By Gilad Atzmon
In the last few days blogger M. Jay Rosenberg came to the conclusion that Electronic Ali Abunimah is an anti-semite. Rosenberg’s accusation is clearly unsubstantiated. Ali Abunimah is not an anti-semite. Dishonest? More likely.
Rosenberg writes, “let me explain why I consider Ali Abunimah to be anti-semitic…Ali Abunimah refers to Israelis as Zionists,.. but then he makes clear, over and over again, that Zionists are all bad people. Just go to his twitter feed and read the labels he uses for Zionists..’
Rosenberg is obviously uninformed. More and more commentators and scholars accept that Israelis are not Zionists, they are actually the product of the Zionist project. Most Israelis do not even understand what Zionism stands for. Zionism is the promise to bring about a Jewish national home. Once the Jewish State was founded (1948) Zionism finished its role as far as Israeli Jews are concerned. Thus, Zionism is now largely a Jewish Diaspora discourse. Accordingly, the debate between Zionists and the so-called ‘anti-’ has little relevance to Israeli politics or practice. In short, Rosenberg is wrong, yet why Abunimah misleads his readers, referring to Israelis as Zionists, remains unclear.
Abunimah may not be the most sophisticated theoretical commentator around, but he certainly monitors Israeli society and understands its politics.
Abunimah refers to ‘Israelis’ as ‘Zionists’ only because his operation is sustained financially and politically by Jewish ‘anti-Zionists’ and the Jewish Left. Abunimah refers to Israelis as ‘Zionists’ only because he knows that telling the truth, uttering the ‘J’ word, may cost him dearly.
It is not a secret that Abunimah and myself are not on cordial terms. Yet, we communicated briefly in 2010 following Abunimah’s laughable statement on history and culture. Here is a juicy bit of information Abunimah would probably prefer to keep hidden from the public eye: On the 1st of December 2010, Abunimah wrote to me in an amicable manner:
“What you describe as ‘Jewish’ might perhaps be more accurately described as ‘Zionist,’ – and then we might find grounds for a lot of agreement”
Abunimah basically advised me to mislead my readers and say ‘Zionist’ whenever I mean to say ‘Jewish’ so we (he and I) can ‘find grounds for a lot of agreement’. Around the same time I also met with a JVP top leader who repeated pretty much the same line. “Don’t refer to Jewishness, make sure you concentrate on Zionism,” she said, “you will then enjoy our support.”
Being repulsed by any form of political and activist dishonesty, I obviously dismissed both Abunimah’s advice and the JVP’s offer.
I made it clear to Abunimah that Israel defines itself as the Jewish State, and its supporting Lobby around the world is also proudly Jewish. Israeli tanks are marked with Jewish symbols and when Shlomo Sand, Ilan Pappe and myself were called to join the IDF it wasn’t because we were ‘Zionists’, which we weren’t. It was because we were Israeli Jews.
Understanding Jewishness is obviously the key to Israel politics, Jewish lobbying and also anti-Zionist Zionism a la JVP, IJAN, Jstreet etc’. Yet, Abunimah prefers to mislead his readers avoiding the ‘J word’ just because his campaign is sustained by Jewish money.
Rosenberg is totally wrong. Ali Abunimah is obviously not an anti-semite. He is instead grossly insincere. But he is also extremely foolish to believe that his deceitful agenda would prevail.
But let me try to help Rosenberg out of this intellectual muddle.
As long as Jews like himself operate politically they must accept a realm of political opposition. Rosenberg will have to accept that as much as Jews openly celebrate their hatred of the Nazi state and Nazis in general, Arabs and Palestinians, Ali Abunimah included, are also entitled to repel Israel as a state and Israelis collectively. None of that would make Abunimah or anyone else into an anti-Semite. It would make Abunimah into a legitimate political opponent of the Jewish State.
Anti-semites are basically people who blindly hate Jews for being Jews. I must admit that in my entire life, I have never come across any person who holds such an idiotic view. Many people indeed oppose Jews but always for reasons to do with Jewish politics, Jewish lobbying, Jewish power in media and finance, Jewish culture, supremacy and so on. Sometimes those reasons are valid, sometimes they are not. The big question is how to differentiate between the Jewish people (an innocent category) and Jewishness (the culture). Zionism and Israel do not help in clarifying that matter, and may I also suggest that Jewish progressive and aggressive lobbying that is similarly racist and exclusive doesn’t help either.
Jewish identity politics is a problematic topic, and If Jews like Rosenberg are concerned, as they should be, they better address those concerns looking in the mirror and identify what Jewishness is all about.
I hope that this piece would lead Rosenberg and others to examine the nuances of Judaism, Zionism and Jewishness. I also hope that Abunimah may decide, once and for all, to adhere to the truth, for truth is liberation.
Gilad Atzmon is an Israeli-born British jazz saxophonist, novelist, political activist and writer.
Atzmon’s album Exile was BBC jazz album of the year in 2003. Playing over 100 dates a year, he has been called “surely the hardest-gigging man in British jazz.” His albums, of which he has recorded nine to date, often explore the music of the Middle East and political themes. He has described himself as a “devoted political artist.” He supports the Palestinian right of return and the one-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
His criticisms of Zionism, Jewish identity, and Judaism, as well as his controversial views on The Holocaust and Jewish history have led to allegations of antisemitism from both Zionists and anti-Zionists. A profile in The Guardian in 2009 which described Atzmon as “one of London’s finest saxophonists” stated: “It is Atzmon’s blunt anti-Zionism rather than his music that has given him an international profile, particularly in the Arab world, where his essays are widely read.”