Not Quite "Ordinary Human Beings" -- the Anti-Humanist Rhetoric of Gilad Atzmon
Gilad Atzmon claims not to have "a single racist or anti semitic statement in my entire body of work." Let the reader judge.
Reprint of Monthly Review. Full title: Not Quite "Ordinary Human Beings" --
Anti-Imperialism and the Anti-Humanist Rhetoric of Gilad Atzmon
(for better formatting, visit original article link above)
Attempting to latch onto the just, vital, and growing movement in support of the Palestinian national liberation struggle, Gilad Atzmon is one of a very small and unrepresentative group of writers who have argued (in agreement with many Zionists) that there is no meaningful distinction to be made between Jews in general and Israeli atrocities. According to Atzmon, the latter are simply a manifestation of Jews' historic relationship to gentiles, an authentic expression of an essentially racist, immoral, and anti-human "Jewish ideology."
Atzmon's statements, besides distorting the history of Jews and constituting a brazen justification for centuries of anti-Jewish behavior and beliefs, also downgrade anti-Zionism to a mere front in the broader (anti-Jewish) struggle. Atzmon has specifically described Zionism not as a form of colonialism or settlerism, but as a uniquely evil ideology unlike anything else in human history. In addition to any ethical problems, this line of argumentation actually strengthens Zionism's grip and claim to be the authentic representative of Jews. It obscures the reality that 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.
In his online attack on Moshe Machover, an Israeli socialist and founder of the anti-Zionist group Matzpen, Atzmon states:
Machover's reading of Zionism is pretty trivial. "Israel," he says, is a "settler state." For Machover this is a necessary point of departure because it sets Zionism as a colonialist expansionist project. The reasoning behind such a lame intellectual spin is obvious. As long as Zionism is conveyed as a colonial project, Jews, as a people, should be seen as ordinary people. They are no different from the French and the English, they just happen to run their deadly colonial project in a different time.1
For Atzmon, such views are "pretty trivial" and "lame" because he holds that Jews are in fact radically different from the French and the English. Of the many quotes we could provide in this regard, here is a small sampling:2
In order to understand Israel's unique condition we must ask, "who are the Jews? What is Judaism and what is Jewishness?"3
Zionism is a continuation of Jewish ideology.4
The never-ending robbery of Palestine by Israel in the name of the Jewish people establishes a devastating spiritual, ideological, cultural and, obviously, practical continuum between the Judaic Bible and the Zionist project. The crux of the matter is simple yet disturbing: Israel and Zionism are both successful political systems that put into devastating practice the plunder promised by the Judaic God in the Judaic holy scriptures.5
Sadly, we have to admit that hate-ridden plunder of other people's possessions made it into the Jewish political discourse both on the left and right. The Jewish nationalist would rob Palestine in the name of the right of self-determination, the Jewish progressive is there to rob the ruling class and even international capital in the name of world working class revolution.6
Were Jewish Marxists and cosmopolitans open to the notion of brotherhood, they would have given up on their unique, exclusive banners and become ordinary human beings like the rest of us.7
I do not consider the Jews to be a race, and yet it is obvious that "Jewishness" clearly involves an ethno-centric and racially supremacist, exclusivist point of view that is based on a sense of Jewish "chosen-ness."8
At the most, Israel has managed to mimic some of the appearances of a Western civilisation, but it has clearly failed to internalise the meaning of tolerance and freedom. This should not take us by surprise: Israel defines itself as a Jewish state, and Jewishness is, sadly enough, inherently intolerant; indeed, it may be argued that Jewish intolerance is as old as the Jews themselves.9
Israel and Zionism then, has proved to be a short lived dream. It was initiated to civilise Jewish life, and to dismantle the Jewish self-destructive mode. It was there to move the Jew into the post-herem10 phase. It vowed to make the Jew into a productive being. But as things turned out, neither the Zionists nor the "anti Zionists" managed to drift away from the disastrous herem culture. It seems that the entire world of Jewish identity politics is a matrix of herems and exclusion strategies. In order to be "a proper Jew," all you have to do is to point out whom you oppose, hate, exclude or boycott.11
The conclusion to such views is not difficult to draw:
The endless trail of Jewish collective tragedies is there to teach us that Jews always pay eventually (and heavily) for Jewish power exercises. Yet, surprisingly (and tragically) enough, Jews somehow consistently fail to internalise and learn from that very lesson.12
More precisely, commenting on the climax of State violence directed at Jews in the 1930s, most famously by Germany, but also in most other European nations, Atzmon is clear:
The remarkable fact is they don't understand why the world is beginning to stand against them in the same way they didn't understand why the Europeans stood against them in the 1930s. Instead of asking why we are hated they continue to toss accusations on others.13
Within the discourse of Jewish politics and history there is no room for causality. There is no such a thing as a former and a latter. Within the Jewish tribal discourse every narrative starts to evolve when Jewish pain establishes itself. This obviously explains why Israelis and some Jews around the world can only think as far as "two state solution" within the framework of 1967 borders. It also explains why for most Jews the history of the holocaust starts in the gas chambers or with the rise of the Nazis. I have hardly seen any Israelis or Jews attempt to understand the circumstances that led to the clear resentment of Europeans towards their Jewish neighbors in the 1920's-40's.14
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.
As political activists committed to resisting colonialism and imperialism -- in North America and around the world -- we recognize that there can be different interpretations of history, and we welcome exploring these. Without wishing to debate the question of whether far-right and racist ideologues should be censored, or how, we see no reason for progressive people to organize events to promote their works.
In our struggle against Zionism, racism, and all forms of colonialism and imperialism, there is no place for anti-Semitism or the vilification of Jews, Palestinians, or any people based on their religions, cultures, nationalities, ethnicity, or history. At this historic junction -- when the need to struggle for the liberation of Palestine is more vital than ever and the fault lines of capitalist empire are becoming more widely exposed -- no anti-oppressive revolution can be built with ultra-right allies or upon foundations friendly to creeping fascism.
1 Gilad Atzmon, "Tribal Marxism for Dummies," originally published in June 2009, republished on his Web site on April 24, 2011.
2 Many more quotes like these could be provided, but we assume this is enough to show that these are not out-of-context or out-of-character remarks. If not, readers may wish to peruse the section of Atzmon's website on "Jewishness" at <www.gilad.co.uk/writings/category/jewishness>.
3 Gilad Atzmon, "Tribal Marxism for Dummies," Atlantic Free Press, July 2, 2009.
4 Anayat Durrani, "Exposing Dangerous Myths," Interview with Gilad Atzmon, originally published in Al-Ahram Weekly (May 19-25, 2011), republished on Atzmon's Web site on May 19, 2011.
5 Gilad Atzmon, "Swindler's List: Zionist Plunder and the Judaic Bible," Redress Information & Analysis, April 5, 2008.
8 Gilad Atzmon, "An Interesting Exchange With A Jewish Anti Zionist," Atzmon's Web site, August 17, 2011.
9 Gilad Atzmon, "The Herem Law in the context of Jewish Past and Present," Atzmon's Web site, July 16, 2011.
10 "Herem" is a Hebrew word that refers to banning or excluding someone; it is also the name of the repressive legislation Israel recently passed to enable punitive lawsuits against those calling for a boycott of the apartheid state. For Atzmon, this law is just one more example of Zionism's Jewish uniqueness (guess he never heard of SLAPPs), as he concludes that "this is what Jews do best: destroying, excluding, excommunicating, silencing, boycotting, sanctioning. After all, Jews have been doing this for centuries."
12 Gilad Atzmon, "A Warning From The Past," Atzmon's Web site, May 26, 2011.
13 Quoted in Shabana Syed, "Time for World to Confront Israel: Gilad Atzmon," Arab News, June 14, 2010.
14 Gilad Atzmon, "Jewish Ideology and World Peace," Atzmon's Web site, June 7, 2010.
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.
17 "Zero Authors' Statement on Gilad Atzmon," Lenin's Tomb, September 26, 2011.
As'ad AbuKhalil, The Angry Arab News Service, Turlock CA
Max Ajl, essayist, rabble-rouser, proprietor of Jewbonics blog site, Ithaca NY
Electa Arenal, professor emerita, CUNY Graduate Center/Hispanic & Luso-Brazilian Literatures and Women's Studies, New York NY
Gabriel Ash, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Geneva, SWITZERLAND
Dan Berger, Wild Poppies Collective, Philadelphia PA
Lenni Brenner, author, Zionism in the Age of the Dictator, New York NY
Susie Day, Monthly Review, New York NY
Todd Eaton, Park Slope Food Coop Members for Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions, Brooklyn NY
S. EtShalom, Registered Nurse, Philadelphia PA
Sherna Berger Gluck, Prof. Emerita, California State University/Israel Divestment Campaign, CA
Andrew Griggs, Café Intifada, Los Angeles CA
Ken Hiebert, activist, Ladysmith, Canada
Elizabeth Horowitz, solidarity activist, New York NY
Karl Kersplebedeb, Left Wing Books, Montreal, CANADA
Mark Klein, activist, Toronto, CANADA
Mark Lance, Georgetown University/Institute for Anarchist Studies, Washington DC
David Landy, author, Jewish Identity and Palestinian Rights: Diaspora Jewish Opposition to Israel, Dublin, IRELAND
Bob Lederer, Pacifica/WBAI producer, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, New York NY
Matthew Lyons, Three Way Fight, Philadelphia PA
Karen MacRae, solidarity activist, Toronto, CANADA
Marvin Mandell and Betty Reid Mandell, co-editors, New Politics, West Roxbury MA
Matt Meyer, Resistance in Brooklyn, New York NY
Michael Novick, People Against Racist Terror/Anti-Racist Action, Los Angeles CA
Sylvia Posadas (Jinjirrie), Kadaitcha.com, Don't Play Apartheid Israel, Noosa, AUSTRALIA
Roland Rance, Jews Against Zionism, London, UK
Liz Roberts, War Resisters League, New York NY
Emma Rosenthal, contributor, Shifting Sands: Jewish Women Confront the Israeli Occupation, Los Angeles CA
Ian Saville, performer and lecturer, London, UK
Joel Schwartz, CSEA Local 446, AFSCME, New York NY
Simona Sharoni, SUNY, author, Gender & the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Plattsburgh NY
Abraham Weizfeld, author, The End of Zionism and the liberation of the Jewish People, Montreal, CANADA
Laura Whitehorn, former political prisoner, NYS Task Force on Political Prisoners, New York NY
Ben White, author, Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination, and Democracy, Cambridge, UK
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