There is probably not a single person of pro-Palestinian persuasion in the world -- certainly not any relatively young, hip, culturally informed person-- who does not know the name Gilad Atzmon.
Gilad Atzmon must be one of the finest and most interesting jazz musicians alive. As a performer he is completely thrilling. I could watch and listen to him for hours. He is very, very great. But I think that, intellectually and morally, he is insane.
It would be possible to work actively for the "liberation of Palestine," yet come far short of the madness and extremism of Atzmon's positions. Unless your idea of the liberation of Palestine was the same as Hamas'.
"But he is a musician; an artist." No. Atzmon is every bit as much political activist as musician. You cannot see him only as a musician because he himself does not; he has at least two identities that are both of equal importance to him. By his own self-definition he is not "a musician." He is a musician and a political activist.
It is specious to call him "a Jew," because in a way he isn't one. He is an Israeli-born person. And that fact is used to give him authority, and to refute accusations that he is a Jew-hater. The idea being: How could he be a Jew-hater?, he was born in Israel and served in the IDF.
He was raised, so says all the biographical material, as a "secular Jew." Which is to say, NOT as a Jew.
He was raised as an Israeli, with a nationalist identity and a National Story, like any other person from any other nation. He disagrees with the National Story, which in this case is connected to a tribal story that he believes is a fake and malignant story. And in any case, the Israeli National Story, he believes, is an impediment to human progress, an affront to human dignity and a thorn in the side of the world. So he has no choice but to reject his national identity (except insofar as it is useful to his self-presentation and his cause; a piece of armor, as it were). As for cultural or spiritual identity, he never had either.
An idea that I shall never give up -- because it has taken me a long time and a lot of serious thinking to come up with -- is: "Secular Judaism" is meaningless. It has meaning only in the abstract. In terms of an individual person, it has meaning only in its short life of a one- or two-generation journey from authentic Judaism, during which certain basic qualities of Judaism may still be vital and vibrant in the soul, intellect, moral intelligence and emotions of a person. And that is its lifespan.
Anyone who disagrees with me on this point can try to transmit his "secular Judaism" to the third generation from its authentic root. And then he will see the rubber meeting the road, and he can come back to me and we'll resume the discussion.
Back to Atzmon: Oliver Kamm nails him pretty good. The Contentious Centrist does as well, a bit more literarily, as is her wont and style. And Bob From Brockley, an attentive Atzmon observer, has no illusions.
Bob from Brockley editorialises:
Is secular Judaism possible for more than a generation or two? I believe it is, but only if there is a community to sustain and transmit it. Such a community was emerging in Yiddishland in the first half of the last century, with a web of institutions (YIVO, the Bund, the Yiddish theatre and film industries...), and with a rich secular culture. Perhaps this infrastructure and culture was dependent on a certain exclusion from majority cultural life in Central and Eastern Europe (where there was formal equality, such as Germany, there was no such infrastructure; non-religous Jews assimilated after a generation or two). And, of course, that infrastructure was destroyed in the Shoah.
So, the question is, are there enough secular people with enough motivation to devote enough of their lives to the specifically Jewish to sustain secular Jewish culture? Probably not.