To Disavow or Debate Gilad Atzmon?
Last night Ali Abunimah and other respected Palestinian writers and activists signed a statement calling for “The Disavowal of the Racism and Antisemitism of Gilad Atzmon,” who is winding up his U.S. tour with events in Washington, DC today and tomorrow. The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, is convinced that Atzmon’s interview tonight by Prof. Norton Mezvinsky couldn’t come at a better time. Please read Abunimah’s statement and Atzmon’s response below. Then come to tonight’s discussion and decide for yourself whether to shun Atzmon or engage him in debate. For those who want to further explore the renowned jazz musician’s ideas and music, copies of Atzmon’s latest book, The Wandering Who?, as well as his three CDs, will be available for purchase.
Wednesday, March 14, 6:30-8:30 PM Gilad Atzmon is interviewed by Prof. Norton Mezvinsky, (Connecticut State University Professor of History Emeritus) at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, 900 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20001 (free, open to public, light dinner)
Thursday, March 15, 5-6:30 PM DC Peace House, 1233 12th St. NW, Washington DC 20005
Palestinian writers, activists disavow racism, anti-Semitism of Gilad Atzmon
Submitted by Ali Abunimah on Tue, 03/13/2012 - 18:19
Note: This statement was first published by the US Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) and is authored by all of the undersigned.
For many years now, Gilad Atzmon, a musician born in Israel and currently living in the United Kingdom, has taken on the self-appointed task of defining for the Palestinian movement the nature of our struggle, and the philosophy underpinning it. He has done so through his various blogs and Internet outlets, in speeches, and in articles. He is currently on tour in the United States promoting his most recent book, entitled, The Wandering Who.
With this letter, we call for the disavowal of Atzmon by fellow Palestinian organizers, as well as Palestine solidarity activists, and allies of the Palestinian people, and note the dangers of supporting Atzmon’s political work and writings and providing any platforms for their dissemination. We do so as Palestinian organizers and activists, working across continents, campaigns, and ideological positions.
Atzmon’s politics rest on one main overriding assertion that serves as springboard for vicious attacks on anyone who disagrees with his obsession with “Jewishness”. He claims that all Jewish politics is “tribal,” and essentially, Zionist. Zionism, to Atzmon, is not a settler-colonial project, but a trans-historical “Jewish” one, part and parcel of defining one’s self as a Jew. Therefore, he claims, one cannot self-describe as a Jew and also do work in solidarity with Palestine, because to identify as a Jew is to be a Zionist. We could not disagree more. Indeed, we believe Atzmon’s argument is itself Zionist because it agrees with the ideology of Zionism and Israel that the only way to be a Jew is to be a Zionist.
Palestinians have faced two centuries of orientalist, colonialist and imperialist domination of our native lands. And so as Palestinians, we see such language as immoral and completely outside the core foundations of humanism, equality and justice, on which the struggle for Palestine and its national movement rests. As countless Palestinian activists and organizers, their parties, associations and campaigns, have attested throughout the last century, our struggle was never, and will never be, with Jews, or Judaism, no matter how much Zionism insists that our enemies are the Jews. Rather, our struggle is with Zionism, a modern European settler colonial movement, similar to movements in many other parts of the world that aim to displace indigenous people and build new European societies on their lands.
We reaffirm that there is no room in this historic and foundational analysis of our struggle for any attacks on our Jewish allies, Jews, or Judaism; nor denying the Holocaust; nor allying in any way shape or form with any conspiracy theories, far-right, orientalist, and racist arguments, associations and entities. Challenging Zionism, including the illegitimate power of institutions that support the oppression of Palestinians, and the illegitimate use of Jewish identities to protect and legitimize oppression, must never become an attack on Jewish identities, nor the demeaning and denial of Jewish histories in all their diversity.
Indeed, we regard any attempt to link and adopt antisemitic or racist language, even if it is within a self-described anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist politics, as reaffirming and legitimizing Zionism. In addition to its immorality, this language obscures the fundamental role of imperialism and colonialism in destroying our homeland, expelling its people, and sustaining the systems and ideologies of oppression, apartheid and occupation. It leaves one squarely outside true solidarity with Palestine and its people.
The goal of the Palestinian people has always been clear: self determination. And we can only exercise that inalienable right through liberation, the return of our refugees (the absolute majority of our people) and achieving equal rights to all through decolonization. As such, we stand with all and any movements that call for justice, human dignity, equality, and social, economic, cultural and political rights. We will never compromise the principles and spirit of our liberation struggle. We will not allow a false sense of expediency to drive us into alliance with those who attack, malign, or otherwise attempt to target our political fraternity with all liberation struggles and movements for justice.
As Palestinians, it is our collective responsibility, whether we are in Palestine or in exile, to assert our guidance of our grassroots liberation struggle. We must protect the integrity of our movement, and to do so we must continue to remain vigilant that those for whom we provide platforms actually speak to its principles.
When the Palestinian people call for self-determination and decolonization of our homeland, we do so in the promise and hope of a community founded on justice, where all are free, all are equal and all are welcome.
Until liberation and return.
- Ali Abunimah
- Naseer Aruri, Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
- Omar Barghouti, human rights activist
- Hatem Bazian, Chair, American Muslims for Palestine
- Andrew Dalack, National Coordinating Committee, US Palestinian Community Network
- Haidar Eid, Gaza
- Nada Elia, US Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
- Toufic Haddad
- Kathryn Hamoudah
- Adam Hanieh, Lecturer, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London
- Mostafa Henaway, Tadamon! Canada
- Monadel Herzallah, National Coordinating Committee, US Palestinian Community Network
- Nadia Hijab, author and human rights advocate
- Andrew Kadi
- Abir Kobty, Palestinian blogger and activist
- Joseph Massad, Professor, Columbia University, NY
- Danya Mustafa, Israeli Apartheid Week US National Co-Coordinator & Students for Justice in Palestine- University of New Mexico
- Dina Omar, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine
- Haitham Salawdeh, National Coordinating Committee, US Palestinian Community Network
- Sobhi Samour, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London
- Khaled Ziada, SOAS Palestine Society, London
- Rafeef Ziadah, poet and human rights advocate
A Response to Ali Abunimah & Co.
by Gilad Atzmon
Ali Abunimah & Co tend to present themselves as advocates of “One Democratic State in Palestine.” This leaves me puzzled: what kind of democracy do they have in mind, exactly? For by calling for my “disavowal,” they prove beyond a doubt that they cannot tolerate even some elementary cultural criticism—criticism that is endorsed and praised by some of the most respected thinkers within our movement and beyond.
In fact, I am pretty delighted with the outraged reactions to my thoughts. I guess it enables us to map the discourse and its boundaries—and means that those boundaries are now official. Not only has my latest book, The Wandering Who?, rocked the boat, but it also has managed to unite Alan Dershowitz and Abe Foxman with Ali Abunimah and Max Blumenthal. That is pretty encouraging: it means that peace may prevail after all.
However, I also have some bad news for my would-be silencers, Palestinian and Jewish alike. I do not have any plans to slow down or drift away. I am a jazz musician and an independent thinker. I am basically a free agent—I say what I think and think what I say. The popularity of my writing among Palestinians, solidarity activists and truth seekers is the direct outcome of my sincere approach to the subject matter.
Whether my detractors accept it or not, the strength of my arguments is grounded on the transparent truthful nature of my premises. Until now, not one of my opponents has been able to point out a single discrepancy within my argument or the facts I cite. For instance, I contend that since Israel defines itself as the Jewish State—its tanks and planes decorated with Jewish symbols—it is our duty to ask: Who are the Jews? What is Judaism? And what is Jewishness all about?
The fact that some activists shy away from asking those questions doesn’t mean that the rest of us also should behave cowardly.
In case my detractors—be they Zionists, Anti-Zionist Zionists or Palestinians—fail to realize it, Palestine is not alone anymore, and is no longer an isolated, remote discourse. Even as I write, AIPAC is publicly and relentlessly pushing America into a new global conflict. In Britain, 80 percent of Tory MPs are members of the Conservative Friends of Israel. What we are witnessing here is a clear Zionist shift from the discourse of a “promised land” to one of a “promised planet.” I’m convinced that calling a spade a spade could actually save the world, including Americans, Brits, Iranians and Palestinians. But it also can save the Jews from the grave potential consequences inflicted on them by the Jewish lobbies.
Sadly, Ali Abunimah has misrepresented my thoughts. Clearly there is no racism, anti-Semitism or Holocaust denial in my writing. As determined as my detractors are to find it, they have failed to identify a single bit of evidence of such tendencies in my work. Ali Abunimah says on my behalf that “one cannot self-describe as a Jew and also do work in solidarity with Palestine, because to identify as a Jew is to be a Zionist.” What a ludicrous interpretation of my writing, in which I go out of my way to define the issue in categorical terms. What I am obviously opposing is Jewish racial exclusivity. If Israel is in the wrong for being a Jews-only State, I argue, then its Jewish critics better fight it using an inclusive, universalist ideology and practice.
I am indeed critical of Jewish identity politics, Jewish culture and Jewish ideology. I am also critical of the Jewish cultural attitude toward history. I am critical of Jewishness and any form of Jewish exclusive political activism. And yet, I wonder, why should any person who seeks justice and peace object to my approach? Is Jewish culture or identity politics beyond criticism? Are Jews chosen after all.
I am sorry to disappoint my Palestinian and Jewish opposition league, but it seems as if their terminology is faulty and misleading: Zionism is not colonialism, for colonialism is defined as a material exchange between a Mother State and a Settler State. The fact that there is no Jewish Mother State suggests that Zionism doesn’t fit the colonial model.
Nor is Israel an Apartheid State, for Apartheid is defined by the exploitation of the indigenous residents. Yet the Jewish State prefers that the Palestinians simply and completely disappear. In other words, we are dealing here with a unique racially driven expansionist philosophy not very different from the Nazis’ Lebensraum.
Israel is not Zionism, and vice versa. Israel is the outcome of the Zionist project. If Zionism is a promise to establish a “Jewish National Home in Palestine,” Israel is its post-revolutionary product. Indeed, Israelis are barely familiar with Zionist thought and ideology. From their perspective, anti-Zionist ranting is a remote Diaspora discourse.
Shalom does not mean peace, reconciliation or harmony. Its accurate English translation is “security for the Jews.” Israeli culture lacks a clear notion of “peace” as we know it—i.e., harmony and reconciliation.
I suggest that my detractors spend some time and think this through, so they can understand that the issues involving this conflict and its resolution go far beyond mere political discourse.
I would like to take this opportunity to advise my opponents that their campaign is counterproductive. Those who are interested in my ideas realize that we are living in a post-political and post-ideological era. Like myself, they are interested in an ethical argument. They are not “party members,” and they are not taking “orders” from any sectarian group or ideology. Instead they listen to their hearts. Those pro-Palestinian organizations sponsoring my current U.S. book tour realize very well that my work galvanizes a demarcation line between truth and its enemies.
In spite of the relentless slander campaign against my writing, it has not achieved a thing except to expose a rigorous intellectual intolerance in our midst. If my opposition is concerned with my thoughts, it will have to learn to debate. Before we can proceed, I guess, my detractors may have to actually read my book and decide exactly what they are against.