Gilad Atzmon: Zionist Tolerance For a Change
I have spent the last ten years elaborating on Jewish national ideology and tribal politics. During my journey of grasping what Zionism and Israel stand for, I came to realize that it is actually the Jewish left -- and Jewish Marxists in particular -- that provide us with an adequate glimpse into contemporary Jewish identity, tribal supremacy, marginal politics and tribalism.
‘Jewish left’ is basically an oxymoron. It is a contradiction in terms, because ‘Jewishness’ is a tribal ideology, whilst ‘the left’ are traditionally understood as aspiring to universalism.
On the face of it, the ‘Jewish left’ is, at least categorically, no different from Israel or Zionism: after all, it is an attempt to form yet another ‘Jews only political club’. And as far as the Palestinian solidarity movement is concerned, its role is subject to a growing debate -- For on the one hand, one can see the political benefit of pointing at a very few ‘good Jews’, and emphasizing that there are Jews who ‘oppose Zionism as Jews’. Yet on the other hand, however, accepting the legitimacy of such a racially orientated political affair, is in itself, an acceptance of yet another form, or manifestation of Zionism, for Zionism claims that Jews are primarily Jewish, and had better operate politically as Jews(1).
To a certain extent then, it is clear that Jewish anti Zionism, is, in itself, still just another form of Zionism.
‘Jewish dissidence’ has two main roles: First, it attempts to depict and bolster a positive image of Jews in general (2). Second, it is there to silence and obscure any attempts on the part of the outsider to grasp the meaning of Jewish identity and Jewish politics within the machinations of the Jewish state. It is also there to stop elements in this movement from elaborating on the crucial role of Jewish lobbying.
The Jewish Left is there then, to mute any possible criticism of Jewish politics within the wider Left movements. It is there to stop the Goyim from looking into Jewish affairs.
A decade ago I met the Kosher dissident brigade for the first time -- As soon as I started to express criticism of Israel and Zionism -- they started to bounce around me.
For a short while, I fitted nicely into their discourse : I was young and energetic. I was an award winning musician, as well as a promising writer. In their eyes I was a celebrity, or at least a good reason to celebrate. Their chief commissars reserved the best, and most expensive dining tables ahead of my Orient House’s Ensemble concerts. The five grass-root penniless activists, followed the trend and came to my free stage Jazz Combo afternoon concerts in the Barbican Centre’s Foyer. They all wanted to believe that I would follow their agenda, and become a commissar myself. They were also very quick to preach to me who were the ‘bad guys’, those who should be burnt in hell: Israel Shahak, Paul Eisen, Israel Shamir and Otto Weininger were just a few amongst the many baddies. As one may guess by now, it didn’t take me too long to admit to myself that there was more wisdom in a single sentence by Eisen, Weininger, Shahak or Shamir than in the entire work of the Jewish Left put together. I was quick to make it clear to my new ‘Red’ fans that it was not going to work : I was an ex-Israeli, and I no longer regarded myself as a Jew any more. I shared nothing with them and I did not believe in their agenda. Indeed, I had left Israel because I wanted to drift as far away as I could from any form of tribal politics.
Paddling in chicken soup has never been my thing.
Naturally, I bought myself at least a half a dozen enemies, and they were quick to run a campaign against me. They tried to silence me; they desperately ( and hopelessly ) tried to wreck my music career; they mounted pressure on political institutions, media outlets, and music venues. One of them even tried to drag me to court.
But they failed all the way through and they failed on every possible level. The more pressure they mounted, the more people read my writing. At a certain point, people around me were convinced that my detractors were actually running my PR campaign. Moreover, the relentless attempts to silence me could only prove my point. They were there to divert attention away from the crucial role of Jewish politics and Jewish identity politics.
I have asked myself often enough -- how is it that they failed with me? But I guess that the same internet that successfully defeated Israeli Hasbara, has also defeated the Jewish left and its hegemony within the movement. In the wider scheme of things, it is totally obvious how marginal the Jewish Marxist discourse is. Its voice within the dissident movement is, in actuality, insignificant.
I guess also, that the fact that I am a popular Jazz artist didn’t make life easy for them -- At the time those Jewish commissars labeled me as a racist and an anti Semite, I was touring around the world with two ex Israeli Jews, an Argentinean Jew, a Romanian Gipsy and a Palestinian Oud player. It just couldn’t work for them, and it didn’t.
But here is an interesting twist : In comparison with the contemporaneous Jewish Red terror, Zionism comes across as a relatively tolerant endeavour. In recent months I have been approached by every possible Israeli media outlet. In the summer, Ouvda, the leading Israeli investigative TV show asked repeatedly to join with me and my band on the road. They were interested to launch a debate, and to discuss my ideas in prime time. This week, The Israeli Second Channel approached me for a news item. Again, they were interested in my views. Yesterday, I discussed my views for an hour with Guy Elhanan on Israel’s 'Kol ha-shalom' (Voice of Peace).
For the most obvious of reasons, I am very cautious when dealing with the Israeli media. I choose my outlets very carefully. I usually tend to refuse. But, I also accept that as a person who cares about the prospect of peace I must keep an open channel with the Israeli public, and two weeks ago I agreed to be interviewed by Haaretz writer,Yaron Frid. This was my first published interview in Israel for more than a decade. I must admit that I was shocked to find out that not a single word of mine had been removed or censored. Haaretz let me say everything that the Kosher ‘Socialists’ had consistently tried to stop me from saying.
On my ‘self-hatred’ and Jewishness the Israeli paper Haaretz let me say :
“I am not a nice Jew, because I don't want to be a Jew, because Jewish values don't really turn me on and all this 'Pour out Thy wrath on the nations' stuff doesn't impress me."
It also let me question the entire Zionist ethos; the reality of plunder and deluded historicism : “Why do I live on lands that are not mine, the plundered lands of another people whose owners want to return to them but cannot? Why do I send my children to kill and be killed, after I myself was a soldier, too? Why do I believe all this bullshit about 'because it's the land of our forefathers' and 'our patrimony' if I am not even religious?
And about Palestinians' right of return, I said :
"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.”
They let me express how I would differentiate between, and define Israel and Palestine: “Palestine is the land and Israel is the state. It took me time to realize that Israel was never my home, but only a fantasy saturated in blood and sweat."
About chosen-ness, de-Judification and Jewish identity I said, “for Netanyahu and the Israelis to do that (accept the Palestinian right of return), 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.”
And in the interview I compared Jewish left with National Socialism -- And Haaretz’s editorial let it through: “The idea of left-wing Jews is fundamentally sickening. It contains an absolute internal contradiction. If you are leftists it doesn't matter whether you're Jewish or not, so on principle when you present yourselves as leftist Jews you are accepting the idea of national socialism. Nazism.”
Haaretz, as could be expected, challenged my opposition to Jewish politics : “Atzmon has been accused from every possible platform of disseminating vitriol against Jews. He, though, maintains that he ‘hates everyone in equal measure.’ He's also been accused of self-hatred, but he is the first to admit this, and in comparison with Otto Weininger - the Austrian Jewish philosopher who converted to Christianity and of whom Hitler said, ‘There was one good Jew in Germany, and he killed himself’ - he is even proud. ‘Otto and I are good friends.’”
But clearly, at least Israelis can cope with Otto Weininger and his ideology. However -- when I gave a talk about Otto Weininger in a London Marxist book shop five years ago (Bookmarks), a ‘synagogue’ of fourteen Jewish Marxists unsuccessfully tried to picket the event and to pressure the SWP into submission.
Guess what; they failed.
Haaretz challenged my take on the Holocaust; yet it printed my answer without changing a single word. “I am fighting against all the disgusting laws and persecutions of those so-called Holocaust deniers - a categorization I don't accept. I think the Holocaust, like any historical episode, must be open to research, to examination, to discussion and debate.”
And Haaretz, evidently an Israeli Zionist paper, let me express my thoughts about Israeli mass murderers and their destiny. “It might be a good thing if the Nazi hunters hunt down [Shaul] Mofaz and [Ehud] Barak, for example, and not all kinds of 96-year-olds who are barely alive. It's pathetic."
It also let me tell Israelis that they are all to be blamed : “In Israel 94 percent of the nation supported Operation Cast Lead. On the one hand, you want to behave like a post-enlightenment state and talk to me about individualism, but on the other hand you surround yourselves with a wall and remain attached to a tribal identity.”
Yaron Frid ended his piece saying, “Israel lost Gilad,” and, “The score, for now: 1-0, Palestine leading.”
I was happy with the article. But I was also jealous. For here in Britain, we are still far from being free to explore these issues.
The message here is plain and simple -- Haaretz, a Zionist paper, has let me discuss all those intellectual avenues that ‘the Kosher Socialists’ insist on blocking. A week before my Haaretz special, the Israeli paper featured Mavi Marmara hero Ken O’keefe. Again, Haaretz coverage was fairly balanced; certainly more balanced than BBC Panorama.
The moral is clear : As much as Zionism is repugnant and murderous -- it is still way ahead of the Jewish Left , simply because it is still, in some regards at least, part of an ongoing and open discourse.
There is no doubt that amongst the most prolific enemies of Israel and Jewish identity, you will find Israelis and ex Israelis, such as Ilan Pappe, Gideon Levi, Amira Hass, Tali Fahima, Israel Shamir, Israel Shahak, Nurit Peled , Rami Elhanan Guy Elhanan, Jonathan Shapira, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Mordechai Vanunu, Uri Avnery, Shimon Tzabar, myself, and others.
We may not always agree with each other -- but we let each other be.
Zionism was an attempt to bring about a new Jew: an ethical, productive and authentic being. But Zionism failed all the way through. Israel is a criminal state, and the Israelis are collectively complicit in relentless crimes against humanity. And yet, Zionism has also succeeded in erecting a solid school of eloquent and proud ‘self haters’. Israelis are taught to be outspoken and critical. Unlike the Diaspora Jewish left, that for some reason, operates as a thought-police, Israeli dissidence speaks out. Israelis are trained to celebrate their ‘symptoms’ -- and this also applies in the case of dissidence.
Unlike Jewish Marxism that operates largely as a tribal PR campaign, Israeli dissidence is an ethical approach : You wouldn’t hear Israeli activists shouting ‘not in my name’. The Israelis mentioned above do accept that each Israeli crime is committed in their names. They also accept that activism is the crucial shift from guilt into responsibility. Hence, it is also far from surprising that on the ‘Jewish Boat to Gaza’ mission, the Israeli veteran AIF pilot Shapira and also Elahanan, both spoke about ethics and humanitarian issues, while the British Jew, Kuper, was apparently, judging from his words, perhaps more concerned with the amendment of the image of world Jewry.
Being an ex Israeli, I believe that the only thing I can do for Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, myself, my family, my neighbours and humanity -- is to stand firm and speak my heart against all odds.
I also believe that we all know the truth.
We just need to be courageous enough to spit it out.
(1) As bizarre as it may sound to some, ‘Jews Against Zionists’ (JAZ) and ‘Jews for BDS’ (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) do affirm the Zionist mantra : They operate, primarily, as Jews. As much as it is impossible for uprooted Palestinians to settle in Israel and become a citizen with equal civil rights -- it is also impossible for them to join any of the primarily Jewish groups for Palestine.
(2) Richard Kuper, the person behind ‘Irene-the Jewish Boat to Gaza’, was bold enough to admit it -- “Our goal is to show that not all Jews support Israeli policies toward Palestinians,” he said. It is now an established fact that the Jewish boat carried hardly any humanitarian aid for the Gazans : its main mission, as far as Kuper was concerned, seems to have been to amend Jewish reputation.