Is It Haskalah Or Culture Of Deceit?
… by Gilad Atzmon
Alimuddin Usmani: The new play by Bernard-Henri Levy, “Hotel Europe,” that opened in Paris in September, was scheduled to run until January but will close in November due to a lack of people willing to play audience. BHL induced Sarkozy, Hollande and Valls to promote his play but apparently that didn’t help its reception.
A Swiss comedian, Matthieu Béguelin, commented on Hotel Europe’s aborted run by saying: “La pièce de BHL fait un four.” In theatrical vocabulary, the expression means that BHL’s play was a flop. As you probably know, the French word “four” means “oven” and the media were quick to react with commentary that BHL is Jewish and ‘oven’ can evoke the Nazi crematoriums. The comedian replied amongst other things that he was amused that nobody who talked about the walloping of BHL had dared to use the same common expression.
Gilad Atzmon: As I have said before, if contemporary Jews insist upon building their identity around the primacy of their suffering, the Shoah and its symbolism (gas chambers, ovens, death march, etc.), it should not come as a surprise to them that other people also refer to Jews by their tragedies.
Alimuddin Usmani: Two Israeli soldiers recently shared their Gaza war diaries.
Their testimonials reveal a spiritually unmotivated army. You have said before that this is related to the hedonistic nature of Israeli society. Do you think this hedonism is a sign of the end of Israel?
Gilad Atzmon: Indeed, very revealing testimonials, and the fact that that they were published by the most popular Israeli media outlet is even more revealing. Israel is a hedonistic society, yet, not exactly a Western society. It is a unique blend of technology, fanaticism, hard-core Jewish supremacy, materialism and hedonism. This isn’t exactly the ideal cultural and ideological amalgam necessary to sustain a society that insists on living on other people’s land.
Israel is doomed and this is something I realized in the early 1990’s. The Jewishness of the Jewish State inflicts a tragic blindness that is embedded in ‘choseness.’ Israel can’t think peace, harmony or reconciliation. It is impervious to the ‘other.’ And it isn’t just brutal towards the Palestinians and migrant communities; it is also cruel towards its own poor. We learned recently that a third of Israelis would be delighted to leave.
It would be fair to say that 65 years of Israel has brought to light the most devastating aspects of Jewish ghetto mentality and has also revealed some of the traits that led to Jewish suffering.
Alimuddin Usmani: Haskalah (the Jewish enlightenment) resulted in the creation of secular Jewish culture. Is the Jewish ideology that you criticize today the spiritual-less child of Haskalah?
Gilad Atzmon: Totally!!!
Haskalah planted a deeply deceitful mode at the heart of Jewish existence. Although motivated by a yearning for integration and assimilation, it insisted on retaining the notion of ‘tribe.’ Haskalah Jews tried to boost their popularity while remaining part of the tribe and celebrating their culture in a clandestine manner.
Hebrew poet, Judah Leib Gordon’s catchphrase, “be a Jew in your tent and a man on the street,” (often misattributed to Moses Mendelssohn), emphasises the dishonesty of the Haskalah approach. The Haskalah Jew deceives the Goy in the street by pretending to be an ordinary post-tribal man, but he also lies to God once at home by pretending to be a proper Jew. What is the motivation for this deceit? Acceptance. How sad is that, bearing in mind that it was actually the Haskalah Jew that evoked European opposition that evolved into institutional anti Semitism and eventually the Shoah.
In fact, early Zionism deplored the Haskalah’s desperate attempt to please the Goy, and predicted that it was a project doomed to failure. Instead, Zionism insisted that the Jews could only be saved through a phantasmic ‘homecoming’.
It is important to understand that the Haskalah form of deceit is embedded in contemporary Zionist and Israeli culture. In spite of the original Zionist anti-Jewish inclinations, Zionism was defeated by Jewishness. It became the voice of the Jews because it was sufficiently Jewish.
But the Haskalah mode of deceit has gone further, and is now embedded at the core of left and progressive thinking. While in the right, there is a clear dichotomy between scholarship and activism, within the left, such a dichotomy is lacking. In its desperation to become a ‘popular movement’ against all odds, the left adopted a culture of suppression of truth. “Reaching new allies” became more important to the left than telling the truth and alienating a few.
This may explain why, for instance, the Palestinian solidarity movement insists upon classifying Israel as a ‘colonialist’ and/or an ‘apartheid’ state. Intelligent and intellectually honest commentators have grasped that Israel is far worse – it is a racist ethnic cleanser; putting into action a Hitlerian Lebensraum philosophy. It helps explain why Palestinian activist Ali Abunimah and JVP leaders advised me to stop talking about Jewish culture and concentrate on Zionism. They willingly jettison the truth in their effort to ‘reach to the Jews.’
In short, the Haskalah, or as it is also expressed, ‘by way of deception’ is deeply rooted in Zionist discourse, anti Zionist discourse and contemporary left thought. No surprise then that anti Zionism failed to achieve a thing and the left has become a remote shadow of a decaying jargon.
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.”