Tony Greenstein | 12 October 2011 | Post Views:

Photos Taken by Brian Robinson

The Leafletters Almost Outnumbered the Audience

Last week I publicised the leafleting/picket of Atzmon’s book launch in London. It was supposed to be a surprise but I didn’t realise! In the event it was probably a wise decision.

Unfortunately, and much to my regret, a family emergency prevented me from attending. This resulted in a hilarious scene of Brian Robinson being confronted by Atzmon and accused of being me! Whether that is slander I shall leave to others to decide!

Instead about a dozen people from Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods and London ISM and other activists attended. Even more interestingly, despite the claim of Atzmon to represent Palestinians, activists and all the other non-Judaic elements in the solidarity movement, in fact the total number of those going in was about 20. With speakers it meant that the numbers of those in the audience were almost the same as those picketting outside. The only ones we recognised were Gill Kaffash and her husband of Camden PSC. Kaffash is someone who is clearly a holocaust denier, and has given consistent support to Paul Eisen, of the defunct Deir Yassin Remembered.

In his January 2008 article ‘My Life as a holocaust denier Eisen notes how he was disowned by of his friends and associates. But a few remained loyal.

‘Of course the vast majority of people simply remained silent but there were some who openly and repeatedly demonstrated their solidarity e.g. Dan McGowan, Henry Herskovitz, Gilad Atzmon, Sarah Gillespie, Israel Shamir, Francis Clark-Lowes, Gill Kaffash, Amjad Taha, Randa Hamwi Duwaji, Cambridge PSC, Rosemary Ernshaw,’

Below are comments from a number of those attending the leafleting/picket.

‘At one point I said to him, what’s he got against the Jews, why doesn’t he just get on with being a very distinguished jazz musician and saxophonist — and he shot back at me, ‘Have you read my book?’, to which I said, No, but I’d read lots of stuff by him. But he again interrupted to tell me that “Everyone wants to read my book, do you know how well it’s selling, even before its launch? Everyone is reading my book …”

At one point he was arguing with someone else and said that Jews are a race. I interjected that there’s no such thing as race, it’s a false and discredited construct. He flung out a hand, “I agree with you, yes, but for Jews it’s different, Jews ARE a race”, to which I, “What? Moroccan Jews, Russian Jews, English Jews? All one ‘race’? It’s cultural, ethnic …” No, he wouldn’t hear of it.

[in a subsequent e-mail to Brian Robinson, Atzmon has denied making any such reference and I include his comment in the interest of fairness]
‘You have obviously misheard me. I argue in my writing and in my book that though there is no such thing as Jewish race, Jewish ideology is inherently racist. I’m very clear about it. I’ve never referred to Jews as a race nor as ethnicity.’ G

He challenged us for a definition of antisemitism. I started to quote Brian Klug’s reformulation of the rule of thumb quick definition, the one where he places the word Jews in quotes (“Thinking that Jews are really ‘Jews’ is precisely the core of antisemitism”) and gives the neat formulation that antisemitism is precisely the process of turning Jews into ‘Jews’.

Probably Klug’s thought was far too subtle for Atzmon, but my attempt was certainly interfering with the flow of his ‘performance’, and he interrupted long before I could finish. He almost shouted that you can’t make a new definition out of changing an old definition, and then turned back to haranguing the others. (At this point I couldn’t help being reminded of some of the films I’ve seen of Oswald Mosley — something of the same haughty arrogance, the assumption of pseudo-aristocratic entitlement maybe.)

At that point, I gave up — others were doing far better than I could (see the photos!) Atzmon doesn’t *listen* (astonishing in a musician, I’d have thought). His whole life is giving a performance, musical or otherwise.

Below is an e-mail from another who attended the picket :

Dear all,

More people than we expected –

I hope others who were there will chip in with any of their own observations.

One little oddity is that the fracas on the pavement came to an end with the appearance of a benign-looking gent saying that he was the facilitator for the evening and was about to start the meeting. He identified himself as Irving Rappaport, a JfJfP signatory, and is described in the publicity for the launch thus:

“Irving Rappaport is a commercial and community mediator and trainer with a special interest in the use of proven peaceful techniques for the prevention and resolution of violent conflicts both internationally and in the UK.”

More people than we expected – almost a dozen pro-Palestinian activists, half J-BIG/JSG, half ISM and friends – turned out this evening to defend the BDS movement against the infiltration of racist ideas peddled by Gilad Atzmon. The occasion was the launch of Atzmon’s new book, The Wandering Who.

Despite a Facebook plea at the weekend from the author to his supporters to turn out in force and defend him against the crypto-Zionists he alleged were planning to destroy his meeting, barely 20 people arrived in response. Several of those were on the panel of speakers and a mere handful – 4-5 – had any connection with pro-Palestine campaigning. I will not engage in an Atzmon-style personal vendetta by naming them.

We displayed placards declaring Fight Racism, Fight Zionism, Build the Palestinian BDS campaign, Support the Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and handed out copies of the attached leaflet. Thanks to J and Tony for putting this together.

Our presence led to almost an hour of lively discussion on the pavement outside the venue, although it was notable that – despite Atzmon’s complaints that we are trying to close down debate and interfere with his freedom of speech – many of those coming to listen to him refused to even look at the proffered leaflets. Atzmon emerged from the building himself to join in the fray, perhaps attracted by the presence of a documentary film-making camera crew.

Some of those who were willing to talk seemed lamentably ignorant of the Palestinian struggle.

One conversation went something like this:

Atzmon supporter: He has important and interesting things to say.

BDS supporter: So what is his unique contribution, apart from blaming everything on the Jews and contradicting the policies of the Palestinian Boycott National Committee?

Atzmon supporter: But boycott is only one tiny little part of the Palestinian campaign.

BDS supporter: Not really. It’s got the Zionists rattled.

Atzmon supporter: That’s nonsense.

BDS supporter: You are aware that the Israeli government has just passed legislation making supporting BDS illegal.

Atzmon supporter: Er, yes of course.

BDS supporter: So how is Atzmon helping, saying Zionism is about Jewishness and nothing to do with colonialism or settlement, directly contradicting what it says here on this leaflet in a statement from the BNC.

Atzmon supporter: What’s so important about the BNC? Who are they anyway?

BDS supporter: Have you heard of Omar Barghouti?

Atzmon supporter: Er, yes, but he’s only one person.

BDS supporter: Don’t you know about the 170+ civil society organisations the BNC represents?

Atzmon supporter: . . . Well anyway you’re just here to split the movement. Harry’s Place is so happy that you’re attacking Gilad.

BDS supporter: Harry’s Place is a Zionist site that’s happy every time Gilad opens his mouth. (Gives up banging head against brick wall).

I hope others who were there will chip in with any of their own observations.

By the way as soon as he saw me he asked me if I was Tony Greenstein (he pronounced the surname the German way). I said I wasn’t, but a guy whom someone said was an Atzmon groupie, tho he looked to me like something of a ‘minder’ insisted on the likeness and said I must be a brother “or something”. I said maybe way back we had a common ancestor, who knows … (I don’t know what he’d had have done next if I’d said, Yeah, that’s me guv …)

I think to him it was just another photo op which he’ll twist (as usual) to his advantage …

Below are a list of the panellists, including one Glenn Bowman from Kent University, who when I challenged him a year ago on his support for a previous Atzmon ‘petition’ against me denied having signed it. Strange man.

I have subsequently e-mail Gilad Atzmon and accepted his challenge to a debate. Atzmon is not a fascist and so the question of ‘no platform’ does not arise. I do think that it is important not to give the impression that we are afraid to debate with his ideas and him and only seek to ‘censor’ his views, which we don’t. More details will be released as and when it is confirmed.

Tony Greenstein

Panelists on Monday:

Glenn Bowman is a Social Anthropologist who has worked in Jerusalem and the West Bank throughout the past 25 years. He is concerned with religion and identity politics, an interest which also involved him in (now Former) Yugoslavia between 1990 and the present.

Oren Ben Dor is a Reader in the Philosophy of Law at The University of Southampton. He is the author of Constitutional Limits and the Public Sphere (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2000); Thinking about Law: in Silence with Heidegger (Oxford: Hart Publishing 2007) as well as the editor of Law and Art: Ethics, Aesthetics Justice, (London: Routledge 2011). Oren writes on the uncanny origin of political emergence as well as on originary violence in Palestine. He explores the existential relationship between the Jewish and the Zionist Questions.

Karl Sabbagh is a journalist, television producer and the author of several books including A Rum Affair, Power Into Art, Dr Riemann’s Zeros and Palestine: A Personal History. He is currently the publisher of Hesperus Press

Facilitator: Irving Rappaport is a commercial and community mediator and trainer with a special interest in the use of proven peaceful techniques for the prevention and resolution of violent conflicts both internationally and in the UK.

PS: Members of London ISM took part in the picket/leafletting of Atzmon’s book launch as individuals not as part of the group. The group itself has not taken any formal decision re the picket/leafletting.

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