[update: John Hamilton has replied here.]

RAISE YOUR BANNERS is a festival of political song in Bradford, partly funded by a public body, the Arts Council. It has been going for sixteen years.

GILAD ATZMON is an Israeli-born jazz musician increasingly prominent (in the UK at least) in the last few years for his bizarre politics, and in particular his vitriolic hatred for Jews and his “iconoclastic” insistence on questioning everything we know about the Holocaust. A group of radical writers including the SWP’s Richard Seymour recently argued that “The thrust of Atzmon’s work is to normalise and legitimise anti-Semitism”. Trade unionist and Socialist Unity blogger Andy Newman accused him in the Guardian of “a wild conspiracy argument, dripping with contempt for Jews”. Cristina Odone has said his recent book “splutters with anti-Jewish sentiment”. The Community SecurityTrust, the organisation dedicated to combating antisemitism, says that “he has been condemned as antisemitic by Jewish and non-Jewish anti-Zionists as well as mainstream Jewish organisations. This is not simply a case of harsh disagreements over Israeli policy. If somebody else made similar comments about Muslim identity, or black British identity, they would be generally condemned as Islamophobic or racist. We see no reason why Gilad Atzmon should be treated any differently... Anybody considering giving Gilad Atzmon a platform to spread these views, needs to ask themselves whether they want to help facilitate the spread of anti-Jewish hostility in this country.”

Gilad Atzmon is a man who finds throwing Jews into the sea amusing. He is a man who thinks that eventually some “brave people will say that Hitler was right after all”, that it might actually be the case that medieval Jews murdered gentile children for their blood, that Jews in America are “the enemy within”. He is a man who uses BNP websites as a source for information. He is a man who thinks the Nazi death marches were “actually humane”.

Hot from speaking at Exeter University (where, apparently, he said “Hitler was right” and “anti-Semitism doesn’t exist”*), Atzmon is due to appear at Raise Your Banners on Friday. Raise Your Banners has received complaints from supporters of the event going since April 2011, including the Jewish Socialist Group, Bradford Trades Council and Hope Not Hate. Bradford TC said: “"There is no way that Atzmon should play. The evidence against him is overwhelming. We are appalled at this decision and believe that this is a serious point of principle. Bradford TUC has long been at the fore of the anti-fascist movement in the area and it is in this tradition that we demand the withdrawal of Atzmon’s invitation."

In response, the festival’s secretary made this oblique comment: “we have discussed the matter with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and are satisfied that PSC have no boycott of Gilad Atzmon or events that he is involved in.” That reflects badly on the PSC, but is about as relevant as the price of fish. The director, Ludi Simpson, has said: “We do not believe the claims of anti-semitism. If we did believe them then we would not have invited him. All our artists have signed up to our equal-opportunities policy. Our audience would not tolerate racist behaviour.” Presumably, if Nick Griffin signed an equal opps statement, you could invite him. Or you could actually read Atzmon’s words and realise that the “claims” of antisemitism are quite easy to believe. They also concede that "Gilad Atzmon’s philosophical and political writings stir up... a strong reaction from their main target the Israeli government." In fact, the Israeli government is probably not that interested in this small fry, and this claim only works by ignoring the persistent criticisms of Atzmon by Zionism's harshest UK critics, such as Jews Against Zionism.

The Arts Council has stood by the festival, arguing that Atzmon was participating in the event “as a musician and not in his capacity as a political writer”. As Waterloo Sunset notes, this is a disingenuous response: “As is clear from their own description, RYB does not separate music and politics in the way the Arts Council suggests.  Atzmon is there as a political figure- the remit of the festival means he couldn’t be anything else.” The Arts Council also says it doesn’t want to "restrict an artist from expressing their views" and it believes in funding events and artists that show "a diverse view of world society". Presumably we can look forward to their funding of Skrewdriver concerts next, or hosting lectures by author Anders Breivik, because why restrict their diverse views?

SARAH GILLESPIE is a Brockley-based singer-songwriter with a gorgeous voice, also playing at the festival alongside Atzmon. I wrote this about her last year, giving some examples of her own straying into dodgy territory. She has also been (along with Atzmon and Ernst Zundel) thanked by Paul Eisen in his text “My life as a Holocaust denier” for standing by him.

More recently, she has written a “defence” of Atzmon, circulating widely on the internet on Holocaust denial and 9/11 Truther sites, far right and white supremacist sites, as well as fringe leftist sites. Her defence claims that Atzmon is “on an intellectual quest for truth”, a familiar trope among Holocaust deniers.

She has in the past accused the BBC of being biased towards Israel because its Director General had a Jewish wife (“the man is far from ‘impartial’. His Jewish wife, the scholar Jane Blumfeild, hails from an American family that attends Yeshivas.”). Despite this, she was invited on to the BBC, appearing on Andrew Marr’s “Start the Week” on Radio 4 yesterday, along with Paul Kominsky of The Promise, to discuss art and politics.

THE STRAWBERRY THIEVES are another Southeast London group booked at the festival, a socialist choir led by John Hamilton, based in Telegraph Hill (that’s the posh northwestern corner of Greater Brockley). Hamilton has been long-term involved in Maoist sects (I get them all mixed up: I think it’s the one called the Revolutionary Communist Party of Great Britain Marxist-Leninist!) but more recently has been a tireless activist in Lewisham, in the New School for New Cross and Save Ladywell Pool Campaigns (both campaigns I supported) and fronting the People Before Profit group in local elections.** Local Labour councillor Mike Harris had a guest post here when Hamilton used the opportunity of a solemn Holocaust Memorial Day service to shout “What about Gaza?” to a local rabbi who was talking about genocides.

The Strawberry Thieves’ songbook is on-line. One of its songs, “War Crimes” [pdf], describes Israel "as a state made for the chosen few, where lives of Palestinian folk are worth much less than lives of Jews". Commenting on this sort of language, a Guardian editor recently wrote “‘Chosenness’, in Jewish theology, tends to refer to the sense in which Jews are ‘burdened’ by religious responsibilities; it has never meant that the Jews are better than anyone else. Historically it has been antisemites, not Jews, who have read ‘chosen’ as code for Jewish supremacism.” Here’s how the Thieves describe their contribution to the festival: “We will be singing in the choirs concert on Saturday afternoon in the cathedral and running a workshop on Saturday morning, 10-11am on countering Zionist propaganda in song!”

TAKE ACTION! I think it is outrageous that Raise Your Banners has invited Gilad Atzmon to perform, not as a musician but as a political figure. They claim that they want to promote a “diversity of views”, but I notice that they have not this year or in any previous year invited White Power skinhead bands, for example, or Ulster Unionist pipe bands, or even Tory folk musicians. Would they invite homophobic and misogynistic rappers, for example, because they had also written excellent left-wing songs? Would they invite a fine socialist songwriter who had a track record of anti-black racism? It seems to me there are a number of ways we can take action.
  • Put pressure on the organisers. Express your disgust that the festival is inviting a racist performer. Sam Jackson is the event secretary who put out the odd PSC statement. Ludi Simpson is variously described as treasurer, director and organiser of the Atzmon bit. (Is that the same Ludi Simpson who does excellent statistical research at Manchester University? If so, his research skills have failed him here, as googling Gilad Atzmon would be enough to put anyone sensible off.) Contact details are here (the phone number is 07530 243874), and you can also follow the festival on Facebook or Twitter.
  • Put pressure on the Arts Council. It seems to me that at a time when public money is so tightly rationed, it gives a lot of ammunition to the enemy of arts funding that they are spending taxpayers’ money on a festival that hosts a known racist. How would they feel if their budget went towards someone like David Irving or David Duke as to show "a diverse view of world society", because that’s basically what they are doing.
  • Put pressure on the Co-op, who are also a funder according to the website. I am a member, and I don’t like this use of Co-operative funds. Website here.
  • Put pressure on the venue. In this case, that’s the Church of England! A HnH commenter writes: “This event happens at Bradford Cathedral (01274 777720). You need to speak to diocesan Bishop of Bradford Nick Baines, and if that doesn't work, make a direct appeal to the Church of England hierarchy. Giving a forthright anti-semite permission to play his concert at a cathedral would make disastrous headlines for the Church of England, if the media were to get hold of it.  UPDATE: Apparently, due to poor ticket sales, the venue has shifted from the Cathedral to the smaller Kala Sangan, also funded by the Arts Council. You can follow them on Twitter too, by the way. And, in an outbreak of sensibleness, the Dean of Bradford has come out against Atzmon.
  • Ask other performers to pull out if Atzmon is not dis-invited. Apart from Martin Carthy, Peggy Seeger and Roy Bailey, I haven’t heard of many of the performers, but they’re listed here: John Tams and Barry Coope, Ewan McLennan and Robb Johnson, Amsterdam, Seize the Day and the Hall Brothers, Tina McKevitt and Matt Hegarty. (The great violinist Omar Puente has pulled out: I can't find information about why, but I’d like to think it is because he prefers not to share a stage with a racist.) These performers might be swayed by Richard Seymour’s letter to Zer0 Books.
  • Urge your union branch to follow Bradford TUC in condemning the event.
  • Consider picketing or even disrupting the event. Everybody Hates a Tourist has a post about the event, and urges anyone interested in taking action to get in touch with him.

*Some audio of Atzmon’s Exeter speech here – I haven’t listened to it.
**Hamilton says this is not true - see here.

Further reading: CST: “Gilad Atzmon: what you see is what you get”; Yaniv Halily “The protocols of Gilad Atzmon”.
Previously: Left antisemitism and its rejection; Atzmonism; Addenda.
All my Atzmon posts.


Luther Blissett said…
Gilad Atzmon: Yesterday we also learned that mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik was openly enthusiastic about Israel.

Take a good look at that link - it's palaeo neonazi site, also a recommended link by the Counterjihad Europa Project's Clausen (of DPP/ that tries to rehab antisemites (pdf).

People need to ask why does Atzmon take his information from or even read a website like that? The website is ultra ethnonationalist - and antiJew and antiMuslim.
bensix said…
I don't get why this bloke is so hugely popular. He's charismatic, that's for sure, but it's not as if his thoughts are original or literate. I mean, there are smart anti-semites out there - not that their anti-semitism is smart, naturally, but they can phrase it in an elegant and eloquent style. Atzmon is to politics what Andrew Dice Clay was stand up comedy - just spouting loose collections of words that sound outrageous.
Bruce R said…
A few years ago, I encountered Ludi Simpson as part of a campaign to get his department to rescind an invitation to the racist / eugenicist David Coleman of Migration Watch to appear at an academic conference at Manchester University.
Simpson's argument then was that it was better to invite Coleman and argue the case against him. I don't know whether he'll be confronting Atzmon and 'having the argument' (I doubt it) or whether he accepts RYB's belief that Atzmon is not anti-Semitic. I had him down as wht in the US would be called a First Amendment liberal but if he can put his name to the RYB statements, he's either to lazy to read what Atzmon says or holds a rather less palatable position.
bob said…
Luther, thanks. Ironic that Atzmon's biggest supporters are the ones who are most quick to portray their enemies as "Zionists", "Islamophobes" and "clash of civilizations" folk, when those are precisely the waters their hero is wading in.

Ben, I wonder that. I sometimes wonder if the notoriety he gets by constantly being attacked by people like me (well, more prominent people like me at least) adds to his kudos. He is charismatic, and I think he's quite a good musician, but his fame is out of all proportion to that. I searched "gilad atzmon" on twitter, and it's amazing how many feeds and sites are syndicating him, from obviously neo-Nazi ones to 9/11 cultists to almost mainstream "progressive" ones.

Bruce, that's interesting. That means it is the same Ludi? A few years ago, I would have been surprised to see a genuinely smart academic accept at face value someone like Atzmon saying "I'm not racist", but now I'm less easily surprised...
bob said…
Joseph W joins more dots here - between Bradford PSC, Camden PSC, Paul Eisen, Atzmon and the Strawberry Thieves.
modernity said…
I suspect Atzmon is popular because he acts as a proxy for those inviting him.

He says what others would like to say, but feel they can't, for various reasons.
Luther Blissett said…
Modernity - I think it's more simple than that - they want to hear "an Israeli" say it. Atzmon makes himself available. It is not so easy to get their heads around the fact that Israelis who refuse (for example, the Courage to Refuse campaigners) who are also zionists, can also be against all those things that the antizionists are against i.e. the occupation, the inequality, the settlement building - so instead the supporters of 'the other nationalism' invite a loud, brash, Israeli man who spent the last 7 years consorting with conspiracy theorists, promoting known far-right neonazis and try to write off complaints about his associates as smears, despite all evidence to the contrary
bob said…
I tried to listen to the audio of the Exeter Uni talk (at the bottom of the post) and found it almost unlistenable. Yet he must have something - reading Sarah Gillespie's "defence", it is the voice of a cultic true believer.

I find it interesting how his defenders always say things like "how can he be an antisemite when he is a Jew", while he himself rejects the Jewish identity. His Jewishness and Israeli-ness (and perhaps also, as I think Rosie suggested, his IDF veteran status) acts as an alibi for antisemitism.
Nedward said…
Tough luck, Gilad's concert is going ahead. The organizers have considered the evidence and decided that Gilad is not an antisemite. Which is the correct decision, because he is not an antisemite.

So Gilad Atzmon 1 Jewish Supremacists 0.
bob said…
What possible evidence could there be that Atzmon is not an antisemite? You can't prove a negative, and of course there is an abundance of evidence that he is, some of it linked to in this post. There is still less evidence that the organisers have made any attempt to do any research about him, as merely googling would throw up instances immediately.

And the notion that the Jewish Socialist Group and Bradford TUC are "Jewish supremacists" is pretty good evidence, Nedward, that you are an antisemite yourself. Goodbye.
Anonymous said…
What utter nonsense. I was at the talk in Exeter. Atzmon didn’t say Hitler was right. He suggested that if Israel ignites a third world war by bombing Iran, Iran may strike back and if they do, some people, engulfed in a new world war, may reflect that Hitler was right. This, Atzmon proposed, would be very bad for the Jews. He hopes Israel might learn to reflect on possible outcomes before striking Tehran. This is a valid point.
Anonymous said…
The thought police are out in force against G.A. They would rather throw 20,000,000 in the gulag than let them have their own thoughts. Atzmon will win in the end. The world is sick of thought police. Bolshi, Nazi or Zionist, the thought police will always be known for what they are.
bob said…
There is a significant difference between the outrageous snippet as reported by JC and the fuller contextualised paraphrase you provide, anonymous, and if you are right he has been misrepresented.

However, it is not in any sense a valid point, because why on earth would anyone reflect that Hitler was right because of something Israel does? What is the link? How do you think that unless someone like Atzmon has planted the thought? It's a complete non-sequitor. What was it they will think Hitler was right about?

And, for that matter, why would it be Israel that would be blamed for this imagined world war? Would it not be the Iranian regime, with its hubristic and annihilatory nuclear ambitions?

If anyone could have the strength to listen to the mp3 on Salem News and see what he actually said, let me know. Assuming it includes the Hitler bit and it's not edited out.
bob said…
This is how he phrases it in his book: “Some brave people will say that Hitler was right after all.” Keyword: brave. That endorses them saying it, not regrets the poor Jews who will suffer as a result.
bob said…
Actually, I checked in the book, and on p.179 these are the words:

"We, for instance, can envisage an horrific situation in which an Israeli 'pre-emptive' nuclear attack on Iran escalates into a disastrous nuclear war, in which tens of millions of people perish. I guess that amongst the survivors of such a nightmare scenario, some may be bold enough to argue that 'Hitler might have been right after all.'" He then goes on to say, not that he hopes Israel might "reflect on possible outcomes before striking Tehran" but that it is incapable of reflecting, because Jewish discourse makes it impossible, as it has no notion of temporality.
bob said…
The second Anon comment has just popped up, probably the last such trollery I will publish, what with me being a paid up member of the thought police who wants to send people to the gulag etc. (What on earth is s/he referring to? It's even more barmy than the "Nedward" one.)
Keren Hapuch said…
to learn that Breivik is enthusiastic about Israel you don't need a neonazi-site. you can read it in Breivik's own "writings".
Anonymous said…
I got some laughs from your comments.
Frightening how none of you ever lie.
You really do fully believe everything you say.

You are so ultra hyper race fixated.
100% of your thought and activities are fixated on the topic of your race identity, race politics, racial separatist 'racial nationalism Jewish state',

You are the most race fixated person you know...

Struggle to grasp that I have nothing to say about you. People long before you set the terms and conditions you live by. You invented nothing you talk about. You took up an agenda far older than you then ran with it.

Your race purity race power is so sad.

Perhaps the most sad thing, is being white gentile Caucasians from Eastern Europe with a race power fantasy for a race you are not in.

Palestinians are Semites.
You race hate Palestinians.
You ARE an anti-Semite.


and you are so deep in your fantasy world, ... just...

reality does not exist.
Like this moment, BELIEVE ME!
I fully grasp in advance, your tiny mind is only thinking this is a conspiracy by a hater....
you are a victim
you lol

You are a laugh, man.
Your dirty little race power fantasy... so pathetic.

Go read the Torah

Philistinians were THERE FIRST
bob said…
I said I would not publish more of the anonymous trollery, but I thought this was such a good specimen of bizarre thinking that I let it through. Will return later to say more - gotta go to work now.
bensix said…
The failure of self-awareness on the part of somebody who writes "BELIEVE ME" and thinks that its their interlocutors who are unstable is truly staggering.

Modernity - I think it's more simple than that - they want to hear "an Israeli" say it.

Yes, that probably has something to do with it. And, let's be honest, no one wants to hold Neturei Karta up as their public face.
modernity said…
*If* wanted to hear an "Israeli" then they would pick any one of the dozens of Israelis "doing the circuit", but they don't.

There is more to it than that,

Ask yourself, why people liked listening to Enoch Powell?

Why do people listen to Nick Griffin?

Because, in part, they express what other people would like to say, but feel they can't.

The impulses that govern attitudes towards Atzmon are similar (although not exact) to those found in relationship to other articulate racists.

It is like a guilty pleasure for the listeners.
bob said…
Re Keren Hapuch, the point is not whether or not Breivik "supports Israel". The point is that Atzmon is linking to a neo-Nazi website, to a website that displays provocative cartoons of Mohammed, portraits of Enoch Powell, and is otherwise immediately recognisable as fascist by anyone who is not a deranged racist.
bob said…
I re-read Anonymous' comment, and had a bit of a chuckle, but sadly this sort of thinking is quite widely spread on the internet, and gives a depressing insight into the worldview of Atzmon's supporters. This is someone who presumably interprets a preference for Israel to be treated as a normal capitalist state and not as an evil entity as... an obsession with racial purity.

It is also interesting to speculate why antisemites are so insistent on the idea that Jews are "white gentile Caucasians from Eastern Europe", that "Palestinians are Semites" and that "Philistinians were THERE FIRST".

One of the reasons, by the way, that I always spell antisemitism with no hyphen is because I don't believe there is such a thing as a "Semite" to be "anti" to. Their are Semitic languages (including Arabic, Hebrew, Maltese, Aramaic, Tigrinya and Amharic) but there is no such thing as a Semitic "race". In fact, I don't believe there is such a thing as a "race". I don't actually care whether Jews are descended from Khazars, from the Queen of Sheba or from Uncle Tom Cobley. Jewishness is an ethnicity (not a race), related to Judaism (a religion), and historically people have become Jews through conversion, marriage and adoption, and people have stopped being Jews through those same processes and through assimilation. More or less could be the same of any other ethnic group, "Semitic" or otherwise. The idea of some kind of racial continuity from the Philistines of several millennia ago and the Palestinians of today is at least as far fetched as that of racial continuity among Jews.

Anonymous' bizarre racist fantasies also remind me why Shlomo Sands' work is so pernicious, in disseminating the "Khazar" thesis amongst fools.
Goodwin Sands said…
Bob, you're right about the Khazar fixation. That's simply instrumental - if Jews aren't somehow related to the Israelites, then Israel is just that much more 'illegitimate' as a state. That DNA studies blew the Khazar nonsense out of the water ten years ago is irrelevant, because their argument isn't about truth in the first place.

That is, at root, the demagogue in action - arguments that aren't really arguments but excuses for indulging in racist rhetoric under the cover of pseudo-academic discourse.
"He's charismatic, that's for sure,"

I watched some youtubes of Atzmon speaking. He can hardly be described as charismatic. He doesn't have the aura or language of the charmer. What makes him be perceived as "charismatic" I suspect, is more the content of what he says than the manner of the delivery. And that content is exactly the kinds of things he is willing to say about Jews and Israelis. I often compared him to Pablo Christiani, an infamous convert to Christianity who, but for his Jewishness and willingness to slander his former co-religionists, had very little to recommend him. But those attributes were enough to give him the power to harrass Jews, hector them, force them to listen to his homilies in their own synagogues, even got the king of Spain to agree to a disputation with Nahmanides. He had his high level Christian handlers who used his knowledge of the Jewish community to their own ends. I'm sure Christiani regarded himself in the same light as Atzmon does: speaking truth to power ...

Atzmon is a deluded, deeply damaged individual, in my opinion. He is the kind of monster that the millennial contempt and loathing for Jews is bound to produce, every once in a while. Jewish history is full of characters like him. Spinoza, whom he likes to compare himself to, he is definitely not.

His vulgar thinking can be easily seen through his obsession with circumcision. It is quite possible that all his resentment begins and ends with his shortened penis (sorry about the explicit reference here).

I do agree with bensix, strangely enough, that his popularity is not easily explainable. Except that he is a Jew, an Israeli, who baits Jews and Israelis and that's a kind of drug that some on the far flung regions of the "Left" (or whatever) simply cannot resist. There must be something about antisemitism in an Israeli accent that acts as a narcotic and disables otherwise fine working faculties in lots of people.
Luther Blissett said…
Spinoza, whom he likes to compare himself to, he is definitely not.
He is most certainly nothing like Spinoza, whom he mischaracterises in his book "The Wandering Who" (incidently the name comes from Rizzo).

In his book Atzmon claims: Spinoza's goal was to replace the God of Abraham with reason.

Spinoza was all about eschewing Rabbinical interpretations of the three books Torah, Nevi'im and Ketuvim (Tanakh - aka the Old Testament if you're Christian, or 'the Book' if you're Muslim) and addressing that scripture directly. Spinoza used his rational approach to prove the existence of G-d, identifying G-d as the Force Majeure - the active power or Natura Naturans, from which all things flow. - i.e. Nature as active power beind all things. There was no attempt to replace G-d of Abraham in his reasoning.

The insular Rabbis of Spinoza's day took umbridge at Spinoza's hermeneutic deconstruction of biblical texts and his rational approach to the existence of G-d. His work today has been extended by biblical scholars who identified the authors and scribes of the early texts, and his great work 'Ethics' cannot be seen as an attempt to rationalise G-d out of existence. To my mind, Spinoza is one of the greatest Jewish philosophers since Jeremiah, and if he hasn't already been de-excommunicated, ought to be.

Atzmon however, can sling his shoddy philoshical hook into the flipside ethnonationalist territory inhabited by Roberta Moore and other Kahanist racists. They are two sides of the same coin, both misrepresenting Judaism and the conflict in Israel-Palestine, both appear to have been dredging the channels for each 'side' on the internet for supporters in their peculiar racist cause.
bob said…
Thank you very much Luther for a very interesting comment. Spinoza has not been de-ex-communicated, but interestingly David Ben Gurion campaigned hard with the Sephardic and Ashkenazi rabbinates in Israel to get him recognised, and they made some concessions, although I can't remember the wording.
bob said…
As well as Ben Gurion, Einstein (who was of course invited to be Israel's first president) was a huge Spinoza fan, as was Moses Hess, one of the founders of Zionism. Atzmon needs to steer clear of Spinoza if he wants to find sticks to beat Zionism with.
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