Tony Greenstein | 27 May 2012 | Post Views:

A Question to the Palestinian Right – Where Does Your Loyalty Lie?  With a Gilad Atzmon or with the Supporters of BDS?

Atzmon and his poisonous friend Sarah Gillespie

Blowing his own trumpet
Omar Barghouti
Atzmon Believes They Should Perform Unmolested – Unlike the Freedom Theatre in Jenin

Gillespies  rang against Omar Barghouti
Zionist poster

When I used to point to the fact that all the arguments of Atzmon led in one direction people tended to be dismissive.  Not any more.  Atzmon’s arguments, that to be Jewish is to be a Zionist, that focussing on Jews outside Israel as the cause of Zionism is to look through the telescope from the wrong end, take on a certain relevance now he has come out against BDS.  It let the real criminals off the hook and excuses imperialism and Zionism.  Many people who should have known better asked me ‘but surely Atzmon supports the Palestinians.  He even does benefits for Medical Aid for Palestine (no longer!).’

The logic of Atzmon’s argument was underwhelming.  Focussing on Jews as Jews, no matter how wretched and abhorrent the Jonathan Hoffmans and Alan Dershowitzes of this world are, was to miss the point.  It isn’t the Zionist cacophony in this country or Aipac in the USA that ‘controls’ Israel, rather it is US geo-political interests and its representation via groups like Christians United for Israel.  Jews provided what was becoming an increasingly thin cover for the US military – industrial complex.

It is no coincidence that when activists are gearing up to picket and protest against Israel’s national theatre, Habimah, Atzmon and his poisonous wretch of a sidekick, Sarah Gillespie, spend their time attacking BDS, in particular making vicious personal attacks on Omar Barghouti,.  Omar is one of the most courageous and principled people I’ve met.  He is a founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).  Yet he is criticised for studying at Tel Aviv Univesity.  Apparently he should be boycotting his own education.  Perhaps he should boycott Israeli food and starve too!

It was always recognised in South Africa that those we aimed to help and give solidarity to, Black South Africans had no choice but to buy South African goods, to work in their mines etc.  Instead, in the guise of being supermoralists, Atzmon and Gillespie, make demands on Palestinians whilst finding excuses to do nothing themselves.  Indeed this was a prime argument of the supporters of Apartheid in South Africa.  There was nothing they wished to do than discredit the opponents of Apartheid.

PACBI released a statement branding the calls to expel Barghouti as
McCarthyist“.   PACBI defended Barghouti by asserting
that requiring Palestinians to boycott Israeli universities themselves as a prerequisite to endorsing the BDS call is “an absurd position, given the complete lack of alternatives available”
to them and that it would effectively amount to requiring Palestinians
to deny themselves education. PACBI’s statement also adds that “Nelson
Mandela studied law at the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, one
of the most notorious apartheid institutes then. Similarly, leaders of
the anti-colonial resistance movement in India and Egypt, among many
other countries, received their education at British universities at the
height of the colonial era.” 
But Atzmon and Gillespie are nothing if not stupid as well as ignorant. 

But let us deal with the question of studying at Tel Aviv University.  Firstly we don’t and never have supported boycotting Israelis as Israelis.  Otherwise we would boycott Israeli anti-Zionist academics.  Absurd.  You don’t boycott friends of the struggle.  In fact we don’t boycott individuals but institutions.  Apart from it being directly discriminatory it makes no sense.  People like Professor Avi Shlaim or Ilan Pappe have contributed enormously to the struggle.  They have provided the analysis and documentation from Israeli archives that have helped us understand the Nakba and what led up to it better.  What purpose would be served by boycotting them?

Boycott is a tactic not an abstract moral value.  I would have, unlike the Zionists who preferred to trade with them, boycotted Nazi Germany.  Why?  To support anti-fascist Germans as well as Jews.  What purpose would have been solved to have boycottted German socialists, those who were not already in Dachau concentration camp?  Even the most wooden-headed moralist would understand the stupidity of that.  What Atzmon and Gillespie are saying is that we should boycott those who suffer most.

Do we say Arab Israelis should boycott Israeli universities?  Of course not.  We demand that Arabs are not discriminated against in Israeli higher education not that they receive no education whatsoever.  When Omar is called a hypocrite for attending an Israeli university by Gillespie, she is doing no more than echoing Zionist propaganda. 

Engage, the anti-boycott Zionist group, set up to oppose the Boycott, has this to say.  In fact it makes exactly the same points as Gillespie: ‘But Barghouti has decided not to boycott Israeli academia himself.  He is now enrolled to study for a PhD at Tel Aviv University.  What is “imperative” for others is, apparently, not quite so “imperative” for himself.’ 

Likewise from another Zionist site we have Omar Barghouti: Apartheid Hypocrite

But none of this is new.  In an interview ‘Tangling with the Oppressor – What really matters is what Palestinians Do’ in  July 5, 2007, just after the academic boycott began in earnest, Atzmon made clear his views on the boycott in an ‘ with his then friend and collaborator, the anti-Semitic Mary Rizzo:  

‘interfering with academic freedom isn’t exactly something I can blindly advocate. … I am against any form of gatekeeping or book burning. But it goes further, I actually want to hear what Israelis and Zionists have to say. I want to read their books. I want to confront their academics.’ ‘to impose a boycott is to employ a boycotter.’  

To Atzmon it has been a consisten theme:  Boycott is no different from (Nazi) book burning, a line that comes directly from the Zionists again.  But at the time I believed that this might be partly due to the fact that the main proponents of an academic boycott, like Sue Blackwell, were vehement opponents of Atzmon’s anti-Semitism.  Atzmon at that time had been subject to some much criticism.  He continued that ‘When it comes to an academic boycott I would expect the inquisitor in charge to be a scholar of great esteem. This isn’t the case obviously. The reason is simple. As it naturally happens, major intellectuals are engaged in scholarship rather than in union politics, working class and proletarian activity. Seemingly, it isn’t the leading minds in British academic life and ethical thinking who are leading the Boycott. In fact it is the other way around, the boycott is led by some minor academics.’   This was a pointed reference to Dr Sue Blackwell, who at that stage had yet to complete her Ph D thesis.

But I was mistaken.  Atzmon was sincere in his opposition to an academic boycott.

Sarah Gillespie’s doesn’t pretend, like Atzmon, to be an intellectual.  She is his foul-mouthed rottweiller as well as being his ‘musical partner… an incredible musician. But she is also an astonishing writer and a real friend.’

On his new ‘deliberation’ site, Atzmon makes clear his own position:  ‘I think that we should all say NO to Book Burning , Zionist or BDS… the principle is the same and it is always wrong !!!’   And it is clear.  Atzmon is opposed to the ONLY tactic that has the Zionist deligitimisation indusry, the Reut Institute and all the other hasbarists up in arms. 

BDS as was the case in South Africa is the only game in town.  It has all but been outlawed by the Israeli government.  To support boycott in Israel is to court unlimited damages in tort.  This an unprecedented attack on a political opinion and even within the Zionist movement there are those who had taken exception to this attack on the supporters of BDS.  In Britain and the USA even those non-Zionist peace organisations like JfJP and Jewish Voice for Peace, which have been reluctant to support BDS, have realised that without pressure the Israeli government will not reform.  They have slowly but surely moved towards a boycott position as has the Co-operative Group.

Anyone who remembers South Africa knows that it was the Sporting and Cultural Boycotts that led to the economic boycott.  The former attacked the psychological siege mentalit of the Whites, making it clear to them that their practices were disapproved and their days numbered.  So it is with Israel.  Of course the more thick-headed Beitar supporter won’t get it, anymore than the numbskull Afrikaaner die-had did.  But the businessman, the financier, the banker and capitalist certainly do understand it.

If you want to understand the impact of Boycott you could do worse than read the semi-official Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram Peaceful blitzkreig and Israeli counter-attacks

I was pointed to a virulent and venomoys attack on BDS and Omar Barghouti by Gillespie on Ben White’s blog.

I can only pay tribute to both his and Simone McDonnel for the way they kept their cool with the racist ignoramus who makes it clear, as a sub-text, that Omar Barghouti is now also the subject of the Atzmon/Gillespie vendetta for daring to sign the letter Granting no Quarter’ criticising Atzmon’s Zionism and anti-Semitism.

The exchange is interesting, not least for the misconception that the anti-Semitic Gillespie (& Atzmon)  have concerning Boycott.  Gillespie makes her opposition to a Boycott clear when she says that:

‘Prohibiting Israeli actors from performing Shakespeare’s most anti-Semitic play will have zero impact on those suffering in Palestine.  Boycotting goods makes sense, boycotting artists and academics is a form of book burning.’ 

She too characterises Boycott as book-burning, something the Zionists aren’t shy of alleging.  But the idea that it ‘will have zero impact on those suffering in Palestine’ is a lie.  Anything which demoralises the Afrikaaner in the Israeli psyche cannot help but undermine the settler spirit.

And then we have the absurdity of Gillespie’s position.  ‘Following the logic of the cultural/academic boycott we wouldk have to boycott   Palestinian BDS campaigner Omar Barghouti who currently studies in Tel Aviv University.  We would also have to boycott Shlmo Sands who’s done more than anyone to dismantle the nation of belonging to a ‘chosen land.’….’  Of course this is twaddle.  The aim of a Boycott is to lend support to Arab Israelis and campaigners like Omar Barghouti, not to further intensify the oppression they experience.  And likewise we do not boycott Israeli anti-Zionists.  In fact we do not boycott Israelis unless it is because of their overt racism.  Ze’ev Sternhell is a Zionist.  He considers himself, rightly to be an anti-fascist and was the target of a bomb attack by settlers, injuring him, a year ago.  I would oppose a boycott of him.  He is wrong about Zionism but to boycott him would be wrong.

Simone McDonnel asks: ‘Why would OB and SS have to be boycottted specifically?  I don’t think that follows the cultural/academic boycott at all.  The boycott is on institutions, not individuals, and as you mention Sands and Barghouti play an exceptional role in undermining the racism and crimes of the apartheid state and institutions in which they study/work.’  Unanswerable logic but we then see the real agenda of Rottweiller Gillestpie.

Just like the good Engage-style Zionist she is, Gillespie attacks the ‘Hypocrite Barghouti’ for being a student at Tel-Aviv University.  Ludicrously she suggests, following her own lack of logic that ‘The boycott of Israel academia must invariably include both figures.’   And we come to the crux of her concerns.  ‘I certainly don’t recall the Apartheid regime enjoying the most powerful lobby group in the US.  I don’t recall the Apartheid Friends of Labour Org in the UK – nor do I recall British lawyers abandoning Universal Jurisdiction   to allow SA leaders to trvel freely.  In short, Israel is uique in that it is maintained by Zionists across the globe on the Left and the Right.  Boycottting academics and artists who happen to be born within the permiters of Israeli sovereignty is futile.  Who cares if some art-house Israeli movie gets refused from European film festivals when you’ve got Steven Spielberg’s Munich growwing  $130,358,911 worldwide?’

Well Palestinians care.  And I don’t recall South African politicians ever being subject to the fear of arrest.  They didn’t need a lobby but they did have one in the financial and commercial world.

And there you have it.  It is Jews as Jews, like Spielberg who should really be boycotted. This is indeed an anti-Semitic boycott.  And furthermore, it is counterposed to a boycott of Israel.  It is Jews outside Israel who are responsible for Israel’s actions.  It is they, not Israel, which should be boycottted.  Simone McDeonnell is nothing if not patient.

As for cultural boycotts being futile.  I find it confusing that anyone who is pro-palestinian and anti-zionist would not support mass campaigns that expose Israel and it’s apartheid crimes to the world.When the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra was interrupted by pro palestine protestors in London last year it made world-wide news, and it is evident in the past few years, that campaigns like BDS are drawing attention to Israel and it’s brutalities in a way that is shifting opinions. The mass protests against the Springbok Rugby team (South Africa) around the world and other such boycotts of South African sporting/cultural/academic projects etc, contribtuted significantly to world-wide condemnation of the SA aparthied regime, strenghtening the resolve of SA workers to smash it.’

I couldn’t put it better though I don’t know if Simone is aware of the background of Gillespie and her virulent anti-Semitic background.  But she is absolutely correct.  The disruption of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra was indeed a massive success.  So successful that they threatened never to come back to the UK!! 

But this is nothing new. When BDS activists disrupted the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra Atzmon’s sent me the following e-mail (Thursday, 22 September 2011, 17:00): 

‘We loved your opposition and we also loved your Jewish campaign against the Jewish philharmony is never boring you :)’  and later the same night Atzmon explained his hostility to the Albert Hall action.

‘Do you really think that BDS enthusiasts are blind to your Judeo centric actions and motivations? How are you going to protect Pls artists from similar Zionist actions… tragically, you are not Pls solidarity campaigners, you are merely anti Zionists.’

The question is how long a few Palestinians are going to continue to give support to the Zionist Atzmon whose association with the Palestinians has more to do with his ego than the Palestinians.  Atzmon’s only support to the Palestinians has been to play at charitable concerts, which we have never picketted, though we would prefer groups not to use an anti-Semite to raise funds.  But now Atzmon and his side-kick Gillespie are actively scabbing on the BDS campaign and also attacking the key person who had been identified with that campaign, Omar Barghouti.

The question Professor Samir Abed-Rabbo, Sameh Habeeb, Ramzi Baroud and others need to answer is a simple one.  Where does your loyalty lie?  To a racist Israeli émigré or to the cause of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions and those, like Omar and Ali Abunimah who have consistently fought to build it.  Are you willing to continue to be used and flattered in the cause of Israel?

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Tony Greenstein

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