Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Richard Falk Expands on his Transformative Encounter with Atzmon's Book

It is something that has always attracted me. How academics, those who deal in ideas, who explore the subtleties and contradictions of human life, can be so short-sighted and stupid.

Whenever I’ve spoke to large audiences in opposition to Zionism and support for the Palestinians I’ve always tried, in the limited time usually available made one key point. How can those who are Jewish, who have lived in the shadow of the holocaust, who understand or should understand racism, become transformed into racists and oppressors. How can they turn into their erstwhile opponents. It’s an argument that rarely fails to meet with approbation, precisely because of its simplicity.


The obverse is also true. How can Jewish people fail to understand that which should be their bread and butter, to recognise that a Jewish state is no more ‘Jewish’ than South Africa was ‘christian’.

Yet how to explain how senior academics, an Emeritus Professor of International Law, can write such gushing rubbish in the blurb for Atzmon’s anti-Semitic work of literary art. Why is it so difficult to see that the concept of a Jewish conspiracy, besides being ridiculous in its own right, explains nothing, least of all why non-Jews and are the most fervent supporters of Zionism.

It was with this in mind that I wrote to Richard Falk and he replied (see below). I am still none the wiser except that I understand that humanists, of which Falk is clearly one, are so appalled by Israel’s blatant disregard of international law and the Western powers support of them for so doing, that they no longer care to differentiate between those Israel deems ‘anti-Semitic’ and who proclaim their support for the Palestinian and those who actually are anti-Semitic.

I must confess that I fail to understand Falk's comment that 'I would make clear that I was endorsing the value I experienced in reading the book, not the argument or all of the positions taken.' Well this is not quite the same as 'transformative story told with unflinching integrityI would make clear that I was endorsing the value I experienced in reading the
book, not the argument or all of the positions taken.' Quite how one can wax lyrical about the 'value' of failing to deal with the substance of why this is a 'transformative' story.

It is one of the ‘achievements’ of Zionism that they indeed blurred the distinction in peoples’ minds between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

As for Falk, my only explanation is that those who know more and more about their subjects know less and less about the world outside. This was true of the Nazi professors, Heidigger et al. The fact is that academics are often anything but academic and it has to be said, since even the existence of a discipline such as international law is problematic, since there is no single acceptance of that it means, that Richard Falk is probably used to a great deal of poetic licence.

Tony Greenstein

To Richard Falk 27.12.11.

Dear Richard,

further to the e-mail I sent you a week ago I thought it might be useful to put our discussion in a more practical context, and thus aid your understanding as to why Gilad Atzmon is anti-Semitic.

As you will know, Zionists and their propagandists never cease to follow the fascist pattern of equating Jews with Zionism. Indeed so insistent are they on this equation that those, a growing number incidentally, who are Jewish anti-Zionists are regularly termed 'self-haters', a description equivalent to the Nazi denunciation of German anti-fascists.

Indeed it is the hallmark of Zionist attempts to determine Jewish identity that there is no distinction between that and a Zionist identity. This is not a small matter as Jewish groups opposed to Zionist are growing in numbers and strength as the BDS movement takes off.

Atzmon sums up his analysis in his essay not in my name but it flows through all his anti-Semitic analysis. So let me give you an example. When, in response to the Palestinian Boycott National Committee many activists moved resolutions in trade unions, and when we did so in my union, Unison, the second largest union in the UK, it was decided that I speak specifically as someone who is Jewish. According to Atzmon that makes me a Zionist, indeed in so doing I turn Zionism into the official voice of the Jewish people. To wit:

“While Zionism appointed itself from its early days to talk and to act on behalf of the Jewish people, it is actually the sporadic rebels who criticise Zionism in the name of their Jewish secular identity who affirm the Zionist ‘totalitarian’ agenda. Bizarrely enough, it is the Jewish Left which turns Zionism into the official voice of the Jewish people.”
In other words, those who are Jewish or of Jewish origin, members of Atzmon’s absurd ‘third category’ are Zionists for opposing Zionism. Transformative? Even a professor should be able to work this one out.

If you really believe that this anti-Semitic garbage is ‘as ‘a transformative story told with unflinching integrity that all (especially Jews) who care about real peace, as well as their own identity, should not only read, but reflect upon’? then words have truly lost all meaning

Tony Greenstein

From: tony greenstein
To: Richard Falk
Sent: Tuesday, 20 December 2011, 3:05
Subject: Re: Gilad Atzmon

Dear Richard,
I agree that to withdraw endorsing the book, solely or mainly because of your reputation, would be wrong. My reference to your reputation is a reference to all the good work you have done in and around Gaza and in opposition to the occupation and terror of Israel.

What I do not understand and cannot get, from someone who is clearly intelligent and well-versed, is how you can describe Atzmon's book and views as challenging, thoughtful, seeking peace and reconciliation. You talk of a 'slash and burn' reaction. This I find difficult to understand. Indeed I will go further. I find it incomprehensible.

Would you really have encouraged a textual deconstruction of Der Sturmer or a coffee morning to discuss the merits of Drumont's La Libre Parole? There are many books which merit your adjectival descriptions, but The Wandering Who? This from someone whose small talk is peppered with comments like 'Socialist Jewnity' or who finds it amusing that throwing Jews into the sea might pollute the latter? In other words, a common and garden racist.

Time and space do not permit anything other than one example. On pages 120-1 Atzmon writes
‘Moses, his contemporaries and their current followers were and are excited about the possibilities that awaited them in the Land of Milk and Honey. Israel, the Jewish State, has been following Moses’ call. The ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people in 1948, and the constant and total abuse of the Palestinian people since then, makes Deuteronomy 6:10–12 look like a prophecy fulfilled.'

For more than sixty years, the Biblical call for theft has been put into legal praxis. The Israeli looting of Palestinian cities, homes, fields and wells has found its way into Israel’s legal system: by 1950-51, Israeli legislators had already approved the ‘Absentee Property Law’, a racially-orientated law preventing Palestinians from returning to their lands, cities and villages, and allowing the new Israelites to live in houses and cities they ‘did not build’.

The never-ending theft of Palestine in the name of the Jewish people is part of a spiritual, ideological, cultural and practical continuum between the Bible, Zionist ideology and the State of Israel (along with its overseas supporters). Israel and Zionism, both successful political systems, have instituted the plunder promised by the Hebrew God in the Judaic holy scriptures.

But this continuum goes further than just theft – in reviewing the following Biblical passages, recall the devastating images of Gazans being bombed in a UN shelter at the time of the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead (Dec-Jan 2008-2009):

‘You will chase your enemies, and they shall fall by the sword before you. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight; your enemies shall fall by the sword before you.’ Leviticus, 26:7–8 ‘When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations … you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.’ Deuteronomy 7:1–2 ‘Do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them … as the Lord your God has commanded you …’ Deuteronomy 20:16 There is no doubt amongst Biblical scholars that the Hebrew Bible contains some highly-charged, unethical suggestions, some of which are no less than calls for genocide. The Catholic theologian Raymund Schwager found 600 passages of explicit violence in the Old Testament, along with 1000 descriptive verses of God’s own violent punishments and 100 passages where God expressly commands others to kill. Violence is one of the most frequently mentioned activities in the Hebrew Bible. Secular Israelis do not follow Judaic law, yet they somehow collectively interpret their Jewish identity as a Biblical mission, which perhaps sheds some light on the IDF massacres in Gaza and Lebanon in the last few years. The IDF used lethal methods, such as cluster bombs and white phosphorus, against civilians as though its main objective was to ‘destroy’ while showing ‘no mercy’ whatsoever. It seems as though the Israeli military, in erasing northern Gaza in January 2009, were following Deuteronomy 20:16 – they did indeed ‘not leave alive anything that breathe[d]’. Yet why should a secular commander follow Deuteronomy verses or any other Biblical text? Though most Jews do not follow the Bible, and many are even ignorant of its content, the lethal spirit of the scriptures has infused the essence of modern Jewish political discourse. Those who disagree with such a generalisation may invoke the Bund and its ‘progressive’, secular, ‘ethical’ and cosmopolitan heritage, but a quick glance at the Bund’s heritage reveals that it is not fundamentally different from Zionism. Bundists believe that instead of robbing Palestinians, Jews should all unite and appropriate from the wealthy classes, the strong, in the name of working-class revolution.'
I fail to understand what is challenging about the above. It is no secret that Zionism cynically and deliberately used the bible to legitimise its deeds. God has always managed to be on the winning side, whatever the war. But that is different from saying that the bible was the cause of what happened and that Israel and its deeds can best be understood by perusing the talmud or other books.

This is of course basis of much Islamaphobia. The stoning of women, the cutting off of limbs are merely an extension of the Quoran's practices and nothing to do with local elites in alliance with the United states. History read ahistorically.

And then a final touch from Atzmon is the supercillious and superficial (as well as racist) comparison between Israeli colonisation and the fight of the Bund against the pogroms and with the Polish socialists, who saw capitalism as the source of their and the Polish peoples' sufferings. Even to compare the Bund, which fought racism, with the Zionists who perpetuate it should be proof enough for you that this charlatan has nothing to offer.

Perhaps more revealing is the explanation of Atzmon's fellow anti-Semite, Mary Rizzo, as to why she had had enough of him. The personal in this case is also revealing politically.

It is not innovative to extrapolate from the bible to the present day. It is merely the other side of the coin from rewriting the past from today's perspective. Indeed that is what Atzmon does, not least because there isn't a shred of evidence that Moses actually existed. But there is no dynamic at play here. No description of how Jewish identity might have changed, as do all identities. Because a fixed identiy is not possible in a changing society. But for Atzmon, there has been 3,000+ years of an unchanging identity. Even the socialist Bund are, in their desire to dispossess the wealthy, acting out Moses' dictum. This has nothing to do with peace. It is merely a racist narrative.

If you want to read a book that is challenging, that points to the contradictions between a Jewish diaspora identity and that of Israel and Zionism, then ex-Israeli Gabiel Piterberg's Returns of Zionism can't be bettered.

With best wishes

Tony Greenstein

From: Richard Falk
To: tony greenstein
Sent: Monday, 19 December 2011, 16:01
Subject: Re: Gilad Atzmon

Dear Tony:

I certainly agree that it is appropriate to acknowledge a mistake, but
what I tried to express in my earlier message to you is that this endorsement
was not from my reading of the book a mistake. What I meant was that it would
be inauthentic to retract my endorsement for the sake of my reputation unless I
believed it to be a mistake.

I found his book challenging and thoughtful, rather well written, and being unfamiliar with his earlier writings, provocative in illuminating respects. In fact, I did read him as not affirming some of the controversial views that he discusses, and comments upon. Also, his temperament does not seem to me to be
other that one of seeking peace and reconciliation based on acknowledging truth. He ventures
on some dangerous terrain, and I said his book deserves debate and analysis, but not outright
slash and burn repudiation as I feel you are advocating.

With best wishes,


Richard

Quoting tony greenstein :

Dear Richard,
Thank you for response and taking the time and trouble to read my review and message. I also enclose, for your perusal, a Guide to the Sayings of Atzmon

You say that it would be ‘inauthentic’ to change your mind to save your reputation. Certainly if that were the only reason to do so then I agree. However I sent you a copy of my review and a longish message with it precisely so that you could reconsider your position on the basis of rethinking your assessment of Gilad Atzmon’s contribution to Palestinian politics, including his book.

Of course there is always value in reading an interesting book, even when one disagrees profoundly with its message. The problem with Atzmon’s book is that not only is it badly written, a rehash of his essays in most cases, but intellectually it offers nothing other than an insight into Gilad Atzmon himself.

I wouldn’t want to rehash my arguments so I will just ask you some questions:

i. How does Atzmon’s open support for holocaust deniers such as Israel Shamir and Paul Eisen, coupled with his own repeated questioning of the ‘narrative’ of the holocaust help resolve the present conflict? Surely you, who I understand are Jewish, can understand that there is a difference between the Zionists’ exploitation of the holocaust, as a means of justifying their own barbarities, and questioning the very fact that the holocaust occurred. This is a simple argument. It is you who are the professor, not me.

ii. I assume in all of this that support for the Palestinians carries most weight with you, in which case how does a focus on ‘Jewish identity’ help? Leave aside that identity is not fixed, contra Atzmon, for whom there is an unchanging Jewish identity with the concept of a holocaust having emerged long before the Nazi genocide. I realise you are probably not a socialist, but even a radical liberal can understand that the explanation for Israel and Zionism doesn’t lie in Jews or the Jewish religion, but the configuration of circumstances and politics in 19th and 20th century European?

iii. Is there really a straight line from the Polish ghettos to the Apartheid Wall? Were Jews hated for the same reasons? Would an explanation of Belgian identity explain the death of 10 million Africans in the Belgian Congo? You don’t have to be a Marxist to appreciate the argument that race does not determine all. I’m sure Thomas Paine or Jews Mill would have managed it equally well.

If your primary concern is the Palestinians then an effective solidarity movement is what should be of prime importance. Atzmon and those around him have already severely disrupted the British Palestine solidarity movement. That is why you have an obligation far and away above that of any considerations for your own reputation, important though it is for people who support the Palestinians not to throw their reputations away for the sake of a semi-coherent treatise on Jewish identity. Your remarks, which have been used extensively by Atzmon to vindicate his book, have already done much damage to the Palestinian cause. Regardless of what value you attach to a reading of the book it is incumbent upon you to at least clarify your support for a book which for example treats the economic crisis, ‘swindlers’ and Jews interchangeably.

There is nothing inauthentic in admitting to having made a mistake.

Kind regards

Tony Greenstein

From: Richard Falk
To: tony greenstein
Sent: Sunday, 18 December 2011, 23:30
Subject: Re: Gilad Atzmon

Dear Tony:

I have read your message and accompanying review, and appreciate some of the
points and arguments that are made. Nevertheless, having re-read Atzmon's book
and his responses to comparable lines of criticism I am not prepared to alter,
much less renounce, my endorsement.

I would make clear that I was endorsing the value I experienced in reading the
book, not the argument or all of the positions taken. Atzmon may have pushed his
basic argument too far, but it seems to me a valid inquiry that can lead to debate
and discussion, but is not appropriate to denounce, and to go further, and denounce
those who endorsed the reading of the book.

I appreciate your effort to save my reputation by encouraging me to change my mind, but
it would be inauthentic for me to do so.

With best wishes,

Richard

Quoting tony greenstein :

Dear Richard,

You don't know me but I am a Palestine solidarity activist in England and also a member of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods. I was, to say the least, surprised that you had written a blurb for Gilad Atzmon's 'Wandering Who’'. From what little I know of you, you have been a principled humanitarian and anti-racist, not least in respect of Israel's war crimes in Gaza. I find it difficult therefore to understand why it is that you have endorsed a book which is written by someone who is a died-in-the-wool anti-Semite.

I am well aware of the canard of 'anti-Semitism' and how it is used as a device for intimidating non-Jews and demonising Palestinians. However occasionally someone comes along who proclaims their support for the Palestinians and is, at the same time, anti-Semitic. Atzmon is one such person. I have written the review below for my blog.

I have no doubt you are busy but I would ask you to read the review and then tell me you stand by your approval of Atzmon. His flirting with holocaust denial is the least of it. It is his explanation of Zionism and the terrible things that are happening in Palestine that is the problem. In short Atzmon is not an anti-Zionist, i.e. an anti-racist. He locates the cause of the Palestinian's dispossession, expulsion etc. not in the particular circumstances of Israel's creation as a Jewish state, but in Jews as Jews, i.e. there is something inherent in Jews or what he terms 'Jewishness' that is to blame.

It seems to me that you can either explain Israel and what it does as a product of Zionism and settler-colonialism, with its desire for an ethnically pure Jewish state or you can, as Atzmon does, explain it by reference to something in Jews themselves. That is why Atzmon goes back to Moses and Joshua to substantiate his argument, even whilst purporting to praise Shlomo Sand's book. The problem is that Israel's level of repression, though horrifying in itself, is by no means unique. One can easily point to other, even worse examples of western barbarism. That is not to excuse what Israel does, as Zionists often attempt to do, but simply to point out that if Atzmon's logic holds then presumably all the ills of the world can be explained in terms of race (however one defines race).

Suffice to say that I reject the latter. It is an utterly useless analysis in terms of any strategy of liberation. If Atzmon is correct in laying especial emphasis on his belief that Jews outside Israel actually control events in Israel, we should abandon BDS and any other attempts at solidarity and start targetting Jewish communities outside Israel. I can't imagine that there is any strategy that would be more pleasing to the Israeli government than this, not least because it would 'prove' that their real enemy always was anti-Semitism.

I have no doubt that publicly changing one's mind is difficult for anyone to do. However by admitting you were mistaken, that you should have taken more time and care etc., you will not only salvage your own reputation but you will also help remove the poison that is beginning to seep in from those who think that questioning or denying the holocaust will somehow be of benefit to the Palestinians. I would therefore implore you to reconsider what you originally wrote.

regards

Tony Greenstein
Monday, 5 December 2011

Review - Atzmon - The Wandering Fool
A Worthless Book - Devoid of All Originality

In the blurb for Atzmon’s The Wandering Who? are listed five professors: William Cook, James Petras and Samir Abed-Rabbo, as well as John Mearsheimer, Professor of Political Science at Chicago University and Richard Falk, Professor of International Law at Princeton. The latter two have probably torpedoed their reputations permanently. The first three had no reputation to lose. It would seem that stupidity can be a useful attribute if you want to be a professor.

Mearsheimer co-authored with Stephen Walt, an article then book ‘The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy’ whose main theme was that the US was acting against its own interests because of the power of the Israel lobby. Mearsheimer was careful not to talk of a Jewish lobby, ascribing most of the Lobby’s power to Christian Zionists in the USA. Having written that ‘Gilad Atzmon has written a fascinating and provocative book on Jewish identity in the modern world.’ Mearsheimer has literally shot his bolt.

Richard Falk’s endorsement is the most puzzling. He is the UN’s Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Territories, banned by Israel from entering the Gaza Strip. He was a thorn in the side of those who bombed children with white phosphorous and left behind cluster bombs for them to play with. To describe Atzmon’s virulently anti-Semitic book, as ‘a transformative story told with unflinching integrity that all (especially Jews) who care about real peace, as well as their own identity, should not only read, but reflect upon...’ shows that Falk has either not read Atzmon’s book or that he genuinely doesn’t understand that blaming the victims of genocide for their own demise is racist.

Were the Jews of Europe Hated by their Neighbours?
Perhaps Falk and Mearsheimer could set their students the following essay: ‘why is the following text a classic example of racism and anti-Semitism.’ ‘65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz we should be able to ask ‘ Why were the Jews hated’ Why did European people stand up against their neighbours? Why are the Jews hated in the Middle East? Why did America tighten its immigration laws amid the growing danger to European Jews’? (175-176)

Our good professors might draw their students’ attention to the way the Jews of Europe are elided together with the Zionist settlers of Israel, to say nothing of the notion of a single European people. Did the Jews of Poland colonise others’ territory? Were the Dutch Jews so hated that the workers of Amsterdam reacted with a 3 day general strike to protest the attacks on them, broken only by fierce military repression and the deportation of the strike leaders to Mauthausen, where they died.

Did the Danes who in October 1943 rescued almost the whole Jewish community, 8,000 people, by transporting them by boat to Sweden, ‘stand up’ against their Jewish neighbours? Or the Bulgarians who refused to allow a single deportation? Or the Albanians? Or the French and Italians, 75% and 85% of whose Jews survived the holocaust, mainly through hiding out with non-Jews?

The Bund

Atzmon devotes much of his venom to the anti-Zionist Bund, who are ‘not fundamentally different from Zionism.’ [122] In the 1938 local council elections in Warsaw, they obtained 17 out of 20 seats, compared to just one for the Zionists. Isn’t the real comparison between the pogromists the Jews of Russia and Poland faced and the mobs who chant ‘Death to the Arabs’ in Israel?

Marek Edelman, a Bundist and last commander of the Jewish Resistance in the Warsaw ghetto paid tribute to the Palestinian resistance in the second Intifada. [Palestine's partisans, Paul Foot, Guardian, Wednesday 21.8.02.] This was why the Israeli Embassy in Poland didn’t even send the lowest clerk to Edelman’s funeral in 2009, although the President of Poland found time to attend.

Atzmon’s refers to the closing of America’s borders as the holocaust approached (in fact it was in 1924). But this wasn’t aimed at just the Jews. Is this any different from immigration controls and the deportation of asylum seekers in the West today? Does the US now welcome refugees from persecution?

Atzmon is a good example of ‘blame the victim’ racism. In what way is Atzmon’s pretentious work of ‘philosophy? ‘transformative’ [Falk]? Atzmon does not fish in an empty sea. The reason why his book has achieved a certain resonance has less to do with what he’s written and more to do with the wider context.

Jewish Identity?

As most Palestine solidarity activist will confirm, accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’ are standard fare. It is no surprise that some people, rather than challenging the underlying premise, take their accusers at their word. If it is anti-Semitic to support the Palestinians then some people will say that if they have to choose they will bear the cross of anti-Semitism.

The Wandering Who? is purportedly about Jewish identity. In reality it is about Atzmon’s own confused identity. Is he Jewish, Christian, ex-Jewish or just Artie Fishel, a spoof character and ardent Zionist who is Atzmon’s alter ego? What the book doesn’t describe, except by way of caricature, is the real identity crisis of today’s diaspora Jews. Instead he feasts on a Jewish Chronicle feature on David Rosenberg and Julia Bard and their agonising over whether to have their 2 boys circumcised.

Judging by Atzmon’s description of them, one would assume that they were convinced Zionists. In fact they are members of the non-Zionist Jewish Socialists Group. Their dilemma was that of many young Jews, whether it is better to keep the parents quiet and to make a symbolic bow to Judaism. It was a dilemma that I also faced. Circumcision in religious folklore is the covenant between god and man. To Atzmon ‘It is a peep into the strange and inconsistent world of the Jewish tribal left’. (it) presents Zionism in a new light.’ In fact it says nothing about Zionism. It is also practised by Muslims and many non-Jews, including the Royal Family! In focussing on Jewish circumcision Atzmon plumbs the depths of pathological anti-Semitism.

Whether it is the economic crisis ‘Credit Crunch or Zio Punch’ or Swindler’s List, which conflates Jewish socialism (the Bund) and confiscation of the assets of the rich, with Israel’s theft of Palestinian land, it is the Jews who are responsible. You could be forgiven for thinking that Alan Greenspan and Paul Wolfowitz single handedly brought about the credit crunch in order to enhance the power of Israel and international Jewry.

‘The Jewish nationalist would rob Palestine in the name of the right of self-determination, the Jewish progressive is there to rob the ruling class and even international capital in the name of world working class revolution.’

The conflation of [Jewish] socialism and colonialism is merely absurd. Socialism seeks to create a society where there are no poor or wealthy, but that involves the confiscation of the assets of the rich. Colonialism is an extension of that theft. But according to Atzmon ‘The Judaic God’ is an evil deity who, via Moses, leads his people to plunder, robbery and theft. What Moses and Joshua did over 3 millennia ago explains Israel’s behaviour today. Given that Britain was the world’s largest empire and also a Christian state, one wonders why Atzmon converted to a religion whose god is also evil? God was always on the side of the colonist, whatever their religion. Atzmon’s sojourn into ‘Jewish identity’ has a purpose - to portray the Jews of Europe and Israel as one seamless whole.

Identity is not fixed

Atzmon tries to associate his work with the late Israel Shahak, a Professor at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, who personally uncovered the existence of over 300 Arab villages whose remains had been obliterated by the Zionist colonisers. Shahak was a child survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto and Belsen-Bergen concentration camp. Shahak’s saying ‘The Nazis made me afraid to be a Jew, and the Israelis make me ashamed to be a Jew.’ is featured at the beginning of the book. But that wasn’t a rejection of being Jewish but a rejection of what Israel was doing in the name of Jews. Shahak was not a Jew-baiter.

Shahak’s argument was too sophisticated for Atzmon. He didn’t argue that Zionist barbarities were intrinsic to being Jewish, rather that the settlers were using long forgotten passages in the Talmud in order to justify their Judeo-Nazi practices (Leibowitz).

In ‘Jewish History, Jewish Religion The Weight of Three Thousand Years’ Chapter 3 (thanks to Debbie Maccoby for this source) Shahak wrote how

A great deal of nonsense has been written in the attempt to provide a social or mystical interpretation of Jewry or Judaism 'as a whole'. This cannot be done, for the social structure of the Jewish people and the ideological structure of Judaism have changed profoundly through the ages.’ For Shahak, the Jews and Jewish identity have ‘changed profoundly.If Jewish identity tells us anything it is that there is no one Jewish identity. In the last 150 years Jews have moved from being feudal moneylenders and petty traders to a Jewish proletariat and now a largely professional, middle-class part of the white community. The first questions anyone genuinely interested in Jewish identity would ask would be will the Jewish communities outside Israel survive, what is their material basis, is Zionism or opposition to Israel enough? Atzmon asks none of these questions. It is fortunate that Shahak is now dead because he would have sent Atzmon away with a flea in his ear. Atzmon’s absurd statement (Chapter 1) that ‘Israel and Zionism were just parts of the wider Jewish problem.’ completely misunderstands and distorts Shahak’s main argument that Zionism has resurrected an old Jewish identity based on classic rabbinical Judaism.

Shahak mapped the contours of change. Atzmon focuses on a fixed, unchanging and essentialist notion of Jewish identity. It matters not whether he defines race by reference to biology, religion, spirit, behaviour, culture. Racism takes many forms. For example his definition of Zionism as a ‘global network with no head, it is a spirit ‘ spirit, unfortunately, cannot be defeated.’ [88] could be the words of Julius Streicher, Alfred Rosenberg, and Theodor Fritsche.

Anti-Semitism

When Atzmon writes that ‘It is more than likely that ‘Jews’ do not have a centre or headquarters’ that they aren’t aware of their particular role within the entire system, the way an organ is not aware of its role within the complexity of the organism.’ who can doubt that Atzmon’s ‘organismus’ is the old world Jewish conspiracy?

As Gabriel Ash explains ‘Substituting "Jewish ideology’ for ‘the Jewish spirit and Jewish consciousness’ is the only thing that makes Atzmon's take on Jewishness ‘ground breaking.’ Everything else is derivative.

One explanation for Atzmon’s politics lies with his leftist hating, Irgun loving grandfather. Atzmon has married the hostility of his revisionist Zionist background to the left with the anti-Semitic contempt that Zionism reserves for Jews outside Israel (‘Negation of the Diaspora’):

When Atzmon proclaims that ‘Zionism is not a colonial movement with an interest in Palestine, ‘ To be a Zionist means to accept that, more than anything else, one is primarily a Jew.’ [21] he is advocating that supporters of the Palestinians should abandon any anti-Zionist analysis. The real target should be those who control Israel ‘ the world Jewish communities. Atzmon argues that there is no such thing as Zionism inside Israel, it’s a Diaspora Jewish obsession. What is needed is not BDS (which Atzmon has never supported) but a campaign against your local Jewish community! Instead of picketing Ahava or disrupting the Jerusalem Quartet, we should demonstrate outside a Jewish kindergarten.

Perhaps the only concession to the truth in the entire book is when Atzmon declares that ‘At a certain stage, around 2005, I thought to myself that I might be King of The Jews.’ [54] One suspects that Atzmon is just another in a long line of false Messiahs.

Atzmon justifies his anti-Semitism by noting that ‘Early Zionist ideologists were pretty outspoken when it came to the ‘Diaspora’ Jewry.’ [58] He cites Hashomer Hatzair’s description of Jews as ‘a caricature of a normal, natural human being, both physically and spiritually’ and Ber Borochov, founder of ‘Marxist’ Zionism: ‘The enterprising spirit of the Jew is irrepressible. He refuses to remain a proletarian.’

Atzmon believes that ‘Emancipated Jews are identified by negation - they are defined by the many things they are not.’ This is a familiar Zionist theme. But it is untrue. Jewish anti-Zionists are not merely defined by that which they oppose but also by a long tradition of Jewish opposition to racism and fascism.

Atzmon’s hero is Otto Weininger, about whom Hitler apparently remarked that he was the only good Jew, which is why he went and killed himself. A racist and misogynist, Weininger ‘helped me grasp who I am, or rather who I may be’.[90] There is a lot of truth in this! There is a turgid passage about what percentage there is of the masculine and feminine in an individual. The analogy is with the percentage of Jewishness in someone. His conclusions? ‘With contempt, I am actually elaborating on the Jew in me.’ [94]

The chapter ‘Truth, History & Integrity’ is named after an essay of the same name. But he omits 3 paragraphs including the statement that ‘if the Nazis ran a death factory in Auschwitz-Birkenau, why would the Jewish prisoners join them at the end of the war’ Why didn’t the Jews wait for their Red liberators’? Likewise in ‘Esther to Aipac’ he omits the sentence that ‘no one goes as far as revisionism, not a single Holocaust religion scholar dares engage in a dialogue with the so-called ‘deniers’ to discuss their vision of the events or any other revisionist scholarship.? But Atzmon still can’t resist a nod in the direction of holocaust denial. He writes that:

‘65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, we must be entitled to start asking questions. We should ask for historical evidence and arguments rather than follow a religious narrative that is sustained by political pressure and laws.’

Those who doubt that Atzmon is anti-Semitic should ponder his statement that ‘If there are some remote patches of humanism in Jewish culture, these are certainly far from being universal.’ [113] Likewise his statement that ‘Jewish ideology and political discourse openly opposes revision and revisionism.’ [180] But there is no such thing as ‘Jewish ideology’. Jews support many different ideologies. It is often remarked that there are more Jews in Parliament than their percentage of the total population would merit, but at the time of the Gaza invasion, it was a Jewish MP Gerald Kaufman who made by far the most effective speech comparing his grandmother, who the Nazis murdered in her bed, with Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza.

It would appear that Atzmon started out young. At high school he ‘wondered out loud how the teacher could know that these accusations of Jews making Matza out of young Goyim’s blood were indeed empty or groundless.’ [185] Like his friend Israel Shamir, he is attracted to medieval anti-Semitism. On Jewish identity Atzmon has nothing to say.

Tony Greenstein



2 comments:

Jake said...

I am very concerned that a humanist like Falk is supporting a fascist. Can't we shame Falk in some way? I never thought I'd agree with an awful man like Dershowoitz, but for once in his whole life, Dershowitz was right -- people should find a way to shame Jews like Falk who are betraying their own. I'd like to say we could shame Atzmon too, for betraying his people, but clearly that won't work. But can't people organise, as Jews, and find a way to shame Falk?

Tony Greenstein said...

I don't think the problem is that Falk is betraying his own people so much as he is betraying the principles on which he has fought for so long. Racism, the treatment of Palestinians as sub-humans, to be 'put on a diet', is how they are perceived by Zionism. For Falk to go along with this way of thinking, to accept that there is anything of value in Atzmon's racist tirades, is to suggest, to be blunt that Falk has lost his marbles.