More on the Gilad Atzmon controversy – and why it matters...
By Alison Weir
I'd rather be researching and writing articles on Palestine-Israel; analyzing media coverage ; placing advertisements and billboards around the country; creating fact-sheets, cards, booklets and other materials on the topic; updating the websites (e.g. here and here and here) we've created to get the facts out; creating new initiatives; and numerous other productive activities for justice and peace.
However, I feel I need to briefly take time out to provide information about the Gilad Atzmon controversy, since I feel the attacks on him are enormously unfair, they continue to occasionally interfere with productive efforts, are sometimes used to try to block my presentations (more on this later), and because an important new article on the topic has just come out.
His most recent book, and the center of the controversy, is The Wandering Who: A Study of Jewish Identity Politics, in which he draws on his background in philosophy (he has a Masters degree in the subject) to explore the Jewish connection to the Jewish state.
Some activists found this topic impermissible and began to launch attacks on Atzmon, which largely seemed geared at preventing others from reading his work for themselves.
In February 2012 a public letter denouncing him was launched with 33 signatories, none of them Palestinian. (One signatory, listed first, is Lebanese; the full list is below).
The letter was circulated widely and reposted various places; eventually accruing 173 names. This time a handful were Palestinian.
(At least one prominent US activist, not Palestinian, didn't sign the letter publicly, but privately attempts to block Atzmon's events in the US.)
In March a second public letter denouncing Atzmon was published – this one with a particularly defamatory headline and somewhat militaristic terminology: "Granting No Quarter: A Call for the Disavowal of the Racism and Antisemitism of Gilad Atzmon."
It contained a grand total of 23 signatories. All were Palestinian, most of them living in the US.
Some of the individuals who signed these letters later admitted they had never read Atzmon's book. (In fact, given how busy we all are, I would guess few of them did.)
Many others – including both Palestinian and Jewish activists, authors, and scholars – refused to sign it.
In fact, many prominent and widely respected individuals – such as Richard Falk, Mazin Qumsiyeh, Ramzy Baroud, lauren Booth, David Rovics, Sameh Habeeb, Sheldon Richman, Nahida Izzat, and Cynthia McKinney – openly praised it. (See more here.)
I myself wrote a mild commentary saying that I respected people on both sides of the controversy but came down on the side of free speech and against "thought police." I also posted a commentary by another person.
Because of this, some solidarity activists now openly attack Richard Falk and others because of their stand on Atzmon, and there are apparently a few who attack me because of my comments.
One person emailed the sponsors of one of my talks in London, falsifying what Atzmon says and I had written, in an attempt to persuade the organizers to cancel the event.
Other individuals, endeavoring to block my talks and prevent If Americans Knew tables at conferences and events, have claimed that I tried "to tell Palestinians what to do" because I had commented on this controversy, even though 23 signatories hardly represents all Palestinians, and even though many other Palestinians also disagreed with the letter these individuals had signed.
Now there is a new development. An individual named Blake Alcott has written a thorough analysis of Atzmon's writings and of the attacks against him, published on CounterPunch and Redress. (I will also post it below.) As Redress Editor Nureddin Sabir writes:
"Blake Alcott debunks the 'anti-Semitism' slur levelled at musician and writer Gilad Atzmon by US academic Ali Abunimah, and explains that Atzmon 'illuminates the ‘pro-Semitic’ racist ideology fatal to Palestinians'."
To reiterate what I wrote in my first post on this controversy:
I respect and like people on both sides of this controversy, including a number of people who signed the letters attacking Atzmon.
Even though I disagree with the decision some made to sign these letters, I still feel we are allies in an urgent cause and hope we will continue to work together to bring the change that is so desperately needed. Let us set aside attacks on Atzmon and others, let us not let others exploit this issue to block presentations by those who differ on this issue, and let us turn our full focus, time, and efforts to our life-and-death struggle against the continued oppression of millions of men, women, and children in Palestine and beyond.
To read more:
Debunking the false “anti-Semitism” slur
By Nureddin Sabir
Editor, Redress Information & Analysis
Blake Alcott* debunks the “anti-Semitism” slur levelled at musician and writer Gilad Atzmon by US academic Ali Abunimah, and explains that Atzmon “illuminates the ‘pro-Semitic’ racist ideology fatal to Palestinians”.