Bum notes from a disoriented saxophonist and his friends
GILAD Atzmon is a brilliant musician. I first heard him live at the Conway Hall in Holborn, central London, not the poshest of venues, but he was performing at a benefit for the Vanunu campaign before rushing off to play in concert at the Festival Hall. I enjoyed his virtuoso sax performance, and fusion of jazz and Middle Eastern music, and I admired his dedication in finding time for a fund-raiser before his professional work that night.
I appreciated his gesture in calling his ensemble "Orient House". This building in Jerusalem housed the offices of the late Feisal Husseini, a Palestinian leader of some stature whose presence in the capital, centralising political and cultural work and archives, and greeting visitors (including on one occasion me) was an ongoing irritant to the Israeli occupiers. In 2001 they seized the premises, and Feisal Husseini died that year.
I was less amused when Atzmon at a fundraising gig threw in a gag about Jews not working. Maybe the people in the audience who tittered thought they were hearing irony, since most of those working to make the benefit a success happened to be Jews. But I felt tempted to heckle Atzmon by shouting "Shut up Yidele, and play us another tune!"
Feisal Huseini, son of a guerrilla leader and scion of an ancient family, was respected by even opponents and enemies as a diplomat and statesman. I don't know whether he ever tried his hand as a musician. But unfortunately, Gilad Atzman fancies himself as a thinker and political figure, and believe me, the man fronting this Orient House is no Feisal Husseini.
Anyone who has ever criticised the Israeli state or expressed support for the rights of the Palestinians will have come up against the Zionist lobbyists -sometimes themselves guilt-tripping gentiles and antisemites - who falsely identify Israel - a state, forcibly occupying land taken from Palestinians, and Zionism - the political movement that established it - with the Jewish people and religion. Hence any opposition to it is declared "antisemitic", as though any people other than Palestinians would willingly relinquish their rights and land were it not for this irrational prejudice!
Members of both the European and British parliaments have been persuaded perhaps unthinkingly to swallow the line that Zionism is but Jewish "self-determination" (not a right which the Palestinians were considered to merit).
Thus, I suppose, James Arthur Balfour, whose Aliens Act a century ago was aimed at keeping Jews out of Britain is considered a friend, since he followed up with his Declaration favouring a Jewish "national home" in Palestine in 1917. Jews who preferred to relinquish this right and stay or go elsewhere were traitors, like those Soviet Jews who had to be herded on to a plane at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport some years ago and taken to Israel whether they liked it or not, -some "self-determination", eh?! But if I raise that, or any other criticism of Israeli policy and Zionism, I must be a "self-hater", you see.
Being only human, Palestinians who have lost their loved ones in Israeli massacres, or seen their homes and farms destroyed, might not always express their bitterness in politically correct terms. But the Palestinian national movement has long made clear that its struggle is against a regime and ideology, not a people or religion. Only too aware of the strength of the organised Zionist Lobby here and more especially in the United States, the Palestinian movement and its supporters have analysed it factually, rather than falling for fantastic conspiracy theories about the 'Elders of Zion'. Right-wingers who have tried to use Israel's crimes as their opportunity to make antisemitism, and racism in general,respectable, have been denied openings in genuine solidarity movements. Jews on the other hand have been made welcome.
All this is frustrating, not just for neo-Nazis but for Israel's propagandists, and Zionist leaders, who are forever looking for ways to smear those supporting the Palestinians, and to shore up the invisible ghetto walls keeping their flock in order with suspicion, fear and denunciations of the "traitors" who dissent. If need be, the Mossad would hire some provocateurs to attack Jews, infiltrate pro-Palestinian movements in order to drag them into disrepute (something like this was apparently attempted in the United States using ex-cops); perhaps even use disturbed individuals to play the "self-hate" game, create confusion and stir animosity between potential allies.
Being neither privy to Mossad secrets nor prone to conspiracy theory myself, I don't say any of this is happening. I do say it is an objective set of circumstances against which people should be on their guard. And now, back to Gilad Atzmon. Some while ago he attacked various Jewish people active for a just peace (some of whom have also found themselves on Zionist hate lists) in a piece charmingly called Protocols of the Elders of North London. Having now helped circulate the letter below, I am honoured to join them.
I don't think Atzmon is any kind of "agent". He may be perfectly sincere.
From what friends have told me and what I have observed he is the kind of personality, more common among small children, that delights in upsetting people with what he thinks is clever, and takes reproach as encouragement to do it all the more.
That might suggest we should not give him so much attention. After all, whatever the outrageous views he expresses, they don't interfere with his sax playing. But they should give pause to thought to anyone considering him for anything more.
An open letter from the Jewish Socialists' Group to Scottish Palestine Solidarity
OPEN LETTER TO SCOTTISH PALESTINE SOLIDARITY CAMPAIGN
Dear Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign,
The terrible situation of the Palestinians today,especially in Gaza, demands the broadest possible unity by those who wish to challenge oppression, racism and human rights abuses. Those who disrupt that unity, or make pro-Palestinian activity vulnerable to charges of antisemitism cannot be friends of the Palestinian people. Against this background, the Jewish Socialists’ Group strongly oppose Scottish PSC’s invitation to Gilad Atzmon to speak and perform on November 22 at an event called “Zionist Control”.
Apart from the SWP, which has inexplicably invited Atzmon to its annual Marxism events, and to a book launch at its Bookmarks shop (which was picketed by “Jews Against Zionism and other anti-racists), Atzmon is shunned by other progressive, pro-Palestinian organisations. They completely reject his statements - regurgitating world Jewish conspiracy theories and diminishing the crimes of Nazism - which have been widely denounced as antisemitic. Atzmon’s outbursts have been a gift to Zionist journalists, providing them with an opportunity to discredit and smear those who support Palestinian rights and justice for the Palestinian people.
If you are not familiar with the views of the person you have invited, here are some examples from his article "On antisemitism" December 2003 on his own website (www.gilad.co.uk) and reprinted in Al-Jazeerah:
"We must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously…American Jewry makes any debate on whether the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion' are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews do try to control the world, by proxy."
“Israel's behaviour throws some light on the persecution of Jews throughout history."
In 2005 Atzmon approvingly distributed Paul Eisen’s essay “Holocaust Wars” which the Socialist Unity website described as “a full-blooded exposition of Holocaust denial material and a tribute to notorious neo-Nazi Ernst Zundel.”
Atzmon said he had only“slight differences” with Eisen’s article.
In 2006 he wrote an article called “Beyond comparison”for Al-Jazeerah (August 12) about Israel and Nazism:
“Nazis were indeed proper expansionists, they were trying to take towns and land intact…unlike the Nazis who had respect for other national movements including Zionism, Israel has zero respect for anyone including its next door neighbours. The Israeli behavior should be realised as the ultimate vulgar biblical barbarism on the verge of cannibalism.
“While Nazism was a nationalist expansionist movement with extensive yet limited ambitions, the Jewish State and its Zionist lobbies are trying to revive the spirit of a global crusade in the name of a bizarre religious war.
“It is about time to … say it all loudly... We have to admit that Israel is the ultimate evil rather than Nazi Germany”.
Since the early 1980s the Jewish Socialists’ Group has worked closely with Palestinian organisations and solidarity campaigns and more recently with Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Just Peace UK and European Jews for a Just Peace in the struggle against occupation and for equality and self-determination forPalestinians. We have challenged Jewish communal “leaders” when they denounce opponents of Israel as antisemitic and Jewish opponents of Zionism as“self-haters”
At the same time we remain vigilant about antisemitism and other forms of racism. We agree entirely with the view of Britain’s former PLO representative, Afif Safieh, who frequently told pro-Palestinian demonstrations and meetings that antisemitism was an enemy of the Palestinians as well as the Jews. As Jewish socialists and outspoken opponents of Zionism, racism and fascism, we cannot understand how it benefits the Palestinian struggle to invite and promote an individual who speaks as Atzmon does, regardless of his origins.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has long had a clause in its aims to oppose antisemitism and all forms of racism. We cannot understand why SPSC seem intent on exposing the pro-Palestinian movement to charges of antisemitism.
We appeal to Scottish PSC to rescind the invitation and we appeal to Palestinian organisations and solidarity organisations to make their views on this known to Scottish PSC.
(on behalf of the National Committee of the Jewish Socialists’ Group)
JSG BM3725 London WC1N 3XX
BY way of a PS: Last night I rather jumped the gun and forwarded a copy of this letter to various people and organisations, not realising it had not yet been signed and officially gone out. I received some messages of agreement and support, which I have passed on to Dave Rosenberg. But thanks to a kind soul who sent Atzmon a copy, I have had e-mails today from the man himself, thanking me for the publicity (he's welcome) but also enclosing comments by two loyal supporters. One, Paul Eisen (see above) says Pottins is "stupid and racist". Well, I plead guilty to the first, because when I heard that Eisen was campaigning for a Deir Yassin memorial, I invited him to speak at a Jewish Socialists' Group meeting so we could give support. It was not till some time later that, observing his politico-religious evolution, I realised "Deir Yassin Remembered" risked becoming Deir Yassin Forgotten, if it was left to people like him.
The second message is from Israel Shamir, who some while ago announced his conversion to Orthodox Christianity, and apparently with the enthusiasm of a new convert to some rather old-fashioned views on the ingrediants of Passover matzo. He now says "Gentlemen,
my support and respect goes to our wonderful Gilad Atzmon and Paul Eisen. Socialists have no need for Jewish separateness. Moreover, this Pottin anyway does not observe mitzvoth and thus only pretends being Jewish.
It's always nice to be told what Socialists need, even by a man who has reportedly popped up under another name as a Swedish antisemite, tried to flog hooky Nazi documents to David Irving, and written for a right-wing nationalist Russian magazine. I can only marvel at Shamir's intelligence sources, who must have reported to him that I eat eggs and bacon, haven't donned tefillin since my Bar Mitzvah, and am indeed an epikoros. So, my fame, or infamy has reached Jaffa, or Stockholm (and there was Gilad Atzmon saying "no one has heard of you"!) I will leave it to others to decide whose sins are worse, and which of us is a pretender.
But I can assure messrs. Shamir, Atzmon and Eisen, the Holy Trinity, that neither I nor the Jewish Socialists' Group is "separate" from the wider labour, socialist and solidarity movements, in which we will make our views felt.