Category Archives: jewish identity politics

Gilad Atzmon – Anatomy of an Unresolved Conflict

According to Hegel, attaining ‘self-consciousness’ is a process that necessarily involves the other. How am I to become conscious of myself in general? It is simply through desire or anger, for example. Unlike animals that overcome biological needs by destroying another organic entity, human desire is a desire for recognition.

In Hegelian terms, recognition is accomplished by directing oneself towards non-being, that is, towards another desire, another emptiness, another ‘I’. It is something that can never be fully accomplished. “The man who desires a thing humanly acts not so much to possess the thing as to make another recognise his right. It is only desire of such recognition, it is only the action that flows from such desire, that creates, realizes and reveals a human, non biological I.” (Kojeve A., Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, 1947, Cornell Univ. Press, 1993, p. 40). Following this Hegelian line of thinking, we can deduce that in order to develop self-consciousness, one must face the other. While the biological entity will fight for its biological continuity, a human being fights for recognition.

In order to understand the practical implications of this idea, let us turn to the ‘Master-Slave Dialectic’. The Master is called the Master because he strives to prove his superiority over nature and over the slave who is forced to recognize him as a master.

At first glance, it looks as if the master has reached the peak of human existence but as we shall see, this is not the case. As has just been stated, it is recognition that humans fight for. The master is recognised by the slave as a master but the slave’s recognition has little value. The master wants to be recognised by another man, but a slave is not a man. The master wants recognition by a master, but another master cannot allow another superior human being in his world. “In short, the master never succeeds in realising his end, the end for which he risks his very life.” So the master faces a dead-end. But what about the slave? The slave is in the process of transforming himself since, unlike the master who cannot go any further, the slave has everything to aspire to. The slave is at the vanguard of the transformation of the social conditions in which he lives. The slave is the embodiment of history. He is the essence of progress.

A Lesson in Mastery

Let us now try to apply the Hegelian Master-Slave Dialectic to the notion of Jewish ‘chosenness’ and exclusivity. While the Hegelian ‘Master’ risks his biological existence to become a master, the newborn Jewish infant risks his foreskin. The chosen infant is born into the realm of mastery and excellence without (yet) excelling at anything. The other awards the chosen baby his prestigious status without the requirement of facing any process of recognition. And in fact, the ‘chosen’ title is given to Jews by themselves (allegedly God) rather than by others.

If, for instance, we try to analyse the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the Hegelian mechanism of recognition, we realise the impossibility of any dialogue between the two parties. While it is more than clear that the Palestinian people are fighting for recognition, which they declare at every possible opportunity, the Israelis avoid the whole recognition issue altogether. They are convinced that they are already fully recognised in the first place. They know who they are – they are born masters who happen to live on their ‘promised land’. Israelis refuse to join the dialectic ‘meaning transformation’ game and instead divert all their intellectual, political and military efforts into demolishing any sense of Palestinian recognition. The battle for Israeli society is to suppress any Palestinian symbol or desire, whether material, spiritual or cultural.

Strangely enough, the Palestinians are managing quite well in their fight for recognition. More and more people out there are now beginning to understand the just nature of the Palestinian cause and the level of inhumanity entangled with the entire concept of Zionism and Jewish politics in general. More and more people out there find the Palestinian people and their spokesmen very easy to empathise with. Even the Hamas who were despised by most Western political institutions are now managing to get their message across. The Israelis, on the other hand, are falling behind in such manoeuvres. The average Western listener finds them almost impossible to sympathise with. While a Palestinian will call you to share his pain and misery, talking straight to your heart, the Israeli spokesman will demand that you to accept his views. He will insist on selling you a ready-made fantastic historical narrative; a repetitive tale that starts somewhere around Biblical Abraham, continues with a series of Holocausts and leads eventually towards more current bloodshed. It seems as if the Israelis, the masters, always present the same faceless story. Can Abraham and the Holocaust justify Israeli inhuman behaviour in Gaza? Not really, and the reason is simple, Abraham and the Holocaust and historical narratives in general do not evoke genuine emotional feelings. And indeed, the Jewish political world is so desperate to maintain its narrative that the last Holocaust has now been transformed into a legal narrative. The message is as follows: “beware, if you doubt my narrative you will end up behind bars.” This is obviously an act of desperation.

Following Hegel, we learn that recognition is a dynamic process; it is a type of understanding that grows in you. While the Palestinians will use all their available, yet limited, resources to make you look at their faces, in their eyes, to carry you into a dynamic process of mutual recognition, the Israelis would expect you to accept their narrative blindly. They would expect you to turn a blind eye to the clear fact that as far as the Middle East is concerned Israel is an aggressor like no other. Israel is an occupying regional super power, a tiny State heavily engaged in exploring different nuclear, biological and chemical arsenals. It is a racially orientated apartheid state that bullies and abuses its minorities on a daily basis. Yes, the Israelis and their supportive Jewish lobbies around the world want you to ignore these facts. They insist upon being the victims, they want you to approve their inhuman policies referring to Jews endless suffering.

How is it that Jewish politics has become aggressive like no other? It is simply the fact that from a Jewish political perspective, there is ‘no other’. The so-called other for them is nothing but a vehicle rather than an equal human subject. Israeli foreign affairs and Jewish political activity should be comprehended in the light of a severe lack of a ‘recognition mechanism’. Israeli and Jewish politics, left right and centre, is grounded on locking and fixing of meaning. They would refuse to regard history as a flux, as a dynamic process, as a journey towards ‘oneself’ or self-realisation. Israel and Israelis view themselves as if they are external to history. They do not progress toward self-realisation because they have a given, fixed identity to maintain. Once they encounter a complex situation with the surrounding world, they would then create a model that adapts the external world into their chauvinist self-loving value system. This is what Neo-conservatism is all about; this is what the fantasmic yet sickening newly emerging Judeo-Christian discourse is all about.

As sad as it may sound, people who are not trained to recognise the other are unable to let them be recognised. The Jewish tribal mindset: left, centre and right, sets Jews aside of humanity. It does not equip the followers of the tribal mindset with the mental mechanism needed to recognise the other. Why should they do it? They have done so well for many years without having to do so. Lacking a notion of an other, indeed transcends one far beyond any recognised form of true humanist thought. It takes one far beyond ethical thinking or moral awareness.

Instead of morality, every debate is reduced into a mere political struggle with some concrete material and practical achievements to aim for.

Hegel may throw some further light on the entire saga. If indeed one becomes aware of oneself via the other, then the ‘Chosen subject’ is self-aware to start with. He is born into mastery. Accordingly, Israelis are not practicing any form of dialogue with the surrounding human environment since they are born masters. In order to be fair to the Israelis, I have to admit that their lack of a recognition mechanism has nothing to do with their anti-Palestinian feelings. As a matter of fact, they cannot even recognise each other – Israel and Israelis have a long history of discrimination against its own people (Jews of non-European descent such as Sephardim Jews are discriminated against by the Jewish elite, those of Western descent). But are progressive Jews any different? Not really. Like the Israelis and similar to any other form of tribal chauvinist ideology, they are continuously withdrawing into self-centred segregated discourse that has very little to engage or grab the interest of anyone besides themselves. Consequently, like the Israelis who surround themselves with walls, the Jewish progressive cells have already set themselves into cyber ghettos that are becoming increasingly hostile to the rest of humanity and those who supposed to be their comrades.

Historic Materialism

If one cannot establish relationships with one’s neighbour based upon recognition of the other, there must be another way of establishing a dialogue. If one cannot form a dialogue based upon empathy with the other and the rights of the other, one must pursue another mode of communication. It seems as if the alternative ‘chosen’ dialogical method reduces any form of communication into a materialistic language. Almost any form of human activity, including love and aesthetic pleasure, can be reduced to a material value. The Chosen political activists are well practised in using this method of communication.

Recently the Israeli ultra-Zionist author A B Yehoshua has managed to upset many American Jewish Ethnic leaders at the American Jewish Committee conference by saying: “You [Jews in the Diaspora] are changing jackets … you are changing countries like changing jackets.” Indeed, Yehoshua came under a lot of pressure following his remark, he was very quick to regret his statement. However, Yehoshua’s insight, while far from being original, is rather painfully truthful.

It is quite apparent that some politically orientated Diaspora Jews are engaged in an extremely fruitful dialogue with any possible core of hegemony. Yehoshoua’s criticism was fairly spot on. Following Yehoshua, once it is clear that a new country is becoming a leading world super power, it won’t take long before a wave of liberated assimilated Jews would try to infiltrate into its governing elite. “If China ever became the world’s foremost super power,” he warned, “American Jews would migrate there to assimilate rather than in the US.” (http://www.amin.org/eng/uncat/2006/june/june30-1.html).

A decade ago, at the peak of the legal battle between major Jewish institutions and the Swiss Bank, Norman Finkelstein stood up and said that very little remains of the Jewish Holocaust apart from various industrial forms of financial bargaining for compensation. According to Finkelstein, it was all about profit-making. Without any criticism intended by me about financial compensation, it appears as if some people are quick to translate their pain into gold. (It is important to mention that pain as well as being transformed into gold, can be transformed into other values such as moral or aesthetic ones). However, the possibility of transforming pain and blood into cash stands at the heart of the Israeli false dream – that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially the refugee problem, is resolvable. Now we know where this assumption originates. The Israelis, as well as Jewish leading institutions, are fully convinced that if they were happy to come to a financial settlement with the Germans (or the Swiss for the matter), the Palestinians would be equally happy to sell their lands and dignity. How do the Israelis arrive at such a strange conviction? Because they must know better than the Palestinians what the Palestinians really want. How? Because the Israelis are brilliant, they are the Chosen People. Moreover, the chosen subject doesn’t even try to engage with the human in the other. Sixty years after the Nakba, the mass the expulsion of the indigenous Palestinians, the vast majority of Israelis and world Jewry do not even start to acknowledge the Palestinian cause, let alone do they show any form of empathy.

When you talk to Israelis about the conflict, one of their most frequently used arguments is the following: “When we (the Jews) came here (to Palestine), they (the Arabs) had nothing. Now they have electricity, work, cars, health services, etc.” This is obviously a failure to recognise the other. It is typical of the chauvinist colonialist to impose one’s own value system on the other. In other words, the Israelis expect the Palestinians to share the importance they attach to the acquisition of material wealth. “Why should the other share my values? Because I know what is good. Why do I know what is Good? Because I am the best.” This arrogant and completely materialistic approach obviously lies at the heart of the Israeli vision of peace. The Israeli military calls it ‘the stick and the carrot’. Seemingly, when referring to Palestinians they actually have rabbits in their minds. But, as bizarre or even tragic as it may sound, the Israeli born, ultra-left Mazpen movement was not categorically different. They obviously had some revolutionary dreams of secularisation for the Arab world. They obviously knew what was good for the Arabs. Why did they know? Shall I let you guess? Because they were exclusively and chauvinistically clever. They were the Marxists of the chosen type. Hence, I wasn’t overwhelmingly surprised that as time went by, the legendary ‘revolutionary’ Mazpen and the despised neo-conservatism actually united into a single catastrophic message: “We know better what is good for you than you yourselves do.”

Both Zionists and Jewish leftists have a “New Middle East dream”. In Peres’s old fantasy the region turns into a financial paradise in which Israel would stand at the very centre. The Palestinians (as well as other Arab States) would supply Israeli industries (representing the West) with the low cost labour they need. In turn, they, the Arabs, would earn money and spend it buying Israeli (Western) goods. In the Judeo progressive dream the Arabs leaves Islam behind, they become Marxist cosmopolitan progressives (East European Jews) and join the journey towards a world revolution. As much as Peres’s dream is sad, the Judeo Marxist version is almost funny.

As it seems, within the Zionist dream, Israel would establish a dual coexistence in the region where the Palestinian people would be the eternal slaves and the Israelis their masters. Within the Judeo progressive cosmopolitan dream, Red Palestine will establish a dual coexistence in the region where the Palestinian people would be the eternal slaves of a remote Euro-centric ideology. If there is a big categorical difference between the two Judeo centric ideologies, I just fail to see it.

However, according to Hegel, it is the slave that moves history forward. It is the slave that struggles towards his freedom. It is the slave who transforms himself and it is the master who eventually vanishes. Following Hegel, we have good reason to believe that the future of the region belongs to the Palestinians, the Iraqis and nation Islam in general. One way of explaining why Israel ignores this understanding of history relates to the conditional detachment of the exclusive ‘chosen’ state of mind.

Welcome to Cuckoo land

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian doctor who lives and works in the occupied West Bank, referred to Israel as “trying to be David and Goliath at the same time” (Dr. Barghouti was speaking at a debate at the House of Commons, 22 Nov. 2000). According to Dr. Barghouti, this is impossible. He also claimed that “Israel is probably the only State that bombs a territory it occupies.” He found this very strange and even bizarre. Is it really strange to be David and Goliath simultaneously? Is it really strange to destroy your own property? Not if you are insane. The lack of mirroring (again, seeing oneself through the other) can lead people, as well as nations, into strange dark corners. The lack of a framework which would allow you to discern your own image through the other, the lack of a corrective mechanism, appears to be a very dangerous state of affairs.

The first generation of Israeli leaders (Ben-Gurion, Eshkol, Meir, Peres, Begin) grew up in the Diaspora, mainly in Eastern Europe. Being a Jew living in a non-Jewish environment forces one to develop a sharpened self-awareness and imposes a certain kind of mirroring. Moreover, early Zionism is slightly more developed than other forms of Jewish tribal politics for the simple reason that Zionism is there to transform the Jews into ‘people like other people’. Such a realisation involves a certain amount of necessary mirroring. However, this was not enough to restrain Israeli aggressive acts (e.g., Deir-Yassin, Nakba, Kafer Kasem, the ’67 war, etc.) but it was more than enough to teach them a lesson in diplomacy. Since 1996, young leaders who were born there have led Israel into the state of ‘chosenness’ (Rabin, Netanyahu, Sharon, Barak, Olmert). Whilst in their earlier years they were imbued with an intense traditional Jewish anxiety, as they grew up this was overtaken by the legacy of the 1967 ‘miracle’, an event that turned some of the ‘chosen’ ideologies into a messianic extravaganza. This fixation with absolute power exacerbated by Jewish anxiety coupled with ignorance of the ‘other’ leads to epidemic collective schizophrenia, both of mood and action; a severe loss of contact with reality that gives way to the use of excessive force. The recent “Second Lebanon War” was an obvious example for that matter. Israel retaliates with machine guns in response to children throwing stones, with artillery and missiles against civilian targets following a sporadic uprising, and with a total war to a minor border incident. This behaviour should not be explained by using political, materialist or sociological analytical tools. Much greater understanding could be gained by situating the conflict within a philosophical framework, which allows a better understanding of the origins of paranoia and schizophrenia.

The Israeli Prime Minister, representing both ‘David and Goliath’, can talk about the vulnerability of Israel, Jewish pain and Jewish misery in one breath and about launching a massive military offensive against the whole region in the next. Such behaviour can only be explained by seeing it as a form of mental illness. The funny/sad side of it is that most Israelis do not even realise that something is going terribly wrong. Being a born master leads to the absence of a ‘recognition mechanism’. Inevitably it leads toward blindness. This lack of a recognition mechanism results in a split psyche, being both ‘David and Goliath’ at one and the same time. It seems that neither Israel nor Israelis can any longer be partners in any meaningful dialogue.

Gilad Atzmon – Anthony Julius and a journey to the dark Zionist world

Anthony Julius is a prominent British lawyer and academic, best known for his actions on behalf of academic Nazi hunter Deborah Lipstadt. It was Julius who perpetrated the destruction of history revisionist David Irving’s career.

However, Anthony Julius is far more than just an academic and a lawyer. He is also a devoted Zionist who has established a reputation for his opposition to ‘new anti-Semitism’. Adding to the list of his accomplishments, he is also a founding member of Engage, the notorious British Zionist smear operator. On top of that he is also founder member of the UK based Neo-con think tank known as the Euston Manifesto.

A few days ago I came across a two part paper named ‘Jewish Anti-Zionism Unravelled: The Morality of Vanity’[1]. Apparently, it is a study made by Anthony Julius. It didn’t take me long to gather that Julius’s text should be read and understood. It must be scrutinised not because it is an important informative text, but because it serves as an invaluable document.

As one may guess, Julius is far from being stupid. He is by far more sophisticated, educated and eloquent than the average Zionist operators we come across on a daily basis. 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.

However, it should be mentioned that as much as Julius succeeds in exposing some serious inconsistency as well as a fundamental lack of integrity within the Jewish left discourse, his own study suffers badly due to his own lack of understanding of the intellectual foundation of anti-Zionist debate and the people who happen to carry this emerging discourse forwards.

From Politics to Humanism

The author’s biggest failure lies at the very premise of his study. Initially Julius tries to grasp the shift between the ‘modern’ and the ‘contemporary’ Jewish political anti-Zionism assuming that political anti-Zionism is still in place. Julius apparently fails to see the very obvious. 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. 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. We write, we offer some critical thoughts, we compose music we make films and so forth.

The question that comes to mind is how is it that a prominent lawyer and an intellectual such as Julius fails to recognise such an obvious fact. The explanation is shockingly simple. It is actually called projection. Zionism is a form of blindness and Julius is apparently imbued in it. Julius is doomed to interpret his subject of research while employing his own tribal Judeocentric worldview. Because Zionist Jews operate constantly and solely within politically and racially orientated cells, they tend to believe that their dissident brothers must be operating within very similar settings.

Thus, rather than reading Julius’s study as academic scholarship, at times we should endorse some sceptical approach and take his different insights as a glimpse into the Zionist mindset. Julius’s paper is actually a glance or even a journey into the dark Zionist world.

Tribal vs. Universal

Once we manage to transcend ourselves beyond Julius’s Ziocentric limitations, we are left with a very interesting reading and eloquent exposure of some the fallacy entangled within Jewish anti-Zionism.

“Jewish anti-Zionism,” says Julius, “inaugurates a return for many Jews to some kind of Jewish identity.” But then what does he mean by Jewish identity? Who are the Jews, are they a racial group? Are they a cultural group?

In order to address the issue Julius elaborates and scrutinises the ideological message behind “Independent Jewish Voices” (IJV).

The IJV was launched on February 5 2007 by 150 prominent British Jews such as Nobel laureate Harold Pinter, historian Eric Hobsbawm, lawyer Sir Geoffrey Bindman and others. The organisation was there to refute “the widespread misconception that British Jews speak with one voice – and that this voice supports the Israeli government’s policies.” The IJV was there to shake the hegemony of the Zionist Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Though the IJV attracted a lot of media attention in early February 2007, it died soon after. A quick glance at the IJV website and its news page reveals the embarrassing fact that the IJV last news update happened on February 12 2007, just a week after its bombastic launch. In other words, the IJV is a dead political entity. It was set to create a media impression of Jewish dissidence and Jewish liberal pluralism. But as it seems, as far as the IJV is concerned, its dissidence is rather fictional.

I tend to believe that Julius is fully aware of the fact that the IJV is not active, however for some reason he decided to elaborate on the IJV’s message and its ideological teaching aiming at the exposure of the fallacy within Jewish anti-Zionism.

Julius cited the IJV opening document:

The “Independent Jewish Voices” (IJV) opening statement endeavoured to ‘reclaim the tradition of Jewish support for universal freedoms, human rights and social justice.’ ‘Judaism,’ it continued, “means nothing if it does not mean social justice And Moses’ instruction to Israel was cited, “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20).

I assume that there is something both the IJV as well as Anthony Julius prefer to be very secretive about.

First, there is NO “Jewish tradition of universal freedoms”. Indeed, in the cathedra of the history of humanism more than just one Jew occupied a prominent seat. More than just one Jew taught us universalism and brotherhood, whether it was Christ, Spinoza, Marx or Simon Weil. But as sad as it may be, these provocative beings were brutally expelled and ostracised by their brothers.

Second, Moses’ reference to ‘Justice perusing’ (Deuteronomy 16:20) could have established a major ethical argument in favour of Jewish universal tradition. Yet this was the same Moses who just a few chapters earlier vowed to bring his people to the Promised Land where they are allowed to rob and loot the indigenous people. “A land with large, fine cities you did not build, houses filled with choice things you did not accumulate, hewn out cisterns you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant – and you eat your fill.” (Deuteronomy: Six 10-11). Seemingly, the IJV’s Moses, who was presented as an icon of universal humanism, is in fact a (very) early Zionist invader as well as the mastermind behind the Israelite collective looting culture.

Anyhow, Julius truly notices that the myth of Jewish universalism and profound ethics is repeated by many of the IJV signatories. “As a Jew,” says one, “I feel a particular duty to oppose the injustice that is done to Palestinians.”

“The anti-Zionist,” says Julius, “is not just a Jew like other Jews; his dissent from normative Zionist loyalties makes him a better Jew. He restores Judaism’s good name; to be a good Jew one has to be an anti-Zionist.”

Though Julius is sharp enough to trace the obvious righteousness within the IJV call, he happens to miss a further severe logical flaw here. When a so-called ‘better’ Jew refers to himself as a ‘Jew’, 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? It is clear that statements such as: “As a Jew I feel a particular duty” or in general, “as a Jew I feel X, Y or Z” exposes the IJV in a very non-flattering light. It bluntly and foolishly admits a certain level of Jewish dogmatic homogenous collectivism that defies the initial claim of independence.

It is therefore not very surprising that the IJV died a week or two after its launch. Intellectually it couldn’t hold more than a week or two. It failed to bridge the gap between Athens and Jerusalem or rather, between the universal and the tribal. It failed simply because this gap may be unbridgeable. Once a secular Jew insists upon operating as an ‘independent’ humanist, he becomes an ordinary human being leaving behind all traces of tribal particularities and privileges.

Julius continues, “There is the objection (to Zionism) ‘in the name of universalism’. The Jewish anti-Zionist would argue that the national project has debased the Jewish character by making it ordinary.” Seemingly, Julius himself fails to see how deep is the logical absurdity in such a statement. If there is indeed a ‘Jewish Character’ with some cosmopolitan characteristics as opposed to ‘ordinary’ nationalist traits, then gravely, we would have to admit that Jews can never join humanity as equals. Jews can never intermingle with the ‘ordinary’. 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.

Julius continues, “the Jewish anti-Zionist says ‘Jewish particularism’ of every kind must be rejected; Jews should not cut themselves off from their fellow students, workmates, and neighbours. Jews should seek a ‘Jewishness not sealed behind walls of conviction’, but open to the infinite possibilities of tomorrow.” Again, the absurdity behind such a statement is mind blowing. On the one end it refers to Jews as an ideal lucid homogenous collective, yet in the same breath it insists upon making this collective characterless. The truth of the matter must be said here. As long as Jews regard themselves as a homogenous collective and operate as a collective they happen to install a barrier between themselves and the rest of humanity. False calls for humanism and employment of Marxist jargon can’t and won’t cover it up.

Though I am totally convinced that the majority of the IJV signatures are well meaning and genuine peace lovers, the philosophy they happened to succumb to is rather embarrassingly lame. However, this is not big news. This flaw at the heart of the IJV’s declaration failed in every form of Jewish tribal left thinking for over a century. It is this very basic fault that made ‘Jewish anti-Zionists’ (JAZ), the Bund and IJV look like the ‘Best universalists amongst tribalists’ or alternatively ‘the ultimate tribalists amongst the universalists.’

“In the IJV’s principles,” cites Julius, one of its foundations includes “putting human rights first; repudiating all forms of racism; and giving equal priority to Palestinians and Israelis in their quest for a better future… (these are) principles that unite people of goodwill…group or ethnic loyalty, by contrast, is not a principle – or not a worthy one, at least.” “It must be,” answers Julius with scorn, that it is “Jewish quality to have no qualities at all.” It is very sad to admit, but Julius has a point here. As much as I would prefer to support the well-intentioned IJV agenda, I have to confess that the cosmopolitan attitude expressed above is totally irrelevant and even counter-effective as far as the Palestinian national struggle is concerned. As much as Julius insists upon the right of Jews to celebrate their symptoms as Jews, it is the humanist duty to insist upon a similar right of Palestinians to celebrate their ‘group or ethnic loyalty’. It is rather shocking to admit that Zionist and Palestinian criticism of Jewish anti-Zionism is almost similar.

The Moraliser

At this point, Julius is ready to pour a rain of contempt over his dissident brothers. “These Jewish anti-Zionists claim to speak as the moral conscience of the Jewish people. They no longer assert, as their revolutionary forebears once did…they play the part of scourges of the Jewish State.” ‘The scourge’, explains Julius, is a kind of “moraliser, that is, a public person who prides himself on the ability to discern the good and the evil. The moraliser makes judgments on others, and profits by so doing; he puts himself on the right side of the fence. Moralising provides the moraliser with recognition of his own existence and confirmation of his own value.”

But Julius doesn’t stop just there, he continues, “a moraliser has a good conscience and is satisfied by his own self-righteousness. He is not a self-hater; he is enfolded in self-admiration. He is in step with the best opinion. He holds that the truth is to be arrived at by inverting the “us = good” and “other = bad” binarism.

Julius should have grasped that ‘self-loving’ and ‘binary opposition’ settings are exactly that which set any form of Jewish tribal left within the ever-growing rabbinical tradition. The real meaning of secularism within the Jewish tribal left discourse means the replacement of ‘God-loving’ with ‘self-loving’, The modern Jewish tribal leftist believes in himself. And the binary formula he adopts should be read as Us = kosher / Other = taref.

However, if Julius would spend some time looking in the mirror while contemplating over the issues of ‘binarism’ and ‘self-loving’ he may find out that he is falling into the exact same trap. The Euston neo-conservative think tank he himself founded is intellectually premised on the exact same parameters. It is based on white liberal ‘self-loving’ and ‘binary opposition setting’ in the shape of us/them, kosher/taref, West/the rest.

Once again we notice, that Julius’s study is fuelled by projection. Once again we see that as much as it is interesting to read what Julius has to say, it is far more interesting to ask why he says what he says. Every insight Julius provides us with stands as a revelation concerning the Zionist project and the Zionist mindset.

The Crypto Zionist’s Role

Only in the last part of his study, Julius reveals his true motivation. 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. He would like to see them operating as Sayanim.

The development of his argument is rather interesting.

According to Julius, the Jewish anti-Zionist “wrongly assumes that group loyalty is inconsistent with the ethical life, and that universalist moral foundations cannot sustain a version of nationalism.”

This is indeed reassuring to see that Julius asserts the most radical form of right wing views. Seemingly, the man learned a lot from the revisionist historian he managed to defeat in court. However, the truth must be said. Julius is absolutely correct here. There is NO contradiction between group loyalty and the ethical life. Torah Jews prove it beyond doubt. This is why Torah Jews are far more popular amongst Palestinian solidarity campaigner than any other Jewish collective. Julius is also correct to argue that there is no contradiction between universalist moral foundations and nationalism. Again this insight is no different to the Palestinian critiques of the cosmopolitan Jew. A Palestinian would rightly say: ‘If you are a cosmopolitan Jew who opposes nationalism, how exactly do you plan to support my Palestinian national struggle?’

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.

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.

But here is where Julius comes with some clear suggestions regarding the Jewish role within the left. Trotsky, according to Julius, wasn’t operating as a Jew, yet he could “smell anti-Semitism in others”. But Julius doesn’t stop just there. “Contemporary Jewish anti-Zionists,” he says, “have lost the sense for it.” It is clear beyond doubt that Julius expects his dissident brothers to keep up day and night tracing and fighting the anti-Semites. He expects the Jewish anti-Zionists to operate as Sayanim, people who are motivated to operate as Zionist agents due to Jewish tribal brotherhood.

As funny as it may sound, Anthony Julius describes here the exact role taken by the discredited UK JAZ group who for a while worked day and night fighting, smearing and lobbying against those whom they regard as anti-Semites. Bearing in mind that Julius is a Zionist who calls the anti-Zionists to fight anti-Semitism , it is impossible not to see JAZ (http://azvsas.blogspot.com/) as an integral part of the Zionist plot on the verge of Sayanim.

Julius continues, “Jewish anti-Zionist contributions to anti-Semitically inflected positions taken by non-Jewish anti-Zionists consist of the following: (a) to give cover to the holders of such positions by endorsing them ‘as Jews’ (b) to endorse those positions as true, with the all the authority of an ‘insider’ or ‘expert’.”

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. At large, Julius’s expectations from his fellow brothers fall short of fulfilment. Not a single prominent Jewish anti-Zionist has ever joined the Zionist hunting expedition. They obviously have far better things to do. Those who were and still are foolish enough to follow Julius’s instructions and become hunters of anti-Semites have managed to marginalise themselves within the anti-Zionist movement beyond repair. If they were acting as double agents at some stage, they are now exposed in a very unflattering light.

The reason is simple. Every genuine anti-Zionist realises that if Israel is the Jewish State and the crimes committed by this State are committed in the name of the Jewish people then we are bound to ask, ‘who are the Jews? What is Judaism? And what is Jewishness?’ There is no alternative than to question the Jewish lobby and the role of Jewish media. These are the parameters of contemporary anti-Zionism, this is what anti-Zionism is all about, and if this is what new anti-Semitism is all about, we have nothing left to admit to the hunters than being anti-Zionists means we are going to be hunted sooner or later.

Interestingly enough, the IJV collapsed because independent, assimilated intellectuals tend to operate independently, they do not and could not succumb to tribal concerns. Prominent independent voices could never operate in an atmosphere of a synagogue. The IJV collapsed because its prominent members were too independent to operate as a fig leaf for the Jewish national project.

Sadly, we would have to admit that as much as the Jewish left is inconsistent to the bone, as much as it loses its way between Athens and Jerusalem, Zionism is unfortunately a success story. It is consistent, it knows exactly where Athens is but it prefers the road to Jerusalem. Zionism is a proud tribal project, it gives a new dynamic contemporary meaning to Jewish existence. Unfortunately this meaning is oppressive and murderous on the verge of genocidal. Since Zionism is a monolithic voice of the Jewish people, the future of anti-Zionist discourse will inevitably address a scope of issues to do with the Jewish question.

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. It leads nowhere, it is there to make Jews look nice and to dismantle a real debate about Zionism and Jewish nationalism in general. If secular Jews intend to resist Zionism genuinely rather than just gather a momentary sympathy to their cause, then the only way to do it is to join the human family and to act as ordinary people. Such an act would give the French revolution and emancipation a real new meaning.

(1) part one: http://www.z-word.com/z-word-essays/jewish-anti-zionism-unravelled%253A–the-morality-of-vanity-%2528part-1%2529.html
part 2 http://www.z-word.com/z-word-essays/jewish-anti-zionism-unravelled%253A-questioning-antisemitism-%2528part-2%2529.html

Related post: https://peacepalestine.wordpress.com/2008/04/22/auntie-ziona-here-comes-trouble/

Auntie Ziona – Here comes trouble…

Auntie ZionaAnti-Zionist Jews or Jewish Auntie Ziona? We’re starting to see double! Just when you thought the days of being the loudest, proudest Jewish Anti Zionist fighting like mad against any other anti-Zionists and calling them Anti-Semites without any real reason to do so (especially if they were Jews) were long gone, a new blog pops up, and its name is hauntingly familiar… Auntie Ziona Against Auntie Simone at http://azvas.blogspot.com/

So who is that “New Kind on Ze Block?” It’s a lady in her 60s from Golders Green, London, quite a gezunte Moid who loves tradition so much, she wears the same frocks her mother passed down (but she feels like a yefayfeyeh). From the looks of it, she doesn’t pretend to be hip like the Real Cool and Very Hip folks at Jewdass. She doesn’t party, much less does she think it’s nice to spend money to buy Challa when she can make a ten kilo loaf herself, cut it into daily portions and store it in the freezer because she found out it’s kashress. She doesn’t claim to read every paper about Jewishness like the Real Intellectual and Very Modern folks at Jews Sans Frontieres. She seems to get all her information from relatives. She does like politics and does imagine she knows who all the bad guys are… those who “should know better”, to quote a “famous” Palestinian page on a site. And in this, she is exactly like that tumler of her nephew that helped her set up a blog to look just like his, hoping it would increase his readership from three to ten so that he can get a Leftist Minyan going.

Auntie Ziona has the same obsession that her nephew does of stressing that when he talks, people listen because he is Jewish, she is proud of her tribe and decided to join the Ghetto of the Jewish Blogosphere to get her slice of the action. Also, because if you disagree with anything said, you get called Anti-Semite, and she likes that!

I don’t know if I feel like challenging her worldview, but she seems to want attention, and she might even get some. Look at me, even.. giving her a plug… She even has polls set up. The woman wants to connect. I don’t agree with her, but I hope she has better luck with the Blogger censors than I do. Freedom of speech and all that. So, Mazel Tov, Tante. And remember: Ein Blog iz mir!!

Turin Book Fair "Israel Guest of Honour", and the debate begins!

at the left, a book to BUY!

Turin will host the International Book Fair in May. Already, there has been quite a bit of movement about it in activist circles. Why? Because the Guest of Honour is Israel, and 60 Authors (magic of numbers?) will be the highlighted ones. Aharon Shabtai already said NO! Ibrahim Nasrallah said NO! and others too have raised their voices. Strange thing thought, the leading Left Newspaper il manifesto, who takes money for the paid ad for supporting Gaza, comes out against the Boycott. It is the reasoning behind it that is incredible. Read this editorial by Valentino Parlato and this response (I will translate more later, I have a growing list here) by Diego Traversa.

A WRONG BOYCOTT
By Valentino Parlato (from il manifesto, 24/01/08)

The International Book Fair will be held in Turin next May (from the 8th to the 12th) but it is already arousing quarrels and polemics that have concerned even our tenacious and tolerant group. The fair is being held in the 60th anniversary of Israel’s foundation and therefore, quite inevitably, the Palestinian question gets resumed.

After World War II and the massacre of the Jews, it was necessary to recognize their right to have a territory and a state of their own. Even Stalin was in favour of the foundation of Israel while Great Britain­, a fact of not minor importance, ­was against it. And ­it’s my personal memory­ to insist that the Arab world wouldn’t have accepted a Jewish state, it favoured great manifestations of resistance: in Tripoli (where I lived at that time) a violent and blooddy anti-Jewish pogrom took place in a complicit indifference of the British military authorities.

Today’s polemics regard this Book Fair, one that gives Israel a place of honour with the risk of a literary legitimization of its policies. Let me say first that I have no position in principle against the boycott, since it was more than fair to endorse it against the racist white South Africans. But there’s boycott and boycott and therefore I’m completely against boycotting this Book Fair (books must be always respected) and against boycotting Israel. The Israelis, ­who after all are still Jews, no matter how many wrongs as they have done against the Palestinians, can by no means be compared with the racist South Africans and moreover, ­there’s a point that we can’t forget and, by no means a small one, that ­there is the historical persecution of the Jewish people, there are the ghettos and the concentration camps.

At this point is useful recalling what I was told in an interview to il manifesto with Rome’s Chief Rabbi. In the Warsaw Ghetto, the last song the Jews sung was the Internationale (translator’s note, Communist anthem). And then they were slaughtered by the Germans.

Hence let’s take advantage of this International Book Fair of Turin to talk, to criticize Israel’s policies, to uphold the Palestinians’ rights who, in those territories, seem to have turned into the new Jews. Let’s talk and argue with each other, but let’s tell the boycott to go to hell. Not only because the Israelis are Jews and not Afrikaaners, but also because the boycott is mute. It’s a no without any arguments. Next May in Turin there are going to be Jewish writers of high stature and we must talk, reason, argue and defend the Palestinian people’s rights along with them. I’m aware of the ancestral fears of Israel’s people. I’m aware of their fear, ­I was told by a good Israeli ambassador in Rome, ­of being the target of renewed crusades. I think I can understand, but Israel must be more Jewish with the Palestinians. It must consider them as close relatives. But just because of all this, the boycott serves only to be detrimental the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Translated by Diego Traversa and revised by Mary Rizzo

Memory, Hypocrisy and that Messy Little Place of Honour
By Diego Traversa
Despite all the respect that I might have for Valentino Parlato, I am writing to express how stunned his editorial on the Turin Book Fair has left me.

It seemed to me a very simplistic and dogmatic article, overflowing to the brim with hypocrisy and a “feel-good” sentiment. But, of course, it’s still January, the Day of Holocaust Memory is upon us so naturally all of us must acknowledge how important it is to be philo-Jewish, all of us to kneel down humbly and to make amends for the horrors of the past. And, since I am here, I am going to take advantage of the opportunity myself, to absolve my duty and publicly ask pardon from all Jews: forgive us for what our people did to you and forgive me if I had a grandfather who was a convinced Fascist.

Having said this, let’s go back to dig through the lines of the article by Valentino Parlato, authoritative and legendary voice of il manifesto.

His comments on the upcoming Book Fair of Turin seem to me at the very least pointless and contradictory.

In the first place, it is not true that it was necessary to give a state to the Jews and further, neither is it true that Stalin was in agreement: his was mere political shrewdness, oriented at extending the Russian dominion towards the Mediterranean. This is indeed true in that Russia radically changed its politics by becoming fiercely anti-Zionist, just to show how much Stalin had the Jewish people close to heart!

The pivot of Parlato’s theorem is that one must reject the anti-Israeli boycott for an entire set of reasons: because the Jews have suffered unspeakable wrongs, because they can’t be compared to racist white South Africans (as a matter of curiosity, who knows if the Israeli magnates of the diamond industry momentarily put aside their traffic with South Africa when the entire world was practicing the boycott…) and especially because the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto, before they were massacred by the Nazis, “sang the Internationale”.

What kind of discourse is he engaged in?

It is as if the sole fact of having had relatives who are evacuated and socialists guarantees any individual whatsoever the right to act any way he wants, stepping on the rights of others. It is almost like saying that the single mother in Taranto who made an unauthorised occupation of the house of that old woman who was taken to the hospital has the right to do such a thing. Even if this example does not fit like a glove, seeing as how the Israelis have done much more than occupy someone else’s house unlawfully.

In the first place, theirs is not a popular nationalism, but rather a nationalism imposed from on high, born out of diplomatic trafficking and intrigue between powers when the Jewish masses had not even the slightest interest in searching for a new country. Furthermore, it was not only the Jewish Socialist leaders who brought forward demands of independence, but even the ultra-conservatives and the representatives of the petit bourgeois and the middle classes. As a matter of fact, truth to tell, the history of Israel is nothing but an anthem, the triumph of an ideology that is one of the most reactionary possible. After the Ben-Gurions and Moshe Sharetts (who, rather than Socialists, I would define National Socialists), came the Begins, the Shamirs, and the Sharons to model modern Zionism, that is, the “ideological” children of that Vladimir Jabotinsky who promoted the crudest nationalism by supporting violence and the transfer of the Palestinian people. Therefore, telling us the story that the Jews sang the Internationale as valid argumentation to justify the existence of the Jewish state seems to me quite absurd, if not outright ridiculous and unjust, as if the destruction and violence committed against the indigenous Americans was justified by the religious persecution that the founding fathers and pilgrims of the Mayflower underwent and rendered dignified by their sacred hymns.

Yet, I don’t wish to focus too much attention on the history of Israel, but I can’t help but notice that the entire contradiction expressed by Parlato comes to the surface when he talks about boycotting: first he insists that it was right to enact that instrument against South Africans, but then he summons that the boycott is useless because it is “a no without arguments”.

It seems to me that the boycott is a civil and democratic form of non-violent protest: it is not censorship, forbidding someone to speak. It is only an outspoken way to express dissent. Specifically, considering the place of honour that has been given to the writers of Israel, it is more than opportune to should dissent against the exponents (respectable or not as they may be) of a country as racist, militaristic and warlike as Israel. Precisely because the Israelis have not learned anything from their past; precisely because they should be the first to oppose the modern horrors committed in Palestine, being, as we are constantly reminded, the “only” people to have known just what true suffering is; and especially because they do not treat the Palestinians like Semitic brothers (quite the opposite, they hate them a great deal, as witnessed in the widespread racism within Israeli society).

I am sorry for those Israeli writers who rightly point their fingers at the terrible politics enacted by their government, but unfortunately, this event in Turn has taken on a stale and disgusting taste of institutional legitimisation of Israel: the first to boycott this disgrace should be precisely those same writers who know firsthand what it means to live in Palestine today and how much horror Zionism has brought about. Theirs would be a clamorous deed, more meaningful than a thousand boycotts.

In regards to Valentino Parlato, I can only say: January may have become the Month of Memory but, please, let’s be careful it does not become the Month of Hypocrisy.

Translated from Italian by Mary Rizzo. Diego Traversa and Mary Rizzo are both members of Tlaxcala, network of translators for linguistic diversity.

Gilad Atzmon – "Public Lapidation" round one

Once again, rabid Zionists have united with the so-called ‘Jewish anti-Zionists protagonists’. This time, they insist upon believing that I am a Holocaust Denier.

It all started when a site that specialises in texts known as “Holocaust Denial” linked to an Iranian paper that reported that the German Lawyer Sylvia Stolz, who acted as attorney for Ernst Zundel and has been sentenced to serve three and a half years in prison for doing so, quoted me in her defence.

According to the Iranian paper “Stolz has reportedly read a newspaper article to the court about the appearance of world renowned Israeli artist, Gilad Atzmon in Bochum.” http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=38848&sectionid=351020604

In order to set things straight, I have to mention that the newspaper item read by Mrs Stolz was highly misleading. It was not at all representative of what I had said. At the time, this was immediately pointed out by the Festival organiser who invited me and moderated the meeting. Indeed, the organiser felt that the paper misrepresented almost everything possible.

This is the text of the letter he had written to the newspaper.

“Dear editorial staff of Ruhr Nachrichten,
I usually do not write letters to the editors and as an organizer I can live with bad critics. However, as the subject is rather delicate, I felt I had to comment the article containing big mistakes as regards content and strongly falsifying Gilad Atzmon’s political tendency.

Firstly, concerning the big mistakes:

“According to him the true enemy was not Hitler but Stalin”. You have left out an important piece of information, notably whose enemy Stalin had been. Atzmon argued that America’s true enemy had not been Hitler but Stalin. As long as Hitler had communism under control, America did not believe it to be necessary to get involved in the war. Atzmon uses the same argument for all wars led by the USA until the present time. Atzmon also refers to Hitler as a criminal. Atzmon neither denies nor plays down the Holocaust.

The following statement is wrong, too: “[…] the Germans [should] stop feeling guilty and responsible”. In fact, Atzmon encourages the present generation of Germans not to feel guilty any longer but he does not deny the Germans’ responsibility in general. On the contrary, he believes the Germans to be extremely vigilant today concerning any kind of potential racist or fascist tendencies.

Regarding the discussion about the number of murdered Jews during the Holocaust, it is very difficult to resume the contents of this debate with only a few sentences. Atzmon criticises that publicly doubting the number of 6 million is being penalized, while even the Holocaust museum Yad Vashem itself mentions various studies that state numbers of 5.1 million or even 5.29 or 5.5 million. Atzmon emphasises that this abstract number has become a kind of fetish, as if the Holocaust were more harmless if there had been only half of the number of murdered Jews. Atzmon does not accuse Bush, Blair and Sharon of being criminals of war in order to minimise Hitler’s own crimes of war.

Surely, the language barrier posed a problem during the discussion last Sunday. Suddenly, an audience that mainly expected to attend a concert preceded by a reading, was confronted by a political discussion. Had we known this beforehand, we would have organised a professional bilingual interpreter’s service for the evening.

We were aware of the fact that Gilad Atzmon’s novels are provoking and up to a certain extent such a provocation was intended. He criticised harshly Israel’s politics and shows that due to this historical victimhood, the United Nations mostly tolerate Israel’s racist and nationalist action towards the Palestinians and that criticism is nipped in the bud with the allegation of anti-Semitism.

It is true, that the ambiance after the discussion was not very favourable to the concert. We ourselves had several discussions in the lobby of the concert hall with members of the public who wanted to leave the event. Two of the women who had left returned however later and continued to speak with Gilad after the concert in a small group. This discussion was far less controversial than the momentarily heated one before the concert. They all said goodbye heartily and shook hands.

Maybe it would have made sense if Thorsten Hoops had seized the occasion to verify the ideas he got during the discussion. Such delicate subjects demand greater care from journalists than writing about a concert, which one can certainly resume in a competent way even if one does not stay until the very end.”

In the Bochum event I shared with my audience my usual critique of the common WW2 narrative as well as my different reading of the Holocaust as a meaningful event rather than a mere legal account.

My detailed take on the issues can be found in the following links:

Rearranging the 20th Century: Allegro Non Troppo

Rearranging the 20th Century: Deceptive Cadence

Interview: It Ain’t Necessarily So

What I find very interesting is to discover how this news made the rounds. It seems that on a few leftist lists and on a rabid settler’s site, this news item based on falsity, bad translation and distortion of facts is the “hot” topic of the day. It seems that a few anti-Zionist Jews and some radicals who steal land from Palestinians are sharing their tactic today. They are circulating the news from a site that specialises in what they call Holocaust Denial. It’s a site I don’t read, and won’t even link to, but they obviously do and have. Yes, the rabid Zionists such as Arutzsheva, Seven Plaut and the Jewish anti-Zionists Tony Greenstein and Shraga Elam count on a denial site when it comes to me. I wonder if they suddenly trust Neo Nazis and Holocaust deniers as serious, trustworthy truth-tellers and legitimate sources of information. I wonder how they feel just having demonstrated what kind of navigation they engage in. Since they take the report in the Holocaust Denial site as correct, truthful and precise, how do they know that this site’s account on other things is categorically false? Where do they draw the line, if they draw one? It is probably just too much to expect Zionists (whether they know themselves to be or not) to be consistent. Once again we happen to learn that intellectual integrity is not a common trait amongst Jewish ethnic activists whether they are settlers or leftist cyber stalkers.

Some Human Beings are More Human than Others

Why ethnic campaigning can be unethical
by Mary Rizzo

This blog recently has had some attention from Tony Greenstein. Taking a detour from his general direction of activism (sic) which boils down to exclusively attacking a growing list of other Pro-Palestinian activists – posting the same article that has been proven to be a misrepresentation consisting of a series of out-of-context quotes and insinuations about Gilad Atzmon – he’s using the same method, wallpapering every spot he can think of with his rantings using an identical post (to get the most mileage out of it, I suppose) that my blog is an Anti-Semitic sewer because it had this:





He stated:

“Under a title ‘Peacepalestine Offers Prisoner Exchange’ are four photographs of Ariel Sharon, Gilad Shalit, David Hirsh and myself, with what presumably are supposed to be wanted posters bearing our names, photographs, the title ‘human being’ (presumably this is disputed) and then, in reverse video the word ‘JEW’. All that is missing is the yellow star, but I’m sure Rizzo will manage to find a graphic artist up to the task.”

He then emphasizes that this is “clearly racist and anti-Semitic”.

Well, finally Tony Greenstein and I can partially agree on something. Gilad Atzmon and I have been stressing for years now that asking people to take action or to influence them by merit of some ethnically-based criterion is simply a racist way of thinking and operating, and Tony finally admits as much. If we are people, it shouldn’t matter one iota what group we are born or raised into. Ideologies are mindsets that are not “genetically instilled” and can be adopted or cast off or used at will. We can’t accept an objective ethnic belonging that carries no merit or defect as such, as an ethical device or even a way to persuade people. Ideologies matter, ethnic belonging does not. Belonging to one group or another should be irrelevant when trying to persude people of the value of an argument and influence their opinions. We should move beyond the stage of focussing on a person according to race, sex, religion, nationality or political leaning, and listen to their arguments.

It is too bad that Tony feels the need to continually insist on telling us that he was “The only Jewish speaker” at this meeting or that. Gosh, I didn’t know that there is a census made of the ethnic or religious belonging of the people who speak at meetings and that Tony was privy to that information. He also believes that Jews have special sensitivity to racism. “Jews, of all people, should be the first to oppose racism, whoever the victims and the perpetrators,” he says. While at the same time, he knows how (presumably all) Blacks must feel about it, refering to one of his interlocutors, so that he can be easily identified, apparently, as “a Black Sudanese guy”: “But again Black people have better understanding of racism than white ex-councillors”. (Following this logic, if the white ex-councillors are Jewish, they should be the first to oppose the racism, but other whites certainly are lacking in this moral characteristic.) If one were to judge the way he writes, it seems he does indeed think in racial stereotypes and categories and can’t resist mentioning it as if it were the normal thing to do. Yet, on the other hand, he insists that race does not exist, er… rather, it is a political construct. “Just to be clear. Zionism isn’t based on a race, nor is German anti-Semitism for the simple reason there are no such things as race. Race is a political construct.” (Alef message 5 January, 2008) Whether or not there is such a thing as race seems to be a matter of debate for geneticists, and we’ve all seen acceptable arguments from both sides of the debate. Tony is extremely “ethnically aware”, and this is absolutely crystal clear in almost every intervention he has on internet. One might say that it borders on an obsession. Whites, Blacks, Jews, Non-Jews, hardly a single thing he has written escapes this ethnic (or racial, if you like) labeling, complete with a categorical judgment of the sensitivity each group must have to racism issues a priori of their personal experiences. What DOES seem interesting is the fact that when TONY stresses his ethnicity, in his worldview, it’s a good and positive thing. When OTHER people do it, as the Shalit campaigners do, or those who spoof it, as Peacepalestine has done, it’s clearly racist and anti-Semitic. I wish he would make up his mind one way or the other.

I agree that the campaign for Gilad Shalit is clearly racist, but it is far from being anti-Semitic. They will have to presumably find someone to paste in that Yellow Star as Tony suggests, not because the campaign is anti-Semitic, but because it represents to perfection the Jewish Victim role, the only way we are supposed to feel about Jews, especially Israeli ones. To justify what Israel does, we have to know they are clearly victims of some irrational hatred based on the simple fact that they are Jews in an Arab world hostile to their very existence. The Yellow Star would be an apt symbol of the victim paradigm that we should never forget or place into any context, no matter what. Jews are and will be the eternal victim, and you better get the idea that they act only out of reasons of defense. Being victims, we have to empathise with their plight in all instances.

The identifying label of the righteous victim is used to influence people and suspend any other kind of rational thinking or judgment. The innocent victim status is used in the Shalit campaign to instill an idea that goes against reality. We have to suspend our judgment on the role that he fulfilled. We have to think that a soldier who was in an Occupation army, in occupied territory AS an occupier, not a journalist or excursionist, there to render the lives of the people under Occupation a hell on earth and endanger their very safety with his presence, was just an innocent child who needs to be returned to his worried parents. He has become the centre of a “humanitarian” campaign that has very little to do with humanity, despite the text one can read on the banner.

This campaign has been going on for a while. Anyone who has seen even one blog by Israel supporters has bumped into it. It’s really hard to remain indifferent to. Indeed, the graphic artists felt it NECESSARY to point out that Shalit is a Human being. Oh, yes, and a Jew as well. Generally, members of Homo Sapiens Sapiens ARE considered to be Human beings and we don’t need to be told, even though the pictures of Shalit bring more the idea of a lost puppy to mind.

And we all know that if Shalit was an IDF member, well, he could have been nothing other than Jewish. Tony was shocked at the horrible sort of racist labeling. As a matter of fact, he thought it was something I dreamed up myself and not a parody. He was unaware of this campaign. Where has he been hiding? The amount of posts he leaves around would indicate that he’s online a hell of a lot of hours in a day. A legitimate question to ask is what precisely does he do other than post his own repetitious text? He claims that he fights Zionism, but he has NEVER seen a Zionist site or blog since the day of the campaign??? That is longer than a year. How can one fight the enemy if one does not even know what the enemy is up to? Or maybe he’s seen it, but is pretending righteous indignation in order to influence people who may not be familiar with the propaganda tools of Zionism so that they come to think of my blog in the same jaundiced way he does. He obviously detests it, because it exposes his endless smear and silencing campaigns against Gilad Atzmon. Yet, to call it a rightwing blog with an anti-Semitic and conspiracist agenda is really pushing it. Apparently, he may need to convince himself more than he does others. And with the three-person following he has, he has to work harder on it, apparently.

But, leaving aside this provincial matter for the moment, I shall return to the issue of humanity and the Gilad Shalit campaign. I had the good fortune of working for several years in a major advertising agency as a copy editor and then copywriter. Our clients would show us their new product and we would have to come up with an appropriate campaign. The first thing one has to do is to “frame the target”. You have to know who you are trying to convince, and you have to use a language that will appeal to them on even a subconscious level. You have to reach them, then you have to influence them. Later, they will become an additional and correlated (not to mention cost-free) advertising element, by driving around on your motorcycle (in the case of the campaigns I managed).

Bringing that knowledge to the Shalit campaign, we see this: our target probably is NOT the group or individuals that hold Shalit. Most likely, they would not be overly sensitive to the fact that he is a Jew, or at least, this would not be the aspect of his being that would influence them the most. Perhaps those who created the campaign feel that those holding him in captivity are unaware that he is a human, so they have to spell it out, but I tend to believe that since the advert is in English and in Hebrew, our target is the Zio-blogosphere. So, the banner gets picked up and distributed on sites where people go who support Israel or at least aren’t blatantly or even latently pro-Palestinian. I have never seen the banner on a single pro-Palestinian site. Correct me, someone, if I am wrong and it is posted on some site of the sort.

The language then, has got to appeal to the crowd that follows the Zio-blogosphere. It is “normal” for them, I guess, to believe racial profiling is acceptable. If you are a Jew, anyway, and you are a Jew who is doing it, however. I doubt they would be convinced that Tony is right and that it is anti-Semitic. If I were still in advertising and worked on this campaign, I am pretty sure they would like the Yellow Star, though, and should consider integrating it into future versions of the campaign (all campaigns require a refresher in order to remain effective).

Now, what is the most interesting aspect of the entire campaign, attempting to appeal to the humanitarian aspect of the crisis, is we see just how the people who support this campaign think. Take a look at http://giladshalit.blogspot.com/ and see that there is a poll asking the following question:

Poll: One Year On. What should the Israeli Government do?
What action should the Israeli Government take now that Hamas has clear control of Gaza and it has been 1 year since Gilad Shalit was been kidnapped

Negotiate with Hamas

Negotiate with Hamas, release as many prisoners as it takes

Hold the Hamas Leadership directly accountable

Hold the Leadership accountable and give them one final deadline before military action

Hold Leadership accountable, give deadline for military action and total cessation of all Israeli supplied electricty and Water.

view results

Well, how do you think that the public answered as of today’s date?

Let me show you the results:

What action should the Israeli Government take now that Hamas has clear control of Gaza and it has been 1 year since Gilad Shalit has been kidnapped

Negotiate with Hamas 18% 127

Negotiate with Hamas, release as many prisoners as it takes 14% 97

Hold the Hamas Leadership directly accountable 10% 72

Hold the Leadership accountable and give them another final deadline before military action 10% 73

Hold Leadership accountable, give deadline for military action and total cessation of all Israeli supplied electricty and Water. 47% 327

total votes: 696

More than half of them (58%) demand that there be military action taken (raids, presumably resulting in deaths of innocent civilians, as is often the case), and a whopping 47% call for total cessation of Israeli-supplied electricty (sic) and Water. (As if it comes from someplace else).

What would the result of such a call be? It isn’t too hard to comprehend, given that Israel has already begun the cessation of supply to the people they keep confined in Gaza. It means treating human beings like their lives are expendable, and actually turning a deaf ear as one hears their cries that they are dying. I would hope that people who care about Shalit would think before they push a little button to state their opinion, and consider that it is very inhumane to cut off basic utilities services of the people who you have made depend on them. It is a form of torture and duress. It certainly is how a complete sadist would operate. Animals in a zoo are treated better than that.

Are the people who are so concerned to show the world that the IDF soldier captured while he was in operative duty is a Human being (oh, and a Jew too), able to even see or feel that the more than one million men, women and children in Gaza are Human beings as well? Or does the fact that there are no longer any Jews in Gaza mean that genocide and collective punishment is acceptable? Was the last human removed from Gaza with the unilateral withdrawal?

But, I don’t know why any of this surprises me. We all have heard that the reason for the breakout of the so-called Second Lebanon War was the capture of two IDF soldiers and the killing of eight in the border zone between Lebanon and Israel. This is the Israeli Government version of the war. Therefore, untold death and devastation is a normal and acceptable price to pay for the lives of a Human being (and Jew) wearing an IDF uniform? We know how many innocent Human beings were killed in the war Israel started. This is the page of the Israeli deaths, and this is a listing of all the casualties. Take a look at it carefully. The civilian casualties are 1,233+ (the plus meaning countless and unknown numbers of those whose death was not immediate, and we can probably add a great deal more to this list, given the situation of utter devastation that Israel created in Lebanon. The civilian wounded tops 5,089 people. The military deaths are 438 – 888+ (given the variable reports) and more than 512 wounded. The situation of devastation caused over one million people (human beings, as far as I know) to have been temporarily made into refugees, “with an unknown number of missing civilians in the south”, as was stated in several articles referenced but no longer available in an online version. It is important to mention that the southern zone of Lebanon, a residential area, was cluster bombed, meaning, the resettlement of humans is quite unlikely, due to the remote possibilities of returning to a land that has been wilfully disseminated with unconventional (and illegal, even in an activity as unholy as war) weapons that will bring about devastation for years to come. These weapons were dropped there precisely for that inhumane purpose by the Israeli army.

So, are we to deduce from all of this that you are only a Human being if you wear an IDF uniform? Or if you are a Jew? Is calling for carnage and devastation to other Human beings a proper response to the capture of a soldier? Judging by the “humanitarian” mode of thinking by those who support the Free Gilad Shalit campaign, I think we can come to some of our own conclusions.

One thing is clear, and that is that we are anaesthetized into thinking that if it is a Jewish activist, campaigning as such, calling for action, be it to “fight anti-Semitism”, “bring down Zionism” or to collectively punish millions of non-Jews (non-Humans?) it is something “normal”. It is indeed not something normal, and it is about time we started to stop expecting people to think in pre-masticated ways, expecting them to assume that a Jew certainly should know better or act in a way that is beyond judgment. This is a call for the end, once and for all, of ethnically based campaigning. It’s just another aspect of racist campaigning, and it treats us all like we are racists and need to be told what is right and what is wrong.

Gilad Atzmon – The Primacy of the Ear

The Road from Music to Ethics
An alternative take on the Israeli Palestinian conflict and peace activism
(Postscript by Manuel Talens)

Rather often I face the same question when interviewed by Arab media outlets: “Gilad, how is it that you observe that which so many Israelis fail to see?” Indeed, not many Israelis interpret the Israeli ethical failure as an inherent symptom. For many years I didn’t have any answer to offer. However, recently I realised that it must have something to do with my Saxophone. It is music that has shaped my views of the Israeli Palestinian conflict and formed my criticism of Jewish identity.

Today I will talk about the road from music to ethics.

It is known that life looks like a meaningful event when reviewed retrospectively from its end to its very beginning. Accordingly, I will try to scrutinise my own battle with Zionism through my late evolvement as a musician. I will explore my struggle with Arabic music. I will try to elaborate retrospectively on the role of music on my understanding of the world that surrounds me. To a certain extent, this is the story of my life to date (at least one of them).

I grew up in Israel in a rather Zionist secular family. My Grandfather was a charismatic poetic veteran terrorist, an ex prominent commander in the right wing Irgun terror organisation. I may admit that he had a tremendous influence on me in my early days. His hatred towards anything that failed to be Jewish was a major inspiration. He hated Germans; consequently he didn’t allow my dad to buy a German car. He also despised the Brits for colonising his ‘promised land’. I assume that he didn’t detest the Brits as much as he hated the Germans because he allowed my father to drive an old Vauxhall Viva. He was also pretty cross with the Palestinians for dwelling on the land he was sure belonged to him and his people. Rather often he used to wonder about the Palestinians: “these Arabs have so many countries, why do they have to live exactly in the land we want to live in?” But more than anything, my grandfather hated Jewish Leftists. However, it is important to mention that since Jewish leftists have never produced any cars, this specific loathing didn’t mature into a conflict of interests between himself and my dad. Being a follower of Zeev Jabotinsky, my Grandfather obviously realised that Leftist philosophy and the Jewish value system is a contradiction in terms. Being a veteran right wing terrorist as well a proud tribal Jew, he knew very well that tribalism can never live in peace with humanism and universalism. Following his mentor Jabotinsky, he believed in the “Iron Wall” philosophy. He supposed that Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular should be confronted fearlessly and fiercely. Quoting Betar’s anthem he repeatedly said, “in blood and sweat, we would erect our race”.

My Grandfather believed in the Jewish race, and so did I in my very early days. Like my peers, I didn’t see the Palestinians around me. They were no doubt there, they fixed my father’s car for half the price, they built our houses, they cleaned the mess we left behind, they were schlepping boxes in the local food store, but they always disappeared just before sunset and appeared again around dawn. They had never socialised with us. We didn’t really understand who they were and what they stood for. Supremacy was no doubt brewed in our being, we gazed at the world via a racist, chauvinist binocular.

When I was seventeen, I was preparing myself for my compulsory IDF service. Being a well-built teenager fuelled with Zionist spirit and soaked in self-righteousness, I was due to join an air force special rescuing unit. But then the unexpected happened. On an especially late night Jazz program, I heard Bird (Charlie Parker) with Strings .

I was knocked down. It was by far more organic, poetic, sentimental and yet wilder than anything I had ever heard before. My father used to listen to Bennie Goodman and Artie Shaw, these two were entertaining, they could play the clarinet, but Bird was a different story altogether. He was a fierce libidinal extravaganza of wit and energy. The morning after, I decided to skip school, I rushed to ‘Piccadilly Record’, Jerusalem’s No 1 music shop. I found the jazz section and bought every bebop album they had on the shelves (probably two albums). On the bus, on the way home, I realised that Bird was actually a Black man. It didn’t take me by complete surprise, but it was kind of a revelation, in my world, it was only Jews who were associated with anything good. Bird was a beginning of a journey.

***

At the time, like my peers, I was pretty convinced that Jews were indeed the chosen people. My generation was raised on the Six Day War magical victory, we were totally sure of ourselves. Since we were secular, we associated every success with our omnipotent qualities. We didn’t believe in divine intervention, we believed in ourselves. We believed that our might is brewed in our resurrected Hebraic soul and flesh. The Palestinians, on their part, were serving us obediently and it didn’t seem at the time as if this was ever going to change. They didn’t show any real signs of collective resistance. The sporadic so-called ‘terror’ attacks made us feel righteous, it filled us with some eagerness to get revenge. But somehow within this extravaganza of omnipotence, to my great surprise, I learned to realize that the people who excited me the most were actually a bunch of Black Americans. People who have nothing to do with the Zionist miracle. People that had nothing to do with my own chauvinist exclusive tribe.

It didn’t take more than two days before I hired my first saxophone. The saxophone is a very easy instrument to start with, and if you don’t believe me you better ask Bill Clinton. However, as much as the saxophone was an easy instrument to pick up, playing like Bird or Cannonball looked like an impossible mission. I started to practice day and night, and the more I practiced, the more I was overwhelmed with the tremendous achievement of that great family of Black American musicians, a family I was then starting to know closely. Within a month I learned about Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, Hank Mobley, Monk, Oscar Peterson and Duke, and the more I listened the more I realised that my initial Judeo-centric upbringing was totally wrong. After one month with a saxophone shoved up my mouth, my Zionist enthusiasm disappeared completely. Instead, of flying choppers behind enemy lines, I started to fantasize about living in NYC, London or Paris. All I wanted was a chance to listen to the great names of Jazz and in the late 1970’s, many of them were still around.

Nowadays, youngsters who want to play Jazz tend to enroll in a music college, in my days it was very different. Those who wanted to play classical music would enroll in a college or a music academy, however, those who wanted to play for the sake of music would stay at home and swing around the clock. Nonetheless, in the late 1970’s there was no Jazz education in Israel and in my hometown Jerusalem there was just a single Jazz club. It was called Pargod and it was set in an old converted pictorial Turkish Bath. Every Friday afternoon they ran a jam session and for my first two years in jazz, these jams were the essence of my life. Literally speaking, I stopped everything else, I just practiced day and night preparing myself for the next ‘Friday Jam’. I listened to music, I transcribed some great solos, I even practiced while sleeping. I decided to dedicate my life to Jazz accepting the fact that as a white Israeli, my chances to make it to the top were rather slim. Without realising it at the time, my emerging devotion to jazz had overwhelmed my Zionist exclusive tendencies. Without being aware, I left the chosenness behind. I had become an ordinary human being. Years later, I realised that Jazz was my escape route. Within months I felt less and less connected to my surrounding reality, I saw myself as part of a far broader and greater family. A family of music lovers, a bunch of adorable people who were concerned with beauty and spirit rather than land and occupation.

However, I still had to join the IDF. Though later generations of Israeli young Jazz musicians just escaped the army and ran away to the Jazz Mecca NYC, for me, a young lad of Zionist origin in Jerusalem, such an option wasn’t available, a possibility as such didn’t even occur to me.

In July 1981 I joined the Israeli Army but, I may suggest proudly, that from my first day in the army I was doing my very best to avoid any call of duty. Not because I was a pacifist, not because I cared that much about the Palestinians or subject to a latent peace enthusiasm, I just loved to be alone with my saxophone.

When the 1st Lebanon war broke, I was a soldier for one year. It didn’t take a genius to know the truth, I knew that our leaders were lying. Every Israeli soldier realised that this war was an Israeli aggression. Personally I couldn’t feel anymore any attachment to the Zionist cause. I didn’t feel part of it. Yet, it still wasn’t the politics or ethics that moved alienated me, but rather my craving to be alone with my horn. Playing scales at the speed of light seemed to me far more important for than killing Arabs in the name of Jewish redemption. Thus, instead of becoming a qualified killer I spent every possible effort trying to join one of the military bands. It took a few months, but I eventually landed safely at the Israeli Air Force Orchestra (IAFO).

The IAFO was made of a unique social setting, you could join in either for being an excellent promising Jazz talent or just for being a son of a dead pilot. The fact that I was accepted, knowing that my Dad was amongst the living reassured me for the first time that I may be a musical talent. To my great surprise, none of the orchestra members took the army seriously. We were all concerned about one thing, our very personal musical development. We hated the army and it didn’t take time before I started to hate the state that had such a big army with such a big air force that needed a band that stopped me from practicing 24/7. When we were called to play in a military event, we always tried to play as bad as we could just to make sure that we would never get invited again. In the IAFO orchestra I learned for the first time how to be subversive. How to destroy the system in order to achieve immaculate personal perfection.

In the summer of 1984, just 3 weeks before I took off my military uniform, we were sent to Lebanon for a tour of concerts. At the time, Lebanon was a very dangerous place to be in and the Israeli army was dug deep in bunkers and trenches avoiding any confrontation with the local population. On the 2nd day we arrived at Ansar, a notorious Israeli concentration camp on Lebanese soil. This event changed my life.

It was a boiling day in early July. On a dusty dirt track we arrived at hell on earth. A huge detention centre surrounded by barbed wire. On the way to the camp headquarters we drove through the view of thousands of inmates being scorched under the sun. It is hard to believe, but military bands are always treated as VIPs. Once we landed at the officer command barracks we were taken for a guided tour in the camp. We were walking along the endless barbed wire and the post guard towers. I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Who are these people?” I asked the officer. “They are Palestinians” he said, here are the PLO on the left and here on the right are the Ahmed Jibril’s ones, they are far more dangerous (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine PFLP-GC) so we keep them isolated.

I looked at the detainees and they looked very different to the Palestinians I saw in Jerusalem. The ones I saw in Ansar were angry. They were not defeated and they were many. As we moved along the barbed wire and I was gazing at the inmates, I realised that unbearable truth, I was walking there in Israeli military uniform. While I was still contemplating about my uniform, trying to deal with some severe sense of emerging shame, we arrived at a large flat ground in the middle of the camp. We stood there around the guide officer and learned more from him, some more lies about the current war to defend our Jewish haven. While he was boring us to death with some irrelevant lies I noticed that we were surrounded by two dozen concrete blocks the size of one square meter and around 1.30 cm high. They had a small metal door and I was horrified by the fact that my army may have decided to lock the guard dogs in these constructions for the night. Putting my Israeli Chutzpah into action, I asked the guide officer what these horrible concrete cubes were. He was fast to answer. “These are our solitary confinement blocks, after two days in one of these you become a devoted Zionist”.

This was enough for me. I realised already then in 1984 that my affair with the Israeli state and Zionism was over. Yet, I knew very little about Palestine, about the Nakba or even about Judaism and Jewishness. I just realized that as far as I was concerned, Israel was bad news and I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. Two weeks later, I gave my uniform back, I grabbed my alto sax, took the bus to Ben Gurion airport and left for Europe for a few months. I was basking in the street. At the age of 21, I was free for the first time. In December it was too cold and I went back home with a clear intention to make it back to Europe.

***

It took me another 10 years before I could leave Israel for good. In these years I started to learn closely about the Israeli Palestinian conflict, about oppression. I started to accept that I was actually living on someone else’s land. I started to take in that devastating fact that in 1948 the Palestinians didn’t really leave willingly but were rather brutally ethnically cleansed by my Grandfather and his ilk. I started to realize that ethnic cleansing has never stopped in Israel, it just took different shapes and forms. I started to acknowledge the fact that the Israeli legal system was totally racially orientated. A good example was obviously the ‘Law of Return’, a law that welcomes Jews to come ‘home’ after 2000 years but stops Palestinians from returning to their land and villages after 2 years abroad. All that time I had been developing as a musician, I had become a major session player and a musical producer. Yet, I wasn’t really involved in any political activity. I scrutinised the Israeli left discourse and realized that it was very much a social club rather than an ideological setting motivated by ethical awareness.

At the time of Oslo agreement (1994), I just couldn’t take it anymore. I realized that Israeli ‘peace making’ equals ‘piss taking’. It wasn’t there to reconcile with the Palestinians or to confront the Zionist original sin. Instead it was there to reassure the secure existence of the Jewish state at the expense of the Palestinians. The Palestinian Right of Return wasn’t an option at all. I decided to leave my home, to leave my career. I left everything behind including my wife Tali, who joined me later. All I took with me was my Tenor Saxophone, my true eternal friend.

I moved to London and attended postgraduate studies in Philosophy at Essex University. Within a week in London I managed to get a residency at the Black Lion, a legendary Irish pub in Kilburn High Road. At the time I didn’t understand how lucky I was. I didn’t know how difficult it is to get a gig in London. In fact this was the beginning of my international career as a Jazz musician. Within a year I had become very popular in the UK playing bebop and post bop. Within three years I was playing with my band all over Europe.

However, it didn’t take long before I started to feel some homesickness. To my great surprise, it wasn’t Israel that I missed. It wasn’t Tel Aviv, Haifa or Jerusalem. It was actually Palestine. It wasn’t the rude taxi driver in Ben Gurion airport, or a shopping center in Ramat Gan, it was the little Humus place in Yafo at Yesfet/Salasa streets. It was the Palestinian villages that are stretched on the hills between the olive trees and the Sabbar cactuses. I realized that whenever I felt like visiting home, I would end up in Edgware Road, I would spend the evening in a Lebanese restaurant. However, once I started to explore my thoughts about Israel in public, it soon became clear to me that Edgware Road was probably as close as I could ever get to my homeland.

***

I may admit that In Israel, I wasn’t at all interested in Arabic music. Supremacist colonials are never interested in the culture of the indigenous. I always loved folk music. I was already established in Europe as a leading Klezmer player. Throughout the years I started to play Turkish and Greek music. However, I completely skipped Arabic music and Palestinian music in particular. Once in London, in these Lebanese restaurants, I started to realise that I have never really explored the music of my neighbors. More concerning, I just ignored it, though I heard it all the time. It was all around me, I never really listened. It was there in every corner of my life, the call for prayers from the Mosques over the hills. Um Kalthoum’, Farid El Atrash, Abdel Halim Hafez, were there in every corner of my life, in the street, on the TV, in the small cafes in old city Jerusalem, in the restaurants. They were all around me but I dismissed them disrespectfully.

In my mid thirties, away from my homeland, I was drawn into the indeginous music of my homeland. It wasn’t easy. It was on the verge of unfeasible. As much as Jazz was easy for me to take in, Arabic music was almost impossible. I would put the music on, I would grab my saxophone or clarinet, I would try to integrate and I would sound foreign. I soon realized that Arabic music was a completely different language altogether. I didn’t know where to start and how to approach it.

Jazz music is a western product. It evolved in the 20th century and developed in the margins of the cultural industry. Bebop, the music I grew up on is made of relatively short fragments of music. The tunes are short because they had to fit into the 1940’s record format (3 min). Western music can be easily transcribed into some visual content within standard notation and chord symbols.

Jazz, like every other Western art form, is partially digital. Arabic music, on the other hand, is analogue, it cannot be transcribed. Once transcribed, its authenticity evaporates. By the time I achieved enough humane maturity to face the music of my homeland, my musical knowledge stood in the way.

I couldn’t understand what was it that stopped me from encompassing Arabic music. I couldn’t understand why it didn’t sound right. I spent enough time listening and practicing. But it just didn’t sound right. As time went by, music journalists in Europe started to appreciate my new sound, they started to regard me as a new Jazz hero who crossed the divide as well as an expert of Arabic music. I knew that they were wrong, as much as I tried to cross the so-called ‘divide’, I could easily notice that my sound and interpretation was foreign to the Arabic true colour.

But then, I found an easy trick. In my gigs, when trying to emulate the oriental sound, I would first sing a line that reminded me the sound I ignored in my childhood, I would try to recall echoes of the Muezzin sneaking into our streets from the valleys around. I would try to recall the astonishing haunting sound of my friends Dhafer Youssef and Nizar Al Issa. I would hear myself the low lasting voice of Abel Halim Hafez. Initially I would just close my eyes and listen to my internal ear, but without realizing I started gradually to open my mouth and sing loudly. I then realised that if I sing while having the saxophone in my mouth I would achieve a sound that was very close to the mosques’ metal horns. Originally I tried to get closer to the Arabic sound but at a certain stage, I just forgot what I was trying to achieve; I started to enjoy myself.

Last year, while recording an album in Switzerland, I realized suddenly that my Arabic sound wasn’t embarrassing anymore. Once listening to some takes in the control room I suddenly noticed that the echos of Jenin, Al Quds and Ramallah popped naturally out of the speakers. I tried to ask myself what happened, why did it suddenly started to sound genuine. I realized that I have given up on the primacy of the eye and reverted to the primacy of the ear. I didn’t look for an inspiration in the manuscript, in the music notes or the chord symbol. Instead, I was listening to my internal voice. Struggling with Arabic music reminded me why I did start to play music in the first place. At the end of the day, I heard Bird in the radio rather seeing him on MTV.

I would like to end this talk by saying that it is about time we learn to listen to the people we care for. It is about time we listen to the Palestinians rather than following some decaying textbooks. It is about time. Only recently I grasped that ethics comes into play when the eyes shut and the echoes of conscience are forming a tune within one’s soul. To empathise is to accept the primacy of the ear.

AN AUDIO VERSION OF THIS PRESENTATION CAN BE HEARD BY FOLLOWING THIS LINK! (or this one)

Postscript by Manuel Talens:

Gilad Atzmon or Exile’s redemption

Ever since I met Gilad Atzmon a few years back for a lengthy interview I’ve been convinced that this man listens to the world with the ears of an artist. It wasn’t by chance that I entitled it Beauty as a political weapon, as both his music and his writings always exude a profound and beautiful poetry, even if they deal – as they usually do – with the unrelenting Palestinian tragedy caused by Israel. This paper, which is the core of a talk he delivered recently at Brighton, UK, is no exception to this rule. Yet, instead of treating the subject from the outside – a literary technique that establishes a distance and “cools it down” – here the former Israeli Atzmon adopts the painful role of a subject who places himself at the thick of things and tells us his own itinerary from the racist hell of the Zionist state, where he was born, to the only ethical escape he had in front of him once he heard the light through the miracle of music: voluntary exile. Exile, as well-informed readers of this great jazzman already know, is one of his finest albums. To me, it is also the main argument of this current piece. It is not by chance if other Israelis as honest as Ilan Pappe have also chosen exile – like Atzmon – as the only way to redeem themselves from the shame of belonging to a state where indigenous population are treated as if they were despicable beasts. But Atzmon’s recapitulation has a wonderful plus in itself – at least for music lovers – and it is the sharp narration of his awakening from the sinful Israeli nightmare he was immersed in to the liberation of ceasing to belong, all this thanks to Charlie Parker’s art. Art is the communicating vessel uniting Parker and Atzmon. But there is more: the fact that Parker was Black – a race as looked down by all-time colonialists as Palestinians by today’s Zionists – serves symbolically to the purpose of Atzmon’s redemption: embracing the cause of Black music meant for him to kill two birds with one stone, as he simultaneously embraced the cause of liberating Palestinians through political activism. Texts like this one, written by people like Atzmon who have decided to join mankind without tribal discriminations and who define themselves as ex-Zionists help us to maintain the hope that one day the land of Palestine will be free of this racist post-modern plague and all its inhabitants will live in peace regardless of religion or ethnicity.