Thursday, March 15, 2012

Disavowing Atzmon: Not quite humans/Granting no quarter

In late February, a text appeared signed by several  North American "anti-imperialist" activists sharply condemning Gilad Atzmon, the bizarre antisemitic ex-Israeli jazz musician recently more notorious for his strange political writings than his music. Entitled "Not Quite "Ordinary Human Beings" -- Anti-Imperialism and the Anti-Humanist Rhetoric of Gilad Atzmon", it was written in response to the news that Atzmon was due to tour the US to promote his dreadful book The Wondering Who.

The signatories ranged from people not too politically distant from me, such as Chip Berlet, Bill Weinberg, Doug Henwood and Michael Lyons, through to people I'd not want to go near with someone else's bargepole, such as As'ad AbuKhalil ("The Angry Arab") and Ben White.

I first saw it at MRZine, and was surprised to see two footnotes linking to this blog. After documenting Atzmon's indisputable antisemitism, the text continues:
It is, as such, not surprising that Atzmon's work has received enthusiastic reviews by such prominent members of the racist right as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, Kevin MacDonald of the Occidental Observer, David Icke, and Arthur Topham's the Radical Press. It should not be surprising that Atzmon has distributed articles defending Holocaust deniers and those who write of "the Hitler we loved and why."15 These connections ultimately serve the interests of Zionism, which seeks to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Jewishness. Zionist agents have repeatedly attempted to ensnare and link Palestinian, Arab, and/or Muslim rights advocates to Neo-Nazism, through dirty tricks and outright lies.

It is more surprising and disappointing, then, that a small section of the left has opted to promote Atzmon and his works. In the UK, the Socialist Workers Party promoted Atzmon for several years16 before finally breaking with him; his latest book The Wandering Who? has been published by the left-wing Zero Books (a decision that elicited a letter of protest from several Zero authors).17 In the United States, the widely-read Counterpunch website has repeatedly chosen to run articles by Atzmon. Currently, in February and March 2012, Atzmon is on tour in North America, where several of his speaking engagements are being organized by progressive anti-imperialists whom we would normally like to consider our allies.
While perhaps well-meaning, operating under the assumption that any opposition to Zionism is to be welcomed, progressives who promote the work of Atzmon are in fact surrendering the moral high ground by encouraging a belief-system that simply mirrors that of the most racist section of Israeli society.  Anti-racism is not a liability; on the contrary, it is a principle that makes our movements stronger in the long fight for a better tomorrow.
There are seventeen footnotes in all. These were first two footnotes in the extract here:

15  "Gilad Atzmon, the SWP and Holocaust Denial," BobFromBrockley, June 13, 2005.
16  "Gilad Atzmon and the SWP: a Brief Chronology,"BobFromBrockley, October 5, 2011.
The text continued to circulate, accruing signatories. The text was also revised. I am not quite painstaking enough to see what the revisions are, but the only one I can spot is that there are now sixteen footnotes, with no.15 sensibly replaced by Tony Greenstein, "Bookmarks & Invitation to Gilad Atzmon & Holocaust Denial," JustPeaceUK, Yahoo! Groups, June 9, 2005 (which is what I quoted in my 2005 blog post). Less sensibly, my chronology, although itself not adequately referenced, has been deleted, thus losing any substantiation for the point about the SWP's slavish devotion to Atzmon from 2004 to 2009.

Hmmm.

Anyway, you can read the "revised" version at Three-Way FightJfJfP (along with reviews of Atzmon's books by a couple of his UK anti-Zionist critics).

Meanwhile, a second (more eloquent but highly flawed) critique has appeared - entitled "Granting No Quarter: A Call for the Disavowal of the Racism and Antisemitism of Gilad Atzmon" - with an overlapping set of signatories, this time more weighted towards those of Palestinian origins. HP reproduced the text here.

In the comments there, Judy said:

I would like to nominate this politically expedient exercise in self-decontamination a 2012 Revolutionary Cliche Olympiad nomination for an international world AsAPalestinian accolade for the highest ever number of self-contradictory revolutionary cliches uttered by nominally living and breathing keffieh revolutionaries. ... Special bonus Ken Livingstone Self-Serving Political Hypocrite of the Year award nomination also, please, for these AsAPalestinians’ heroic determination to arrogate to themselves the right to define Jewish identities and specify what constitutes Jewish history.
On the latter point, another commenter, Jonny, writes:
And why shouldn’t they? However much it may pain you to consider it, many of these “AsAPalestinians” are not only Jewish, but historians of Jewish societies – both ancient and modern – and also Judaism; and, so, they have as much right as anyone else to define what constitutes ‘Jewish identities and specify what constitutes Jewish history’.
Another, PeterK, explores further the text's claim that "Palestinians have faced two centuries of orientalist, colonialist and imperialist domination of our native lands."
Two centuries? That means since 1812? I’m guessing they’re not referring to the British-American war, so, what else happened? In 1777 the first of the large wave of Jews to arrive in Israel came (from Odessa by ship to Gaza, thence by camel to Hebron), followed by many more over the next hundred years. Twain (1869) and Oliphant (1879) came much later.
These Jews came far before Herzl and Zionism, yet, they’re being condemned, meaning that this group’s problem is not with Zionism, but, is, indeed, with the Jews. They must see Jews as colonialists, because they are Jews, and, if colonialist, they must see Jews as being a colony of somewhere. As the Jews came from Europe, this would be true if one believed that Jews ran the western world (which, later, they allude to).
As such, this is basically the same as Atzmon. Where’s the difference?
Interesting too that they regard the Palestinians as indigenous, but not the Jews. Forget DNA, forget the Koran, forget the Bible, archaeology, and the Roman records, and the Arab accounts of Jihad.
This is an interesting letter, not because of the subject, but because of the illumination it shows of Palestinian thinking. It is depressing too, because, if the Jews are seen, as per Sands, as Europeans, and the Palestinians are seen as having always been present, and hence, the Jews have no rights, then no compromise can ever been truly possible, because the Palestinians will always see Jews as colonialists who grabbed their land, and can never see them as joint owners (at a minimum).
Goodwin Sands comments:
I wonder what kind of knots Atzmon will tie himself into in order to prove that Omar Barghouti is actually Jewish. 
Atzmon is currently on tour in the US, and it seems to be a series of busts and collapses. Venues cancelled out from under him, more protesters than attendees, and speaking mostly at sites arranged by troofers and Holocaust deniers (Kevin Barrett, Jim Fetzer, Daniel McGowan, etc.) That he will return to London with considerably less credibility due to the Ali Abunimah statement, falling on the heels of the PSC AGM repudiation of Atzmon’s clique, is icing on the cake.

6 comments:

Rebecca said...

Bob - I was quite distressed to see your claim that Chip Berlet had signed this dreadful statement, but when I checked MRZine and looked at the signatories, he was not listed among them.

Rebecca said...

I take it back - I just looked at the updated list of signatories and was upset to discover Chip Berlet's name there, along with Max Blumenthal, Daniel Boyarin, and others whom I used to respect. (I knew that Boyarin is anti-Zionist, but I didn't think he would sign onto the inflammatory language found in this statement). As far as I am concerned, the language used in their letter to denounce Atzmon partakes in just the same demonizing of Jews and Zionism as he engages in. They write, "Zionism is an imperialist and colonialist enemy of Jewish people and Palestinians, as well as the Arab people generally and all those oppressed and exploited by imperialism." I don't know where to start to explain how much nonsense this is.

They accuse Atzmon, by his keeping company with Nazis and antisemites, of actually serving the interests of Zionism! To quote: "These connections ultimately serve the interests of Zionism, which seeks to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Jewishness. Zionist agents have repeatedly attempted to ensnare and link Palestinian, Arab, and/or Muslim rights advocates to Neo-Nazism, through dirty tricks and outright lies." "Zionist agents"? What ridiculously paranoid, conspiracy-mongering language! And, in addition, what they're accusing Atzmon of is basically giving anti-Zionism a bad name - not denouncing his antisemitism in and of itself. Disgusting. They deserve to be tarred with the same accusation of antisemitism as Atzmon.

Their accusations about anti-Zionism have the effect of demonizing most of the Jewish people living both in Israel and other countries, because they are Zionists. Screw them.

bob said...

My sentiments too Rebecca. I was not so surprised at Weinberg and Lyons, but was by Chip B. And I have also long been a fan of Daniel Boyarin as a scholar, although he does tend towards rather eccentric political positions.

modernity's ghost said...

Bob,

Any idea who removed your links?

I can guess as it is petty and that would sum up the usual suspects.

Why not email JFJFP and ask?

Maybe they would grant you a guest post :)

bob said...

I imagine the original doc was written by people in N America who had no idea that I am actually a fully paid member of the evil Hasbara/Ziocon conspiracy (I think Matthew Lyons has stopped by here once or twice, for example), and they were told the awful truth by comrades on this side of the Atlantic.

Benjamin H. said...

Pathetic. The fact that the group actually thinks they need to disavow such an unrepentant Nazi lover is laughable, and couching their denunciation of him along with their 'criticism' of Zionism is as offensive as calling someone (especially a Jew) a Nazi. People like Ali Abudumiah and especially As'ad 'Foaming Arab' AbuKhalil want the same thing a him; they just don't want to come off as being such blatant hypocrites and bigots. Although I'm not sure why Khalil feels the need to; he's more vicious then David Duke and other blatant anti-semitic persons.

In other words, no thank you. Jews need their backhanded insult as much as they needed Gandhi's advice to kill themselves.