A Talk Given By Gilad Atzmon @ The Albion Beatnik Book Shop, Oxford, UK
April 15, 2014
Good evening book lovers and wisdom seekers.
As some of you have realised the title of this debate morphed slightly since I initiated it. The discussion was first titled ‘Anti-Semitism, A Myth or A Threat.’ We are now supposed to engage in a dialogue on ‘Racism, a Myth or a Threat.’
Ladies and gentleman, this shift in the title is, actually, more significant than it first appears. It is actually a manifestation of our confusion and fear of looking at Jewish identity, politics, culture and ideology.
There is no doubt amongst scholars that Jews, as a group, derive from multiple ethnic origins and are far from a homogenous race. There is no racial continuum between a Polish Jew and a Yemenite one. But it is also obvious that Jewish political culture, whether Zionist or ‘anti’ is ethno-centric and, to a large extent, racially driven.
Just like Israel, the Jews-only State, Israel’s Jewish opponents too often prefer to operate within Jews-only organisations such as ‘Jewish Voices For Peace,’ ‘ Jews for Justice,‘ etc’. In short, whether they are Zionist or ‘anti,’ Jews somehow prefer to operate in ethnically segregated racially oriented political cells.
The conclusion is obvious -though Jews are not a race, Jewish identity politics is racist to the core.
We can now rephrase the title of the debate slightly and ask whether Jewish racism is a myth or a threat. Let me tell you straight away, this won’t lead into an interesting discussion. Jewish racism is evident and it is certainly a threat.
Five million ethnically cleansed Palestinians can confirm that this is the case. Their brothers and sisters that stayed behind, against all odds, can tell you about Israeli ethno- centrism and racially discriminatory laws. Even here, in the UK, my Palestinian friend, the poet, Naiad Izzat, was expelled from a Palestinian solidarity group by so- called good Jewish socialists just for saying what she thinks about Jewish culture and politics. So here is another embarrassing conclusion. Jewish racism is easily visible as a threat but for some reason we cannot address it in the open.
I guess that by now we are ready to tackle the initial topic of this debate. Anti-Semitism, is it a myth or a threat?
Let us first make sure that we understand the terminology involved.
At a certain stage, largely at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, some elements within European intelligencia were fascinated by Darwinism and its political applications. It was then that opposition to Jewry adopted a racist rationale. Some political thinkers and movements were clearly opposed to Jews just for being Jews. Such opposition could be recognized as an essentialist tendency that is racially driven and is often tagged as anti-Semitism. However, I believe that this rationale had been defeated by the end of WWII.
As a leading commentator on Jewish identity, I am closely familiar with pretty much every critical text related to Jewish politics. I can confirm that I have never come across contemporary opposition to Jewry that is blood or biologically related. I can’t point to any body of work or political call to oppose Jews for being Jews. But I have seen many texts that criticise Jewish racism, culture and politics.
You will have to ask yourself, maybe for the first time, is cultural criticism wrong? Is political criticism a crime? Should a certain kind of politics be free from criticism? Elaborating on these questions may lead us to a better understanding of the notion of Jewish power. Jewish power isn’t solely the manifestation of the dominance of certain Jews within our political, cultural and financial landscape. Jewish power is primarily the capacity to stop us from discussing the true meaning of such Jewish dominance.
We tend to believe that politics of any kind must be subject to thorough criticism. We don’t stop ourselves from criticising the BNP or David Cameron. We do not seem to hesitate before we criticize the Muslim Brotherhood, but try to comment on Ed or David Miliband’s support of Israel and the Zionist project.
Alternatively make an attempt to question what is the meaning of the Jewishness of the Jewish State. You will quickly face a wall of resistance, and may end up subject to a smear campaign by the so-called progressive Jews. The truth is that Jewish power, i.e. the aggressive attempt to conceal the real meaning of Jewishness, is actually maintained by the Jewish Left.
The Kosher Trinity and the Jewish Quantum Mechanics
We will now try to grasp the mechanism by which this suppression of political criticism has taken place.
Due to emancipation, secularization and the rise of nationalism, European Jewry went through a radical transformation during the 19th century. By 1897, we saw the formation of two Jewish nationalist movements. One was Zionism – a promise to ‘civilize’ the diaspora Jew by means of resettlement in Zion (Palestine). The other was the Bund – a ‘socialist Jews only movement’ that demanded the rights of a nation for the Yiddish people in Eastern Europe.
Israeli historian Shlomo Sand argues that these two movements contributed towards the invention of the ‘Jewish Nation.’ It was the invention of the Jewish nation that brought about a new kosher trinity – as opposed to theo-centric rabbinical Judaism,- modern Jewish secular identity is related to Race (a biological bond), Nationalism (a common narrative) and Religion (a fantasy of common beginnings and heritage referred to as Yiddishkeit ).
The kosher Trinity is coherent and consistent, yet a sinister amalgam. Let’s, for instance, examine the Zionist call: as a race ‘the Jews are victims,’ as a Nation ‘they deserve a place under the sun’ and for their religion ‘this place must be Zion.’
Although many Jews operate politically, and in most cases aggressively as Jews, they somehow defy any criticism of themselves in the name of racism and religious intolerance.
When you criticize Israeli policy, the Zionist Jew will denounce you as a racist. When you disapprove of the racist and supremacist tendency entangled with Judaism and the Talmud, the progressive Jew will accuse you of religious intolerance. But when you expect the cosmopolitan Jew to uphold his alleged universal commitment to humanity and to remove himself from his Jews- only progressive cell and join humanity for real, you are immediately blamed for being intolerant culturally, religiously and even a racist.
What we see here in practice is a new form of Jewish Quantum mechanics. The political Jew is everywhere and nowhere at once. The political Jew is a dynamic and coherent and yet, somehow blurred. You can never comprehend what it is or where to find it exactly, but you can be sure that it is somewhere within an imaginary tri-polar magnetic field that is formed by Jewish racism, aggressive nationalism and vague and versatile Jewish religious adherence. The Jewish political subject is bouncing endlessly between these three magnetic forces. It is never standing still, it is never found on once place -it moves, morphs and adapts
May I admit that so-called anti Semites may skip the above physical metaphors and instead refers to the Jew as a chameleon. Interestingly enough, Woody Allen’s Zelig may as well be a cinematic attempt to deal with this Jewish morphic condition.
Now, let’s face it. At least theoretically speaking there is nothing wrong with being racially oriented, we do not campaign against Blacks who celebrate their blackness. Nationalism can be an uplifting feeling and religious rituals can purify the spirit. But, unfortunately, none of these positive potential characteristics can be ascribed to Jewish ID politics. Tragically, modern Jewish politics is always celebrated at the expense of someone else.
The Zionists plundered Palestine, the Neocon suffocates Arab land with uranium depleted shells in the name of morals, the good cosmopolitan Jew rushed to Spain to kill Catholics and burn their churches in the name of the ‘proletariat’. As I speak to you tonight the Jewish lobby here in Britain, America and France is pushing for war against Syria and Iran.
I came here today to address the question of whether anti-Semitism is a myth or a thereat. My answer is simple. The opposition to Jewish power is neither a myth nor it is a threat. It is actually a primary humanist and a moral duty.
The Jewish State and its dedicated lobbies are threats to world peace. To oppose Jewish power and to understand its operational mode is an ethical imperative. And it can also save the Jews.
Jews are pretty gifted in bringing disasters upon themselves. Jewish history is a spectacular chain of horrid holocausts. And if there is something Jews fail to do, it is to look in the mirror and admit some faults. Instead of taking responsibility for their past and future, Jewish culture and politics can be understood as a successful attempt to blame others. It is somehow always the ‘anti Semitic Goy’ who is at fault.
Peculiarly enough early Zionism was a rare Jewish attempt to look in the mirror. A few Jewish intellectuals such as Herzl, Nordau and Jabotinsky looked in the mirror and were devastated enough to admit that something was indeed problematic in the Jewish social condition. They diagnosed a Jewish cultural malaise but their remedy proved to be a complete failure.
Whether Jews can look in the mirror and self-reflect is an open question. However, criticism of Jewish power and culture is an ethical must, it is a necessity. We owe it to ourselves, to our kids and to future generations. I guess that it would be also right to suggest that those who are tagged as anti-Semitic nowadays, are simply brutally honest people, often enough, of Jewish origin.
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.”