Lauren Booth: 'Jewishness', scare tactics, and a sense of humour.
Cloa k and dagger antics outside a campus in central London, Tuesday night. As, the University of Westminster, caved into threats of disturbance, from UK based Zionists. Why? Because, Gilad Atzmon, world renowned saxophonist, author and anti Zionist racconteur had put together a panel to debate the following; ‘Jewishness and Israeli criminality.’
To a packed venue just round the corner from the campus the discussion, began with breathtakingly robust opening statements. Consider, as you read, the immense pressure not to take part placed on each panellist. The threats against the university of Westminster of disturbance or even violence if the talk took place. And, should you read a hackneyed report (in the Jewish Chronicle or some such useless organ). Return to this page to revisit the precise nature of the debate.
Alongside Gilad Atzmon, the panel consisted of Alan Hart, author, former Middle East Chief Correspondent for Independent Television News and former BBC Panorama presenter, specialising in the Middle East. And Karl Sabbagh, author, TV producer and publisher.
Gilad began his talk by reminding the audience that causing Zionists to feel outraged; ‘Makes me cheerful’. He has not struggled with his own identity he says accepting with a shrug of his irascible shoulders titles such as ‘proud self-hating Jew.’ His first riff, for that is how he talks, in dramatic sequences, was on the nitty question ‘What is Judaism?’
This, in literal terms is the religion of the Jews. Although, this cannot aptly define the large number of secular Jews. What is Zionism then? Zionism, Atzmon contends is NOT a colonial enterprise. It is a tribal setting.
It has nothing whatever to do with Jewish traditions nor Judaism. It is a political cause which cynically uses faith for its ends. Thus Zionism dupes followers of Judaism and secular 'Jews' who identify with these traditions, by getting them to emotionally invest into a violent expansionist project, which they would otherwise find repugnant.
Atzmon plunged headlong into a question that few others would consider anything but career suicide.
‘Is Zionism what it is. Because ‘Jews’ are what they are?’ Gilad Atzmon, comes from a secular Jewish family. He was born and raised in Israel. Until his late teens his big dream was to have a shining career in Israeli Defence Force. What he saw in his time in the army as a teenager serving in Lebanon, was enough, he has said, to make him 'change sides completely.' He is uniquely placed to ask the unaskable and to say the unsayable.
‘Judaism,’ he said ‘I don’t deal with this as religion. ‘It’ (Judaism) doesn't kill. People kill in the name of religions'.
'But what is Jewishness? It is a supremacy. A Chosenness.'
A decade ago, Gilad remembers being something of a ‘darling’ of the UK anti Zionist movement. But he refused to play what he calls ‘the good Jew’. Namely, to become an anti Zionist ‘lite’; A Jewish person willing to condemn certain acts of the Israeli state. Whilst contradictorily arguing the right of ‘Jews’ to have a homeland. On Palestinian land. Such activists often avoid making or worse still retract, important, statements due to social pressure on their families. This works in Israel's favour and to the detriment of the anti Zionist movement as a whole.
As Gilad continued to insist on his right, as a former Israeli, an academic and a member of a democracy, to look into the darker psychological recesses of the Israeli Jewish mindset, he went from darling to demon. For going on ten years, a number of Jewish anti Zionist (softly, softly) types, have been campaigning hard to black ball Atzmon from events and debates. Atzmon puts this effort squarely down to the topic of this evening, his contention, his amuse bouche; that Jewishness itself means a presumption of superiority that can only inevitably lead to violent tribal expansionism. And Apartheid.
A member of a Palestinian solidarity group made an interesting point telling the hall that,
'Jews For Justice for Palestinians, wanted to be called; Jews for Justice for Palestine. They binned that idea when members found the word Palestine ‘too difficult’.
Atzmon vehemently denies the accusation that he is an anti-semite. In no small part because he denies the existence of anti-semitism. In 2003, he wrote in an essay; ‘There is no anti-Semitism any more. In the devastating reality created by the Jewish state, anti-Semitism has been replaced by political reaction’. This is a point he returns to this evening.
‘How do you become and anti Semite? Easy upset a Jew. They don't even need to tell you how you upset them. ‘Anti semitism’ what does it mean? The dictionary tells us its a loathing of Jews, just because they are Jews.’
In all his years, speaking on the subject of Jewishness, Israeli war crimes, Zionism, he has, he has ‘Never met an anti-semite.’ How is this possible you may ask? Atzmon seeks to put clear intellectual water between the actions of ‘race’ hatred (Jews are not a race), and an oppostion to Israeli Apratheid policies that lead to frustrated acts of say, grafitti.
Atzmon continues; ‘ Yes I have met those who object to Israeli policy. To those who objected to Lord (cashpoint) Levi and his role. But this is not anti- semitism.’
What is it then?
“It is an objection to political lobbying.’
Recent figures seem to bare this stance out. Tel Aviv University researchers has released some startling new figures. These reveal that 2010 saw a 46 percent drop in the number of violent incidents targeting Jews relative to 2009 — from 1,129 to 614. Clearly, attacks on Jewish property or persons in 2009 can be seen, not as actions related solely to followers of an Abrahamic faith. But, in response to the violence of Israeli Zionism; A frustrated backlash against a criminal, political movement. Such findings, instead of reassuring Jewish communities, act as an unsettling factor to the pro Israel lobby within them. For without Jewish victimhood, how can the human rights violations of the Jewish State be justified?
On the question of identity for secular Jews, Atmon had this to say;
‘Ask a secular Jew what (does) it mean to be Jewish. They will list what they aren't. It leads to strange ideas that all come down to chicken soup!’ The audiences laughs.
Some academics, find Gilad's playfulness troubling. Audiences like the one this evening, enjoy his cerebral shadow boxing.
'Like the Muslims, who have ‘salam’ as a greeting, the Jews greet one another with Shalom - also a greeting of peace.
‘Shalom doesn't mean peace though. It means security. For Jews’. That peace, (it means) peace for them only’.
“Jewishness tends towards segregation. Living in a ghetto. Look at the (Israeli Apartheid) wall. Is it really for security? No it's to keep Jew and gentile separate’.
‘If you are not Jewish, you are not due the same treatment. You are lesser.’
Atzmon moves onto the controversial 'hate crime' of talking of a Jewish world wide conspiracy. So does one exist? Gilad is semi serious when he says;
"No Jews do not run the world. They get others to do it for them.'
As for who stops the media from fully exploring the real situation for the Palestinian people. From revealing crimes against humanity such as the massacre in Deir Yassin. Gilad rejects the idea of media executives refusing to engage with news from Middle East- to a degree.
‘The world' he says, 'self-censors. ‘Jews’ are not forcing the end of debate. We (the rest of the world) do it ourselves!” Goyim tolerance is seen as weakness. As stupidity yes!’
This argument is not without example. In 2001 Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, made unguarded comments, about relations with the United States and the peace process.
"I know what America is," he told a group of terror victims, apparently not knowing his words were being recorded. "America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction. They won't get in their way."
The Israeli leader went on to boast about how he undercut the peace process when he was prime minister during the Clinton administration. "They asked me before the election if I'd honour [the Oslo accords]," he said. "I said I would, but ... I'm going to interpret the accords in such a way that would allow me to put an end to this galloping forward to the '67 borders. How did we do it? Nobody said what defined military zones were. Defined military zones are security zones; as far as I'm concerned, the entire Jordan Valley is a defined military zone. Go argue!' This is a fine example, Gilad would contend, in which, Israeli negotiators, playing political games, find the ‘Goys’ in the White House, easily tricked and manipulated.
Alan Hart doesn't blame Zionism for having global power either. He blames America for being intellectually weak at its heart (land) and easily financially manipulated in its political terrain.
Whilst Atzmon sums up the entire multi billion dollar Christian Zionist movement, in his usual pithy way.
‘Goys are stupid’.
Can Atzmon have his Kosher cake and eat it too? He began the evening by stating squarely that Israel was a state NOT built on Jewish principles, but on the expansionist lusts of a secular movement from Eastern Europe. Why, then in relation to what is going on, say in Gaza, does he return time and again to the question of ‘Jewishness’?
‘Because the bombs that fall on Gaza night after night, are all decorated with Jewish symbols.’
The concept of ‘Jewish’ labelled, pro Palestinian groups, really gets under Atzmon’s skin. Why again, he argues, this need to be ‘special’ or ‘separate’ from other solidarity groups. The idea has been, he contends that words of condemnation against Israel, are stronger coming from ‘Jews.’ That Jewish outrage holds more weight than any other. Isn’t this itself a supremacist concept, elevating Jewish suffering and understanding of pain above all others? The irony, which Atzmon relishes sharing, is that a Palestinian wishing to protest against Israeli policies in his homeland, would be excluded from joining Jews for Justice for Palestinians, on racial or ethnic grounds.
Alan Hart, author of an epic trilogy on the nature and history of Zionism, finds a pause in which to interject; ‘Nakba denial is as offensive as Holocaust denial.’ This is the comment of the evening which is met with a unanimous cheer.
Karl Sabbagh has a deep knowledge of modern Palestinian history upto and including the Nakba of 1948. He has come to the debate to discuss such tetchy issues as who ‘owns’ the land of Historic Palestine
Sabbagh prefers historical facts to rhetoric.
However, he too relates his frustration, as a historian, when he has made efforts to talk facts with Jewish colleagues and friends.
'You cannot argue with people from a position of logic when they come from a position of no logic.' For an example he describes the old lie that the Nakba was in fact the time, in 1948, when a small group of brave Jewish Holocaust survivors, fought against the might, cruelty and brutality of the surrounding Arabs. In fact, Sabbagh who specialises in this era of history reports that when the British mandate ended in ignominy;
'Ninety thousand well-armed, highly trained Jews, went against, twenty thousand, poorly motivated, badly trained ill equipped Arabs! You tell them this (British Jews who support Israel) and they say it didn't happen'.
The hall then heard from Sameh Habeeb. A young man from Gaza in his twenties. The founder and editor of the online newspaper the Palestine Telegraph, says he finds it hard to cope with the way his efforts to share his first hand experience of life under Israeli occupation has been met with attempts to frighten him from speaking out.
'I Come from the Middle East' he says, 'A region which has been authoritarian. I looked forward to living In a democracy. But once you discuss Israel you are called an anti semite and you no longer can enjoy democracy and free speech'.
The Palestine Telegraph published articles apparently linking Israeli groups with organ theft. Some of these sources were taken from the Israeli Ha aretz newspaper. Yet he was targeted by aggressive UK Zionist groups, he and his family threatened with violence and court cases.
'I was immediately accused of being an anti Semite. Although I am very semite' he says. of his Palestinian semitic, roots.
Gilad ends the night with his trade mark frippery.
'The real genius of the Jews' he says 'Is that they made God into an estate agent and the Bible into a land registry'.
The debate about whether or not this sort of language constitutes anti-Jewishness should continue. What must also continue, freely and without hindrance are debates into the British Jewish communities role in funding the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank and East Jerusalem via such bodies as the Jewish National Fund (patron, one D.Cameron).
The question hanging in the air for the British Jewish community at the end of the event, was this ' Do you know what is really being done by the Jewish State in the name of the ‘Jewish People’. And do you care?'