Gilad Atzmon Joins with Anthony Julius to Attack Jewish Anti-Zionists
Gilad Atzmon Joins with Anthony Julius to Attack Jewish Anti-Zionists
There are a few people who have illusions that the anti-Semitic jazz player and ex-Israeli, Gilad Atzmon is an anti-Zionist. This confusion is, of course, understandable, because Atzmon purports to support the Palestinians. But supporting the Palestinians in the abstract doesn’t make one an anti-Zionist. It is quite possible to hold contradictory ideas in one’s head and to support a Jewish ‘return’ to Israel to establish a Jewish State whilst deprecating what they did when they got there.
Indeed there are many liberal Zionists who will weep tears of pity at the fate of the Palestinians whilst saying that it was nonetheless inevitable. Indeed there are many people who support the existence of the Israeli State whilst also supporting the Palestinians. Tony Benn, for example, supports an Israeli State within 1967 borders. So too does Norman Finkelstein.
Anthony Julius was the solicitor to Princess Diana, as well as Deborah Lipstadt in the libel trial between David Irving and Penguin Books. He is also a dedicated Zionist and when the Association of University Teachers first passed a motion supporting an Academic Boycott against Haifa and Bar-Ilan Universities, it was Julius who publicly threatened to sue the AUT for defamation. But on this too he shares a lot in common with Atzmon who has publicly derided an Academic Boycott as ‘book burning’.
Anthony Julius has recently written a long 2 part article Jewish Anti-Zionism Unravelled part one: and part 2 which attempts to take to task ‘contemporary Jewish anti-Zionism’, which he argues is ‘to be interpreted as occupying a position, or a set of positions, within a new Jewish politics.’
What concerns Julius is that Jewish anti-Zionism, which had all but died out after the Holocaust, has been given a new lease of life in the wake of Israel’s 1967 War of Expansion. As Julius reminds us ‘antipathy to Zionism was one of the few positions (according to Michael B. Oren) around which, in the early 1900s, most of American Jewry could rally.’
Despite his academic pretensions, Julius is quite a simple fellow and does little to hide his real concerns. ‘This new Jewish anti-Zionism inaugurates a return for many Jews to some kind of Jewish identity. They no longer seek, as with previous generations, to relieve themselves of the burden of their Jewish origins; rather, they reassume the burden, in order further to burden their fellow Jews.’
And this is Julius’s main complaint. Instead of forsaking being Jewish, their anti-Zionism has become a mainstay of Jewish identity. Israel says it speaks out on behalf of Jews wherever they live in the world, and these people, have the chutzpah to object! Surprise surprise, this is also a concern of Gilad Atzmon. It’s no wonder that Atzmon has written what he believes is a critique of Julius’s article, but in the process finds himself in agreement with most of what he writes. who has written a favourable response Anthony Julius and a journey to the dark Zionist world .
‘Thus, it is rather depressing to admit that his deconstruction of some large sectors of the Jewish political and ideological left is more than valid. As bizarre as it may sound, in places his criticism of his dissident anti-Zionists brothers and sisters is not far at all from the discomfort expressed rather often by Palestinians and Palestinian solidarity activists concerning Jewish anti-Zionism.’
Leaving aside Atzmon’s role in speaking on behalf of Palestinians and Palestinian solidarity activists, the qualifications for which are not obvious, what Atzmon is once again doing is making it clear that in any political conflict between anti-Zionist and Zionist Jews, he stands full square with the latter.
This allows Atzmon to engage in his favourite trait of Jew-baiting. Echoing Julius’s criticisms of Independent Jewish Voices, a particular hate of both Julius and Atzmon, the latter asks queries what is meant by a secular Jewish identity: ‘what is it that he refers to? Is it his racial belonging? Is it biological determinism in play? Is it the ethnic identity or is it again the collective belief in the comforting qualities of chicken soup?’ Unsurprisingly, the one attribute that Atzmon doesn’t refer to is a political identity, because he is obsessed with the question of race (and chicken soup!).
What Julius calls ‘contentless “Jewishness”’ is for Atzmon ‘a fundamental lack of integrity within the Jewish left discourse,’. Julius’s complaint is that ‘Many anti-Zionist Jews do not consider themselves bound by an obligation of loyalty to any Jewish project. Indeed, they are not drawn to any such enterprises’; by which he means Zionist projects. For Julius, being an anti-Zionist Jew is merely denial of the existing, mainstream identity, form without substance. Atzmon unsurprisingly racialises this question: ‘what does he mean by Jewish identity? Who are the Jews, are they a racial group? Are they a cultural group?’ This is from the person who declares that he never mentions race in all his writings! (‘in the entirety of my work there is not a single reference whatsoever to race.’
What Atzmon can’t, provide an answer to, is the most obvious of all questions, viz. why Julius, who probably charges in an hour what a person on the dole gets in a month, should spend many precious hours dissecting Jewish anti-Zionism. The answer, of course is very obvious. It was the prominence of Jewish activists in the Boycott of Israel movement. Julius singles out ‘A group describing itself as “Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods” [which] writes [that]”the continuing occupation and exploitation of Palestinian land is a major obstacle to peace for Israelis and Arabs alike which has global implications for world peace” He isn’t alone in this. The Jewish Chronicle (22.6.07.) reported that at a meeting of the Board of Deputies of British Jews ‘deputies also gave vent to their anger – particularly at Jews who supported the move (for boycott).’
But in his final section, entitled (what else!) ‘The Crypto-Zionist’s Role’ Atzmon provides an answer to his question. And no prizes for the fact that it concerns himself! He believes that ‘Apparently the British Zionist academic has some Judeocentric conspiratorial expectations from his fellow dissident brothers. He would like to see them fighting the anti-Semites in the Palestinian solidarity discourse.’ So it’s not Boycott, or criticism of Israel that concerns Julius. It’s a conspiracy (naturally) anti-Semites like Atzmon!
But the difference between Julius and Atzmon is that the former is a relatively intelligent Zionist whereas Atzmon, despite the hundreds of thousands of words that he sprays around the net, is at bottom a stupid man who has convinced himself of his brilliance. Lacking the ability to present his ideas simply he dresses them up in dense and impenetrable language, full of sound and fury signifying nothing. But even if Atzmon believes that Jewish supporters of a Boycott are Zionist, Julius is under no illusions:
‘It was noted in the context of the boycott agitations, not least because the boycotters themselves loudly insisted upon it, that the boycott cause had Jewish supporters. Though not advancing fresh arguments in favour of a boycott, these Jews made two distinctive contributions to the boycott campaign. First, they maintained that as Jews they were under a moral duty to campaign for a boycott. Their Jewish conscience required them, they claimed, to side with Israel’s enemies. Second, they gave cover to non-Jewish boycotters accused of antisemitism.’
And in a lengthy footnote he cites Ghada Karmi’s “Weapon of the weak,” Ha’aretz, 14 July 2007:
“the imputation of antisemitism is a red herring, as so often is the case when Israel is criticized, and its aim, as always, is to deflect criticism. In the case of the British boycott committee, it is particularly inapt, since most of the members are Jewish”
And that is correct. At UNISON’s annual conference last year, I spoke, quite deliberately, as a Jewish anti-Zionist. It was agreed that I would speak third as it was inevitable that the main argument of the opponents of boycott would be ‘anti-Semitism’. The argument I made was quite simple. Even Atzmon should be able to understand it. Jews of all people should understand the iniquities of racism and if non-Jews opposed racism perpetrated by and in the name of Jews then that could hardly be considered anti-Semitism, without devaluing the meaning of the latter. Suffice to say the Zionists had no answer to this since the usual Nazi jibe of ‘self-hater’ might not have gone down well with delegates!
As Julius complains ‘How could these non-Jews be antisemitic, when Jews took their line too? Antisemitism, they intimated, ceases to be antisemitic when adopted by a Jew. These absurd, ignominious positions attracted only a few Jews, though they were much exploited by the boycott movement.’
And this is a real problem for the Zionists. When they are opposed by Jews in the name of anti-racism, how is it possible to label their opponents anti-Semitic? Of course this is of no concern to Atzmon, for whom anti-Semitism doesn’t exist: “Because ‘antisemite’ is an empty signifier, no one actually can be an antisemite and this includes me of course.”
And we can see, incidentally, the damage that Atzmon does to the Palestinian cause when Julius speaks of Atzmon’s ‘incontinent, malicious verbalising, which has no connection to real thought’ (and on this it is hard to disagree!) whilst associating it falsely with anti-Zionism and support for the Palestinians. Atzmon’s contribution ‘is of significance only because Atzmon nonetheless continues to be admired in anti-Zionist circles.’ Fortunately this is wishful thinking. It is difficult to find any anti-Zionists who ‘admire’ Atzmon.
Atzmon offers what passes for an analysis of anti-Zionism. ‘Though pre WWII Jewish anti-Zionism had been largely politically orchestrated and ideologically orientated, contemporary anti-Zionism and Jewish anti-Zionism in particular is not at all politically leaning.’ From which one can only conclude that the Boycott campaign, letters such as that which appeared in the Guardian 30.4.08. are not political! Such is the gibberish one has come to expect of the anti-Semitic supporters of the Palestinians. Atzmon chooses to puff up his own credentials, pleading that
‘If Julius would take a deep breath and view the list of ‘contemporary’ voices he himself had chosen to quote within his study (me included), he would notice that none of them are political activists. Neither Jacqueline Rose nor Tony Judt nor Ilan Pappe nor Oren Ben-Dor, nor Uri Davis nor myself are operating as politicians or within political cells. We all act as humanists, academics and artists.’
Well as another individual who was quoted by Julius, the idea that I am a politician is as ludicrous as the suggestion I am not a political activist. But such subtleties elude Atzmon. And none of the above, apart from the hapless Ben-Dor, would touch Atzmon with a bargepole. Pappe, Uri Davies, Jacqueline Rose and Tony Judt are political activist as well as humanists. And none of them would see any contradiction between being Jewish and supporting the Palestinians. Apart from one howler about the death of Independent Jewish Voices (strange they’ve only just held a meeting on the siege of Gaza!) Atzmon finds himself in complete agreement with Julius on any secular Jewish identity. ‘First’ he proclaims ‘there is NO “Jewish tradition of universal freedoms’ and he follows this up by arguing that those Jews who did stand in this tradition ‘were brutally expelled and ostracised by their brothers.’ without realising that they were still Jewish and that vilification from the majority doesn’t undermine the validity of minority identities.
Faithful to his habit of contradicting himself within the same article, we are told about the universalism he decries that ‘As bizarre as it may sound, once again we notice that Jewish universalism appears to operate as a maintenance project of Jewish chauvinism and tribalism.’
And when Julius parodies Jewish anti-Zionism by proclaiming that ‘It must be the Jewish quality to have no qualities at all’ Atzmon responds, not surprisingly, that ‘It is very sad to admit, but Julius has a point here.’ But where he gets it wrong, and this is the clue to all that is wrong with Atzmon’s analysis, is when he says that ‘It is rather shocking to admit that Zionist and Palestinian criticism of Jewish anti-Zionism is almost similar.’ No what is shocking is that someone who calls himself an anti-Zionist ends up agreeing with Zionist propagandists! But once again Atzmon flatters to deceive (himself). There is no Palestinian critique of Jewish anti-Zionism that is remotely similar to that of the Zionists. Atzmon once again is guilty of substituting himself for the Palestinians.
In a final section, entitled ‘The Moralizer’ Atzmon positively falls over himself in his eagerness to applaud the fact that ‘Julius is ready to pour a rain of contempt over his dissident brothers.’ Where Julius speaks of Jewish anti-Zionists being ‘enfolded in self-admiration.’ Atzmon responds that ‘The real meaning of secularism within the Jewish tribal left discourse means the replacement of ‘God-loving’ with ‘self-loving’.
Naturally Atzmon endorses what he perceives as Julius’s message: ‘It is very clear that as far as Julius is concerned, anti-Zionist Jews are not exactly ordinary human beings. They are primarily Jews and must serve their tribal interests first.’
‘Julius correctly suggests that anti-Zionist Jews fall into contradiction when they hold that while dispersion is good for the Jews, it is bad for the Palestinians, and when they demand of the Jews that they disavow ‘nationalism,’ while valuing the Palestinians’ “continuing struggle for justice;” Julius obviously hit here on some severe level of lack of integrity within the Jewish left discourse.’
The above is nothing less than a full-scale endorsement of an oft-repeated Zionist criticism that those who support a Palestinian state are being disingenuous when they deny the same right to ‘the Jews’. But to equate Jews, wherever they live, with the Palestinian nation, demonstrates above all that Atzmon’s ‘anti-Zionism’ is a self-serving myth. If Atzmon believes that Jews living outside Israel are dispersed and equivalent to the Palestinian refugees then his support for the Palestinians is a shallow exercise in hypocrisy. It has nothing to do with a ‘lack of integrity’. Both agree on one thing. Being an anti-Zionist Jew is an exercise in hypocrisy. Is it any wonder that Atzmon ends up agreeing with Julius’s critique of Jewish anti-Zionism.
‘In short, it seems as if Julius manages to establish a profound criticism of Jewish anti-Zionism. Seemingly, Jewish anti-Zionism is inconsistent to the bone. Due to the impossibility to bridge the gap between the tribal and the universal, Jewish anti-Zionism is doomed to fall either into inconsistency or lack of integrity.’
Atzmon argues that it is impossible to bridge the gap between what he calls the tribal, in fact the nationalist Jewish project Zionism, and universalism. That is of course true, but who has argued that they should be reconciled? It’s not so much that there is an inconsistency between the two, rather that they are polar opposites. The task of anti-Zionism is not to bridge the gap but to weaken the foundations of Zionism. The only lack of integrity, as well as intelligence, is that of Atzmon in managing, once again, to end up agreeing with the Zionist analysis of its opponents whilst pretending to be an anti-Zionist himself.
Is it any wonder that Atzmon concludes that ‘Zionism is a proud tribal project, it gives a new dynamic contemporary meaning to Jewish existence. As much as I do not agree with Julius’s prime agenda, I tend to agree with many points raised by him. Jewish anti-Zionism is a futile project.’ That Atzmon finds anti-Zionism, and therefore support for the Palestinians a ‘futile project’ is no surprise to many of us who have wondered what the goal of the new anti-Semites is.