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Right of reply: Gilad Atzmon responds to Palestinian writers
Published Wednesday 21/03/2012 (updated) 21/03/2012 18:52
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Correction appended

In mid-March, a group of more than 20 Palestinian writers publicly disavowed Gilad Atzmon, a musician and writer who was born in Israel, and accused him of attacking Jewish identity and suggesting that Jews who identify as such are necessarily Zionists. His response is below.

Ali Abunimah and company tend to present themselves as advocates of "one democratic state in Palestine." This leaves me puzzled: what kind of democracy do they have in mind, exactly? For by calling for my "disavowal," the signatories prove beyond a doubt that they cannot tolerate even some elementary cultural criticism -- criticism that is endorsed and praised by some of the most respected thinkers within our movement and beyond.

In fact, I am pretty delighted with the outraged reactions to my thoughts. I guess it enables us to map the discourse and its boundaries -- and means that those boundaries are now official. Not only has my latest book, The Wandering Who?, rocked the boat, but it also has managed to unite Alan Dershowitz and Abe Foxman with Ali Abunimah and Max Blumenthal. That is pretty encouraging: it means that peace may prevail after all.

However, I also have some bad news for my would-be silencers, Palestinian and Jewish alike. I do not have any plans to slow down or drift away. I am a jazz musician and an independent thinker. I am basically a free agent -- I say what I think and think what I say. The popularity of my writing among Palestinians, solidarity activists and truth seekers is the direct outcome of my sincere approach to the subject matter.

Whether my detractors accept it or not, the strength of my arguments is grounded on the transparent truthful nature of my premises. Until now, not one of my opponents has been able to point out a single discrepancy within my argument or the facts I cite. For instance, I contend that since Israel defines itself as the Jewish state -- its tanks and planes decorated with Jewish symbols -- it is our duty to ask: Who are the Jews? What is Judaism? And what is Jewishness all about?

The fact that some activists shy away from asking those questions doesn’t mean that the rest of us also should behave cowardly.

In case my detractors -- be they Zionists, anti-Zionist Zionists or Palestinians -- fail to realize it, Palestine is not alone anymore, and is no longer an isolated, remote discourse. Even as I write, AIPAC is publicly and relentlessly pushing America into a new global conflict. In Britain, 80 percent of Tory MPs are members of the Conservative Friends of Israel.

What we are witnessing here is a clear Zionist shift from the discourse of a "promised land" to one of a "promised planet." I'm convinced that calling a spade a spade could actually save the world, including Americans, Brits, Iranians and Palestinians. But it also can save the Jews from the grave potential consequences inflicted on them by the Jewish lobbies.

Sadly, these writers have misrepresented my thoughts. Clearly there is no racism, anti-Semitism or Holocaust denial in my writing. As determined as my detractors are to find it, they have failed to identify a single bit of evidence of such tendencies in my work.

The writers say on my behalf that "one cannot self-describe as a Jew and also do work in solidarity with Palestine, because to identify as a Jew is to be a Zionist." What a ludicrous interpretation of my writing, in which I go out of my way to define the issue in categorical terms. What I am obviously opposing is Jewish racial exclusivity. If Israel is in the wrong for being a Jews-only state, I argue, then its Jewish critics better fight it using an inclusive, universalist ideology and practice.

I am indeed critical of Jewish identity politics, Jewish culture and Jewish ideology. I am also critical of the Jewish cultural attitude toward history. I am critical of Jewishness and any form of Jewish exclusive political activism. And yet, I wonder, why should any person who seeks justice and peace object to my approach? Is Jewish culture or identity politics beyond criticism? Are Jews chosen after all?

I am sorry to disappoint my Palestinian and Jewish opposition league, but it seems as if their terminology is faulty and misleading: Zionism is not colonialism, for colonialism is defined as a material exchange between a mother state and a settler state. The fact that there is no Jewish mother state suggests that Zionism doesn’t fit the colonial model.

Nor is Israel an apartheid state, for apartheid is defined by the exploitation of the indigenous residents. Yet the Jewish state prefers that the Palestinians simply and completely disappear. In other words, we are dealing here with a unique racially driven expansionist philosophy not very different from the Nazis’ Lebensraum.

Israel is not Zionism, and vice versa. Israel is the outcome of the Zionist project. If Zionism is a promise to establish a "Jewish national home in Palestine," Israel is its post-revolutionary product. Indeed, Israelis are barely familiar with Zionist thought and ideology. From their perspective, anti-Zionist ranting is a remote Diaspora discourse.

Shalom does not mean peace, reconciliation or harmony. Its accurate English translation is "security for the Jews." Israeli culture lacks a clear notion of "peace" as we know it -- i.e., harmony and reconciliation.

I suggest that my detractors spend some time and think this through, so they can understand that the issues involving this conflict and its resolution go far beyond mere political discourse.

I would like to take this opportunity to advise my opponents that their campaign is counterproductive. Those who are interested in my ideas realize that we are living in a post-political and post-ideological era. Like myself, they are interested in an ethical argument. They are not "party members," and they are not taking "orders" from any sectarian group or ideology. Instead they listen to their hearts. Those pro-Palestinian organizations sponsoring my current US book tour realize very well that my work galvanizes a demarcation line between truth and its enemies.

In spite of the relentless slander campaign against my writing, it has not achieved a thing except to expose a rigorous intellectual intolerance in our midst. If my opposition is concerned with my thoughts, it will have to learn to debate. Before we can proceed, I guess, my detractors may have to actually read my book and decide exactly what they are against.

Gilad Atzmon is a musician and writer. He is the author of The Wandering Who?

(This version corrects that Ali Abunimah was one of 23 people whose names were listed alphabetically as signatories to the statement disavowing Atzmon, not its sole author.)
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1 ) Gilad Atzmon / UK
21/03/2012 16:34
Really appreciate this Salam Gilad

2 ) Sharem / Israel
21/03/2012 17:16
"Shalom does not mean peace, reconciliation or harmony." As Usual Atzmon thinks he has the absolute knowledge while his ignorance is a fact. The word "Shalom" in Hebrew comes from the word "integrity", "acceptance". That is, to get better, perfection "and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." This is Shalom in Judaism. He can fool you but not native Hebrews.

3 ) johnny benson / usa
21/03/2012 18:34
...gilad.....you are a fraud...you pretend to be all knowing...you join a list of anti semitic jews..who try to make a living out of bashing israel..instead of plying their trade...you must be one lousey ...what...sax..clarinist...whatever....you stink

4 ) Nadia Ezzelarab-Gill / Sweden/Egypt/USA
22/03/2012 03:45
Mr. Atzmon's writings would not offend anyone who rejects supremacy ideologies. His bottom line is humanist. But one would have to read his writings to know this. After having read The Wandering Who and many of Mr. Atzmon's papers, my summary of his stance is that if you are going to use Jewish identity as a basis for political entitlement, we all have a right to ask what Jewishness stands for. He suggests we do so immediately, and stop genuflecting before Israeli/Zionist demands for obedience.

5 ) salwa / USA
22/03/2012 05:30
Obviously, the signatories have not read GA's work because they greatly misrepresent it & have signed for their own undivulged, personal reasons. Religion enters into it only inasmuch as it impinges on purely civic matters, such as the great vice grip AIPAC & other Zionist orgs. have on our public institutions in the service of a small belligerent foreign entity. If religious aspects can shed light on this, then we ignore to pursue this thread to the detriment of all, especially of our country

6 ) Sandy Fisher / United States
22/03/2012 17:19
I believe the onus is still on Atzmon's accusers to point to specific instances where he has shown himself to be racist, AND explain how the entitlement, chosennes and exclusivity to which he refers either does not exist, or has not or does not play a role in the living conditions of non-Jewish citizens of Israel and the Occupied Territories.

7 ) marco / mexico
22/03/2012 17:32
Very accurate interpretation of the situation, in my opinion. True that Israel is an outcome of zionism, true that the conflict and its resolution go far beyond politics. It seems all this peace talks and political meetings are meant to distract palestinian people. So which way left?

8 ) Robert / US
22/03/2012 17:35
@ johnny benson. Remember that Arabs are semetic ,so Jews are anti-semetic. THINK ABOUT THAT .. and by the way where did hebrew derive from ? Its Aramaic. May you find peace and happiness

9 ) Colin Wright / USA
22/03/2012 23:41
'...Palestine is not alone anymore...' (I) The problem with this approach is that it forces a unity between Palestine and various other issues that may not be as clear-cut. I'm reminded of the annoying Marxist with the bullhorn at the 'Cast Lead' demonstration I participated in who kept trying to move from chants of 'Free free Palestine' to 'Free free Columbia,' etc.

10 ) Colin Wright / USA
22/03/2012 23:47
'...Palestine is not alone anymore...' (II) Apparently, Atzmon seeks to subsume the issue of Palestine into that of the ever-impending, never-to-be realized global leftist revolution. The very APPEAL of the Palestine issue is that it is morally clear. I, for one, have plenty of reservations and qualifications about other issues, and you'd be surprised which side I often choose. If you start demanding that people sign off on the whole programme, you'll lose, not gain.

11 ) Colin Wright / USA
22/03/2012 23:50
'If Israel is in the wrong for being a Jews-only state, I argue, then its Jewish critics better fight it using an inclusive, universalist ideology and practice.' There you are. And if they don't agree with you -- if they are J-Street types yearning for a 'good' Israel, for example -- you would exclude them and force them to oppose you. And if you force enough people to oppose you, you can feel very, very right -- and lose. It's not about being right. It's about freeing Palestine.

12 ) Colin Wright / USA
23/03/2012 00:01
'I am indeed critical of Jewish identity politics, Jewish culture and Jewish ideology...' It's interesting to substitute 'Palestinian' for 'Jewish' in the above and then consider the probable reaction of most Palestinians. It immediately becomes apparent that this is an excellent way of arousing many, many opponents. If that is the goal, Atzmon's approach is an excellent one. If the goal is to free Palestine, it's not so hot.

13 ) Colin Wright / USA
23/03/2012 00:08
'In Britain, 80 percent of Tory MPs are members of the Conservative Friends of Israel. ' (I) And? Atzmon's position would seem to be that therefore, conservatives in general are the enemy, and should be fought as a group. I'd argue just the opposite: that conservatives should be brought to see that Israel doesn't accord with their values either, and that therefore they should drop it. They are perfectly intelligent, decent people, you know. They just don't agree with you.

14 ) Colin Wright / USA
23/03/2012 00:12
'In Britain, 80 percent of Tory MPs are members of the Conservative Friends of Israel. ' (II) There's a Republican from Alabama I know. Goes to church, etc. It does NOT follow that he is my enemy -- nor do I try to wean him to the true path. I have, however -- and with considerable success -- got him to think twice about his support for Israel. That -- not turning this into some blanket struggle for the New Age -- is the way to bring about a free Palestine.

15 ) Colin Wright / USA
23/03/2012 00:32
Having read up a bit on Atzmon's views, etc, it all sounds very interesting and -- while I am sure I will find myself frequently disagreeing -- I look forward to reading some of his work. Atzmon seems driven to provoke, to differ, and to question underlying assumptions. I'm sure this is all necessary to Atzmon. How helpful it all is to the Palestinian cause is another matter entirely.

16 ) Colin Wright / USA
23/03/2012 00:39
To Nadia #4 'Mr. Atzmon's writings would not offend anyone who rejects supremacy ideologies. ' This can be turned on its head. Many, many will be offended to find their ideas labeled as 'supremacy ideologies.' When it comes to specific, concrete measures -- like, say, a suspension of US aid to Israel -- I don't really care WHY people agree with me. I just want them to agree with me. Looked at in that way, Atzmon's approach is decidedly unhelpful.

17 ) Colin Wright / USA
23/03/2012 01:05
To salwa #5 'Religion enters into it only inasmuch as it impinges on purely civic matters...' But religion does enter into it, and it's essential to understand that. For example, the one most effective thing you can do to sway a Christian Evangelical is to suggest he read the Parable of the Evil Husbandmen. It doesn't matter what you believe; what's important is what HE believes.

18 ) Colin Wright / USA
23/03/2012 01:10
re johnny Benson #3 '...you join a list of anti semitic jews..who try to make a living out of bashing israel..' That's ridiculous. The members of this rather persecuted band would almost certainly make a much better -- and certainly more peaceful -- living if they just toed the line.

19 ) Colin Wright / USA
23/03/2012 07:44
To Robert #8 'and by the way where did hebrew derive from ? Its Aramaic.' The other way around, isn't it? Hebrew's older than Aramaic, I think. Kind of academic, as Hebrew was a purely liturgical language for at least a couple of millennia until it was artificially resuscitated. It is a member of the South Arabic language family, I think. Anyway, remind me to take up Sanskrit and go claim a generous slice of India on that basis.

20 ) salwa / USA
23/03/2012 09:14
Colin Wright #17. You were really on a roll here, weren't you? If you read what I wrote a little more carefully, you would realize that what you quoted re.GA's thesis of "Jewishness" inasmuch as it impinges . . . In other words, my interest is intrinsic causes AIPAC & Zionist groups are so successful in dominating our public institutions. (Not all Evangelicals are Zionists, and frankly Christian Zionists are an entirely different can of worms & need much more discussion than is possible here.

21 ) Business / Israel
24/03/2012 01:46
Thank you Gil Atzmon for showing those apologetic professors just what is what. You are the true face of anti-Zionism, not those cocktail party Marxists and you deserve the praise from the readers of Maan who think and talk exactly like you. So thank you. You are a gift.

22 ) Colin Wright / USA
24/03/2012 21:33
Re 'Business' #21: And there you have it. Gil Atzmon is indeed a gift...but to whom? If this were a matter of a new approach to literary criticism, Atzmon's ideas would be his own affair. However, this is a real issue, and I don't see Atzmon's insistence on driving as many as possible into the opposite camp as at all helpful.

23 ) salwa / USA
25/03/2012 01:35
Colin Wright, #22. From your response to my last comment, it seemed likely that you had not read GA. And now you write above about sthg quite inconceivable. Anyone, who is going to be driven into "the opposite camp" by GA's writing cannot have the least inkling of the issues involved nor their serious ramifications. There have been quite a few informative articles about this recently by various people. Please start by going to GA's website and reading some of them. Enjoy your reading.

24 ) dr. abraham Weizfeld / Qu?bec
25/03/2012 20:08
All that Atzmon has to say is based on the Zionist self-definition of Israel as a Jewish-State. Considering that the Zionist movement has lied continuously about all that it has done, why would one accept such a definition without question? Consider that 2/3 of the Jewish People do not live in Israel and do not intend to either. That alone removes the entire basis of his hypothesis. Note that Atzmon has slipped out of a planned debate with me in the Global March to Jerusalem coalition.

25 ) Colin Wright / USA
26/03/2012 04:18
Re post #23: 'Anyone, who is going to be driven into "the opposite camp"...cannot have the least inkling of the issues involved... ' (I) That may well be how you define people who don't agree with you but are nevertheless not stark-staring mad Israel-lovers. The point is not to antagonize them and bicker with them, but to look at the points of agreement and advance along those lines.

26 ) Colin Wright / USA
26/03/2012 04:24
Re post #23: 'Anyone, who is going to be driven into "the opposite camp"...cannot have the least inkling of the issues involved... ' (II) For example, I don't care WHY someone wants to see US aid to Israel halted. If they think it should be halted because it makes the Easter Bunny cry, more power to 'em. It's enough for me that we both want to see the aid halted -- and I don't think wantonly provoking them in aid of some abstract intellectual concept makes any sense at all.

27 ) Colin Wright / USA
26/03/2012 04:27
Re post #23: 'Anyone, who is going to be driven into "the opposite camp"...cannot have the least inkling of the issues involved... ' (III) We're all in this for a mixture of public and private reasons. If you have no insight into yourself, I can't help you with that. WHY any one of us wants this or that is entirely secondary. What really matters is to find those who do want the same thing as you, and to make common cause with them -- not seek further sources of discord.

28 ) Colin Wright / USA
26/03/2012 04:33
Re post #23: (III) When I ran a moving company, the awful truth was that I didn't care in the least whether or not my customers would be happy in their new home, while for their part, they weren't at all concerned with helping me support my family. The bottom line was that we both wanted to see the move happen. That was entirely sufficient -- and it is here as well. The ideological underpinnings of anyone's agreement with me are in the last analysis irrelevant.

29 ) Colin Wright / USA
26/03/2012 04:35
Re post #23: 'Anyone, who is going to be driven into "the opposite camp"...cannot have the least inkling of the issues involved... ' (IV) Why do you think the Zionists so effectively make use of Christian Evangelicals? It's because both sides recognize this truth. It doesn't MATTER why they both support a neo-Nazi vision for Palestine. It's entirely sufficient that they both do. So learn from them. Do you want to feel right, or do you want to win?

30 ) Robert Haymond / Israel/Canada
27/03/2012 06:54
"post-political, post-ideological era...": What a intellectual fraud this Atzmon really is. Maybe his high-faluting terms impress college sophmores but anyone who has actually read and digested political and historical writings knows that he is blowing hot air.

31 ) Robert Haymond / Israel/Canada
28/03/2012 04:02
Frustrated PhD Weizfeld can't get Atzmon's attention nor anyone else's, come to think of it. He was nearly fifty when he finally received his PhD and reading his work is hard slogging due to its mind-numbing dullness replete with obscure verbiage only fit for an unqualified rural university in the hinterland of Quebec. Sorry, Abe, you won't get a hearing on these pages, not even from the obsessed, uneducated, Colin Wright who continually fills up these forums with his trash.

32 ) Andy / UK
28/03/2012 18:07
Colin Wright: Its not Gilad you should be addressing about being divisive. Gilad never put his name to a statement disavowing anyone and he has no ulterior motives regarding the control of others. Robert Haymond: I'm sure Gilad will struggle to sleep tonight if he has been made aware of your puerile attack.

33 ) Norman Finklestein / Trinidad & Canada
16/04/2012 20:44
It is important to remember that Gilad Atsmon is not actually a real person. He is a pen name created by a certain Hans Wolff - a member of the German NDP
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