Gilad Atzmon somehow manages to express his thoughts, ignoring any recognised taboos or restrictions. His style is innovative, fresh, and consistently well informed. We have read with great interest his latest book “The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity” (*). It is a very moving account that should be read by many.
Silvia Cattori: “The Wandering who?” — What stands behind this provocative title?
Gilad Atzmon: “The Wandering Who?” attempts to search for a deeper understanding of Jewish culture and Jewish identity politics. It is there to tackle some issues most of us prefer to avoid. Three years ago Israeli historian Shlomo Sand published his ground breaking work on Jewish history, thus dismantling the phantasmal Jewish historical narrative.
In my book, I attempt to take Sand’s quest one step further and elaborate on the problematic Jewish attitude towards history, the past , and temporality in general. Five years ago American academics Mearsheimer and Walt published an invaluable study on the Israeli Lobby in the United States . I again try to pick up their research where they left off. I try to explain why lobbying is inherent to Jewish politics and culture.
Two decades ago, Israel Shahak published his crucially important study of the Talmud, and in my work, I want to extend his study, and grasp the deeply racist and anti-gentile attitude that is intrinsic to any form of Jewish secular identity politics, be it Zionism, Jewish socialism and even Jewish anti Zionism. In “The Wandering Who?” I try to shake every common perception of Jewish identity politics.
Silvia Cattori: “The Wandering Who?” is a very impressive testimony. It can not be ignored, including by your opponents. I think it can safely be said that no one before you has explained so frankly some of the thorniest aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Your analysis is important for anyone seeking to understand what certain groups want to hide, and why. It should lead people that are deliberately kept in the dark and in a state of confusion, to see things more clearly. This includes, of course, the so-called ‘progressive’ circles.
Gilad Atzmon: Thanks so much for your support and compliments.
Silvia Cattori: However, you are stepping into a minefield. One may also wonder whether you are exposing your thoughts and perspectives because, as an ex-Israeli, you feel shame.
Gilad Atzmon: That is a good point. I suppose that at a certain point in the past, it is true to say that I started to feel shame and guilt. However I realised many years ago that guilt only becomes a meaningful sensation once it is transformed into responsibility. Unlike some of the Jewish anti Zionists who cheerfully and righteously declare ‘not in my name’, I know very well that every Israeli crime is indeed committed in my name, in spite of the fact that I have not lived there for many years. I am very troubled by it.
Silvia Cattori: Does this mean that the writing of “The Wandering Who?” was a way for you to settle your personal score with the "tribe"?
Gilad Atzmon: To be more precise, it isn’t actually “the tribe” which I criticise but the racially oriented sense of ‘tribalism’ which stands at the core of every form of Jewish identity politics.
Silvia Cattori: Would you say that this great overhaul was spurred by your desire to alert mankind to what you consider to be the real danger, i.e. the Jewish ideology?
Gilad Atzmon: I am indeed primarily concerned with the ideology. I also argue that it isn’t just the Palestinians that are implicated. I am very alarmed by Jewish relentless lobbying and its destabilising power globally. The fact that the AJC (American Jewish Committee) advocates war against Iran is very worrying. But I am also monitoring the Jewish Left activism and I am very troubled by my findings.
Silvia Cattori: Is the book an attempt to explain to your readers why it is so difficult to fight the Israeli policy?
Gilad Atzmon: Fighting Israel for what it is — i.e. the Jewish State — simply means an open conflict with the strongest lobbying power on the land. On the one hand we are encountered by heavily funded Zionist institutions; but, on the other hand, we are chased by the so-called Jewish ‘progressive’ network that is primarily engaged in gate keeping the discourse. And, unlike the Zionists, who operate in the open, the Jewish anti Zionists work towards the same goals, but operate in clandestine settings.
Silvia Cattori: You state that “Jewish power” should be put at the centre of the problem – and that, at the same time, the discourse of certain “anti Zionists”, that you regard as misleading, should be challenged. When you write : “Zionism is not a colonial movement with an interest in Palestine, as some scholars suggest. Zionism is actually a global movement that is fuelled by unique tribal solidarity of third category members…”, you call into question those who characterize Israel as mere ‘settler colonialism’. This is indeed a crucial point. What are your arguments for claiming that it is not simply a colonialist model?
Gilad Atzmon: Indeed, I am disturbed by the lack of intellectual integrity and coherence within our discourse and beyond. It took me some time to grasp that years of Jewish (intellectual) hegemony within the Palestinian solidarity discourse has led to an absurd situation in which criticism of the Jewish state — is shaped primarily by Jewish sensitivities.
Try, for instance, to imagine a situation in which our criticism of capitalism would be shaped in a deliberately over cautious manner — just to make sure that the rich are not offended. Likewise, try to imagine another equally absurd situation, in which our criticism of Nazi ideology would have take into consideration the delicate sensitivities of biological determinists and anti-Semites. It seems equally absurd that we are in such a situation where we have to tread carefully in what we say about Palestinian rights – so as not to offend Jewish people.
And, yes, I say it openly: Zionism is not a colonial movement, and has never been one. Colonialism establishes a clear relationship between a mother-state and a settler-state — yet Zionism has never had a mother state. It is true that Israel exhibits some colonial symptoms, but this is where it starts and ends. Zionism is driven by spirit of Jewish supremacy and a phantasmal notion of ‘homecoming’.
The misleading colonial paradigm was introduced by a few ‘progressive’ thinkers just to make sure that Marx is not left out of the discourse. At least intellectually, what we see here is no more than amusing.
However, it is important to mention here, that the only noticeable colonial aspect within the Zionist reality is the relationships between the Israeli State and the settlements: the exchange there makes it clear who is the ‘mother’ and who is the ‘settler’.