Truth in Stuttgart: Arbeiterfotografie: What did Gilad Atzmon actually say in Stuttgart?
21 February 2011
By Gilad Atzmon
Three months ago, I briefly participated in a
Palestinian solidarity conference in Stuttgart. The
event was dedicated to the 'One State Solution'. As it
happened, I was touring in Germany at the time, and
thus accepted an invitation by the organiser to say a
Being primarily an artist, rather than a politician or
an activist, I am committed to truth and beauty rather
than a party-line or any given ideological doctrine.
Yet, without my intending to do so, and in just a few
sentences – I managed to cross every possible ‘red
line', and I bought myself a few more enemies.
In my speech, I said that as much as ‘universalism' is
a beautiful idea, it is incompatible with Jewish
culture, since Jewish culture is tribally oriented. I
also told the German Palestinian supporters that as
much as ‘peace' is a beautiful concept, associated as
it is with harmony and reconciliation, Shalom, the
Hebrew word for peace, is actually interpreted by
Israelis as ‘security for the Jews'.
I thought that the supporters of the ‘One State
Solution' should be aware of the complexities that lie
I also managed to infuriate some, by suggesting that I
was against the comparisons between Israel and Nazi
Germany. Indeed, I believe that from certain
ideological perspective, Israel is actually far worse
than Nazi Germany, for unlike Nazi Germany, Israel is
a democracy and that implies that Israeli citizens are
complicit in Israeli atrocities.
Needless to say, a few of the attendants of the
conference were angry with me. Such ideas are hardly
expressed on German soil. Some of the Jewish
activists, and at least one Marxist, demanded that I
should be removed from the protocol.
I was obviously sad about it -- I believed that those
who advocated the ‘One State solution' should be able
to support intellectual pluralism -- But it turns out
that a few of those who promote democracy in Palestine
would be better advised to first confront their own
Later, I learned that one legendary German Jewish
activist and speaker at the conference stood by me.
Evelyn Hecht-Galinski firmly announced that if I was
to be removed from the protocol, then she also wanted
to be removed. She argued in my defense that I was
telling the truth about both Jewish and Israeli
In spite of relentless Jewish pressure, a video of my
presentation was later uploaded to youtube and has now
been seen by many.
Two days ago I learned that Arbeiterfotografie, (the
group who documented the conference) transcribed my
talk and considered it "most convincing and humane".
They thought that it should be ‘disseminated widely'
I guess that truth cannot be suppressed anymore -- not
even in Germany. If Israel defines itself as a Jewish
State, then surely, it is our duty to question what
Jewishness is all about.
I believe that solidarity with Palestine becomes a
more meaningful event once we are brave enough to
stand for the truth. Rather than fit ourselves into
any given consensus or discourse, our duty is to
present an alternative reality, whilst aiming at
ethics and beauty.
For Justice to prevail, truth must be told.
Arbeiterfotografie: What did Gilad
Atzmon actually say in Stuttgart?
One of the most essential phrases at the very
beginning of Gilad Atzmon's welcome address at the
Stuttgart conference is certainly the following: "We
all agree upon ‘ONE state', and we all agree that this
is most probably the only ethical and universal
approach to the crisis. We all agree that this is the
right road to peace." Gilad Atzmon explains that
universality and peace, in the sense of
reconciliation, are alien to the Jewish - and
especially Israeli - culture. He states that Jewish
culture is tribe-oriented. And that when Israelis use
the word ‘shalom', they do not mean peace but security
for the Jews. He believes that it is crucial to apply
maximum pressure on Israel through « Boycott,
Divestment and Sanctions » (BDS).
Although it may be fair to say that statements of this
nature are bound to cause strong reactions amongst the
proponents of racist and zionist ideologies, it is
barely comprehensible that this should be the case
within the Palestine Solidarity movement.
It is the following passage in particular that has
been quoted out of context: "I think Israel is much
worse than Nazi Germany. Why? Israel is a democracy.
Nazi Germany was not a democracy. The Reichstag was
dissolved, the Germans have no responsibility for
actions and crimes committed by the Nazis. Israel is a
democracy; hence every citizen is complicit. Every
citizen is complicit, as am I, as a British citizen,
in the crimes committed in Iraq."
The above passage has served to disqualify Gilad
Atzmon and reject a discussion with him. Is this
justified? The answer to this question becomes
apparent as soon as we reflect on the context these
phrases were spoken in. The passage that has been
taken out of context is part of a digression in which
Gilad explains why he dislikes comparisons –
comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany, and
comparisons between Israel and South Africa. By
reducing his words to the passage in question, his
statement is deprived of its original intent and
meaning. [See complete interpolation below].
Gilad Atzmon's most fundamental concern, however, is
to bring understanding to the Israelis with regard to
an idea that he describes as follows: "But then
suddenly a very important concept became clear to me.
And it is the only one we can make the Israelis
understand. It is very simple [interpolation, see
below]. I believe the Israelis' fear and hysteria
regarding the delegitimisation of Israel has to do
with the fact that they may be beginning to understand
that sooner or later they will be living together with
the Palestinians … This is also my main message to you
today. It is the Israelis who are now prisoners –
prisoners of future Palestinian benevolence. No one
can absolve the Israelis from their deeds and their
crimes - neither the British, the French, nor the
Germans. The only people who will ever be able to
forgive them are the Palestinians. In order to receive
forgiveness, the Israelis must start thinking NOW.
[They must start thinking:] Destiny has condemned us
to live in this society. It is an irrevocable process.
There will be ONE state, and we must make sure they
understand this – and understand that everything they
do from now on will be subject tp Palestinian
benevolence. We must make this point clear to them."
His train of thought is unusual, but it is by no means
deserving of condemnation.
It is a most convincing and humane idea, and we should
support and disseminate it widely. We should no longer
play along in the game that consists in reversing the
roles of the robbers and robbed, the oppressors and
oppressed, the terrorists and terrorised. We must
recognise who has systematically committed crimes
against whom over the decades. And in this context we
must acknowledge Gilad Atzmon's idea: the situation
can no longer go on in this way. Each and every
additional crime committed by Israel against the
Palestinians plants hatred towards this state and
makes reconciliation even more remote. This cannot be
what we want, especially if we are part of a Christian
The intellectual digression in full [in italics]: "We
have already heard about the comparison between
Israelis – Israel and Nazi Germany. I am not fond of
this comparison, as I believe Israel is far worse than
Nazi Germany. Why? Simply because Israel is a
democracy. Nazi Germany was not a democracy. The
Reichstag was dissolved, the Germans were in no way
responsible for the actions committed by the Nazis -
apart from those who directly committed a crime or
were politically responsible. Israel, by contrast, is
Hence every citizen is complicit, as am I, as a
British citizen, in the crime currently being
committed in Iraq. Obviously, I am not as responsible
as Tony Blair or Lord Goldsmith, or perhaps Lord Levy
(his no. 1 fundraiser). As for the comparison between
Israel and South Africa …. there were massacres [in
South Africa] – but there was no genocide, no
genocidal politics against blacks. This [however ] is
what is taking place in Israel. We all witnessed what
happened in Gaza in 2008/2009. At any rate, I do not
care for comparisons, yet …."
These are reflective asides. They are
thought-provoking but by no means justify a rejection
of communication, the more so as they focus on a
concept that could hardly be more humane.
(the transcription was lightly edited to make it
Good afternoon. I'm honoured to be here. In fact, I
wasn't planning to be here, but as it happens, I have
a concert nearby. I'm delighted to take part in this
platform with such incredible people. I think that you
have managed to gather some of the most profound and
eloquent intellectuals, speakers, and activists to
speak on this very important issue.
I usually manage to say everything I want to say in
just a few words because I do not hold back. I have a
reputation for being a ‘suicidal activist'.
We all agree about the principle of one state. We all
agree that this is probably the only ethical and
universal approach to the crisis. And we all agree
that this is the right course towards peace. But
somehow we tend to forget, or to dismiss the fact that
the word 'universal' is actually very foreign to
Jewish culture. Jewish culture is tribally oriented.
We tend to overlook the clear fact that the notion of
‘peace', as we know it -- a form of reconciliation, or
‘loving your neighbour' -- is very foreign to Jewish
culture, and it is definitely an alien concept to
Israeli culture. Israelis use the word 'shalom' -- you
have heard the word 'shalom' before -- however,
'shalom' doesn't mean peace: 'Shalom' actually means
security to the Jews. And only for the Jews. It's a
very different concept.
Shockingly enough, Zionism started out as a very
interesting project: Its intention was to ‘civilise'
the Jews. This is not Gilad Atzmon speculating now –
the following is actually from Theodor Herzl, the
founder of political Zionism -- Herzl said, 'We (the
Jews) want to be people like all other people,' which
means, we want to transcend ourselves beyond a tribal
ideology. We want to understand what peace is all
about. We want to be authentic; to live on ‘our' land,
to work, and so on. It was quite a nice idea -- except
for the fact that it was at the expense of another
people. Probably this planet was not the right place
for the Jewish State; simply because the notion of
loving your neighbour, was, and still is, foreign to
the culture. This is why Christ is such an interesting
revelation. Christ basically argued : 'Everything is
fine; let us just accept the fact that we are all
brothers and sisters.'
Today we want to pursue with the harmonious agenda,
and as I understood from listening to Ilan Pappe and
Ali Abunimah, we are becoming a mass movement in spite
of our politicians who betray us on a regular basis,
and not just in regard to Palestine. Look at our
economy -- Palestine is only one part of the story.
The Zionification of Western politics is a disaster.
The Zionist wars we end up fighting in is something no
one dares to talk about. The war in Iraq has so far
cost the life of million and half Iraqis, and it is
not that complicated to trace the Israeli role in
setting off this devastating event. And I think that
now, more and more people are starting to see it,
Here is the only concept we can deliver to the
Israelis, and it is very simple. We have heard already
about comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany. But
I don't like these comparisons, because I truly think
that Israel is far worse than Nazi Germany. Why do I
believe so? Because Israel is a democracy. Nazi
Germany was not a democracy; the Reichstag had been
dissolved. The Germans had zero responsibility for
acts that were committed by Nazis -- apart of course
from those who were directly perpetrating a crime, or
were politically leading it. However, Israel is a
democracy -- and therefore, every citizen is
complicit. Every citizen is complicit, as much as I am
complicit, as a British citizen, in the crime that is
being committed in Iraq, right now. I am not as
responsible as Tony Blair, or Lord Goldsmith, or
perhaps Lord Levy, who acted as Blair's number one
fund-raiser -- but I am still responsible.
Another common comparison is the comparison between
Israel and South Africa. However, South Africans
didn't kill – yes, there were massacres -- but there
was no genocide, or genocidal policy against blacks.
Yet that is what is happening in Israel. We can all
remember too well what happened in Gaza in 2008 –
However much I don't like comparisons, I think that it
is the fear of the Israelis, and the hysteria
regarding the delegitimisation of Israel, that may, at
last, bring Israelis to the point of realising that
they are going to have to live with Palestinians -- in
And that is the most important thing I can tell you
Israelis are now imprisoned -- imprisoned by
Palestinian future kindness. No-one can forgive the
Israelis for what they do; not the British, nor the
French, nor the Germans.
The only people that will ever be able to forgive them
-- are the Palestinians. For Israelis, to get amnesty,
they have to start to think, right now -- because they
are doomed to live in this society. This is an
irreversible process now. It will be one state, and we
have to make sure that the Israelis understand it.
They must understand that every crime they are
committing in the present -- will make them subject to
future Palestinian kindness.