Gilad Atzmon is a former Israeli paratrooper, a well-known jazz saxophonist, a campaigner for Palestinian rights and someone who is comfortable employing openly anti-Jewish rhetoric. He has repeated the old libel that "the Jews were responsible for the killing of Jesus". He is critical of those who compare the current Israeli regime with Nazi Germany, on the basis that Israel is a more radical evil. Atzmon pushes classic anti-semitic Jewish conspiracy libel:
American Jewry makes any debate on whether the "Protocols of the elder of Zion" are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews (in fact Zionists) do control the world.
Atzmon has been outed as an anti-semite in the jazz world, notably by musicians David Adler and Jim Denham.
So, what's the big deal? This Atzmon is an anti-semitic crank; hardly unusual, is it?
The big deal is this: Atzmon is currently being hosted and/or being given a platform by groups that are thought of as being anti-racist and on the left.
Last Wednesday he spoke at a Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign event in Edinburgh entitled "Zionist Control". On Monday he spoke at a Respect event, advertised in Socialist Worker, entitled "Jazz Racism and Resistance".
At least one local PSC group, the Bucks. and Berks branch, has sent out Atzmon's Edinburgh speech to its membership, in its mailing of 27 November, with the following introduction:
"Gilad Atzmon argues that the Palestine solidarity movement should focus soley [sic] on the Palestinian cause and urges Jewish sympathizers to support the Palestinians for what they are rather than expecting them to fit into a Jewish worldview."
Perhaps whoever wrote this from Bucks and Berks PSC would like to explain what they mean by a "Jewish worldview", particularly when it relates to "Jewish sympathisers" within the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Perhaps they would also like to explain what they mean by supporting Palestinians "for what they are".
This week's Socialist Worker brings us the news that Gilad Atzmon is to feature in "one of the biggest cultural events Socialist Worker has put on for many a year." The report goes on: "Gilad declared, 'I will be playing at the Cultures of Resistance concert because I support the Socialist Worker appeal.'"
Atzmon's writing regularly appears in Counterpunch. There are links to his writing on the PSC Cymru-Wales website, the Jerusalemites website, Middle East Online, Dissident Voice and many more.
There are some anti-racist anti-Zionists who are trying to resist Atzmon's new strain of openly anti-semitic anti-Zionism. Many of these anti-Zionists are Jewish and some of them believe that it is important to speak "as Jews" against "Zionism". They hope to demonstrate that not all Jews are (evil) "Zionists" in a bid to undercut the basis for the kind of anti-semitism that holds all Jews responsible for the human rights abuses committed by Israel. Some of them believe that their Jewish identity gives them an increased moral weight with which to denounce "Zionism". Jewish anti-Zionists have been important in kosherising anti-Zionism. When the boycott campaign wants to argue for the exclusion of Israeli academics from UK universities, it often uses Jewish spokespeople in the hope that this will undercut claims that such exclusions may be anti-semitic.
When Atzmon spoke in Edinburgh last week he chose to focus his critique on these anti-racist anti-Zionists. His argument was that the clean distinction that anti-Zionists make between "Zionists" and Jews, anti-Zionism and anti-semitism is largely fictional. He argued that Israel is a "fascist state" supported by "the vast majority of Jewish people around the world". Anti-Zionist Jews in the Palestine solidarity movement, therefore, play a "Jewish" role there, as "gatekeepers" who try to control the Palestinian narrative:
As soon as anyone identifies the symptoms of Zionism with some fundamental or essential Jewish precepts a smear campaign is launched against that person.
Atzmon is fighting for openly anti-Jewish politics within the Palestine solidarity movement and in order to do so, it is necessary first to defeat the anti-Zionist Jews and their anti-racist allies.
I would use this opportunity and appeal to our friends amongst the Jewish socialists and other Jewish solidarity groups. I would ask them to clear the stage willingly, and to re-join as ordinary human beings. The Palestinian Solidarity movement is craving for a change. It needs open gates rather than gatekeepers. It yearns for an open and dynamic discourse. The Palestinians on the ground have realised it already. They democratically elected an alternative vision of their future.
It seems that the "democratically elected ... alternative vision" that he refers to is the open and stark, racist anti-semitism of Jihadi Islam as set out in the Hamas charter.
Atzmon is trying to lead an anti-semitic purge of the anti-Zionist movement and one that will ditch the formal anti-racism onto which some anti-Zionists still cling.
There is a fightback. The Jewish Socialist Group wrote an open letter in which they attempted to warn the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Socialist Workers Party what Atzmon was trying to do. Despite this, both of these organisations gave him a platform.
My central critique of anti-racist anti-Zionism has been that it helps to legitimise a commonsense notion that Israel is a unique evil on the planet and it sets itself up for a fight with the overwhelming majority of Jews who, rightly in my view, don't identify themselves as anti-Zionist. The danger is that anti-Zionism lays the basis for the emergence of an openly anti-semitic movement. Some have flirted with Holocaust denial by defending the legitimacy of comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany. Some have routinely minimised anti-semitism, often finding excuses for the rhetoric of Jewish conspiracy, Jewish domination of the media, Jewish power. Some have found excuses for the anti-semitic movements that wish to wipe Israel off the map. Some have gone along with the "truism" that people who talk about anti-semitism do so dishonestly because they are part of a conspiracy to hide the crimes of "Zionism".
Atzmon shows how a charismatic leader could begin to harvest the anti-semitic potential of anti-Zionism into a concrete movement. I don't know if Atzmon himself is charismatic - anyone who can play sax must, surely, have a certain charisma.
At some point anti-semites may push the anti-racist anti-Zionist leadership out of the way and may take over the anti-Zionist movement. The anti-racist anti-Zionists don't know what they're being hit with, don't understand their own part in the creation of this new current, and don't have a clue how to respond. They are being victimised by anti-semites and they don't know how to defend themselves. Atzmon wrote the following to an anti-Zionist Jewish blogger who has for years been churning out pieces that demonise Israel as a uniquely racist state:
You are now presented "as being a manifestation of Jewish exclusivity or supremacy on a par with the State of Israel" on every left and pro Palestinian site around the world ... may I suggest that it is never too late, you can still join humanity. Chicken soup is not a political argument.
Atzmon is not satisfied with demonising Israel. He demands also that anti-Zionist Jews cease to define themselves as Jews and only then may be accepted into the human community and the Palestine solidarity movement. Anti-racist anti-Zionists are defenceless because they can't or won't recognise the fact that they themselves have been instrumental in making the soil fertile for the emergence of an openly anti-semitic movement.
This piece by David Hirsh is cross posted on Comment is Free.
PS Here is Atzmon on Borat, from Judeosphere:
"With the help of Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen gives a bad name to anti-Semitism....Borat, the stereotypical anti-Semite is indeed a primitive vulgar creature. He eloquently brings to life the full scope of medieval anti-Jewish stereotypes as well as superstitions. ... Yet, it shouldn't take one by surprise that Cohen, a man who spends his holidays in Israel, would portray anti-Semitism as a primitive medieval adventure."
"Borat is set to present anti-Semitism as a backward reactionary tendency. By doing so Baron Cohen and his team are there to block or even to shutter any form of criticism of global Zionism in general and of Israel in particular... Some forms of anger against the 'Jew' should be comprehended as a political criticism rather than merely a primitive irrational outburst..."