By Gilad Atzmon
The following is the text of a talk I gave at the Seek, Speak and Spread Truth Conference in London last Saturday, 23 November, 2013.
History, we are told, is an attempt to narrate the past. But in reality, more than often history has little to do with revealing the past. It is instead an orchestrated and institutional attempt to shove the shame deep under the carpet.
Much Jewish history texts, for instance, are there to divert the attention from the peculiar and tragic fact that along their history, Jews have managed to bring on themselves an endless chain of disasters. But Palestinian history at large, is no different. After more than a century of liberation struggle, the situation in Palestine is worse than ever, yet Palestinian scholarship, as we will soon see, is drifting away from any possible understanding of the circumstances that led to their ongoing disaster.
Although the Brits have many war crimes attached to their names, the British Imperial War Museum decided to allocate a whole floor to the Jewish Holocaust instead of featuring one of the British-made genocides. The Brits, like everyone else, prefer to conceal their shame.
Historical accounts are commonly there to suppress the truth and conceal our shame. Yet, it is far from clear who is in charge, who decides what must be covered up and which path must be taken in order to suppress the truth.
Apparently, restricting the terminology and limiting freedom of expression by means of (political) correctness are probably amongst the most popular methods. Sadly enough, Palestine solidarity discourse is a spectacular test case in that regard.
A brief examination of each of the terminological pillars and the principles that shape our vision of the conflict, of its history and of its possible solution are there to conceal the obvious causes, ideologies and belief system that drive the crimes in the Middle East in general and in Palestine in particular.
We’ll now scrutinize the terminology and notions that are involved in the debate over Palestine and expose once again the deceitful nature that is unfortunately intrinsic to the contemporary progressive discourse.
Zionism – Palestinian solidarity members are required to avoid the ‘J’ word and to use the word ‘Zionism’ instead. I recently revealed that Ali Abunimah, one of my current arch detractors, advised me a few years ago to refer to Zion when I really think Jewish so he and I “might find grounds for a lot of agreement….” In fact Abunimah was not alone. Jewish Voice For Peace approached me with a pretty much similar offer about the same time.
The truth of the matter is that Israeli politics has little to do with Zionism. Israelis are hardly familiar with Zionist ideology, nor they are concerned or motivated by Zionist praxis. Zionism is largely a Jewish Diaspora discourse that vows to establish a Jewish National home in Palestine and to civilize the Jew by means of nationalism. Israel is obviously the product of the Zionist project; however, the Israelis see themselves as post-revolutionary subjects – they transformed the Zionist dream into a practical reality.
Thus, criticism of Zionism per se hardly touches Israelis or Israeli politics. If anything, it actually diverts the attention from the crimes that are committed by the Jewish State in the name of the Jewish people.
But then, why do we use the term Zionism instead of referring to Jewish power, Jewish politics or the Jewish State? Simple: we do not want to offend the ‘anti-Zionist’ Jews and Jews in general. We consciously choose to let Israel off the hook. Apparently we much prefer to target a phantasmic imaginary object that means very little rather than simply calling spade a spade.
Colonialism – Palestinian solidarity activists are expected to pepper their sentences with different permutations of the word ‘colonial’ with the hope that the more they use it the more it is likely to stick eventually. Consequently, activists and scholars commonly refer to Israel and Zionism as a ‘colonial project’. But they are obviously wrong.
Colonialism is traditionally defined as a clear material exchange between a ‘mother State’ and a ‘settler State’. Israel is no doubt a settler state, yet, no one can suggest who exactly was or is her mother.*
So why do we refer to Israel and Zionism as a colonial project? Simple: it saves us from admitting that the Jewish national project is indeed a unique project with no precedent in history. It would save us from admitting that we do not understand this project nor do we know where it aims. The Left and the so-called ‘anti-Zionist’ Jews cling to the colonial paradigm because it locates Israel and Zionism within a model they and their audience are slightly familiar with. The colonial paradigm suggests that the Jewish national project is as vicious as the British or French colonialism. But the grave truth is that we are dealing here with a unique form of abusive nationalist, racist project.
Settler Colonialism – in recent years a new terminological spin popped up within the Palestine solidarity ranks, namely ‘settler colonialism.’ I guess that my criticism of the colonial paradigm has shaken a few of the so-called progressive and ‘anti’ Zionists intellectuals, and they were pushed to revise their theoretical narrative. Their effort brought to the world a new deformed dysfunctional theoretical baby. But sadly enough, ‘settler colonialism’ also hardly explains a thing. It is rather a desperate attempt to further conceal the truth of the Jewish National project.
Settler Colonialism refers to the situation in which Super Power ‘A’ facilitates the settlement of Ethnic Group ‘B’ on Land ‘C’. Such an event may lead eventually to some grave consequences as far as indigenous population ‘D’ is concerned.
But here is the problem. This historical scenario A-B-C-D has nothing in common with Zionism, Israel or the Israeli Palestinian conflict. In reality, it was Zionists (B) who actually persuaded Britain, at the time a super power (A), that a Jewish Homeland in Palestine (C) is the right way forward. It was also Zionists (B) who promised to help pushing America into World War One that led Lord Balfour to commit the British empire (A) to the Zionist cause. In short, instead of the A-B-C-D chain of events, when it comes to Zionism, what we easily detect is a B-A-C-D chronology. It is the ethnic group ‘B’ that pushes Super Power ‘A’ to act in its favour.
But then we may want to ask ourselves why is it that Palestinian solidarity activists such as Ben White are consciously lying when they speaks about “settler-colonial past and present.” Unfortunately White is not alone, the list of academics and scholars who participate in the dissemination of this false narrative is pretty impressive.
Why do they deceive, is it because they are an ignorant bunch? Not at all, they are actually dedicated scholars, it is just intellectual integrity that they lack, and severely.
Spreading the ‘settler colonialism’ narrative is, once again, intended to divert the attention from the embarrassing fact that already in 1917 the Jewish Lobby was amongst the strongest lobbies in the land. Such an admission could easily offend many Jews within the Palestine solidarity movement. Seemingly, we really do not want to offend anyone but intelligence.
Apartheid – Solidarity activists are inclined to refer to Israel as an apartheid state. They obviously let the Jewish State off the hook. Apartheid is commonly defined as a racially driven system of exploitation. But Israel is not Apartheid, it is not interested in exploitation. Israel is far worse, it wants the Palestinians gone. Israel is a racially driven, nationalist ethnic cleanser. In that regard, Israel is very similar to Nazi Germany. But this is exactly the equation we are supposed to avoid because it may hurt the Jews and even confuse the Left.
Two State / One State Debate – The philosophy behind the ‘one state solution’ is obviously ethical and universal. But there is one slight problem. It finds no political partners or supporters within the Israeli society. Why? Because Israel is the Jewish State and the notion of Peace is totally foreign to Israeli and Jewish culture. The word ‘Shalom’ that is commonly translated as peace, reconciliation and harmony, is understood in Hebrew as ‘security for the Jews’.
Accordingly, it was very embarrassing to read Palestinian prominent intellectual Joseph Massad make some gross mistakes misinterpreting the word ‘peace’ in the context of the Zionist ideology and Israeli politics.
In a recent article named Peace Is War: Israeli settler-colonialism and the Palestinians Massad wrote: “Waging war as peace is so central to Zionist and Israeli propaganda that Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which killed 20,000 civilians, was termed ‘Operation Peace for Galilee’”.
If Massad had committed to proper scholarship he would probably find out that, as far as Israelis are concerned, operation ‘Shlom Ha-Galil’ really meant ‘security’ for the Galilee rather than ‘Peace for Galilee’. Massad could have saved himself this intellectual blunder if he had read The Wandering Who rather than attempting to burn the book, whose author actually delves into the topic occasionally.
Israelis would support the One State Solution as long as it is One Jewish State. As Paul Larudee suggested recently, the Israelis would also support the Two State Solution as long as it is Two Jewish States. Yet the only question that bugs me is, why would a Palestinian blogger such as Ali Abunimah go out of his way to stop us from looking into the tribal and racist culture that drives the Jewish State?
Is it possible that some of the prominent Palestine voices also do not want to offend the Jews? I will let you judge.
Is it really the Right of Return? or 1948? For many years I was convinced that the Nakba was at the core of the Palestinian plight. But then monitoring BDS Movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanction of Israeli goods, culture and academia) politics taught me that I could have been deluded.
When BDS was formed in 2005 this was its first goal:
1. Ending its (Israeli) occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; (2005)
But then, without any attempt to discuss the matter publicly, BDS headquarters in Ramallah changed its first goal. It now reads:
1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall;
Some efforts have been made to make sure that Palestinian organisations are aware of this crucial change. Adding the 1967 made it clear that BDS de facto accepted the existence of a Jewish State over Palestine.
Interestingly enough, not many Palestinians were really outraged by BDS dropping the 1948 and accepting Israel as a fact. I guess that the meaning of it is simple. As far as Palestinians in exile in the West are concerned, 1948 and the Right of Return are not the real topic. I guess that such an agenda is not driven by the concern for the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon or Syria. I assume that refugees in Gaza and Jenin may also be outraged but, as things stand, we can hardly hear their voices anyway. I guess that BDS is there to appease the ‘Jews in the movement’ and even liberal Zionists. This is hardly surprising considering the embarrassing fact that liberal Zionist George Soros who funds the Light Zionist J-Street also funds BDS as well as many other Palestinian NGOs.
As we can see; Zionism, Colonialism, Settler-Colonialism, Apartheid, BDS and even The One State Solution are all misleading concepts and they are shaped to not offend the anti Zionist Jews and even Jews in general. This surreal and macabre political act explains why the solidarity movement has failed to deliver on every and each front, except one of course. With the support of liberal Zionists such as Soros, Palestine solidarity is now a little industrial affair that is pretty successful in maintaining itself. The absurd outcome is that the newly emerging Palestine solidarity industry actually benefits from the constant escalation of the crisis in Palestine – the worse is the situation on the ground, the more funding is pumped through the industry.
I guess that if we want to grasp what is behind this constant regression, concealment and repression are obviously the key words.
Concealment and repression lead towards stagnation. This is exactly what we see in Palestine and for more than a while – 100 years of struggle that led to a complete failure. Palestinian Solidarity is now farther than ever from understanding Zionism, Israel and the conflict. The so-called ‘movement’ is entrenched within a muddy terminological swamp that results in intellectual and spiritual paralysis.
This is exactly the point where truth and truth seeking come into play. The role of the intellectual and the artist is to unveil the concealed. To look into the pain and to dig into the essence. This search for essentiality is similar to the role of the psychoanalyst who delves into the realm of the unconscious.
When it comes to Palestine we have to grasp, once and for all, what the Jewish State stands for. We have to understand what Judaism and Jewishness are. We have to grasp who are the Jews, what unifies them and vice versa. We must learn the relationships between these distinct categories and Zionism and only then may we be ready to form some pragmatic and practical thoughts on Zionism, the Jewish State and its lobbies. By the time we are ready to do so, we may as well grasp the role of Jews-Only groups within the solidarity ‘movement’. We may comprehend how they have been shaping the discourse and suppressing the truth by dominating our language and restricting our intellectual liberties. By the time we are familiar with Jewish tribal culture ideology and politics, we may as well grasp the role of the ‘Sabbath Goy’, the caretaker who performs the services Jews prefer to leave to the Goyim.
But our role doesn’t end there. We also must grasp what Palestine means. How is it possible that Palestine scholarship is withdrawing rather than progressing. How is it possible that in the 70’s Palestinians were the world’s leading guerrilla fighters but not anymore. What happened and why? What is it that the Palestinians want? Can we even talk about Palestinians or are they a fragmented society that is split geographically, culturally, spiritually, politically and ideologically? And if they are divided, who is it that keeps them divided? Is there anything that can unite them?
I believe that the Jewish progressive politics together with the non-dialectic Left are to be blamed for this political disaster and terminological impotence. We are dealing with a concealment apparatus that forsakes the future just to sustain a remote echo of a decaying 19th ideology. It is there to nourish the forgetting of Being. It is there to make us aloof to the grave reality we are living in by means of intellectual and spiritual suppression.
When 1984’s Orwell wrote about Newspeak, he had Britain in mind. He foresaw the devastating impact of the so-called progressive minds around him. He could predict where The Guardians of correctness might be leading us all. And, for a reason, he made Immanuel Goldstein, the imaginary false dissent icon.
My message to you today is simple – true liberation is the ability to learn how to think, to learn how to be intrigued and irritated. Liberation is to unveil the concealed, to think and re-think, to view, re-view and revise. To think is to aim at the essence, at the bottom of things, at the categorical. To think is to be able to distinguish between the symptoms and the disease. Liberation is to burn bridges compulsively and enthusiastically and to bear the consequences. Liberation is to pursue truth relentlessly. This is exactly the moment when pain becomes pleasure.
The Wandering Who? A Study Of Jewish Identity Politics – available on Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk
*In his book Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism, probably the most important theoretical text on Israeli supremacy, Professor Shahid Alam manages to resolve this difficulty. He suggests that instead of a ‘mother State’, in the case of Zionism, we are actually dealing with a ‘surrogate mother.’ Yet, if Alam is correct, then the case of Israel and Zionism has no precedent in history. In other words, the colonial paradigm hardly teaches us a thing.
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.”