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Gilad Atzmon: Tangling with Jews

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  • World View
    Mary Rizzo interviews Gilad Atzmon Tangling with the Oppressor - What really matters is what Palestinians Do Thursday, July 5, 2007
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 6, 2007
      Mary Rizzo interviews Gilad Atzmon

      Tangling with the Oppressor -
      What really matters is what Palestinians Do
      Thursday, July 5, 2007

      Interviewing Gilad Atzmon is never easy, but always interesting. It's
      challenging because when it comes down to it, there is so much
      material, it has to be drastically reduced to make an interview fill
      an acceptable, customary length that is palatable to the average
      reader. It is interesting because he is able to effortlessly and
      authoritatively address a wide range of topics in an entertaining
      way. Although a frequent participant on the Peacepalestine blog and
      regularly published there, the last formal interview I did with him
      was in April of 2005. A lot has changed since then, both in the world
      Atzmon comments about, Israel-Palestine (and the activism movements
      that are born of this issue), and in his own career. Since then, he
      has released a CD under a pseudonym, recorded his soon-to-be released
      album with The Orient House Ensemble, composed theatre music and
      embarked on a multi-media project. As much as I would have liked to
      share that side of the discussion, this interview doesn't address the
      artistic aspects of Gilad Atzmon, but sheds more light on his
      thoughts about the events that take place in the world we live in.
      Mary Rizzo

      Mary: For years, regarding Israel-Palestine we've heard, One State,
      Two State, now even Three State Solution. What kind of perspective do
      you see?

      Gilad: It should be clear by now that any discourse of resolution may
      have very limited relevance with the reality on the ground. Thus, we
      better leave this issue behind.

      Mary: You've expressed on many occasions that your primary concern is
      supporting the liberation of the Palestinian people. The question at
      this time might get confusing for the public who see Palestinians of
      the two principle parties of the Unity Government involved in armed
      clashes of the militia. How can anyone effectively support a group
      that is itself divided into factions?

      Gilad: It's true that they seem divided and for more than a while
      we've been witnessing an emerging crisis within the Palestinian
      society as a whole. But, for some time, it's been clear to me that
      this very conflict, this factionalism, is something we shouldn't
      interfere with. At any rate, it's nothing that is new. Palestinians
      are divided by circumstances that are created by a Jewish State and
      its continuous abuse of human rights and its genocidal approach.

      Mary: So Palestinian division is something that we need to view as a
      more or less ordinary and established condition?

      Gilad: It is symptomatic to societies under oppression and the
      Israeli abuse of human rights is no doubt exceeding anything we may
      be familiar with. However, first we have to recognise where these
      divisions are. There are 3 separate and distinct and opposing
      discourses. We have the Palestinians who possess Israeli citizenship,
      they fight for equal rights. But then, as soon as they express their
      totally legitimate demands, they are called traitors and have to run
      for their lives from the Israelis like in the case of the adorable
      Knesset Member Azmi Bishara.

      The second discourse is formed in the Occupied Territories, with the
      starved Palestinians in Gaza and those in the West Bank who are
      slightly better off, demanding an end to occupation. They all are
      calling for that, and it's been recently that we on the outside can
      see that the Palestinians in the OT have been largely divided not
      about the goal, but about the tactic to be employed achieving the
      withdrawal of Israel. While the Fatah is willing to negotiate its way
      through, Hamas leaders largely believe in defiance.

      The third group is obviously the Diaspora Palestinians, they demand
      to return to their lands and homes. Many of them live in refugee
      camps and we can see that their living conditions are often inhumane.

      All three groups have totally legitimate demands, this is clear. Yet,
      Every Western Palestinian solidarity campaigner who tries to offer
      help runs into severe danger of supporting one cause but dismissing
      the two others, that is, if he is even aware of the seriousness of
      the situation of the others. While fighting for the right of return,
      which is no doubt the backbone of the Palestinian cause, one may end
      up dismissing the urgency of worsening starvation in Gaza. Those who
      fight against occupation and those who are determined to break the
      siege are at a danger of ignoring the millions of Palestinians who
      are stranded in camps all over the Middle East. Clearly, the majority
      of solidarity activists can see truth and urgency in the 3 apparent
      Palestinian causes. Yet, engagement in one front usually leads to
      dismissal of the 2 others.

      This is why I've been suggesting that we divert the focus. Rather
      than interfering with Palestinian internal debate we have to diagnose
      the root of the problem. My take on the subject is simple and clear.
      We have to be in the struggle against their oppressors. It is the
      Jewish State that has created and maintains the Palestinians in a
      condition of suffering. It is the Jewish State that employs tactics
      of divide and rule. It is Israel's supportive lobbies around the
      world which we must critically confront. It is Israel and its
      astonishingly powerful lobbies in Washington and in Europe that are
      behind the misery in Gaza, rather than inter-Palestinian clashes.
      There's no other way around this. You can't bring about an end to the
      oppression if you refuse to tangle with the oppressor.

      Mary: So what is your role? Is it possible that you do not regard
      yourself as activist, not even a political artist anymore?

      Gilad: When it comes to me, I am engaged in scrutiny of the
      complexity of the Jewish world. I aim towards understanding the
      notion of Jewish racial brotherhood. I want to understand the
      relationships between the Jewish State and the Jewish world, between
      Israel and Jewry, between Jewishness and Zionism. I want to find out
      whether there is any real categorical difference between Zionists and
      'Jews Against Zionism' because as far as I can see, both are racially
      orientated activities.

      Mary: Is the Jewish world directly implicated in the oppression?
      Wouldn't it be more direct to deal exclusively with Israel and its
      supporting States? We all know that sometimes the citizens of a State
      don't fully support their leaders, and this is true in the West and
      elsewhere. Why is Israel different?

      Gilad: This is indeed a set of crucial questions. The first question
      to be asked is what is this thing called 'Jewish World'? Is it the
      world of all the living Jews? Is there such a world? Is there such a
      collective entity? The answer is NO, yet it is symptomatic to Jewish
      ethnic politicians to talk in a collective manner, whether it is in
      the name of the holocaust, or its victims, the sufferers. As we know,
      Sharon informed us after the Jenin massacre that it was done in the
      name of the Jews. Did he have the mandate to say it? Not really. As
      it seems there is a fairly organised set of Jewish bodies who are
      supporting the Jewish State in the name of the Jews, and we also see
      far less organised miniature groups who oppose Israel in the name of
      the Jews. These two opposing political identities teach us nothing
      about the Jewish world, but rather about a Jewish political tendency
      to talk in the name of the Jewish people. This probably is one of the
      manifestations of Jewish political management within a liberal
      democratic environment.

      I wouldn't be able to assure you that Moshe Cohen from Golders Green
      London is supporting the Israeli oppression, yet I can tell you
      categorically that Israeli oppression is conducted on behalf of Moshe
      Cohen. This leaves us in a very complicated situation. Now, let's
      assume that Mr Cohen doesn't agree with Israel. He can then try to
      react politically as a Jew, he could easily shout 'not in MY Jewish
      name', but this would mean blaming all his brothers for supporting
      Israel. This would indeed approve the Israeli claim for acting in the
      name of the Jews. The Israeli foreign minister will be able to claim
      after the next massacre that it was done in the name of world Jewry
      except Mr Cohen from Golders Green. Alternatively, Cohen can as well
      shout 'not in OUR Jewish names' but then he would be as guilty, as
      much as Israel is guilty, of assuming a Jewish intellectual, ethical
      and ideological collective. Thus, I believe that only two
      possibilities are left a Jew to oppose Israel politically, either to
      act as an ordinary human being rather than as a chosen one, or
      alternatively to oppose the Jewish State in the name of Jewish values
      and that would mean to suggest a humanist interpretation of Judaism.
      This is what Torah Jews manage to do to a certain success.

      However, I do believe that since Israel insists upon regarding itself
      as the Jewish State, we are entitled to tackle it as a Jewish State.
      I believe that if there is a lesson to be learned from the Holocaust,
      it is the devastating impact of racism and political racism. We have
      to fight racism. As it seems there is not a single legitimate
      racially exclusive political movement in the West except the Jewish
      ones, whether we speak about Zionism or 'Jews against Zionism'. We
      have to stand up against any form of a racial segregative formula.

      Mary: But if an activist group is organised by race, and here we
      could get into a debate as to whether or not Jewishness is a race or
      if it is something else, that doesn't mean that it is racist, does
      it? That would make all groups that organise on behalf of their race
      into racist entities. The civil rights group the NAACP, which
      represents American Blacks would get this same label if I'm following
      your logic.

      Gilad: Let's divide the answer into two parts. The first question is
      whether Jews form a race. The answer is NO, yet Jewish political
      activism is by definition racially orientated. Bizarrely enough, it
      may be possible that Israel is more open to the idea of Jews being
      multi-racial than London Jewish Socialists who celebrate their
      Yiddish culture but may have far less in common with an Iraqi Jewish
      socialist. The second question is slightly more complicated. Is a
      racially orientated liberating activity necessarily a racist cause? I
      would say that we should never pass judgment on the oppressed.
      However as far as I am aware, not a single liberation and civil
      rights movement stopped other ethnic or racial identities from
      joining in. We know of many white Americans (many of them Jews) who
      joined the civil rights movement. We know of Jews who were active in
      the PLO over the years. Yet, I am not aware of many Goyim who joined
      the Bund.

      Mary: Getting back to the initial part of our discussion, your policy
      is to never take sides if the debate or the clash involves only

      Gilad: Recognising the historical injustice against the Palestinian
      people and watching the escalating Israeli barbarism my moral duty is
      clear to me. I just support the Palestinian people and their
      different choices even if those are contradicting. Rather than trying
      to fit the Palestinian struggle into a decaying 19th century working
      class philosophy or any other ideology, I fit myself to their call. I
      do regard Palestine and the Palestinians as the avant garde and the
      forefront of the battle against modern evil.

      Mary: What is modern evil?

      Gilad: It is clearly Zionism and the current Zionised Anglo-
      Americanism colonialism.

      Mary: So you don't classify Abbas or Dahlan as traitors of their
      people, opportunists or even politically mislead? You abstain from
      criticising them?

      Gilad: I have seen people within our camp who happen to be judgmental
      of Abbas for his recent moves and I can see where they come from. I
      can understand the frustration. I myself happen to be angry rather
      often, yet, I am the last to be judgemental about any Palestinian
      act. My job, or may I suggest, our job is to understand different
      modes of thinking amongst those who've been living under occupation
      for four decades, those have been dispossessed for sixty years, those
      who face the most brutal interpretation of the notion of the Jewish
      secular supremacist world view.

      My task is to throw light on the situation, to understand the
      justifications of various acts, to give reasons, to let reason be. I
      am there to remind whoever wants to listen that the Hamas was
      democratically elected by the vast majority of the Palestinian people
      in the PA, and that means the West Bank as well as Gaza. I am there
      to remind my Western listeners that there has never been a
      Palestinian dream of two states: CNN is still talking about the
      shattered Palestinian dream of the 2 states solution. I am there to
      alert my Western listeners that Shalom is not peace and in fact there
      is hardly any voice for peace within the Jewish world.

      Mary: Would you say that Israelis start to understand that solution
      to the conflict may be beyond reach?

      Gilad: Israelis do anticipate their doomsday, they are now surrounded
      with total defiance. Israel comes to realise its temporality and
      Avrum Burg's invaluable interview with Ari Shavit exposes it.
      Clearly, there is no room to talk about solutions anymore, the
      conflict will mature into a single Palestinian State. And I am rather
      delighted about that.

      Mary: We'll get back to the implications of Burg in a few minutes,
      but you are stating that the Palestinians never had a dream, as the
      CNN is putting it, of a Palestinian State alongside an Israeli one,
      even though the PLO had endorsed this.

      Gilad: First, let's be accurate here, What CNN is referring to is a
      dream of a unified Palestinian State of the lands beyond Israel's
      1967 borders, yet, looking at the map reveals that there is no such
      State, as far as we can see, it is Gaza and the West Bank with a huge
      Jewish ghetto in the middle. This is not a unified State. Moreover,
      the two State solution has never been a Palestinian dream and will
      never be one. It was maybe a possible vision of a settlement, nothing
      more than that. And as many of us have been predicting for more than
      a decade, it would never work out because it dismisses the
      Palestinian cause.

      Mary: I imagine that now, after the formation of a "technical
      government" headed by Fatah, many activists are relieved that the
      economic strangulation against parts of what would be the future
      Palestine is being lifted by the unfreezing of some funds. But in
      similar way, they are glad Hamas is out of the official picture, that
      their warnings against Hamas being in government were fulfilled.
      Maybe some think of saving the saveable and letting things in Gaza
      run whatever course they may. The West Bank for "Palestine" and Gaza
      for "Hamas".

      Gilad: It is rather obvious that many Palestinian solidarity
      campaigners happen to associate themselves with the Fatah, with Abbas
      and his emergency government. We are living in a world that seemed to
      be free at one point. I believe that people should follow their
      heart. Yet, I believe that to support Palestine is to respect the
      choice of the Palestinian people. That means to congratulate the
      Hamas and the people of Gaza for their defiance. The Hamas had
      eventually to take position by force. This is really amazing when you
      think about it. I am not surprised that Tony Blair, once a war
      criminal and now a peace envoy, sanctioned the Hamas, but then, we
      better ask ourselves, what did we do to support the legitimate choice
      of the Palestinian people?

      Mary: Do you think then that this moment is they eye of a hurricane,
      or is the division going to take even more dramatic turns?

      Gilad: I want to believe that civil war in Gaza is over.

      Mary: Hardly a civil war, it can be classified as a preventive
      military or paramilitary action that is popular these days in the
      Middle East. Hamas took control of the situation before a Fatah coup
      that they feared was in the air.

      Gilad: But we have to look at it in a bigger picture. We have to
      remember that Hamas won the election both in Gaza and the West Bank.
      Practically speaking, the current Emergency Government in Ramallah is
      actually the one that is involved in an act that is forcefully moving
      an elected Government. They do it with the support of the West and
      Israel. The current Emergency Government will be operating with
      Israeli backing and with the support of the Israeli occupation
      forces. In the long run, this may be a kiss of death to the Fatah
      movement, a secular agenda that had been leading the Palestinian
      struggle for many years. This is a big shame.

      Mary: Obviously, you want to combat Israel as it is the cause of the
      suffering of so many people. For a while, it seems as if there were
      no concrete efforts around to combat Israel, but recently there has
      been a growing movement to make a boycott of some sort against Israel
      as a means of protest. Do you think it's a good and effective tool
      for change?

      Gilad: Boycott is a real complicated issue. For years we've been
      arguing in favour of divestment and boycott. At the time I supported
      any form of boycott in Israel, its products and its culture.

      There are some elements in the boycott that are obviously very
      welcome. For instance, the fact that UK unions are standing up
      against Zionist evil is a major shift in the very right direction.
      The Boycott is certainly bad news for Israel and this is wonderful
      news in itself. Yesterday, I went to a reading of a play, it was
      actually a theatrical adaptation my latest book. The producer is
      Jewish, and at a certain stage when we were discussing the meaning of
      the play he stood up and said. "You see, we had a Jewish State, it is
      now sixty years later, and it is a very horrible place, it is so
      horrible that it has now been boycotted. And this is there to make us
      think, where did it go wrong?" This is the most positive impact of
      the boycott. It makes people reflect.

      Yet, I have some serious reservations, which I am inclined to mention.

      One, I see a tremendous difference between banning an avocado and a
      book. I would welcome any form of financial restrictions on Israel
      and its supportive bodies yet, I truly believe in freedom of speech
      and oppose any form of Maccarthyism or intellectual censorship of any
      sort. Thus, interfering with academic freedom isn't exactly something
      I can blindly advocate. Unlike some of my best enlightened friends, I
      am against any form of gatekeeping or book burning. But it goes
      further, I actually want to hear what Israelis and Zionists have to
      say. I want to read their books. I want to confront their academics.
      If justice is on our side we should be able to confront them.

      Mary: Of course, they won't stop writing or proposing their ideas,
      and actually, they might become more reactionary in the process.

      Gilad: Actually, I do not think that they can become any more
      reactionary. The second point is, to impose a boycott is to employ a
      boycotter. When it comes to an academic boycott I would expect the
      inquisitor in charge to be a scholar of great esteem. This isn't the
      case obviously. The reason is simple. As it naturally happens, major
      intellectuals are engaged in scholarship rather than in union
      politics, working class and proletarian activity. Seemingly, it isn't
      the leading minds in British academic life and ethical thinking who
      are leading the Boycott. In fact it is the other way around, the
      boycott is led by some minor academics with very little to say about
      ethics and even less to say about the specific conflict. This fact is
      actually repeatedly exposed in televised debates. The anti-Zionist
      movement in Britain has yet to find the appropriate eloquent answer
      to the Dershowitzes of this world.

      Three, when it comes to the Palestinian solidarity discourse I can
      identify two modes of discussion: the ethical and political. The
      ethical mode is obviously evoked by a natural humanist reaction to
      the endless flood of images of Israeli criminal activity. The
      political discourse, on the other hand, is pretty much autonomous and
      detached from the conflict. It has a lot to do with maintenance of
      some particular decaying old-school socialists within the fading
      progressive Western discourse. It has very little to do with
      Palestine and the transitions within the Palestinian struggle. When
      it comes to the current boycott we are unfortunately operating within
      a political mode rather than an ethical one. I say unfortunately,
      because Palestinian reality is neither an isolated event in history
      nor it is isolated in the region. Had the academics been ethically
      orientated, they would have to ask themselves what they, their unions
      and Universities have been doing to stop the ongoing slaughter in
      Iraq. What do they do to oppose the British Government that is
      engaged in crimes not different from Israel's? What are the British
      academics doing now to stop the British value system from a total
      collapse? I am very sad and ashamed to say that as far as State
      terrorism is concerned Blair and Olmert are pretty much an equal
      match. If this isn't enough, Brown Launch is not very promising
      either. Yet, British academics expect the Israelis to do something
      they fail to do.

      However, as I said before, I am in favour of any form of restrictions
      on Israel, on its financial sectors, yet, by behaving politically
      while avoiding an ethical debate we are actually losing to the
      Israelis and to their lobbies.

      Most importantly, if we decide to go for an academic Boycott, if we
      decide to burn books or to silence other people's thoughts, then I
      really want to know why do we stop with Israeli academics or
      institutes? Shouldn't we really ban any possible contact with any
      Zionists, people and institutes who openly support the idea of a
      racist State? As you certainly realise, unlike South Africa, Zionism,
      the ideological core behind Israel, is a global movement. Shouldn't
      we ban as well any form of racially orientated activity? Shouldn't we
      stop academic as well as smear campaigner David Hirsh and his
      racially orientated cohorts and then later continue with Jewish
      Socialists (being a racially oriented 'progressive' group)? Where do
      we draw the line? I do not know the answers, instead I believe that
      the best way around it is to support freedom of speech categorically,
      whether it is David Irving, David Hirsh or even Tony Greenstein.

      Mary: OK, so you fully support any kind of instrument that puts
      pressure and pulls the economic rug out from under Israel, but you
      have some reservations about the academic boycott against Israeli
      universities, because of the nature of the boycott being restricting
      academic freedom.

      Gilad: I would even just call it intellectual freedom. I do love
      diversity. To impose a single narrative is in itself a Talmudic
      approach and I have to resist it. Being trained as a continental
      philosopher, I know very well that the proponents of the most
      enlightening ideas in the late 19th century and pre WWII 20th century
      were not exactly progressive. How to say it, Heidegger was a Nazi at
      least for a while and as it seems, both Levinas and Leo Strauss were
      courageous enough to admit that the man may be the greatest thinker
      of our millennium.

      Mary: Well, there will always be individuals who express their
      thoughts in one way or another, and in the case of Israel, they could
      even seek employment abroad, so intellectual freedom doesn't seem to
      be at risk here. But were a boycott of Israeli universities to be
      implemented, wouldn't academic freedom in Israel be a small price to
      pay if it will be an effective tool to fight Israeli practices? Isn't
      there a lot of research and development going on that harms
      Palestinians, and wouldn't it be worthwhile to cut the funding off of
      this as well?

      Gilad: Maybe, I do not know, this is why I kept quiet about the
      issue. I do not know the answers and I do not even try to search for
      them. I am not a politician nor am I an activist, it isn't my duty to
      say, "what next?" I am sharing my concerns with those amongst us who
      are willing and capable of free thinking. However, if you ask me for
      my final word about boycotts and other revolutionary progressive
      initiatives, I would then adopt Ben-Gurion's take on the subject: 'It
      doesn't really matter what some British Unionists Say, what really
      matters is what Palestinians Do'! I am far more interested in Hamas's

      Mary: On the subject of academic freedom, Norman Finkelstein has been
      denied tenure at his University, probably for political reasons, and
      this might be an argument against mixing politics and scholarship.
      What is your view on this?

      Gilad: Why do you say 'probably'? Certainly for political reasons.
      More than once I have praised Finkelstein and his work for
      Palestinian people. I do believe that his contribution is indeed
      invaluable. I would even say that Palestinian solidarity would look
      very different without him. I try to keep up with Finkelstein and to
      read everything he publishes. In most cases I totally agree with him,
      in some my disagreement is rather marginal.

      Yet, I have a single minor criticism of Finkelstein's attitude rather
      than his academic work. If his work has as much academic value as we
      all believe it has, then his personal history may not be relevant to
      the validity of his argument. Of course, I have no intention of
      telling Finkelstein what to do or what to say. Finkelstein, as much
      as anyone else, is entitled to argue: "I have the right to speak out
      because my parents are survivors," but we have to accept that there
      is a down side to it. It simply excludes those who were fortunate
      enough not to be sons and daughters of Jewish Holocaust survivors.

      Similarly, two months ago I saw Ilan Pappe, whom I highly regard as a
      pillar of academic resistance to Zionism, presenting his argument for
      the One State Solution. He started his argument by saying: "As a son
      of German Holocaust survivorsÂ…" Again Pappe, whom I view as a very
      important voice, mistakenly and most likely unconsciously, excluded
      anyone who failed to be a holocaust victim. I am most certainly sure
      that both Finkelstein and Pappe are not intending to exclude anyone,
      I just believe that they should be rather careful and avoid using
      such argumentation. I am totally convinced that their arguments are
      strong enough without bringing their personal history into discussion.

      Mary: Some people don't see it that way, some see it as giving more
      emotional impact to the message, and therefore, making people more
      open to accepting it. They might think, "If sons of Holocaust
      survivors are fighting Israel, then it's okay for anyone to do it."
      It might open up a gate that was previously considered shut.

      Gilad: I totally accept it. I do not dismiss the emotional value as
      well as the impact of personal history, but I think that since the
      crime is so obvious, it is time to open the discourse and to welcome
      any form of ethical and intellectual intervention.

      Anyhow, we were talking about academic argumentation. And I believe
      that at least academically such tactic is counter-effective. Let's,
      for the course of discussion, say that I am unfortunate enough to
      suffer of impotency. Clearly, it is beyond doubt that such a
      psychological and physical condition would affect or even shape my
      vision of reality. Every time I fail in bed, my realisation of the
      notion of human suffering may get one step further. I for instance
      could legitimately start my next talk about the Israeli Palestinian
      conflict by saying: "As an impotent, I can understand Palestinian
      suffering, as an impotent I can feel the pain, I can understand what
      hope is all about." Clearly, it is my impotence that sets me in an
      empathic journey towards others' pain. Yet, in spite of the
      legitimacy, in spite of the fact that I evidently celebrate my
      symptoms, I fail to establish an academic argument. I reduce ethics
      into mere sympathy.

      Mary: However, sympathy can lead to empathy and that is a necessary
      quality for an activist. He or she has to identify with suffering and
      bear witness to it.

      Gilad: I accept it, yet I expose its down sides academically and

      Mary: But I think that another crucial matter is, one can indeed
      refer to a specific personal experience, but in this instance, quite
      unlike a personal experience such as impotency, we are dealing with a
      vicarious experience, someone else's. It might actually be
      misleading, promoting the idea that victimhood gets passed from
      generation to generation, and that those who were survivors of the
      holocaust survived the worst possible event, making any other
      experience pale in comparison. In a way, it discounts the enormity of
      human suffering that we know is not limited to the Holocaust alone.

      Gilad: In fact, regarding the argument of a vicarious experience,
      second-hand trauma, we could easily refine the impotency model. Let
      us assume for a second that my sexual performance is actually
      absolutely perfect but it was really my grandfather who was impotent.
      I can always argue that it was my grandfather's misery and my
      grandmother's frustration that shaped my father's reality. It is my
      father's fears that made me sleepless, and it is these fears that
      made me into a victim that should receive a constant free supply of
      Viagra and beyond. I am sorry to say it, listening to people who are
      my generation talking to me about themselves being Holocaust victims
      sounds sick and pathetic to me. I feel sorry for them and sorry for
      those who take them seriously.

      And regarding the personal testimony matter, we have to remember that
      a rational argument should be applicable and valid regardless of the
      origin or the personal circumstances of its proponent. Newton's
      Physics goes beyond gender, race or ethnicity. Scientific laws are
      supposed to be intelligible regardless of the family history of the
      ones who bring it to the world. Objects are falling at a certain
      speed whether your parents were in Auschwitz or in Deir Yassin. This
      quality of free rational thinking is something we have managed to
      lose as far as the academic world is concerned. We are witnessing a
      rapid deterioration in Western reasoning capacity. We are subject to
      this immense political correcting of the academic world. My advice to
      academic contributors to the solidarity discourse is to stand out and
      speak their hearts. To operate as genuine human beings, as proper
      authentic ethical thinkers rather than corrected politicians who need
      to send their ancestors back to Auschwitz in order to secure a green
      light to say what they believe in.

      Mary: Back in 2005, you seemed to believe that Amir Peretz's victory
      as leader of Israel's Labor Party was nothing short of a revolution.
      Yet, he has turned out to be, at least when one thinks about the
      bloodbaths endured by Palestinians and Lebanese residents and
      citizens, a major disaster. Why did he fail so miserably?

      Gilad: There was good reason to believe in Peretz, that he was
      different. He was neither part of the Military Junta nor a member of
      the Ashkenazi elite. Peretz's election slogan was very simple: 'once
      we address our social problems we will be ready to talk peace with
      our neighbors'. Indeed, Israeli isn't ready to discuss peace, neither
      to its neighbour nor to itself. Peretz was sincere enough to admit
      it. Yet, he wasn't modest enough to insist upon taking a socially
      orientated ministry. He insisted upon becoming the security minister,
      something that would qualify him as the future Prime Minister. The
      end of the story is known. Lacking the necessary military background,
      the man and his PM over-reacted to a simple kidnap operation and
      ended up in a total military defeat to a miniature paramilitary
      organisation. It is beyond doubt that once Peretz took his seat at
      the defense ministry, he refrained from acting as an Arab Jew,
      instead he followed the Zionist traditional Ashkeno-Centric world
      view of the Iron Wall. He let the Army escalate a minor border event
      into a war. However, I still want to believe that eventually, after
      all the belligerent Baraks and Netanyahus, a true and genuine second
      or even third generation Arab Jew Israeli may come to reflect about
      the peaceful conditions Jews enjoyed in Arab countries. At the end of
      the day, anti-Semitism and endless conflicts belong to the history of
      European Jews, it is something European Jews brought to the region.
      It has nothing to do with Arab Jews and their history.

      Moreover, I still want to believe that if there is chance of a true
      willingness for peace within Israeli society, it will have something
      to do with the realisation of the largely oppressed Arab Jews in
      Israel that their true brothers in the region are the oppressed
      Palestinians. Such an act would shatter once and for all the
      Ashkenazi political hegemony in the Israeli realm.

      Mary: You're very heavily involved with "political scuffles", people
      who attack you politically as well as insisting that your influence
      could damage "honest and principled activists", just to take a recent
      quote by a blogger who focuses on Jewish identity issues and ties
      that in to his protest against Zionism. It's normal and natural to be
      attacked by Zionists, but why are attacks from these anti-Zionist
      quarters so virulent?

      Gilad: Let us first try to be precise, as it seems now, those who
      indeed attack me are five Bundists, socialist Jews, people who may
      have been an important voice at a certain stage but had gradually
      become a burden or even white noise. They indeed exhaust all their
      energy fighting me and other free thinkers, they run motions,
      dedicate blogs but they had been defeated time after time. But I
      cannot complain, their attack contributed a lot to the circulation of
      my thoughts. They as well helped me refine my view of Zionism and
      Jewish modern identity.

      As you know, I am not a politician, I have never been one and I do
      not have any plans to become one. Being involved with Palestinian
      discourse for a decade I have come across the most enlightening
      people. None of them were politicians or politically orientated
      activists. In fact they were always attacked by politicians and
      largely by this miniature group of people who for some odd reason
      regard themselves as 'Progressive' Jews. It took me some time before
      I realised that Progressive Jews are manifestly seeking hegemony
      within the Palestinian solidarity discourse. They insist that the
      case of Israel must be realised solely via the very limited
      materialist spectrum. They love working class politics.

      Mary: Well, you will have to admit, in the West, most of the
      supporters of Palestinians approach it from a leftist point of view,
      just as in the Arab world it would be an issue of Arab liberation. It
      might be unavoidable to treat it in the ways we do, we can't create
      activists from a vacuum.

      Gilad: I do not agree. It is rather obvious to me and I see it in my
      concerts night after night all over the world. The vast majority of
      Western people are devastated by Israeli brutality. The support of
      Palestine is a natural ethical reaction. Yet, when ordinary people
      follow their hearts and join the solidarity movement, this is where
      rather often they meet a bunch of decaying non dialectical socialists
      who insist upon telling them how to think and what to say according
      to some pre-WWII text books. This fact alone explains why there are
      hardly any Palestinians in the Solidarity movement and why this
      movement doesn't expand into a mass movement.

      Mary: Would you argue that socialist thinking is dead?

      Gilad: Not at all, I am in total favour of a dynamic dialectical
      socialist worldview. A week ago I played in huge solidarity event in
      Germany put together by the Communist party. It was a gathering event
      of artists from all over the world. It was a solidarity event with
      refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Kurds, Iranians. In a few
      days I will perform at Marxism 2007, again as far as I can tell, the
      Socialist Worker's Party in the UK tries to move forward with the
      flood of events. They understand that Working Class is a dynamic
      notion. They understand that if there is a working class in Britain,
      this notion has changed radically in the last 30 years.

      However, we can't choose who is claiming to be on the side of the
      Palestinians, and if people whose interpretation of reality is only
      understood from the viewpoint of working class politics, I am
      obviously convinced that they are totally deluded as to the
      interpretation of the Middle East problem. They make the reality fit
      the worldview they have rather than adapting their view to reality.
      They are entitled to do so as long as they do not try to silence
      other people's views. Israel regards itself as a Jewish State and in
      order to understand the scope of its activity we have to understand
      what Jewishness stands for. What racial brotherhood is all about.
      Moreover, the industrial revolution is yet to make it to Gaza, hence,
      Marxist ideas have never become overwhelmingly popular amongst the
      Palestinian people. However, I wouldn't resist a limited colonial
      interpretation of the conflict but the insistence to limit the
      discourse to working class interpretation is moronic and somehow
      emblematic to these five 'Progressive' Jewish activists.

      Mary: But basically you disagree with their view that bringing about
      a kind of secular socialism for Palestinians and Israelis will
      resolve the problem of oppression.

      Gilad: Have you ever tried to talk 'socialism' to a Palestinian? I
      actually tried. They usually tend to laugh or just lose interest.
      Marx, or shall we rather say Marxism, has nothing to do with their
      reality. However, I believe that by now, after 110 years of Zionism,
      60 years of the Nakba, 40 years of occupation, our beloved
      Socialists, Marxists, Mazpenists, Bundist 'Progressive Jews' and the
      Jewish Socialists had enough time to resolve the conflict and
      liberate us all by turning the entire region into a red haven. May I
      reveal for the first time that as an 18-year-old red activist, while
      being an IDF soldier, I was affiliated with some radical anarchist
      groups in Israel. Like the rest of my comrades, I was convinced that
      sooner or later 'Arab and Israeli working class would unite against
      the bourgeoisie Zionist colonial evil'. It took a few years before I
      opened my eyes to the astonishing fact that there was no 'Jewish
      working class' and Palestinians refused to fit into the Eurocentric
      class model. That was when I realised that I was left with no other
      option but shelving my red shirt at least momentarily.

      Mary: That's pretty interesting, both the fact of the activism of
      your youth and that you claim that there is no Jewish working class.
      But, as to socialist ideas having no truck with Palestinians, I would
      think that the case of the FPLP in some small way contradicts this,
      even though, they are a different breed of socialists, basically a
      nationalist movement with progressive ideas.

      Gilad: Indeed, and even they disappeared. Moreover, from time to time
      I meet the odd Palestinian Matzpenists, mainly in Europe. I do not
      try to argue that Palestinian Marxists are non-existent, I just come
      to acknowledge the clear fact that their voice is as less than
      marginal. This is not a criticism but rather an observation.

      Mary: But, back to where we were, you are saying that the Western
      progressives' activism is stuck in a vision of reality that never
      was: the belief that if class issues are addressed, the rest will be
      resolvable, but the reason of oppression in Israel has never been
      class, but rather a question of race, is it not?

      Gilad: Race may sound a bit abstract. Let's call it racial
      brotherhood, cultural supremacist views, blood orientation and so on.
      Anyhow, the problem with the Jewish activists who attack me is
      actually centred on the fact that my views sit outside their narrow
      political thinking. I am focused on ethical thinking. My criticism of
      Israel as a racially orientated paradigm actually exposes as well the
      sickening aspect of Jewish socialism. The argument is so easy. If you
      are a socialist, you are my comrade and I do not care whether you are
      a Jew, a Muslim, Black or Buddhist. Yet, our progressive Jews insist
      to import their exclusive blood system into the progressive
      discourse. By doing so they located themselves within the Zionist
      discourse, like Zionists, they say we are 'people like other people'
      yet we are 'slightly different'.

      I will admit that I initially I took these people seriously, these
      progressive Jewish left activists, but then I have learned that when
      it comes to being morally pure, the most vocal protester against me,
      the one who was obsessively trying to teach me ethics, actually has a
      list of acts of petty criminal activity under his belt. I wouldn't
      hold his past against him, yet, I cannot let a shoplifter teach me or
      anyone else morality. As if this is not enough, he and his friends
      were banned from different academic institutes for being anti-
      Semitic. With all due respect, I cannot let such a person call me an
      anti Semite. Another anti-Atzmon 'progressive' smear activist
      happened to run a Jews only blog where attacks against me are pretty
      constant. He can make any kind of blog he wants, but it's pretty
      clear that progressive Jews are always operating in racially
      orientated cells, and I am free to feel that his blog is exclusivist
      and will remain that way. It's the nature of the club. Not 'many'
      Abeds and Mohammeds are registered with the Jews against Zionism
      group, and I don't see any articles about Palestinians on that blog
      either. It's obviously a second-rate issue to the Jewish progressive

      Mary: Well, two little-known activists in Great Britain shouldn't be
      such a threat. Why do you respond to their provocations and why not
      simply just ignore them?

      Gilad: Actually, I wouldn't necessarily blame them for provoking me,
      it is more likely that I actually provoke them, I expose their
      fallacy. At a certain stage, and not that long ago, I realised that
      these Bundists embody the essence of the Jewish secular tragedy. They
      are the epitome of the emancipated Jewish emptiness. On the one hand
      they failed to make it into the universalist discourse. On the other
      hand they are left detached from their own cultural heritage. In
      their misery they praise their Yiddish culture without understanding
      the role of this language and without even speaking the language.
      These Bundists embody the collapse of Jewish progressive
      cosmopolitanism. It would be impossible to understand where Zionism
      came from without confronting this unique bizarre identity. For me,
      monitoring them is no different from visiting the safari of rare

      As we know, the Bund doesn't exist anymore, it was actually defeated
      in WWII. As far as Jewish people are concerned, Zionism won the
      Jewish street. Monitoring the UK cell and their activity explains to
      me what Zionism was there to repair. They are microcosms of Jewish
      extreme wrong thinking. In my eyes they are actually far worse than
      proper Zionists.

      Mary: Don't you think that this is an exaggeration?

      Gilad: Actually, I am totally convinced about that. One of the most
      decent beings amongst them is the award-winning poet Michael Rosen.
      Rosen publicly defines himself as: a 'Socialist', a 'secular Jew', a
      'progressive man'. Recently I found out that Rosen has been
      expressing himself pretty eloquently in support of the Boycott.
      Nothing is obviously wrong with that, but then to my great
      astonishment, I found out that the same Rosen, the one who calls to
      Boycott Israel, was as well taking part in a notorious right wing
      London Jewish Book Week as a family entertainer. For those who do not
      understand yet, the Jewish Book Week is supported by the Israeli
      Embassy and the rabid Zionist organisation UJIA, an organisation that
      currently sets gala tours for the 60th anniversary of the Israeli
      State. Looking at it from a progressive point of view, I cannot make
      up my mind whether Rosen's behaviour is treason or just total
      hypocrisy. When we asked Rosen how come, how is it that he, of all
      people, a boycott enthusiast, ended up participating in a Zionist
      event, he was stupid enough to admit that he gave it some real
      thought, "I had my doubts about appearing at JBW and so I asked all
      sorts of people whose opinions I trust whether they thought it was a
      good idea or not." Rosen, the one who calls to boycott Israeli
      academics ended up in bed with the Israeli Embassy.

      Mary: Not that I'm familiar with Rosen's writingÂ…

      Gilad: Good point, there is no writing. There is no contemporary body
      of work, no critical or political body of writing. Along with him,
      there are just some forum comments, really only concerned with
      stopping the Palestinian discourse becoming what he and his friends
      call anti-Semitic. To a certain extent they operate as an ADL mole
      within the Palestinian solidarity discourse. In short we are facing
      here an unacceptable level of hypocrisy and ignorance on the verge of
      complete betrayal.

      Mary: In some of your writings you defined these folks as crypto-
      Zionists and Third Category Jews.

      Gilad: I am afraid that my argument is now even more conclusive. When
      a Marxist politician is found lying, we are entitled to call him a
      Marxist liar. When a Republican politician is found spying for the
      enemy we are entitled to call him a 'Republican spy'. Yet, when a
      Boycott campaigner who insists to act politically under the 'Jewish'
      banner (as a Jewish Socialist, or a Jew against Zionism, etc.) is
      found in bed with some ultra-Zionist institutes, we must refrain from
      calling him a Jewish hypocrite. Here is the trick. Jewish progressive
      ethnic campaigners are interested in a singular one-sided discourse.
      They are happy to act as 'Jews' but refuse to be criticised as Jews.
      When they act politically they say we are 'people like other people'
      but when you criticise them politically they hide behind their racial
      identity. Whether this is funny or revolting is a matter of taste.
      However, this is a complete repetition of the Zionist tactic. In
      other words, we are entitled to conclude that Jewish Socialists and
      any form of Jewish exclusive activism is nothing but another form of

      Thanks to these so-called 'Progressive Jews' I have understood the
      validity of the criticism of Jewish cosmopolitanism, the bizarre
      notion of peoplehood devoid of soil. I realised why these few
      Bundists could never establish a true authentic solidarity with the
      Palestinian struggle. The Palestinian cause is primarily about soil.
      Cosmopolitans may be able to recognise Palestinian misery, yet they
      cannot identify with the yearning to their land. While Bundists talk
      about their peoplehood, Palestinians do not need to talk about
      peoplehood, they do not have to invent or reinvent their culture.
      Like Germans, French and Albanians, they simply live through their
      culture. Unlike Zionists and Bundists included, who aim to be 'people
      like other people', Palestinians are there to start with. They are
      'people like other people'. They do not have to aim towards cultural
      renaissance. People who are culturally orientated can simply
      transcend themselves beyond the awareness of their culture. They are
      moulded and transfixed by their by their own soil, cuisine, language
      and landscape. They live their culture and move it forwards by the
      means of creation.

      This is why Zionism with its Hebrew revival may have been more
      successful than the Bund. Rosen and his ilk are telling us about
      their unique Jewish culture, about their Yiddish, yet, they don't
      even speak the language. Their creativity within their own culture is
      zilch. They don't write Yiddish books, they don't read Yiddish
      papers, they don't have Yiddish Rock & Roll they do not translate
      anything into Yiddish. And there is very little to translate from
      Yiddish anyway. They are basically spreading some ghetto nostalgic
      nonsense, they basically bullshit for the sake of bullshitting. And
      as I said many times before, they have the full right to do so, yet,
      I am there to remind them that chicken soup is neither a political
      argument, nor it is a moral stand.

      Mary: So, as long as you continue to criticise your detractors and
      present the inconsistencies of their reasoning, they will continue to
      run smear campaigns against you, call you an anti-Semite and try
      persuade people from hosting you at political and public events. As
      long as they keep doing that, you will continue to have reason to
      criticise their logic. Kind of a vicious circle. Is there going to be
      an end to it?

      Gilad: Seemingly, in spite of all the smears, I survive. In fact I
      won in every battle I decided to take on. As it seems, by fighting me
      they have managed to annihilate themselves. Every time, they raise
      their head I learn more about the level of Jewish ideological secular
      delusion. It will be very boring when they raise their white flag,
      but this will never happen. In spite of them being humiliated at the
      PSC AGM recently, in spite of bandleader being exposed as a convicted
      criminal, in spite of Rosen's shameful crypto-Zionist behaviour, they
      never surrender. Only people with dignity can admit defeat, and
      dignity is exactly what they lack. People who lie to themselves so
      extensively find it far easier to lie to others.

      Though they have managed to silence some of the most important
      contributor to the Israeli Palestinian discourse they have totally
      failed with me. There are two secrets here, which I am happy to share.

      One: Rather than talking to Jews, I am talking about Jews and the
      subject I am interested in is basically Jewishness. Many of my
      readers and supporters are actually orthodox Jews, assimilated Jews
      and ex-Jews. But it obviously goes far beyond Jews. Since more than a
      few scholars identify the current emerging global conflict with some
      extensive Zionist lobbying in America, the questions to do with the
      Jewish issue are becoming more and more relevant and popular. A while
      ago I have taken the risk of saying what I believe to be the truth
      and as it seems, people around do appreciate my truth-seeking
      endeavour. Some Jews called me an anti-Semite, some Elder Londoners
      picketed my readings, it didn't stop me and it didn't stop anyone
      from booking me again. Quite the opposite, it made me far more
      popular than I have ever wanted to be.

      Two: I do not join any organisation or organised religion. I do not
      let politicians into my world. Generally speaking, I despise any form
      of political activity and activism in general. I believe in ethical
      orientation. I keep independent. At the end of the day I am primarily
      an artist and light cultural terrorist.

      Mary: A recent interview with Avrum Burg has caused a great amount of
      interest. I know you were particularly surprised by it, and said it
      contained "cosmic changes". At the risk of having to revise your
      views once time has passed and things turn out to be less cosmic than
      we hope, could you elaborate on how this interview affected you?

      Gilad: To a certain extent, Burg didn't come with a major
      intellectual or ideological revelation. Yet, Avrum Burg, isn't really
      an ordinary man, he isn't exactly a Palestinian solidarity
      campaigner. Quite the opposite, Burg has been for years the ultimate
      epitome of Israeliness and the mainstream Israeli political
      establishment. He was the great hope of the Labor Party's Young
      Guard. After that the chairman of the Jewish Agency, Speaker of the
      Knesset, a candidate for the Labor leadership.

      We must remember that as the chairman of the Jewish Agency, Burg was
      Mr Aliyah (Jews moving to Israel). Now he changed his mind, he is Mr
      Yerida (Jews moving out of Israel). When a man with such a political
      history stands up and suggests Israelis to apply for foreign
      passports and leave the country ASAP, when a man of such an
      intellectual capacity admits that "Israel is Fascist" we must confess
      that a change of spirit is noticed in the air.

      For us, the fact that Israel is indeed Fascist may not be such a
      revelation, we know for years that Israeli legislation is racially
      orientated. We know that Burg's old Israeli Labor Party has always
      been dedicated to the belief in socialism of one race (National
      Socialism). However, Burg was the one who stood up and confronted the
      Israelis with their bitter reality. He basically tells the Israelis,
      'We aren't any better than Hitler'. And this is a revelation!!!

      But it gets deeper, Burg is there to say: "Of the three identities
      that form me - human, Jewish and Israeli - I feel that the Israeli
      element deprives the other two." As an observant Jew, Burg actually
      admits that Israeliness opposes humanism and Judaism. This may not be
      new to many of us, but no one has ever had the guts to say just that
      to the Israelis (maybe except me but I am just a saxophonist).

      However, Burg manages to throw some interesting light onto the notion
      of Zionism and Israeliness. In the interview he says "I am a human
      being, I am a Jew and I am an Israeli. Zionism was an instrument to
      move me from the Jewish state of being to the Israeli state of being.
      I think it was Ben-Gurion who said that the Zionist movement was the
      scaffolding to build the home, and that after the State's
      establishment, it should be dismantled."

      This is certainly a major and crucial point. As it seems, Zionism
      doesn't mean a thing for the contemporary Jew born in Israel. Zionism
      is a Diaspora-orientated notion. Zionism is there to differentiate
      between Abe Foxman and Roland Rance. Both are Jews, both operate in
      racially segregated political cells, yet, one is a Zionist the other
      is a Jewish Anti-Zionist (big deal). When it comes to Israelis who
      were born in Israel, the idea of a Jewish State isn't something to
      celebrate. For Israelis, a Jewish State it isn't something you have
      to aim towards or ideologically endorse. Being an Israeli means being
      a Jew and living in a Jews-only State. When I joined the IDF 25 years
      ago, I did it because this was the only available interpretation of
      my Jewishness. I was a Jew living in the Jewish State and joining the
      Jews' army was the natural outcome.

      The word Zionism is almost meaningless in Israel and within the
      Israeli discourse it is actually non-existent. Zionism may mean
      something to the American settlers in the West Bank or the new wave
      of French immigrants to Israel, but not much more than that. If this
      indeed the case, we may as well internalise the fact that anti-
      Zionist campaigning is hardly affective in the case of Israel. As
      much as Israelis do not regard themselves as Zionists, they are
      hardly affected by anti-Zionism.

      Mary: Although if this is the state of affairs, is Burg really
      addressing people outside of Israel, in his urging that the Zionist
      structure be dismantled? Are we again at a Nemo propheta in patria

      Gilad: I don't know the answer. I was pretty surprised that Burg's
      ideas were not highly circulated. I do not know a thing about
      circulation of thought in Jewish circles. I can see that even in
      Israel his ideas were attracting some attention but not enough. At
      the end of the day, in order to maintain the Israeli murderous
      policies, a collective blindness is elementary. My interest in Burg
      is totally intellectual, I do not know if he has any significant
      political power anymore, I guess he doesn't. Yet his ideas will echo
      for a while and even more than a while.

      Gilad Atzmon is a musician-composer. He is particularly well-known
      both for his fiction and his political analysis which is widely
      published. His sites are Gilad Atzmon and Artie Fishel and the
      Promised Band.

      Mary Rizzo is a translator, art restorer and especially Pro-
      Palestinian activist who runs the blog Peacepalestine. She is a
      founding member of Tlaxcala, a vibrant network of (proudly) radical
      activist translators that publishes a wide range of articles by anti-
      imperialist writers and thinkers from around the world in a dozen
      languages. This interview will be available in other languages on
      Tlaxcala in the near future.



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