way! She didn’t clear it with anyone?”
“No, she claimed it was not supposed to be widely disseminated; she probably knew it might create a furore, but it somehow got sent out of the Freegaza account.”
“But someone said it was just one of those stupid videos that bark up the wrong tree, chewing the old cud about the Jews’ role in the holocaust.”
“No, it is a lot worse. It is one of those provocative videos, like David Duke’s. You know the BDS saying: “You post, you’re toast.”
“That’s an incredibly dumb video though. Like there isn’t enough current stuff to talk about regarding the role of the Jews in the banking collapse, for one thing.”
“That would not be an approved video either. One of these days I swear I’ll see you up there in Greta’s box. Don’t you get it? It can’t be about the Jews, it is only about Israelis, and not all of them, only the bad ones, like Netanyahu.”
“Did she say that she liked the video and approved of its content?”
“That’s another silly question. What’s wrong with you today? It does not matter that she did not say that. It is bad enough that she watched it and/or sent it on. If we all did stupid things like that where would we be? We’d all be watching and reading anything and discussing it!”
We cannot afford to… wait, how did he put it?
“Can’t remember his name exactly Steve Damsel or Hamsel from Jerusalem, formerly from the US. In his blog called Desert Peace he called her “a witch” and said “we can’t afford to alienate anybody.”
“Smart guy. He is right: what kind of protest movement would we be if we upset people?”
“I read Emily Hauser in the Daily Beast. She explained that Greta harms the Palestinian cause and Emily knows her onions. Her Palestinian onions, as it were, because she said she was talking “as a Jew, a Zionist, and an Israeli.” She even added “as a pro-Palestinians activist I’m pretty pissed off.”
“Shhhhhh@! He is coming!”
“Ali Abounimah. Don’t you recognize him by his limp?”
“What happened to him?”
“Atzmon caught his you know what in a revolving door.”
“What ‘you know what’?”
“I don’t know if the word is on the approved list. In Yiddish it’s beitsam. I guess I can say it in Spanish: cojones.
And since you still look clueless I’ll tell you the revolving door was the business with Ali saying culture does not matter.
Well, Atzmon turned the revolving door back on him with Goldhagen or something and Ali has been limping ever since.”
“Oh, no, he’s coming closer to Greta and sniffing her. He can sniff Atzmon on anybody from a mile away. He looks ready to pounce on her.”
“How can he pounce while limping and wrapped in that djellaba?”
“It’s a judge’s robe but he had it cut like a djellaba: makes him look more Palestinian.
“I hear Naomi Klein resigned from the FG advisory board. A way of saying she can’t be associated with an organization that watches videos. Those videos.“
“Who will speak for the accused? Will someone say anything about her contribution, or that doesn’t count? She founded FG, didn’t she?”
“Maybe, but only in the introduction prior to reading her charges. Makes them, you know, balanced.”
“But the Palestinians? I mean the Palestinians in Palestine, especially Gaza?”
“What about them? What do they have to do with this? Leave them out of this discussion. This is far more important. It’s all about racism, that is, its worst form ever, anti-Semitism.
Which is why Ali monitors discussions of a group of 1,000 members or more. You can’t have people flapping their jaws on their own.”
“You’re right. Greta was on probation anyhow. She went off the reservation by saying Atzmon had been ‘demonized.’ I swear that’s the word she used. I think Ali will tear her flesh off the bone, just watch.”
“How do you know?”
“Haven’t you read Harry’s Place? They’re challenging Ali to prove he is not an anti-Semite, and giving him a list of the next candidates for Oyer and Terminer.
Here, read this copy:
“I’m not sure he really believes what he’s saying.
The thing is, Ali Abunimah’s website isn’t much better at all. Abunimah encourages antisemites of similar stock to Greta Berlin, to write for the Electronic Intifada.
Electronic Intifada still lists Sonja Karkar as an author.
Electronic Intifada recently published Stephen Salaita.
Stephen Salaita is a fan of the antisemite Gilad Atzmon.
Ali Abunimah himself has condemned Atzmon for years for antisemitism. Whilst dismissing Atzmon, Abunimah claimed “We must protect the integrity of our movement”. But he still lets one of Atzmon’s admirers write on his blog.
Abunimah also publishes the antisemite Ben White.”
“Some say this is guilt by association and they say it like there’s anything wrong with it as an accusation. Harry’s Place called Ali a “weird and creepy guy.” Next stop: anti-semitesville. So Ali has to, you know, put out.”
“But why isn’t it starting?”
“They’re waiting for Avi Mayer, you know who he is, the head honcho of the Jewish Agency for Israel.”
“But what is he doing here? He is not FG. In fact he says the Free Gaza Movement endorses violence against Israel.”
“No, in this he is with us. In a manner of speaking. It’s complicated.
At any rate, this is the kind of video that should not be circulated at all, so when the FG deleted it from their tweet account, Avi Mayer used a screenshot he had taken of it and posted it.”
“Obvious: so everyone can see what they better not watch and pass around.“
“I am beginning to pity her, if he cross examines her.”
“I know, he is merciless.”
“No, worse: I am told he has a killer halitosis.”
“Quiet now, they’re ready to begin.”
Fighting the enemy at times means fighting your erstwhile comrades-in-arms
The phenomenal success the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has had since it began in 2005 has attracted attention from all corners of the political spectrum — for better or for worse. Israel is scared. Israeli thinktanks have described BDS as a greater threat to Israel than armed Palestinian resistance. At the same time, at the forefront of the movement against what is now widely called Israeli apartheid are Jews — Israeli and diaspora. This is not surprising, as Jews have traditionally been active in “political mobilisation and opinion formation”, according to Benjamin Ginsberg.
So it should not be surprising if the BDS movement itself experiences turmoil. For several years now, the UK Palestinian Soldarity Committee (PSC) has conducted a policy of calling leading activists such as Paul Eisen, Gilad Atzmon and Israel Shamir — all Jewish — anti-Semitic for daring to point out that those who persecute Arab Muslims and Christians are not just Zionists but are invariably Jewish. That the Jews who have opted to take Israeli citizenship are increasingly racist, belligerent settlers who use their new identity to dispossess, terrorise and murder Palestinians, with the intent of forcing them to leave even the remaining 12 per cent of the land once called Palestine.
These Jews have given Judaism a bad name, causing some “good Jews” to critique their own religious heritage and even disown it, such as American highschooler and winner of the 2012 Martin Luther King Jr Writing Award Jesse Lieberfeld, who came to realise, “I was grouped with the racial supremacists… I was part of a delusion.” For these Jews, Judaism today had been perverted by Zionism. Paying tribute to Jesse, ex-Israeli Gilad Atzmon said, “Journeying from choseness is a life-struggle. From time to time you may feel lonely but you are never alone. Humanity and humanism are there at your side — for all time.”
Atzmon, born and bred in Israel, with holocaust victims in his family, is the latest victim of the UK PSC, which earlier ostracised Eisen for his Der Yassin Remembered group honouring martyred Palestinian Muslims and Christians of the 1948 Nakba, when thousands of Palestinians were killed and hundreds of thousands made permanent refugees.
After being ostracised, Eisen and Shamir dismissed the “gatekeepers” in the movement, and carried on with their analysis and organising from the sidelines, sidelines which are growing just as fast as, if not faster than the mainstream and are now firmly centred on popularising a one-state solution to solve the Palestine-Israel problem.
Atzmon continued to lock horns with the UK PSC establishment, hoping to change it, though it is dominated by the likes of Tony Greenstein with his J-Big (Jews boycotting Israeli goods). No doubt Atzmon’s Sabra heritage steeled him for battle with those supporters of the Palestinians who see the movement as more a way to fight anti-Jewish sentiment (caused by Zionism) than to actually achieve victory for the Palestinians. He decided to write an analysis of his Jewish heritage and how it was transformed over the past century entitled The Wandering Who? (see Al-Ahram Weekly “Jezebel’s Legacy”). His book became a bestseller and he has been touring America and Europe regularly, speaking out bravely and making his gilad.co.uk a must read for all who care about both Palestine and “the plight of the Jews”.
Jewish intellectuals such as Ilan Pappe are following Atzmon’s footsteps and leaving Israel, disgusted with the cynicism and duplicity of the entire Israeli establishment. Atzmon has attracted many admirers — too many, it seems — from among the more mainstream critics of Israel. Richard Falk and John Mearsheimer — both Jewish — endorsed Atzmon’s book, Mearsheimer recommending that the book “should be widely read by Jews and non-Jews alike”.
On 13 March, near the end of Atzmon’s latest tour of the US speaking to pro-Palestinian groups, Electronic Intifada editor Ali Abunimah published a letter at the US Palestinian Community Network (PCN) signed by 23 Palestinian activists, including Columbia University professor Joseph Massad and Omar Barghouti, a founder of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Committee for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and author of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights (currently doing an MA in philosophy at Tel Aviv University). The letter called for “the disavowal of the racism and anti-Semitism of Gilad Atzmon”. Abunimah effectively excommunicated Atzmon from participating in pro-Palestinian activities of the US PCN, as he was by the UK PSC. Atzmon wound up his tour the next day with an interview with (Jewish) history professor Norton Mezvinsky of Connecticut State University, at Washington’s Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, where he rebutted the charges against him.
But just as Muslims are loudly called on to disown Islamic terrorists such as Al-Qaeda, so must Jews disown their own Judaic terrorists, reasons Atzmon, who has been leading the way in this politically-incorrect battle. Now that the dust has settled, and support for Atzmon has poured in, the letter in retrospect looks like an exercise in hasbara gone wrong. Conspicuous in their absence among signatories are leading Israel critics Noam Chomsky, Norman Finklestein, Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, The Progressive’s Matt Rothschild, Tikkun’s Michael Lerner, and US Congress hopeful Norman Solomon.
It is possible to critique Atzmon for downplaying the imperialism behind Israel’s founding and support, which Abunimah does: “Our struggle is with Zionism, a modern European settler colonial movement, similar to movements in many other parts of the world that aim to displace indigenous people and build new European societies on their lands.” However, there is nothing wrong with critiquing the problem from a cultural point of view, and the guilty culture just happens to be Jewish. Sadly, there is more than one way to skin the Palestinian cat.
Shamir took the debate a logical step further by posing the question, “To disavow or debate Abunimah”. He was attacked by Abunimah a decade ago, when he “hunted me out of the pro-Palestinian movement, saying that without Shamir, they will win sooner.” After a decade of unrelenting Israeli crimes, Shamir advised Massad, Barghouti and other Arab signatories, “Our Arab brothers will do well if they will stand out of this debate: let the Jews fight out the battle for their identity. As it happens, Gilad is their strongest champion on the Jewish side, they should cheer, not discourage him.”
Perhaps what prompted the letter was fear that BDS was just not mainstream enough. This was the implication behind a dismissal of BDS by Finkelstein, who just a few weeks before the Abunimah screed, called BDS a “cult” and admonished Palestinians to limit their struggle to the “two-state solution”. While himself exposing the “cult” of the holocaust, calling it an “industry” used to promote Israel’s aggressive colonial agenda, Finkelstein disappointed many admirers by suggesting that BDSers are conspirators intent on wiping poor Israel off the tattered old colonial map. “What is the result? There’s no Israel!”
But ironically, Atzmon and Finkelstein are on the same side this time. They are both pro-Palestinian activists and believers in free speech and open debate, not afraid to point the finger at machinations of their co-religionists. Before writing his ill-fated missive, Abunimah, author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israel-Palestine Conflict, would have done well to ponder Atzmon’s defence of Finkelstein’s criticism of BDSers for their cultishness. “Finkelstein’s criticism of the solidarity movement is largely valid. The recent expulsion of Palestinians and academics from the UK PSC proves that we aren’t just dealing with a ‘cult’ discourse as Finkelstein suggests, far worse, we are actually dealing with a rabbinical operation that exercises the most repulsive Judaic excommunication tactics.”
“Finkelstein is correct when he suggests that the achievements of the solidarity ‘cult’ operations are pretty limited,” continues Atzmon. He looks beyond the gatewatched BDSers and the larger-than-life critics such as Chomsky, Finkelstein and himself — two-state or one — and predicts “that the solidarity movement is already a mass movement … that the Palestinians and the Arabs will liberate themselves.”
The Lobby is no doubt patting itself on the back, having through obvious pressure on prominent activists helped to weaken its foes for the nth time. This tactic is part of the age-old strategy by those in power of “divide and conquer”. Just as Britian and then the US and Israel have worked to divide up the Muslim world to weaken and control it — even mobilising “Islamic terrorists” (not to mention “Judaic terrorists”) in their schemes — so the domestic representatives of imperialism do the same on the homefront, manipulating soft anti-Zionists.
The tactic was used in the Cold War, using liberals and ex-Communists to isolate Communists from movements critical of imperialism. Now as then, it is necessary not to boycott each other, but to work together without responding to provocation. It is to be expected that the bad guys are going to infiltrate progressive movements and try to split them.
When Saudi Prince Faisal grilled Hamas Chief Khaled Meshaal about his alliance with Iran, the Hamas chief explained: “Yes, we have relations with Iran and will do so with whoever supports us. We are a resistance movement, open to the Arabs, to the Muslims and to all countries in the world, and we are not part of any agenda for regional forces.” BDSers may have their differences, but the goal is the liberation of Palestine. Let a hundred flowers blossom.
- Engaging Gilad Atzmon (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Who Is Gilad Atzmon… and, Who Are We? (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- The unfortunate division over Gilad Atzmon – Alison Weir – thanks to BB (jhaines6.wordpress.com)
- Cynthia McKinney Interviews Gilad Atzmon about Israel, Zionism, and Jewish Identity Politics (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Leading Global March to Jerusalem organizers embrace Gilad Atzmon (gm2j.co)