Following the publication of the French edition of the “The Wandering Who ?” we asked jazz star Gilad Atzmon to respond to charges made against him by those who relentlessly try to stop him from speaking and disseminating his ideas. In his book, Gilad is critical of Jewish identity politics. He is also highly critical of Jewish political activity within the Left in general and the Palestinian solidarity movement in particular. Gilad’s arguments are impeccable – they appear faulty only to those who, lacking conscience incline to making slanderous accusations.
Silvia Cattori: Your book has just been published in French (1). Without any promotion it is selling like hotcakes; in spite of the fact that six months before the French publication (2), members of U.J.F.P. (French Jewish Union for Peace) and I.J.A.N. (International Jewish Antizionist Network) launched a campaign to demonise you within the left and the Palestinian solidarity movement,. Did all these attacks come as a surprise to you?
Gilad Atzmon: As you probably know I have been subject to these vile Jewish anti-Zionist campaigns for years. It is clear beyond doubt that I have managed to rock the boat. As it happens, I oppose any form of Jewish identity politics for being exclusive and racially oriented. Sadly enough, like Zionists, many of the Jewish anti Zionist political cells are openly engaged in similar tribal, racially-driven and exclusivist politics.
But there is also an ideological issue here. I openly contend that their entire terminology is misleading. Zionism is not colonialism, Israel is not Apartheid and the Israelis are not Zionists.
Zionism is not colonialism because the Jewish ‘Settler State’ lacks a Jewish ‘Mother State’. Israel is not Apartheid because the Jewish (settler) State doesn’t want to exploit the Palestinians but to get rid of them. Israel is actually driven by Lebensraum (Living Space) philosophy. In other words, the Jewish State adopted Nazi racist, expansionist ideology. But the Jews in our movement do not like the comparison with Nazi Germany.
Also, Israel is not exactly Zionism and Israelis are not necessarily Zionists. Israel is the product of the Zionist ideology and the Israeli is basically a post-revolutionary product. Hence, the Zionist/anti-Zionist debate has very little significance in Israel or on Israeli politics.
In short, our entire terminology is misleading if not deceitful. I guess that since I expose all of this it is only natural that some people would wish to kill the messenger.
Silvia Cattori: Many people accept that you are one of the most honest and sincere thinkers within the movement. Many respect you a lot, because you have the courage to speak your mind. And the fact members of UJFP in France, or IJAN in Switzerland, are able to mount pressure on those who publish your writing or invite you, does it not itself, merely affirm what you argue in your book?
Gilad Atzmon: These Jewish anti-Zionists cells are promoting a tribal and a marginal call; they are not very many but they are very noisy. There is a clear Judeo-centric interest in keeping Jewish dissident organisations alive because they manage to maintain Jewish hegemony within the Palestinian solidarity discourse and beyond. Tragically enough, as long as this is the case, there is no chance for this movement to become a mass movement. Their message is too esoteric. For instance, why should anyone join a Palestinian solidarity group if one of the main aims of the movement is ‘fighting anti-Semitism’? If people are really interested in solidarity discourse they must make sure that it becomes a universal movement driven by compassion and ethical concerns.
This may take you by surprise, I actually would like to see as many Jews as possible in this movement; but they should concern themselves with the real issues here i.e. the plight of the Palestinians and Jewish (political) power. I basically work on Jewish power and analyse Jewish identity and politics; this is my favorite subject. And it is quite astonishing that the first people who actually attack me and try to silence me are people who claim to be ‘Jewish Palestinian solidarity activists’. This fact alone gives the impression that they are not actually what they claim to be i.e. solidarity activists. They are just another form of the ADL (equivalent of the CRIF in France).
Now, I am happy to debate this issue. If they want to debate me, tfadal– come and confront me in London, NY or Paris…If I am wrong debate me, if I am incorrect please point out my mistakes. Did I get my facts wrong? Are my arguments flawed? Not really, no one has yet to point to a single mistake in my arguments or facts.
Instead they employ the old rabbinical tactics namely excommunication (herem). Why do they employ the Talmudic tactics? Probably because this is what they are: Talmudics. In spite of being the ‘people of the book’ they are engaged in an intensive horrific book burning. I believe that if they could nail me to the wood, they probably would.
Silvia Cattori: They claim (4) that your questioning of Judaism and Jewish anti-Zionism is fueled by“racism” because it attributes „to a whole group of people negative criteria in order to discredit them”.Are they not honest?
Gilad Atzmon: For sure they aren’t. I do not deal with Judaism. I don’t criticise Judaism, though I allow myself to refer critically to some Judaic interpretations. Yet, I am indeed extremely critical of Jewish politics and Jewish anti-Zionism in particular.
But the first questions to raise here are why should anyone stop oneself from questioning Judaism or Jewish politics or Jewish anti-Zionism. Is Judaism beyond criticism? Is Jewish politics inherently innocent? Do Jewish anti-Zionists believe themselves to be perfect? It is clear that my detractors adhere to the most banal and disturbing view that Jews are, somehow, chosen, Judaism is unquestionable and Jewish politics must remained intact. I obviously do not accept this approach. Considering the negative impact of Jewish political lobbies and their push for another global war, criticising Jewish politics is the true meaning of peace loving.
I should also emphasize that concerns to do with ‘ethnicity’ or ‘race’ are foreign to my work. In my entire body of work, there is not a single reference to Jews as a ‘race’ or ‘ethnicity’. I am critical of Jewish ideology and Jewish culture. And I think that it is my right and my duty to criticise this culture and ideology; especially considering the fact IJAN, UJFP, ADL, The Zionist Federation or whatever, operate as Jews-only groups and their motivations are far from being universal or ethical.
Silvia Cattori: And what about the “classical anti Semitism”?
It depends how they define ‘classical anti-Semitism’. It is true that the nineteenth century brought about a school of thought highly critical of Jewish culture. We are familiar with the debate between Athens and Jerusalem. As far as I am concerned, this was, and still is, a very interesting and enlightening debate. If anything, this debate led generations of Jews towards reformation, humanism and tolerance.
However, we all agree that anti-Semitism became a very problematic, vile and murderous trend when it has adopted a biological determinist attitude. It basically became a Darwinist racist discourse. But shockingly enough, Jewish politics (left, right and centre) is soaked with such racist attitudes. Can you Silvia join one of those ‘progressive’ Jews-only groups? I don’t think so, and why not? Because you aren’t racially qualified.
Silvia Cattori: What about the systematic accusation of being a Holocaust denier?
Gilad Atzmon: Holocaust denial is obviously a Zionist notion. No one denies the Holocaust though some people debate some elements to do with its historicity. I myself do not engage in any historical debate for I am not a historian. However, I believe that history must be an open discourse. If anyone thinks that I am wrong here, he or she better produce a good argument. He or she will also have to explain what is wrong with Israeli Nakba law.
Silvia Cattori: When they claim that you “attack both anti-Zionist Jews and religious Jews in racist terms” do they lie?
Gilad Atzmon: For sure they lie. It is not true and a total misrepresentation of my writing and work. In my entire work you would not find any criticism of Judaism or Jews as people, race or ethnicity. I only refer to ideology. I am indeed very critical of all “Jews- only” political cells.
I examine some Jewish anti-Zionists and left Zionists or AZZ (Anti-Zionist Zionists) because they see their Jewishness as a primary political quality. Prominent Zionist Chaim Weizmann said that there are no French Jews or British Jews or American Jews. There are only Jews who live in France, Jews who live in America and Jews who live in Britain. This means that as far as Zionist ideology is concerned, Jewishness is a primary quality. Jewish anti-Zionists, or ‘Jews for peace’ clearly see their Jewishness as a primary quality. If it would not be a primary quality they would join the peace and solidarity movement as ordinary people.
Jewish ideologies are very different on many issues. But they all agree on a few fundamental issues: chosen-ness, exclusiveness and segregation. The one thing they all believe is that Jews are somehow special. Otherwise, If Jews are not special, why do they operate in “Jews only” cells?
Silvia Cattori: They accuse you of suggesting that “the Israeli colonialist oppression is not the product of Zionism but the outcome of Judaism”. What do you say to that?
Gilad Atzmon: Again, a total misrepresentation. To start with, I do not talk about Judaism. Instead I discuss Jewish ideology. I may ask what are the Judaic traces within a cotemporary Jewish ideology?. I would ask, for instance, how the Book of Deuteronomy filters into the Zionist thought. I would ask what is the meaning of The Book of Esther? But I also argue that it is not ‘Zionism’ that inflicts pain on the Palestinian people but the Jewish State; and it does it in the name of the Jewish people. If Israel defines itself as the Jewish State and its tanks are decorated with Jewish symbols, we must be able to ask who are the Jews? What is Judaism and what is Jewishness? In my work, I differentiate between Zionism and Israeli discourse. I argue that Israel it is not driven by Zionism; and Zionism is, in particular, a Jewish Diaspora discourse that become more and more irrelevant to the oppression of the Palestinian people.
Silvia Cattori: Recently, you have also been criticized in a letter apparently written by Ali Abunimah and signed by a number of Palestinian activists. This has provoked many comments and articles in your favor (4). It only affirms publicly your argument regarding the negative impact of tribal politics within our movement.
Gilad Atzmon: This is indeed very sad, especially considering Ali Abunimah and others on this list being amongst the proponents of the One Democratic State. One would expect the advocates of One Democratic State to grasp the true meaning of tolerance and pluralism
Silvia Cattori: Vos détracteurs au sein de l’UJFP et de l’l’IJAN ont sauté sur l’occasion. In Switzerland the Israelis; Gabriel Ash based in Geneva or Caroline Finkelstein for example, who are part of the “Comité Urgence Palestine” and IJAN in signeda statement against you showing which side they are on (5) and launched a campaign against you (6). In doing that, are they not working against one of the very rare brilliant ex- Israeli intellectuals “more qualified than they are and who is at least honest and not feeding on the miseries of others or monopolizing a righteous cause in order to keep a job or acquire a position or get a promotion, some one who could shed the light on the real cause of the Palestinian plight” (7)?
Gilad Atzmon: This is hardly surprising and it is totally consistent with everything I say in The Wandering Who. Some of the Jews within our movement are serving Jewish tribal interests. It is only natural that people who identify politically as Jews would also act out of Jewish self interest. Philip Wiess, American pro-Palestinian activist admitted to me in an interview that as a Jew he operates out of Jewish self interest.
Silvia Cattori: In the name of the fight against “anti-Semitism” they are denouncing your discourse, apparently trying to stop your activity and not let people read your book. One of the priorities of the Swiss BDS Movement now is to expose Gilad Atzmon anti-Semitism (8).
Gilad Atzmon: For more than a while, myself and others are very suspicious of the BDS. For some peculiar reason the BDS in the West is dominated by Jewish activists. Though the BDS’ principle is valid and worth a fight, it has become clear to many of us that something went wrong along the way. Last month we have seen BDS call to stop Norman Finkelstein; this month we see BDS call to stop me. Great, isn’t it? The BDS is now used to stifle freedom within the solidarity discourse.
Interestingly enough, already in 2006 I predicted that any attempt to interfere with freedom of speech may turn the BDS into a banal witch hunt facilitator. But recently I have seen some very worrying signs. We learned for instance that in spite of the global financial crisis that hit Britain very hard, British trade with Israel increased by no less than 34%. So on the one hand we have BDS activists engaged in a successful weekly vigil against an Israeli beauty product shop, they even manage to destroy a few concerts but at the same time Israel is shipping tons of goods into this country. What is going on here?
Silvia Cattori: Would it be correct to suggest that your deep desire is to alert the Goyim. To advise to them stop being driven by guilt, being humiliated and submissive?
Gilad Atzmon: In my world there is no division between Jews and Goyim. My big desire is to say what I want to say. I believe that my message is pretty crucial for people, who are interested in peace, be it Jews or Goyim. It is clear to me that with Israel and Jewish lobbies pushing for more and more wars, Israel and its lobbies set themselves up as the biggest threat to world peace. It is also clear to me that Jewish communities fail to restrain Israel and its lobbies. And the message for all of us is clear. It is down to us to save our planet. This planet is our home and we are sitting on a ticking bomb. We’d better hurry up, we’d better speak out before it is too late.
(1) « La Parabole d’Esther. Anatomie du Peuple Élu. – Réflexions sur la politique identitaire juive », Editions Demi Lune
2) Voir : « L’UJFP et l’IJAN écrivent à Info-Palestine suite à la publication d’une interview de Gilad Atzmon ».
ainsi qu’une deuxième lettre de Pierre Stambul au nom du bureau national de l’UJPF :
– Voir : « Gilad Atzmon répond à ses détracteurs », 25 octobre 2011.
(3) Voir sous note (2) la lettre de l’IJAN et de l’UJFP
(4) Voir :
– « L’appel d’Ali Abunimah a profondément choqué », par Roger Tucker, 24 mars 2012.
À la fin de l’article de Roger Tucker on trouvera également les liens des articles de nombreux auteurs ayant pris la défense de Gilad Atzmon contre les attaques dont il est l’objet.
(6) Caroline Finkelstein, membre de l’IJAN, dissuade le Comité urgence palestine (CUP-Vaud) le 9 février 2012 de donner la parole à Atzmon en ces termes : « Nous ne sommes pas officiellement membre du CUP-Lausanne mais nous aimons bien collaborer avec vous tous. Nous aimerions attirer votre attention sur la polémique qui existe en ce qui concerne Gilad Atzmon. Nous nous permettons de vous conseiller de bien vous renseigner sur le personnage avant de le faire venir. IJAN (International Jewish Anti-zionist Network – Réseau international juif antisioniste, dont nous sommes membres) et UJFP (Union Juive Française pour la Paix) rejettent les arguments de Gilad Atzmon. Nous personnellement n’assisterions à aucune conférence avec Atzmon ».
(7) Voir :
– « La campagne lancée par Ali Abunimah contre Gilad Atzmon est injustifiable et inacceptable », par Daniel Mabsout, 26 mars 2012.
(8) Lors d’une récente réunion du BDS – Suisse, la lutte contre le prétendu « antisémitisme de Gilad Atzmon » a été mentionnée en ces termes comme un des trois principes déterminant l’action au sein du mouvement. « Nous devons veiller à ne pas nous associer avec des personnes qui ont un discours flou par rapport à l’antisémitisme. En l’occurrence Gilad Atzmon ». Il a été décidé d’organiser une formation sur cette question. Ceci qui revient à éloigner les militants de l’objectif initial du BDS: au lieu de parler de l’idéologie sioniste, de sa politique en Israël et de ses complicités en Europe et aux États-Unis, ils se préoccupent de censurer des militants à l’intérieur du mouvement. Militants laissés dans l’ignorance des vrais enjeux car formés et formatés surtout par des conférenciers israéliens (Michel
Warschawsky ou maintenant Shir Haver (qui demande 200.- euros par conférence et la prise en charge de tous les frais).