Zionist Tolerance For a Change: Contemporary Jewish Identity, Tribal Supremacy, Marginal Politics
31 October 2010
By Gilad Atzmon
I have spent the last ten years elaborating on
Jewish national ideology and tribal politics. During
my journey of grasping what Zionism and Israel stand
for, I came to realize that it is actually the Jewish
left -- and Jewish Marxists in particular -- that
provide us with an adequate glimpse into contemporary
Jewish identity, tribal supremacy, marginal politics
‘Jewish left' is basically an oxymoron. It is a
contradiction in terms, because ‘Jewishness' is a
tribal ideology, whilst ‘the left' are traditionally
understood as aspiring to universalism.
On the face of it, the ‘Jewish left' is, at least
categorically, no different from Israel or Zionism:
after all, it is an attempt to form yet another ‘Jews
only political club'. And as far as the Palestinian
solidarity movement is concerned, its role is subject
to a growing debate -- For on the one hand, one can
see the political benefit of pointing at a very few
‘good Jews', and emphasizing that there are Jews who
‘oppose Zionism as Jews'. Yet on the other hand,
however, accepting the legitimacy of such a racially
orientated political affair, is in itself, an
acceptance of yet another form, or manifestation of
Zionism, for Zionism claims that Jews are
primarily Jewish, and had better operate
politically as Jews(1).
To a certain extent then, it is clear that Jewish
anti Zionism, is, in itself, still just
another form of Zionism.
‘Jewish dissidence' has two main roles: First, it
attempts to depict and bolster a positive image of
Jews in general (2). Second, it is there to silence
and obscure any attempts on the part of the
outsider to grasp the meaning of Jewish identity and
Jewish politics within the machinations of the Jewish
state. It is also there to stop elements in this
movement from elaborating on the crucial role of
The Jewish Left is there then, to mute any possible
criticism of Jewish politics within the wider Left
movements. It is there to stop the Goyim
from looking into Jewish affairs.
A decade ago I met the Kosher dissident
brigade for the first time -- As soon as I started to
express criticism of Israel and Zionism -- they
started to bounce around me.
For a short while, I fitted nicely into their
discourse : I was young and energetic. I was an
award winning musician, as well as a promising writer.
In their eyes I was a celebrity, or at least a good
reason to celebrate. Their chief commissars reserved
the best, and most expensive dining tables ahead of
my Orient House's Ensemble concerts. The five
grass-root penniless activists, followed the trend and
came to my free stage Jazz Combo afternoon concerts
in the Barbican Centre's Foyer. They all wanted to
believe that I would follow their agenda, and become a
commissar myself. They were also very quick to
preach to me who were the ‘bad guys', those who should
be burnt in hell: Israel Shahak, Paul Eisen, Israel
Shamir and Otto Weininger were just a few amongst the
many baddies. As one may guess by now, it didn't take
me too long to admit to myself that there was more
wisdom in a single sentence by Eisen, Weininger,
Shahak or Shamir than in the entire work of the Jewish
Left put together. I was quick to make it clear to my
new ‘Red' fans that it was not going to work : I was
an ex-Israeli, and I no longer regarded myself as a
Jew any more. I shared nothing with them and I did not
believe in their agenda. Indeed, I had left Israel
because I wanted to drift as far away as I could from
any form of tribal politics.
Paddling in chicken soup has never been my thing.
Naturally, I bought myself at least a half a dozen
enemies, and they were quick to run a campaign against
me. They tried to silence me; they desperately ( and
hopelessly ) tried to wreck my music career; they
mounted pressure on political institutions, media
outlets, and music venues. One of them even tried to
drag me to court.
But they failed all the way through and they failed
on every possible level. The more pressure they
mounted, the more people read my writing. At a certain
point, people around me were convinced that my
detractors were actually running my PR campaign.
Moreover, the relentless attempts to silence me could
only prove my point. They were there to divert
attention away from the crucial role of Jewish
politics and Jewish identity politics.
I have asked myself often enough -- how is it that
they failed with me? But I guess that the same
internet that successfully defeated Israeli Hasbara,
has also defeated the Jewish left and its hegemony
within the movement. In the wider scheme of things, it
is totally obvious how marginal the Jewish Marxist
discourse is. Its voice within the dissident movement
is, in actuality, insignificant.
I guess also, that the fact that I am a popular
Jazz artist didn't make life easy for them -- At the
time those Jewish commissars labeled me as a racist
and an anti Semite, I was touring around the
world with two ex Israeli Jews, an Argentinean Jew, a
Romanian Gipsy and a Palestinian Oud player. It just
them, and it didn't.
But here is an interesting twist : In comparison
with the contemporaneous Jewish Red terror, Zionism
comes across as a relatively tolerant endeavour. In
recent months I have been approached by every possible
Israeli media outlet. In the summer, Ouvda,
the leading Israeli investigative TV show asked
repeatedly to join with me and my band on the road.
They were interested to launch a debate, and to
discuss my ideas in prime time. This week, The
Israeli Second Channel approached me for a news item.
Again, they were interested in my views. Yesterday, I
discussed my views for an hour with Guy Elhanan
on Israel's 'Kol ha-shalom' (Voice of Peace).
For the most obvious of reasons, I am very cautious
when dealing with the Israeli media. I choose my
outlets very carefully. I usually tend to refuse. But,
I also accept that as a person who cares about the
prospect of peace I must keep an open channel with
the Israeli public, and two weeks ago I agreed to be
interviewed by Haaretz writer,Yaron Frid. This was my
first published interview in Israel for more than a
decade. I must admit that I was shocked to find out
that not a single word of mine had been removed or
Haaretz let me
say everything that the Kosher ‘Socialists' had
consistently tried to stop me from saying.
On my ‘self-hatred' and Jewishness the Israeli
paper Haaretz let me say :
not a nice Jew, because I don't want to be a Jew,
because Jewish values don't really turn me on and all
this 'Pour out Thy wrath on the nations' stuff doesn't
let me question the entire Zionist ethos; the reality
of plunder and deluded historicism : "Why do I
live on lands that are not mine, the plundered lands
of another people whose owners want to return to them
but cannot? Why do I send my children to kill and be
killed, after I myself was a soldier, too? Why do I
believe all this bullshit about 'because it's the land
of our forefathers' and 'our patrimony' if I am not
about Palestinians' right of return, I said :
Israelis can put an end to the conflict in two fucking
minutes. Netanyahu gets up tomorrow morning, returns
to the Palestinians the lands that belong to them."
me express how I would differentiate between, and
define Israel and Palestine: "Palestine is the
land and Israel is the state. It took me time to
realize that Israel was never my home, but only a
fantasy saturated in blood and sweat."
chosen-ness, de-Judification and Jewish identity I
said, "for Netanyahu and the Israelis to do that
(accept the Palestinian right of return), they have
to undergo de-Judaization and accept the fact that
they are like all peoples and are not the chosen
people. So, in my analysis this is not a political,
sociopolitical or socioeconomic issue but something
basic that has to do with Jewish identity."
the interview I compared Jewish left with National
Socialism -- And Haaretz's editorial let it through:
"The idea of left-wing Jews is fundamentally
sickening. It contains an absolute internal
contradiction. If you are leftists it doesn't matter
whether you're Jewish or not, so on principle when you
present yourselves as leftist Jews you are accepting
the idea of national socialism. Nazism."
as could be expected, challenged my opposition to
Jewish politics : "Atzmon has been accused from
every possible platform of disseminating vitriol
against Jews. He, though, maintains that he ‘hates
everyone in equal measure.' He's also been accused of
self-hatred, but he is the first to admit this, and in
comparison with Otto Weininger - the Austrian Jewish
philosopher who converted to Christianity and of whom
Hitler said, ‘There was one good Jew in Germany, and
he killed himself' - he is even proud. ‘Otto and I are
clearly, at least Israelis can cope with Otto
Weininger and his ideology. However -- when I gave a
talk about Otto Weininger in a London Marxist book
shop five years ago (Bookmarks), a ‘synagogue' of
fourteen Jewish Marxists unsuccessfully tried to
picket the event and to pressure the SWP into
what; they failed.
challenged my take on the Holocaust; yet it printed
my answer without changing a single word. "I am
fighting against all the disgusting laws and
persecutions of those so-called Holocaust deniers - a
categorization I don't accept. I think the Holocaust,
like any historical episode, must be open to research,
to examination, to discussion and debate."
Haaretz, evidently an Israeli Zionist paper, let me
express my thoughts about Israeli mass murderers and
their destiny. "It might be a good thing if the
Nazi hunters hunt down [Shaul] Mofaz and [Ehud] Barak,
for example, and not all kinds of 96-year-olds who are
barely alive. It's pathetic."
let me tell Israelis that they are all to be blamed :
"In Israel 94 percent of the nation supported
Operation Cast Lead. On the one hand, you want to
behave like a post-enlightenment state and talk to me
about individualism, but on the other hand you
surround yourselves with a wall and remain attached to
a tribal identity."
Frid ended his piece saying, "Israel lost Gilad,"
and, "The score, for now: 1-0, Palestine
happy with the article. But I was also jealous. For
here in Britain, we are still far from being
free to explore these issues.
message here is plain and simple -- Haaretz, a
Zionist paper, has let me discuss all those
intellectual avenues that ‘the Kosher Socialists'
insist on blocking. A week before my Haaretz special,
the Israeli paper featured Mavi Marmara
hero Ken O'keefe. Again, Haaretz coverage was fairly
balanced; certainly more balanced than BBC Panorama.
is clear : As much as Zionism is repugnant and
murderous -- it is still way ahead of the Jewish Left
, simply because it is
still, in some regards at least, part of an ongoing
and open discourse.
There is no doubt that amongst the most prolific
enemies of Israel and Jewish identity, you will find
Israelis and ex Israelis, such as Ilan Pappe, Gideon
Levi, Amira Hass, Tali Fahima, Israel Shamir, Israel
Shahak, Nurit Peled , Rami Elhanan Guy Elhanan,
Jonathan Shapira, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Mordechai
Vanunu, Uri Avneri, Shimon Tzabar, myself, and
We may not always agree with each other -- but we
let each other be.
Zionism was an attempt to bring about a new Jew: an
ethical, productive and authentic being. But Zionism
failed all the way through. Israel is a criminal
state, and the Israelis are collectively complicit in
relentless crimes against humanity. And yet, Zionism
has also succeeded in erecting a solid school of
eloquent and proud ‘self haters'. Israelis are taught
to be outspoken and critical. Unlike the Diaspora
Jewish left, that for some reason, operates as a
thought-police, Israeli dissidence speaks out.
Israelis are trained to celebrate their ‘symptoms' --
and this also applies in the case of dissidence.
Unlike Jewish Marxism that operates largely as a
tribal PR campaign, Israeli dissidence is an ethical
approach : You wouldn't hear Israeli activists
shouting ‘not in my name'. The Israelis mentioned
above do accept that each Israeli crime is
committed in their names. They also accept that
activism is the crucial shift from guilt into
responsibility. Hence, it is also far from
surprising that on the ‘Jewish Boat to Gaza' mission,
the Israeli veteran AIF pilot Shapira and also
Elahanan, both spoke about ethics and humanitarian
issues, while the British Jew, Kuper, was apparently,
judging from his words, perhaps more concerned with
the amendment of the image of world Jewry.
Being an ex Israeli, I believe that theonly thing I can do for Palestine, Iraq,
Afghanistan, myself, my family, my neighbours and
humanity -- is to stand firm and speak my heart
against all odds.
I also believe that we all know the truth.
We just need to be courageous enough to spit it
(1) As bizarre as it may sound to some, ‘Jews
Against Zionists' (JAZ) and ‘Jews for BDS' (Boycott
of Divestment of Israeli Goods) do affirm the Zionist
mantra : They operate, primarily, as Jews.
As much as it is impossible for uprooted
Palestinians to settle in Israel and become a
citizen with equal civil rights -- it is also
impossible for them to join any of the primarily
Jewish groups for Palestine.
(2)Richard Kuper, the person behind
‘Irene-the Jewish Boat to Gaza', was bold enough to
admit it -- "Our goal is to show that not all Jews
support Israeli policies toward Palestinians," he
said. It is now an established fact that the Jewish
boat carried hardly any humanitarian aid for the
Gazans : its main mission, as far as Kuper was
concerned, seems to have been to amend Jewish