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JfJfP comments


2016:

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2015:

23 Dec: JfJfP policy statement on BDS

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2014:

15 Dec: Chanukah: Celebrating the miracle of holy oil not military power

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2nd June: A light unto nations? - a leaflet for distribution at the "Closer to Israel" rally in London

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18 Jan: In Support of Bab al-Shams

17 Jan: Letter to Camden New Journal about Veolia

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Comments in 2012 and 2011

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Posts

Gilad Atzmon and Jewishness


This updates the posting of 28 February 2012. 13.02.12
The revised critique and list of signatories in ‘Not Quite “Ordinary Human Beings”—Anti-imperialism and the anti-humanist rhetoric of Gilad Atzmon’ is followed by some reviews of Atzmon’s book The Wandering Who?


Atzmon critique
Not Quite “Ordinary Human Beings”—Anti-imperialism and the anti-humanist rhetoric of Gilad Atzmon

[The following statement has been published on several websites. The version published here contains the most up-to-date list of signers.]

Attempting to latch onto the just, vital, and growing movement in support of the Palestinian national liberation struggle, Gilad Atzmon is one of a very small and unrepresentative group of writers who have argued (in agreement with many Zionists) that there is no meaningful distinction to be made between Jews in general and Israeli atrocities. According to Atzmon, the latter are simply a manifestation of Jews’ historic relationship to gentiles, an authentic expression of an essentially racist, immoral, and anti-human “Jewish ideology.”

Atzmon’s statements, besides distorting the history of Jews and constituting a brazen justification for centuries of anti-Jewish behavior and beliefs, also downgrade anti-Zionism to a mere front in the broader (anti-Jewish) struggle. Atzmon has specifically described Zionism not as a form of colonialism or settlerism, but as a uniquely evil ideology unlike anything else in human history. In addition to any ethical problems, this line of argumentation actually strengthens Zionism’s grip and claim to be the authentic representative of Jews. It obscures the reality that Zionism is an imperialist and colonialist enemy of Jewish people and Palestinians, as well as the Arab people generally and all those oppressed and exploited by imperialism.

In his online attack on Moshe Machover, an Israeli socialist and founder of the anti-Zionist group Matzpen, Atzmon states:

Machover’s reading of Zionism is pretty trivial. “Israel,” he says, is a “settler state.” For Machover this is a necessary point of departure because it sets Zionism as a colonialist expansionist project. The reasoning behind such a lame intellectual spin is obvious. As long as Zionism is conveyed as a colonial project, Jews, as a people, should be seen as ordinary people. They are no different from the French and the English, they just happen to run their deadly colonial project in a different time.[1]

For Atzmon, such views are “pretty trivial” and “lame” because he holds that Jews are in fact radically different from the French and the English. Of the many quotes we could provide in this regard, here is a small sampling:[2]

In order to understand Israel’s unique condition we must ask, “who are the Jews? What is Judaism and what is Jewishness?”[3]

Zionism is a continuation of Jewish ideology.[4]

The never-ending robbery of Palestine by Israel in the name of the Jewish people establishes a devastating spiritual, ideological, cultural and, obviously, practical continuum between the Judaic Bible and the Zionist project. The crux of the matter is simple yet disturbing: Israel and Zionism are both successful political systems that put into devastating practice the plunder promised by the Judaic God in the Judaic holy scriptures.[5]

Sadly, we have to admit that hate-ridden plunder of other people’s possessions made it into the Jewish political discourse both on the left and right. 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.[6]

Were Jewish Marxists and cosmopolitans open to the notion of brotherhood, they would have given up on their unique, exclusive banners and become ordinary human beings like the rest of us.[7]

I do not consider the Jews to be a race, and yet it is obvious that “Jewishness” clearly involves an ethno centric and racially supremacist, exclusivist point of view that is based on a sense of Jewish “chosen-ness.”[8]

At the most, Israel has managed to mimic some of the appearances of a Western civilisation, but it has clearly failed to internalise the meaning of tolerance and freedom. This should not take us by surprise: Israel defines itself as a Jewish state, and Jewishness is, sadly enough, inherently intolerant; indeed, it may be argued that Jewish intolerance is as old as the Jews themselves.[9]

Israel and Zionism then, has proved to be a short lived dream. It was initiated to civilise Jewish life, and to dismantle the Jewish self-destructive mode. It was there to move the Jew into the post-herem[10] phase. It vowed to make the Jew into a productive being. But as things turned out, neither the Zionists nor the “anti Zionists” managed to drift away from the disastrous herem culture. It seems that the entire world of Jewish identity politics is a matrix of herems and exclusion strategies. In order to be “a proper Jew,” all you have to do is to point out whom you oppose, hate, exclude or boycott.[11]

The conclusion to such views is not difficult to draw:

The endless trail of Jewish collective tragedies is there to teach us that Jews always pay eventually (and heavily) for Jewish power exercises. Yet, surprisingly (and tragically) enough, Jews somehow consistently fail to internalise and learn from that very lesson.[12]

More precisely, commenting on the climax of State violence directed at Jews in the 1930s, most famously by Germany, but also in most other European nations, Atzmon is clear:

The remarkable fact is they don’t understand why the world is beginning to stand against them in the same way they didn’t understand why the Europeans stood against them in the 1930s. Instead of asking why we are hated they continue to toss accusations on others.[13]

Within the discourse of Jewish politics and history there is no room for causality. There is no such a thing as a former and a latter. Within the Jewish tribal discourse every narrative starts to evolve when Jewish pain establishes itself. This obviously explains why Israelis and some Jews around the world can only think as far as “two state solution” within the framework of 1967 borders. It also explains why for most Jews the history of the holocaust starts in the gas chambers or with the rise of the Nazis. I have hardly seen any Israelis or Jews attempt to understand the circumstances that led to the clear resentment of Europeans towards their Jewish neighbors in the 1920’s-40’s.[14]

It is, as such, not surprising that Atzmon’s work has received enthusiastic reviews by such prominent members of the racist right as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, Kevin MacDonald of the Occidental Observer, David Icke, and Arthur Topham’s the Radical Press. It should not be surprising that Atzmon has distributed articles defending Holocaust deniers and those who write of “the Hitler we loved and why.”[15] These connections ultimately serve the interests of Zionism, which seeks to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Jewishness. Zionist agents have repeatedly attempted to ensnare and link Palestinian, Arab, and/or Muslim rights advocates to Neo-Nazism, through dirty tricks and outright lies.

It is more surprising and disappointing, then, that a small section of the left has opted to promote Atzmon and his works. In the UK, the Socialist Workers Party promoted Atzmon for several years before finally breaking with him; his latest book The Wandering Who? has been published by the left-wing Zero Books (a decision that elicited a letter of protest from several Zero authors).[16] In the United States, the widely-read Counterpunch website has repeatedly chosen to run articles by Atzmon. Currently, in February and March 2012, Atzmon is on tour in North America, where several of his speaking engagements are being organized by progressive anti-imperialists who we would normally like to consider our allies.

While perhaps well-meaning, operating under the assumption that any opposition to Zionism is to be welcomed, progressives who promote the work of Atzmon are in fact surrendering the moral high ground by encouraging a belief-system that simply mirrors that of the most racist section of Israeli society. Anti-racism is not a liability; on the contrary, it is a principle that makes our movements stronger in the long fight for a better tomorrow.

As political activists committed to resisting colonialism and imperialism—in North America and around the world—we recognize that there can be different interpretations of history, and we welcome exploring these. Without wishing to debate the question of whether far-right and racist ideologues should be censored, or how, we see no reason for progressive people to organize events to promote their works.

In our struggle against Zionism, racism, and all forms of colonialism and imperialism, there is no place for antisemitism or the vilification of Jews, Palestinians or any people based on their religions, cultures, nationalities, ethnicity or history. At this historic junction—when the need to struggle for the liberation of Palestine is more vital than ever and the fault lines of capitalist empire are becoming more widely exposed—no anti-oppressive revolution can be built with ultra-right allies or upon foundations friendly to creeping fascism.

As’ad AbuKhalil, The Angry Arab News Service, Turlock, CA
Suha Afyouni, solidarity activist, Beirut, LEBANON
Max Ajl, essayist, rabble-rouser, proprietor of Jewbonics blog site, Ithaca, NY
Haifaa Al-Moammar, activist, stay-at-home mom, and marathon walker, Los Angeles, CA
Electa Arenal, professor emerita, CUNY Graduate Center/Hispanic & Luso-Brazilian Literatures and Women’s Studies, New York, NY
Gabriel Ash, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Geneva, SWITZERLAND
John Baglow, writer, researcher, consultant, CANADA
Joel Beinin, Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA
Dan Berger, Wild Poppies Collective, Philadelphia, PA
Chip Berlet, Boston, MA
Nazila Bettache, activist, Montréal, CANADA
Sam Bick, Tadamon!, Immigrant Workers Center, Montréal, Québec
Max Blumenthal, author; writing fellow, The Nation, New York, NY
Lenni Brenner, author, Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, New York, NY
Café Intifada
Paola Canarutto, Rete-ECO (Italian Network of Jews against the Occupation), Torino, ITALY
Paulette d’Auteuil, National Jericho Movement, Albuquerque, NM
Susie Day, Monthly Review, New York, NY
Ali Hocine Dimerdji, PhD student at The University of Nottingham, in Nottingham, UK
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, professor emerita, California State University
Todd Eaton, Park Slope Food Coop Members for Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions, Brooklyn, NY
Mark Elf, Jews sans frontieres
S. EtShalom, registered nurse, Philadelphia, PA
Benjamin Evans, solidarity activist, Chicago, IL
Steven Fake, author and activist, Reading, PA
David Finkel, managing editor, Against the Current, Detroit, MI
First of May Anarchist Alliance
Racheli Gai, Jewish Voice for Peace and Tucson Women in Black
Sherna Berger Gluck, professor emerita, California State University/Israel Divestment Campaign, CA
Neta Golan, International Solidarity Movement
Tony Greenstein, Secretary Brighton Unemployed Centre/UNISON, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, Brighton, UK
Andrew Griggs, Café Intifada, Los Angeles, CA
Jenny Grossbard, artist, designer, writer and fighter, New York, NY
Freda Guttman, activist, Montréal, CANADA
Adam Hanieh, lecturer, Department of Development Studies/SOAS, University of London, UK
Swaneagle Harijan, anti-racism, social justice activism, Seattle, WA
Sarah Hawas, researcher and solidarity activist, Cairo, EGYPT
Stanley Heller, “The Struggle” Video News, moderator “Jews Who Speak Out”
Mostafa Henaway, Tadamon!, Immigrant Workers Center, Montréal, CANADA
Elise Hendrick, Meldungen aus dem Exil/Noticias de una multipátrida, Cincinnati, OH
Doug Henwood, Left Business Observer, New York, NY
Ken Hiebert, activist, Ladysmith, CANADA
Louis Hirsch, Jewish Voice for Peace (for ID purposes ONLY), Chicago, IL
Elizabeth Horowitz, solidarity activist, New York, NY
Adam Hudson, writer/blogger, San Francisco Bay Area, CA
Dhruv Jain, Researcher at the Jan Van Eyck Academie and PhD student at York University, Paris, FRANCE
Remi Kanazi, poet and author of Poetic Injustice: Writings on Resistance & Palestine
Tom Keefer, an editor of the journal Upping the Anti, Toronto, CANADA
Karl Kersplebedeb, Left Wing Books, Montréal, CANADA
Anne Key, Penrith, Cumbria, UK
Mark Klein, activist, Toronto, CANADA
Bill Koehnlein, Brecht Forum, New York, NY
L.A. Palestine Labor Solidarity Committee, Los Angeles, CA
Mark Lance, Georgetown University/Institute for Anarchist Studies, Washington, DC
David Landy, author, Jewish Identity and Palestinian Rights: Diaspora Jewish Opposition to Israel, Dublin, IRELAND
Bob Lederer, Pacifica/WBAI producer, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, New York, NY
Matthew Lyons, Three Way Fight, Philadelphia, PA
Karen MacRae, solidarity activist, Toronto, CANADA
Heba Farouk Mahfouz, student activist, blogger, Cairo, EGYPT
Marvin Mandell and Betty Reid Mandell, co-editors, New Politics, West Roxbury, MA
Ruth Sarah Berman McConnell, retired teacher, DeLand, FL
Kathleen McLeod, poet, Brisbane, AUSTRALIA
Fred Mecklenburg, News & Letters Committees in Chicago, IL
Karrie Melendres, Los Angeles, CA
Matt Meyer, Resistance in Brooklyn, New York, NY
Amirah Mizrahi, poet and educator, New York, NY
mesha Monge-Irizarry, co-director of Education Not Incarceration; SF MOOC City commissioner, San Francisco, CA
Matthew Morgan-Brown, solidarity activist, Ottawa, CANADA
Michael Novick, People Against Racist Terror/Anti-Racist Action, Los Angeles, CA
Saffo Papantonopoulou, New School Students for Justice in Palestine, New York, NY
Susan Pashkoff, Jews Against Zionism, London, UK
Tom Pessah, UC Berkeley Students for Justice in Palestine, Berkeley, CA
Marie-Claire Picher, Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory (TOPLAB), New York, NY
Sylvia Posadas (Jinjirrie), Kadaitcha, Noosa, AUSTRALIA
Roland Rance, Jews Against Zionism, London, UK
Danielle Ratcliff, San Francisco, CA
Liz Roberts, War Resisters League, New York, NY
Manfred Ropschitz, UK
Jonathan Rosenhead, British Committee for the Universities of Palestine
Emma Rosenthal, contributor, Shifting Sands: Jewish Women Confront the Israeli Occupation, Los Angeles, CA
Penny Rosenwasser, PhD, Oakland, CA
Suzanne Ross, Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, The Riverside Church Prison Ministry, New York, NY
Gabriel San Roman, Orange County Weekly, Orange County, CA
Ian Saville, performer and lecturer, London, UK
Joel Schwartz, CSEA retiree/AFSCME, New York, NY
Tali Shapiro, Anarchists Against the Wall, Boycott From Within, Tel Aviv, OCCUPIED PALESTINE
Simona Sharoni, SUNY, author, Gender & the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Plattsburgh, NY
Jaggi Singh, No One Is Illegal-Montreal/Solidarity Across Borders, Montréal, CANADA
Michael S. Smith, board member, Center for Constitutional Rights, New York, NY
Pierre Stambul, Union juive française pour la paix (French Jewish Union for Peace), Paris, FRANCE
Muffy Sunde, Los Angeles, CA
Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of Jacobin, Bronx, NY
Tadamon! (http://www.tadamon.ca/), Montréal, CANADA
Ian Trujillo, atheist, Los Angeles, CA
Gabriella Turek, PhD, Auckland, NEW ZEALAND
Henry Walton, SEIU, retired, Los Angeles, CA
Bill Weinberg, New Jewish Resistance, New York, NY
Abraham Weizfeld, author, The End of Zionism and the liberation of the Jewish People, Montreal, CANADA
Ben White, author, Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination, and Democracy, Cambridge, UK
Laura Whitehorn, former political prisoner, NYS Task Force on Political Prisoners, New York, NY
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, founding member, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-BIG)
Asa Winstanley, journalist for Electronic Intifada, Al-Akhbar and others, London, UK
Miriam Yagud, Gloucestershire, ENGLAND
Ziyaad Yousef, solidarity activist

* List in formation
* Organizations listed for identification purposes only
* Contact us at: antiracistantizionist@yahoo.com
Postscript:

This text is not intended as a comprehensive critique of Gilad Atzmon’s politics. It was written quickly by some North American anti-imperialists who learned of Atzmon’s 2012 speaking tour just days before it was to begin in late February 2012. At first it was thought it would be signed by just a few people, but the initiative quickly took on a life of its own, being posted to the web and to multiple listservs, discussed via email and on Facebook, and elsewhere, even before the wording had been finalized or a decision had been made as to how to use it (the initial assumption had been that it would be passed on to organizers with far less fanfare). Instead of a few signatures, within a week there were dozens, and emails continue to arrive from people wishing to sign on. We believe that this speaks to the deep frustration that many of us feel when confronted with Atzmon’s anti-Jewish beliefs, which constitute an affront to our anti-racist principles, as well as a distraction from the essential tasks of opposing colonialist genocide and Israeli apartheid. What this response makes clear is that for many anti-imperialists, opposing such racism remains essential to building a movement against imperialism and the myriad forms of oppression that both feed on and are fed by it.

Any subsequent news or information about this initiative will appear here on the Three Way Fight website (threewayfight.blogspot.com). Those wishing to endorse or discuss this initiative, or for more information, should email antiracistantizionist@yahoo.com. We wish to reiterate that we consider many of those promoting Atzmon’s work to be allies, but would ask that they reconsider their decision to do so. This is not a call for censorship, but for consistency and accountability.
________________________________________
[1] Gilad Atzmon, “Tribal Marxism for Dummies,” originally published in June 2009, republished on his Web site on April 24, 2011.
[2] Many more quotes like these could be provided, but we assume this is enough to show that these are not out-of-context or out-of-character remarks. If not, readers may wish to peruse the section of Atzmon’s website on “Jewishness” at www.gilad.co.uk/writings/category/jewishness
[3] Gilad Atzmon, “Tribal Marxism for Dummies,” Atlantic Free Press, July 2, 2009.
[4] Anayat Durrani, “Exposing Dangerous Myths,” Interview with Gilad Atzmon, originally published in Al-Ahram Weekly (May 19-25, 2011), republished on Atzmon’s Web site on May 19, 2011.
[5] Gilad Atzmon, “Swindler’s List: Zionist Plunder and the Judaic Bible,” Redress Information & Analysis, April 5, 2008.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Gilad Atzmon, “An Interesting Exchange With A Jewish Anti Zionist,” Atzmon’s Web site, August 17, 2011.
[9] Gilad Atzmon, “The Herem Law in the context of Jewish Past and Present,” Atzmon’s Web site, July 16, 2011.
[10] “Herem” is a Hebrew word that refers to banning or excluding someone; it is also the name of the repressive legislation Israel recently passed to enable punitive lawsuits against those calling for a boycott of the apartheid state. For Atzmon, this law is just one more example of Zionism’s Jewish uniqueness (guess he never heard of SLAPPs), as he concludes that “this is what Jews do best: destroying, excluding, excommunicating, silencing, boycotting, sanctioning. After all, Jews have been doing this for centuries.”
[11] Ibid.
[12] Gilad Atzmon, “A Warning From The Past,” Atzmon’s Web site, May 26, 2011.
[13] Quoted in Shabana Syed, “Time for World to Confront Israel: Gilad Atzmon,” Arab News, June 14, 2010.
[14] Gilad Atzmon, “Jewish Ideology and World Peace,” Atzmon’s Web site, June 7, 2010.
[15] Tony Greenstein, “Bookmarks & Invitation to Gilad Atzmon & Holocaust Denial,” JustPeaceUK, Yahoo! Groups, June 9, 2005.
[16] “Zero Authors’ Statement on Gilad Atzmon,” Lenin’s Tomb, September 26, 2011.


Some reviews of Gilad Atzmon,  The Wandering Who?

Deborah Maccoby

Gabriel Ash

Tony Greenstein

Richard Kuper


 


Deborah Maccoby

In the very beginning of this book, Gilad Atzmon tells us about his grandfather, a former prominent commander in the Irgun who had, Atzmon admits, “a tremendous influence over me in my early days”. Atzmon’s grandfather hated “anything not Jewish”, but “more than anything, though, my grandfather hated Jewish leftists….as a follower of right wing revisionist Zionist Zeev Jabotinsky, my Grandfather obviously realised that Leftist philosophy together with any form of Jewish value system is a contradiction in terms. Being a veteran right-wing terrorist as well as a proud Jewish hawk, he knew very well that tribalism can never live in peace with humanism and universalism.”

In these opening words may lie a clue to the mystery of Gilad Atzmon. He claims to have entirely rejected his grandfather’s chauvinism and to have become a humanist and universalist – but it is clear that his grandfather retains his “tremendous influence” over him. Like his grandfather, Atzmon hates Jewish leftists more than anything else and insists that it is impossible both to have a strong sense of Jewish identity (which he calls “tribalism”) and to be a humanist and universalist. Thus he devotes almost a whole chapter [Chapter 8] to attacking the founders of the Jewish Socialist Group, David Rosenberg and Julia Bard, writing about their claim on their website to be both Socialists and part of the Jewish community: “reading these lines rings a bell. It was actually my grandfather, the right-wing, racist Irgun commander terrorist, who insisted that ‘Jewish Socialism’ is not only inconsistent, it is deceitful to the bone”.

Atzmon’s Israeli and Zionist upbringing is very apparent in his arrogant contempt for the Jews of the “galut” (exile). Many (though not all) early Zionists had a very disparaging view of Diaspora Jews, as abnormal and weak, and believed that Zionism would create a new type of Jew who would be “normal” and just like everyone else. For all his claim to be anti-Zionist, Atzmon argues several times in this book that Zionism in its beginning was a promising movement that could have eradicated the evil of “Jewishness” but unfortunately it was taken over by “Jewishness” and this is why it has failed and Israel has become so oppressive of the Palestinians.

Atzmon’s own solution to the problem of “Jewishness” seems to be that most Jews should assimilate into the Gentile world, leaving only anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jews to remain as Jews. He claims that becoming a jazz musician has enabled him “to become an ordinary human being”.

Atzmon insists that in attacking the evil of “Jewishness” he is not being antisemitic, because he is not referring to Jews as a race, people or ethnic group and is also not referring to Judaism as a religion. He seems to have nothing against anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jews. He does, however, trace “Jewishness” back to the verses in Deuteronomy about the genocide of the Canaanites, and he does not seem to think that Judaism has much to do with universalism and humanism. But he would probably argue that he only attacks Judaism in so far as it is infected with “Jewishness”.

What, then, does he mean by “Jewishness”? It is, apparently, a secular ideology (though capable of merging itself with Judaism): “Jewishness is an ethnocentric ideology driven by exclusiveness, exceptionalism, racial supremacy and a deep inherent inclination towards segregation”. And in another definition Atzmon describes Zionism (in the sense of Zionism as taken over by “Jewishness”): “it is not a local movement, supported by some enthusiastic lobbies around the world, but a global matrix that possesses the capacity to shape and reshape the notion of the Jewish ghetto, to form and reform the dialectic of Chosen-ness, to balance the emerging tension between insularity and openness, yet to include most Jews. Zionism is a global network with no head, it is a spirit – spirit, unfortunately, cannot be defeated. Yet it must be exposed for what it is.” As this network “includes most Jews”, it is difficult to see how this concept differs from the classic antisemitic idea of the Jewish world-conspiracy.

Atzmon’s particular hatred is not, however, reserved for Zionists but, as stated earlier, for Jewish left-wingers – Jewish anti-Zionists or Jewish opponents to Israeli government policies. He argues that these people are really acting as part of the global network of Jewishness and Zionism but are particularly bad because they claim tn be dissidents and to be both Jewish and humanist/universalist. (I should declare an interest here, as I am a member of the Executive Committee of Jews for Justice for Palestinians).

Atzmon denies that he is talking about a conspiracy, because, he says “everything is in the open” (even though he does seem to imply that most members of the network or “organismus” are acting unconsciously). He argues that Alan Greenspan and Milton Friedman have been acting “in the open” as part of this “spirit” or “organismus” in bringing about the world financial crisis. I would have thought the very title of Chapter Two – “Credit Crunch or Zio-punch?” would be enough to alert readers about what kind of book this is.

Which brings me on to a further – this time completely unexplained – mystery: why this book has been endorsed by John Mearsheimer. In their book “The Israel Lobby”, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt insist that the term should be “Israel Lobby”, not “Jewish Lobby”, because a) only a small minority of the American Jewish community, even though a rich and influential minority, is involved in the Lobby and most American Jews do not agree with its policies; b) the Lobby also comprises many Christian Zionists. Yet Atzmon has no qualms about equating Israeli government policies with the world Jewish communities and saying that the evil global network “includes most Jews”.

Atzmon evidently thinks he is being very original and daring in writing “65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz we should be able to ask – why? Why were the Jews hated? Why did European people stand against their neighbours?” In fact, the question of the causes of European antisemitism and of the Holocaust has been asked and discussed many times. Atzmon’s implication, of course, is that Jews were hated in Europe because of the evil of “Jewishness” – thus he associates Israel’s oppressiveness with “the events that led to the Holocaust”, asking “Is there anything that we know nowadays about Jewish culture that may help us to understand the Jewish past and Jewish suffering? Can Israeli behaviour help us throw light on the events that led to the Holocaust, or other instances of persecution of Jews?” But he does not explain why it was that in India and China Jews were not hated at all and in the Muslim world Jews experienced very little hatred compared to that shown towards them in Christian Europe. A major and convincing explanation for the hatred shown towards Jews in Christian Europe is the role that Jews were given in the Christian myth, as an accursed people that had killed the divine Son of God.

Without coming out openly as a Holocaust denier, Atzmon flirts with Holocaust denial, claiming that the Holocaust “is not a historical narrative, freely debated by historians, intellectuals and ordinary people” and calling for it to be “analysed properly”. The best answer to this was given by David Gehrig in an article – posted on the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center website on January 24th, 2008 – about Atzmon’s circulation of “Holocaust Wars”, by Paul Eisen, a 30-page defence of the Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel (and Paul Eisen is one of the people whom Atzmon thanks in the Acknowledgements). Gehrig writes in this piece: “But let’s be clear: if you start saying things like ‘why is investigating the Holocaust taboo’ you have bought into the Holocaust denier frame, which is wrong for two reasons. One is that investigating the Holocaust is not taboo; the second is what Holocaust deniers are doing isn’t ‘investigating’ but lying.”

For the whole excellent piece by Gehrig see here.

I have given this book one star because it is quite well-written – which only makes its racism even worse.

I don’t think this book should be banned – I am on the whole against any book being banned. In any case much of “The Wandering Who?” consists of rehashed articles by Atzmon that are available on the Internet; and to have them together is actually helpful to those trying to make some sense of Atzmon’s thinking – no easy task, as he tends to work by insinuation and implication. But it is very disturbing that John Mearsheimer and Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories – who are definitely not antisemites themselves – have been taken in by this pernicious and antisemitic book. This shows how dangerous Atzmon is to the Palestinian cause and how good he is at pulling the wool over people’s eyes. So I think the book must be exposed for what it is.


Gabriel Ash

This is book has been widely accused of antisemitism and I concur, but that is the least of its problem. It is a concoction of non-sense, non-sequiturs, ignorance and empty pretense, as I will show with a detailed example. Only one, unfortunately, because explicating fallacies takes a lot more effort than making them.

From page 81:

“What Zionists think of themselves is not very interesting; far more intriguing is the duality referred to above, the chasm between who they think they are and what they actually are, between self-image and public image, consciousness and unconsciousness. Unconsciousness, says Lacan, is the `discourse of the other’, which is very much the male fear of impotence. Rather than the anxiety induced by the fear of being caught malfunctioning, it is the fear of being known as dysfunctional. The real terror here is the unbearable threat that the fiasco may become public knowledge.”

Well, later on Atzmon chides Israelis for not reading Lacan. Maybe he is projecting, maybe he should take his own advice and actually read what he claims to have read and use as theory.

Lacan does not use the terms `unconsciousness’ and `consciousness’ Atzmon attributes him. He uses `the unconscious’ and `the subject.’ Since the unconscious is Freud’s (and Lacan’s) central theoretical concept, mangling it is the equivalent of referring to Einstein’s “theory of relatives,” or the centrality of “classic struggle” in Marxism. Nor did Lacan say that unconsciousness is “the discourse of the other.” He said that “the unconscious is the discourse of the Other.” Capitalization is important, since `Other’ and `other’ are in fact opposing concepts for Lacan. The other (uncapitalized) is the object of desire and stands in an imaginary relation with the ego. This fundamentally narcissistic relation is that which Lacan identifies in the act of gazing at oneself in the mirror. The narcissistic relation interrupts the other relation, that between the subject and the Other. The Other (capitalized) is the symbolic order, language and the primary law of signification and desire, which constitutes the subject and is inaccessible to it. Atzmon attributes to Lacan almost the precise opposite of Lacan’s concept of the unconscious.

Therefore, “the unconscious is the discourse of the Other” refers to the unconscious as that which is both at the core of subjectivity and related to as alien and inaccessible to it, being the external and constitutive symbolic order of language. By no stretch of interpretation can it mean `what CNN and Press TV say about me that I don’t know’, which is how Atzmon uses the term `unconsciousness.’

Lacan’s writings can be dauntingly complex. One could argue they are useless, and I will respectfully disagree. But Atzmon claims Lacan is important and uses him to sound “intellectual”, when he not only doesn’t understand his ideas, but didn’t even bother to read him at the most elementary level. This is intellectual imposture and contempt for the readers (unfortunately, it appears that the contempt is justified, a book gets the readers it deserve).

But let’s examine the “theory” on its own merit. How can “unconsciousness” be “the male fear of impotence”? Isn’t unconsciousness supposed to be, well, unconscious? Are men not aware that they’d rather not be impotent? Are they not aware of being impotent when they are? And how can one seriously argue that fear of impotence is only due to concern for what other people think? these are baseless, patently false assertions.

Armed with this fake Lacanian cant, Atzmon uses “unconsciousness” to explain both why Israel barred journalists from Gaza during operation Cast Lead and why Israel sought to hide the incompetence of its army during the war of Lebanon in 2006.

“At the time of the 2006 Lebanon war, the Israelis’ `discourse of the other’ encompassed CNN, Sky TV, BBC and the West in general….this gulf between the confident Israeli self-image and the total contempt of the other is exactly where the neurosis of Yehoshua, Oz, Grossman and the majority of Israelis came into play.”

and

“Two and half years after its military flop in Lebanon, Israel found itself once again in the midst of a second disastrous war that it had launched.This was Operation Cast Lead (2008), a total war against the people of Gaza and their democratically-elected leadership, Hamas. Along the campaign,Israel attempted to implement the lesson of the 2006 war. I think, probably optimistically, that by then, somebody at the state hasbara bureau must have read Lacan. The Israelis would try to save themselves from fully grasping who they are and what they do by blocking out every possible mirror.Consequently the IDF barred all foreign media from entering Gaza…”

and

“it is not the idea of being unethical that torments Israelis and their supporters, but the idea of being `caught out’ as such”

Note also that Atzmon claims that Israelis are both trying to hide from themselves their unethical behavior (which implies a recognition of the value that they transgressed, otherwise why hide it from themselves), and that they are only concerned about not getting caught (in which case, they should have no psychological incentive to not be aware of what they did.)

Both these mutually exclusive mental states are supposed to resemble “the male fear of impotence.” Try to work this through for yourself!

To add the last “evidence” above, Atzmon misreads a Coen Brothers’ film, A Serious Man, arguing that

“In the dream, Larry is confronted with his guilt through his Goy neighbour. Rather than the fear of being unethical, it is the fear of being caught out as unethical that torments Larry. It is the `discourse of the other’ (the gun-toting neighbour) that introduces Larry unconsciously to a sense of guilt. I link this back to the case of Israel: it is not the idea of being unethical that torments Israelis and their supporters, but the idea of being `caught out’ as such.”

If you’ve seen A Serious Man (highly recommended) you know this is twisted. Larry is deeply concerned about his guilt or lack thereof, not at all about how others see him. But let’s put that aside, as most readers probably did not see the film, and focus on the conclusion and how it is used.

How does Atzmon justify using an insight from the film (in which nothing is said about Israel) and applying it to Israel?

“…A Serious Man delivers a clear message regarding Israel and Zionism, for Israel is the Jewish state and, despite the Zionist promise to build a civilised nation, it functions as a Jewish ghetto, subject to all the symptoms of abnormality conveyed by the Coens.”

In other words, the word ‘Jewish’ applies to both Larry’s social world, and to Israel (a Jewish state), that is all. If Israel is a Jewish state, then a meaning gleaned from any work of art about Jews applies to Israel. For example, since Woody Allen has affairs with young girls in his films, then we could say that Israeli culture is particularly pedophilic. That is the level of Atzmon’s logic. If Jewish food is salty, that Israel, being the Jewish state, is also salty.

If these are not enough holes in the argument, consider that all this pyrotechnics is used to explain why Israel barred journalists from Gaza. As if other states, when they commit massacres, invite the international press to watch. Do we really need fake psychoanalysis and lousy film criticism to explain the tendency of governments to commit their crimes away from the camera?

Returning to antisemitism, note that Atzmon argues here that Jews obey laws only out of fear of being caught (implying that non-Jews are the other way, endowed with an internalized moral outlook). This racist generalization about Jews is made on the basis of a film and a vivid imagination. There is also complete ignorance of sociology: there are many studies on why people obey the law, and it certainly true that both internalized values and fear of consequences play a role for all people, and the exact mix differs according to so many variables. The idea that the divide line is between Jews and non Jews is both racist and objectively false.

This is just one example. The book has no substance, not in (twisted) facts, not in (fake, misunderstood) theory, not in (cockamamie) interpretation. It is indeed a testimony to Atzmon’s inner life and obsessions, his “journey” from the racism of his Irgun terrorist grandfather to the antisemitism of a section of the loony white nationalist far-right. If that journey is of interest, than you should definitely read it.

The book is promoted by people who are eager to suspense their disbelief and ignore the trashiness for the sake of getting their prejudices confirmed.

If you want a book that trades in prejudice about Jews, at least find one that is moderately coherent.


Tony Greenstein

A Worthless Book – Devoid of All Originality

Introduction

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

This review for Amazon can be found here

I would also recommend two other reviews by Deborah Maccoby and Gabriel Ash. Gabriel Ash’s review, which I mention in a previous article, appeared first on jewssanfrontieres blog.


Richard Kuper

Gilad Atzmon, jazz musician and writer, and former Israeli soldier (serving in the Israeli Airforce Orchestra) has written increasingly strident and provocative articles in recent years, culminating in his recently published The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics.

The core of his work is an attack on what he calls Jewish-ness, the attribute of all Jews other than those for whom Judaism is solely a religion or those “human beings who happen to be of Jewish origin”. The rest, those who believe that being Jewish consists of more than or other than this, all stand accused of “put[ting] their Jewish-ness over and above all of their other traits”. These Jews –  the overwhelming majority of Jews one assumes –  whether in Israel or the diaspora, whether Zionist or anti-Zionist all are bundled together, united by some essential Jewish-ness. The Wandering Who? is a search for this essence.

“‘Jews’ do not have a centre or headquarters”. Jews are probably not aware of their individual roles “the way an organ is not aware of its role within the complexity of the organism”. (21) America is “enslaved by ideologies inherently associated with a foreign power” (26). They are “the enemy within” (27). “Zionism is uniquely pernicious…” (52).

What Atzmon rails against is the possibility of being a Jew and a human being: “The Haskalah [enlightened] Jew is destined to live in a dual, deceptive mode, if not practically in a state of schizophrenia… [S/he] is deceiving his or her God when at home, and misleading the Goy once in the street.” (55-56) Oddly, no-one else seems to suffer from this dualism in Atzmon’s view; he never talks of how you can’t be a Christian and American, a Muslim and French, a Buddhist and British. Other people have “communities”; the Jews have only “a tribe”.

And Jews, particularly leftwing  activists for whom Atzmon reserves his most extreme venom, may “try desperately and unsuccessfully to bridge the gap between tribal commitment and the universal call…[but]… are doomed to failure.” He quotes his Irgun grandfather approvingly when he insisted that “‘Jewish socialism” is…deceitful to the bone”. (75) Such Jews talk of cosmopolitanism, solidarity, and international working-class but “often seem to prefer to operate within ‘Jews only’ racially-oriented cells such as the Bund, Jewish Socialists or even Jews for Boycott of Israeli Goods”. (116) For him a “Jewish leftist” is a contradiction in terms, but why more so than a Muslim socialist or a French socialist is not even raised.

Atzmon’s philosophical sleight of hand is used to raid any and every source to feed his phantastical speculations, from Herzl, to antisemite Otto Weininger, from Ben Gurion to Shlomo Sand. What to make of the following, in the context of a discussion of Shlomo Sand?

“If Jews are not a race and have nothing to do with Semitism, then ‘anti-Semitism’ is, categorically, an empty signifier. In other words, criticism of Jewish nationalism, Jewish lobbying and Jewish power can only be realised as a legitimate critique of ideology, politics and practice.” (145)

Atzmon is at his most bizarre when dealing with the Holocaust. Wanting the Holocaust to be a subject that is open for discussion, rather than Holocaust denial being criminalised, is a position held by many. But for Atzmon to call for this is not nearly enough. Instead he sees Jewish concerns with the Holocaust as a new form of Jewish-ness, a new religion which replaces Jehovah and in which ‘‘the Jews’ worship themselves”, in which “‘the Jew’, as the new Jewish God, redeems himself or herself”. (149f). What questions need to be asked? Among others, “65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz we should be able to ask – why? Why were the Jews hated?” (175)

But Atzmon’s inconsistencies are everywhere. This new ‘Holocaust  religion’, a few pages after its introduction, has mutated into something that “is probably as old as the Jews themselves”(153). Fear of the world is now the essence of Jewish-ness: to “be a Jew is to see a threat in every Goy.” (162)

Time and again, Atzmon maintains he is not being antisemitic, merely telling it like it is. The selection of material as illustration tells another story. There is no Jewish conspiracy asserts Atzmon often  – it is all out in the open. So, for example, who are selected as the villains of the piece with regard to the Iraq war but David Miliband, Lord Levy, David Aaronovitch and Nick Cohen (169-70)? Without them no doubt, Britain would not have been involved… The Lord Levys of this world “have been doing it for three thousand years” since Mordechai and Esther! For it is, says Atzmon, the Book of Esther that “conveys the essence and metaphysics of Jewish power”. (159)

What are the problems with America? Jews – Alan Greenspan in one place, Milton Friedman in another, Paul Wolfowitz, elsewhere. Even the title of the last section of the book, “Connecting the Dots”, is in the same mould. The dots are – obviously – those of Jewish influence, Jewish power, Jewish self-interest. Jewish-ness.

Despite all Atzmon’s protestations to the contrary, his book will undoubtedly encourage those who see or wish to see “Jews” as the problem. It will legitimise antisemitism if it is not combatted.

All page references are to Gilad Atzmon, The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics, Winchester, UK and Washington, USA: Zero Books 2011

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