'NOT IN MY NAME’ – An analysis of Jewish righteousness by Gilad Atzmon
13 June 2004
‘There are no English, French, German or American Jews, but only Jews living in England, France, Germany or America.’
Chaim Weizman August 1897, at the First Zionist Congress
I understand Zionists, I think that they are the biggest threat to world peace, I argue that they are war criminals, I fight them and I try to bring them down. I write about them, I compose music against them but I understand their logic. I understand their tricks, I know exactly where they are aiming and I do my best to stop them.
By contrast, I really do not understand those who fight Zionism in the name of their secular Jewish identity. I have never understood them. I have never really understood what secularism means for the Jewish people. Do they refer to a hidden core of Jewish secular ethic philosophy? I have always failed to understand those secular Jews who declare ‘not in my name’, those who claim to be ‘atheists’ and ‘enlightened humanists’ but at the same time talk in the name of a strange tribal brotherhood. There are many of them: Jews for peace, Jews for Palestine, Jews against oppression, Jews for human rights, Marxist Jews, Jews for this and Jews for that. More than often they approach me and ask for my support. Obviously, I share most if not all of their humanistic views but I always have to turn them down. I cannot understand why they choose to act under a strange clannish umbrella. If peace is that important, why turn it into a marginal business? If human rights are a universal aim why not fight for them among the rest of the humankind.
Facing my criticism they produce the same two arguments:
1. They say that being Jewish makes their views sound stronger.
2. And they say that in light of the crimes committed by Zionism in the name of the Jewish people it makes sense to prove to the world that, in fact, there are more than a few ‘good Jews’ around.
The first argument is weak and counter-effective to its very cause. In fact, to offer such an argument is to admit to a certain degree of intellectual dishonesty. If we believe in the transparency of a rational argument we must accept that the ethnic origin of an argument’s provider should not have any effect on its validity. Consequently, being a Jew doesn’t cover any argumentative flaws. If Zionism is categorically wrong, then the racial or ethnic belonging of its critics is irrelevant.
The second argument is, at first sight, more convincing. Jewish leftists occasionally claim that Zionism stains world Jewry with its continuous criminal activity. The logic behind such a statement is fairly straightforward. On the one hand, Zionism presents itself as the official voice of the Jewish people. On the other hand, Zionism is daily engaged with serious war crimes and atrocities. The synthesis of the two leads to the conclusion that world Jewry is criminally liable for the Zionist crimes. Theoretically speaking, those Jews who refuse to accept responsibility are more than entitled to stand up against Zionism. They usually apply the ‘not in my name’ strategy; sometimes they define themselves as ‘humanist Jews’ or even ‘Jews for peace’. Superficially their actions appear noble; in fact, it is with these actions that the real problems start. By saying not in ‘my’ name, they label the rest of the Jewish people as criminally liable for Zionist crime. I will try to elucidate this point.
We must ask ourselves whether the fact that Zionism claims to be the official voice of the Jewish people is enough to turn world Jewry into bunch of war criminals.
The fact that X claims to be the official voice of Y is far from being enough to turn X into this voice. Accordingly, the fact that X is committing crimes is not enough to make Y criminally liable. Similarly, the fact that President Bush Junior claimed to be the voice of Western democracy didn’t turn him into it. Consequently, Western European citizens are not criminally liable for Bush’s atrocities in Iraq or Afghanistan. In practice, it was the silence imposed by the leading European democracies that turned Bush’s self-nomination into a farce. The Western world bought its innocence by saving itself from entering into a debate with the emerging Anglo-Saxon bond of evil. While Zionism appointed itself from its early days to talk and to act on behalf of the Jewish people, it is actually the sporadic rebels who criticise Zionism in the name of their Jewish secular identity who affirm the Zionist ‘totalitarian’ agenda. Bizarrely enough, it is the Jewish Left which turns Zionism into the official voice of the Jewish people.
This will probably sound peculiar but I will try to illuminate this point.
Two facts are apparent about the ‘not in my name’ declaration:
1. It is a personal pronouncement. By declaring ‘not in my name’, one affirms the totality of that which one tries to oppose. In fact, what one says is: ‘Though X [Zionism, Blair’s government, Bush’s America, etc.] is entitled to act on my behalf, I myself demand to be left out.’ This logic is universal; it isn’t particular to Zionism. When a British citizen shouts ‘not in my name’ he or she essentially approves the liability of the rest of the British population for Blair’s crimes in Iraq. ‘Not in my name’ is a naïve demand not to share responsibility. It is a search for an escape. Considering Zionists’ or Blair’s crimes this can be understood. Yet, it appears to be an opportunistic manoeuvre rather than a carefully considered ideological opposition.
2. Since ‘not in my name’ is a personal call, it can never generate the political impetus needed to introduce real political change. In the case of Zionism it guarantees that left-wing Jewish rebels will stay forever in the margins. While Zionism appoints itself to talk in the name of the Jewish people, its Jewish opposition will only go as far as to form a few isolated patches of theoretical and ideological resistance. ‘Enlightened individualism’ may have something of the heroic about it but it will always fall short of toppling down a successful political movement.
So we are left with a depressing picture. It is the enlightened Jewish leftist who crowns Zionism as the voice of the Jewish people. We are thus entitled to consider that all Jewish people – except Moishe’l, Yitzchak’l and Yanke’l who apparently have proved themselves to be ‘Jewish peace activists’, ‘Jewish human rights enthusiasts’, ‘Marxists Jew’ etc. – support or at least are liable for Zionist crimes. Though I would appear to be blaming ‘good Jews’ for affirming Zionism I am fairly sure that those who apply such methods of resistance are far from being vicious. They are just naïve. They are presumably unaware of the implications of their marginal humanistic attitude. They no doubt do not understand that by fighting Zionism in the name of their Jewish identity they approve Zionism. They must fail to realise that their form of resistance contributes to the labelling of the entire Jewish people as war criminals.
The Birth of Evil
We face here a carefully conceived trap set by early Zionist ideologists. Zionists would argue that every Jew is a Zionist unless proved different. Until recently I myself fell into this trap; I argued that every Jew who felt unease with Zionist crimes should do their utmost and be public about it. Only recently did I realise that I was categorically wrong. To demand that Jews disapprove of Zionism in the name of their Jewish identity is to accept the Zionist philosophy. To resist Zionism as a secular Jew involves an acceptance of basic Zionist terminology, that is to say, a surrendering to Jewish racist and nationalist philosophy. To talk as a Jew is to surrender to Weizman’s Zionist philosophy. According to Weizman, ‘There are no English Jews’ but rather ‘Jews who live in England’. In other words, you are first and foremost a Jew by race and nation; every other label is secondary.
We must admit that we have never come across a German dove who defines himself as an ‘Aryan for peace’; neither do we know of Russians who define themselves as ‘Slavs for human rights’. We do not know too many ‘Celtic Marxists’ either. Such combinations sound pretty peculiar, not to say funny. Somehow political or humanist titles seem misplaced when they precede or follow racial labels. Accordingly, defining oneself as a ‘Marxist Jew’ or a ‘Jew for peace’ should sound peculiar. But somehow it doesn’t. No one raises an eyebrow when confronting a ‘Jew for human rights’. Presumably this relates to the fact that, as far as Jews are concerned, the demarcation between racial identity and nationalist identity is very ambiguous. If we want to soften the peculiarity involved with those Jewish humanist titles, we must leave aside the racist interpretation and re-examine those titles as nationalistic labels. At least, linguistically it would make more sense. We can easily conceive of a German Marxist or a Serbian peace activist. Accordingly, if we regard Jewish identity as a national definition then the label ‘Jew for peace’ or ‘Jew for human rights’ makes sense. We would refer to the above dove as a man who holds left-wing views and who happens to be Jewish by nation. However, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that by doing so we accept the notion of Jewish nationalism. In other words, we become devoted Zionists.
Jews cannot criticise Zionism in the name of their ethnic belonging because such an act is in itself an approval of Zionism. Practically speaking, Jews can’t really oppose Zionism unless they adopt an alternative view that questions the Zionist totality.
While nationalism is a celebration of the differences between peoples, Jewish nationalism goes one step further. As well as being different from all other nations, Jews must be different from themselves. Being a total ideology, Zionism classifies and names any form or shape of Jewish appearance. Every Jew has a role in the emerging Jewish nationalist revolution. Essentially, we have two poles:
1. The ultimate Zionist: a Jew by race, a nationalist, a colonialist, a Biblically inspired being, living on Palestinian confiscated land, preferably in a West Bank settlement.
2. The ultimate self-hater: a secular, cosmopolitan, peace lover, inspired by humanistic views, in a mixed married, living in the Diaspora.
While the former represents the hard-core pioneer of the contemporary Zionist agenda – who invades Palestinian lands and engages in daily atrocities – it is the latter who makes Zionism into a dynamic movement. It is the ‘self-hater’ who serves as an inside enemy. It is he who will convert (to Zionism) in the next anti-Semitic wave. It is he who makes Zionism into an eternal struggle for ‘Jewish salvation’. And, if this were not enough, it is he, the peace lover, who proves beyond doubt that deep in their souls Jews are peace enthusiasts and great humanists.
Looking at those distinct poles we find the contemporary Jewish people in a severely schizophrenic state. This malaise is the fuel of the Zionist revolution; it guarantees a never-ending struggle for self-definition. Within such a struggle, Zionism, being the voice of the Jewish people, positions itself beyond the debate itself. Zionism becomes a form of a meta-dialectic ideology. It is a medium of activity rather than a set of political manoeuvres.
Why is this issue a major concern?
I frequently hear complaints that it is the Jewish Left which dominates the ‘Palestinian solidarity campaign’. I can confirm that I am approached by many Jewish seculars who are devoted Palestinian supporters. A significant number of them would proudly admit to acting in the name of their Jewishness. A few days ago I attended a Palestinian solidarity event in London. It was pretty depressing to find that Hebrew was the most noticeable language in the theatre. On the surface, the situation looks encouraging, as if we are dealing with people of integrity and high human values. But the truth is slightly less heroic. I learn from Palestinians and other supporters of the Palestinian cause that it is the Jewish and Israeli Left which defines the boundaries of the discussion. It is Jewish Left which decides what is right and what is wrong. For instance, political criticism of Zionism is more than welcome as long as you stick to a very limited socio-political discussion. The Jewish Left is happy to denounce Sharon or Peres but any comparison between Zionism and other manifestations of evil are forbidden. As soon as any real scrutiny of Zionism in metaphysical terms is posited, the righteous Jewish Left police will stop it immediately. As a result, Palestinian intellectuals and artists are paralysed. Most of them are terrified that if they say what they think the ‘good Jews’ will label them as anti-Semites. I will use this opportunity to declare that the only way to further understand Zionism is to throw light on contemporary Jewish identity. Zionism and Jewish identity are not as foreign to each other as Jewish leftists insist. Zionism is an extreme appearance of Jewish identity. It is the embodiment of every wrong aspect of Jewish secular thinking. It is racist, it is nationalist, and it is Biblically inspired (rather than spiritually inspired). Being a fundamentalist movement, Zionism is not categorically different from the Nazism. Only when we understand Zionism in its nationalist and racist context will we begin to comprehend the depth of its atrocities. Only then will we realise how the Nakba (the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people in 1948) took place (just three years after the end of the Jewish Holocaust). We will then understand Ben Gurion’s motivations, Sharon’s popularity and Peres’ commitment to Sharon’s notion of peace. We will even get a glimpse into the deteriorated morality of the newly retired ‘good Jew’ Prof’ Benny Morris.
I do not doubt the genuine good will of those who fight Zionism in the name of their Jewish identity. I do think that they fail to think it through. In practice, left-wing Jews act as the Zionist fig leaf against their will. In modern Zionist terminology they provide Israel with a mighty intellectual defence wall.
So, what to do?
More than often I am asked to define the differentiation between Jews and Zionists. More than often I am blamed for criticising Jews when I am ‘supposed’ to criticise Zionists. This demarcation line between Jews and Zionists is very important for lefty Jews. The reason is simple: they want to maintain their secular Jewish identity while disassociating themselves from the Zionist evil.
For years I couldn’t understand what it was in their Jewish identity that they wanted to maintain. Was it their racial identity, their national one or just their love of chicken soup with maza balls? On the other hand, I can understand religious Jewish groups who base their criticism of Zionism on Jewish religious laws and moral guidelines. I am totally in support of Neturei Karta’s anti-Zionist political agenda. But when it comes to secular Jews I get lost. Some of them will argue, while rolling their eyes up, that it was Hitler rather than Moses who made them Jews. What they are trying to say is that for them being Jewish is an ethnic label rather than spiritual statement – it has something to do with idishe cuisine, with their love of Jewish humour or even of lighting candles once a year.
Only recently did I realise where the real problem lies. The ‘not in my name Jews’ are convinced that Jews/Zionists is a binary opposition. They try to persuade us that there is a sort of contradiction between these terms. Within the infertile, politically correct discourse we are all engaged with, no one dares to question this claim. But the truth must be said: they are wrong. Jews and Zionists do not constitute a binary opposition. If anything they are complimentary categories. The one and only effective Jewish alternative to Zionism is the option of assimilation. Those who are familiar with the history of the Zionist movement know that it is the assimilationists who were always regarded by Zionists as the biggest possible threat.
In the late nineteenth century the Zionist movement started as a reaction to the emancipation of the European Jewry. Zionism was there to stop the Jews from being ‘lost’ in assimilation. Let us see what Max Nordau had to say about the subject while addressing the First Zionist Congress in 1897:
The word ‘Ghetto’ is today associated with feelings of shame and humiliation. But the Ghetto, whatever may have been the intentions of the people who have created it, was for the Jew of the past not a prison, but a refuge ... In the Ghetto, the Jew had his own world; it was to him the sure refuge which had for him the spiritual and moral value of a parental home ... Their external situation was insecure, often seriously endangered. But internally they achieved a complete development of their specific qualities … That was the psychology of the Ghetto Jew. Now came Emancipation. The law assured the Jews that they were full citizens of their country … They had now another home; they no longer needed a Ghetto; they had now other connections and were no longer forced to exist only with their co-religionists … Now they sought after the closest association and assimilation in place of the distinction, which was their salvation. There followed a true mimicry, and for one or two ages the Jew was allowed to believe that he was only German, French, Italian, and so forth … The emancipated Jew is insecure in his relations with his fellow-beings, timid with strangers, suspicious even toward the secret feeling of his friends. His best powers are exhausted in the suppression, or at least in the difficult concealment of his own real character.
There is little room for ambiguity here. Nordau despises the emancipated–assimilated Jew, whom he regards as a deteriorated non-authentic being.
Moses Hess, the famous socialist who was the first assimilated Jew to turn to Zionism, had warned his Jewish brothers in 1862 that all their efforts to cast off Jewishness would be in vain. His argument was utterly racist: ‘Jewish noses cannot be reformed, and the black, wavy hair of the Jews will not be changed into blond by conversion or straightened out by constant combing.’ According to Hess, assimilation was impossible, mainly because ‘every Jew is, whether he wishes it or not, bound unbreakably to the entire nation’.
Nachman Sirkin, the Zionist socialist directed his attack solely against the Jewish socialist cosmopolitan. According to Sirkin, ‘socialism meant, first of all, the abandonment of Jewishness, just as the liberalism of the Jewish bourgeoisie led to assimilation’.
The Zionist fear of assimilation has never subsided. Golad Meir used to say that the biggest threat to Jewish existence was posed by mixed marriage in America. It wasn’t the Arabs, the anti-Semites or the Palestinians whom she failed to accept throughout her long political career, but the mixed marriages in America. Basically, Meir was terrified of the contamination of the Jewish race.
As we can see, Zionism has always been clear on its position regarding assimilation. The assimilated Jew has been the prime enemy. He is an enemy because unlike the Jewish leftist he is not engaged in the Zionist game. In its early days, when Zionism was a marginal movement, this approach was understood. At the time, assimilation was rather attractive. The majority of European Jews were looking for ways to merge into their surrounding reality. Most of them were looking for new opportunities beyond the ghetto. Zionists in their despair found themselves negotiating with the most vocal anti-Semites in Europe at the time. Along the endless list you can find Vyacheslav von Plevhe, the Russian minister behind the Kishenev pogrom, the Ukrainian nationalist S.M. Petlura, and of course much has been written about the collaboration between the WZO and the Nazis. Zionists promised to help cleanse Europe of its Jews (both Zionists and assimilated ones). The assimilated Jews were regarded by Zionism as an enemy. This is funny considering the fact that assimilated Jews have never been politically organised. The only noticeable non-Zionist Jewish movement at the time was the Jewish Bund, a Jewish socialist organisation which argued that Jews should take part in a world socialist revolution rather than emigrating to Palestine.
Considering the history of Zionist animosity towards assimilated Jews it is rather surprising that these days so many secular Jews choose to oppose Zionism in the name of their secular Jewish identity. In practice they all adopt the Zionists’ perspective. Now – when Israelis and Zionists know that their dream of national salvation is doomed to fail; when ethnic cleansing is taking place in Palestine – it is time to fight Zionism with any possible mean and method. As far as the secular Jewish agenda is concerned, a real assimilationist manner would be most appropriate. It is necessary to fight Zionism as a human being; as an ‘English Jew’ rather than as a ‘Jew who lives in England’; as a ‘human being who appears to be Jewish’ rather than as a ‘Jew who declares himself to be a humanist’. Jews around the world as well as in Israel must let the Zionists know that the world out there is far more attractive than the racist, colonialist murderous dream the Zionists have to offer. If left-wing Jews are genuine in their fight against Zionism, they should completely avoid the usage of Jewish identity as the pillar of their arguments. If they remain hidden behind their Jewish identity we must then suspect their call to be a form of a mild left-wing Zionism.
Jewish secular criticism will start to be effective only when the Jewish ethnic issue has been completely dropped from the body of any critical argument. Jews are at their very best when they leave the ghetto physically and mentally; when they talk to the hearts of their listeners without being victims, chosen or righteous; when they join the human family without prejudice. This is called assimilation.