Not Quite "Ordinary Human Beings"—Anti-imperialism and the anti-humanist rhetoric of Gilad Atzmon
[The following statement has been published on several websites. The version published here is the final version and contained the most up-to-date list of signers as at 8 March 2012.]
Attempting to latch onto the just, vital, and growing movement in support of the Palestinian national liberation struggle, Gilad Atzmon is one of a very small and unrepresentative group of writers who have argued (in agreement with many Zionists) that there is no meaningful distinction to be made between Jews in general and Israeli atrocities. According to Atzmon, the latter are simply a manifestation of Jews’ historic relationship to gentiles, an authentic expression of an essentially racist, immoral, and anti-human “Jewish ideology.”
Atzmon’s statements, besides distorting the history of Jews and constituting a brazen justification for centuries of anti-Jewish behavior and beliefs, also downgrade anti-Zionism to a mere front in the broader (anti-Jewish) struggle. Atzmon has specifically described Zionism not as a form of colonialism or settlerism, but as a uniquely evil ideology unlike anything else in human history. In addition to any ethical problems, this line of argumentation actually strengthens Zionism’s grip and claim to be the authentic representative of Jews. It obscures the reality that Zionism is an imperialist and colonialist enemy of Jewish people and Palestinians, as well as the Arab people generally and all those oppressed and exploited by imperialism.
In his online attack on Moshe Machover, an Israeli socialist and founder of the anti-Zionist group Matzpen, Atzmon states:
Machover’s reading of Zionism is pretty trivial. “Israel,” he says, is a “settler state.” For Machover this is a necessary point of departure because it sets Zionism as a colonialist expansionist project. The reasoning behind such a lame intellectual spin is obvious. As long as Zionism is conveyed as a colonial project, Jews, as a people, should be seen as ordinary people. They are no different from the French and the English, they just happen to run their deadly colonial project in a different time.
For Atzmon, such views are “pretty trivial” and “lame” because he holds that Jews are in fact radically different from the French and the English. Of the many quotes we could provide in this regard, here is a small sampling:
In order to understand Israel’s unique condition we must ask, “who are the Jews? What is Judaism and what is Jewishness?”
Zionism is a continuation of Jewish ideology.
The never-ending robbery of Palestine by Israel in the name of the Jewish people establishes a devastating spiritual, ideological, cultural and, obviously, practical continuum between the Judaic Bible and the Zionist project. The crux of the matter is simple yet disturbing: Israel and Zionism are both successful political systems that put into devastating practice the plunder promised by the Judaic God in the Judaic holy scriptures.
Sadly, we have to admit that hate-ridden plunder of other people’s possessions made it into the Jewish political discourse both on the left and right. The Jewish nationalist would rob Palestine in the name of the right of self-determination, the Jewish progressive is there to rob the ruling class and even international capital in the name of world working class revolution.
Were Jewish Marxists and cosmopolitans open to the notion of brotherhood, they would have given up on their unique, exclusive banners and become ordinary human beings like the rest of us.
I do not consider the Jews to be a race, and yet it is obvious that “Jewishness” clearly involves an ethno centric and racially supremacist, exclusivist point of view that is based on a sense of Jewish “chosen-ness.”
At the most, Israel has managed to mimic some of the appearances of a Western civilisation, but it has clearly failed to internalise the meaning of tolerance and freedom. This should not take us by surprise: Israel defines itself as a Jewish state, and Jewishness is, sadly enough, inherently intolerant; indeed, it may be argued that Jewish intolerance is as old as the Jews themselves.
Israel and Zionism then, has proved to be a short lived dream. It was initiated to civilise Jewish life, and to dismantle the Jewish self-destructive mode. It was there to move the Jew into the post-herem phase. It vowed to make the Jew into a productive being. But as things turned out, neither the Zionists nor the “anti Zionists” managed to drift away from the disastrous herem culture. It seems that the entire world of Jewish identity politics is a matrix of herems and exclusion strategies. In order to be “a proper Jew,” all you have to do is to point out whom you oppose, hate, exclude or boycott.
The conclusion to such views is not difficult to draw:
The endless trail of Jewish collective tragedies is there to teach us that Jews always pay eventually (and heavily) for Jewish power exercises. Yet, surprisingly (and tragically) enough, Jews somehow consistently fail to internalise and learn from that very lesson.
More precisely, commenting on the climax of State violence directed at Jews in the 1930s, most famously by Germany, but also in most other European nations, Atzmon is clear:
The remarkable fact is they don't understand why the world is beginning to stand against them in the same way they didn't understand why the Europeans stood against them in the 1930s. Instead of asking why we are hated they continue to toss accusations on others.
Within the discourse of Jewish politics and history there is no room for causality. There is no such a thing as a former and a latter. Within the Jewish tribal discourse every narrative starts to evolve when Jewish pain establishes itself. This obviously explains why Israelis and some Jews around the world can only think as far as “two state solution” within the framework of 1967 borders. It also explains why for most Jews the history of the holocaust starts in the gas chambers or with the rise of the Nazis. I have hardly seen any Israelis or Jews attempt to understand the circumstances that led to the clear resentment of Europeans towards their Jewish neighbors in the 1920’s-40’s.
It is, as such, not surprising that Atzmon’s work has received enthusiastic reviews by such prominent members of the racist right as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, Kevin MacDonald of the Occidental Observer, David Icke, and Arthur Topham’s the Radical Press. It should not be surprising that Atzmon has distributed articles defending Holocaust deniers and those who write of “the Hitler we loved and why.”These connections ultimately serve the interests of Zionism, which seeks to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Jewishness. Zionist agents have repeatedly attempted to ensnare and link Palestinian, Arab, and/or Muslim rights advocates to Neo-Nazism, through dirty tricks and outright lies.
It is more surprising and disappointing, then, that a small section of the left has opted to promote Atzmon and his works. In the UK, the Socialist Workers Party promoted Atzmon for several years before finally breaking with him; his latest book The Wandering Who? has been published by the left-wing Zero Books (a decision that elicited a letter of protest from several Zero authors). In the United States, the widely-read Counterpunch website has repeatedly chosen to run articles by Atzmon. Currently, in February and March 2012, Atzmon is on tour in North America, where several of his speaking engagements are being organized by progressive anti-imperialists who we would normally like to consider our allies.
While perhaps well-meaning, operating under the assumption that any opposition to Zionism is to be welcomed, progressives who promote the work of Atzmon are in fact surrendering the moral high ground by encouraging a belief-system that simply mirrors that of the most racist section of Israeli society. Anti-racism is not a liability; on the contrary, it is a principle that makes our movements stronger in the long fight for a better tomorrow.
As political activists committed to resisting colonialism and imperialism—in North America and around the world—we recognize that there can be different interpretations of history, and we welcome exploring these. Without wishing to debate the question of whether far-right and racist ideologues should be censored, or how, we see no reason for progressive people to organize events to promote their works.
In our struggle against Zionism, racism, and all forms of colonialism and imperialism, there is no place for antisemitism or the vilification of Jews, Palestinians or any people based on their religions, cultures, nationalities, ethnicity or history. At this historic junction—when the need to struggle for the liberation of Palestine is more vital than ever and the fault lines of capitalist empire are becoming more widely exposed—no anti-oppressive revolution can be built with ultra-right allies or upon foundations friendly to creeping fascism.
As'ad AbuKhalil, The Angry Arab News Service, Turlock, CA
Suha Afyouni, solidarity activist, Beirut, LEBANON
Max Ajl, essayist, rabble-rouser, proprietor of Jewbonics blog site, Ithaca, NY
Haifaa Al-Moammar, activist, stay-at-home mom, and marathon walker, Los Angeles, CA
Electa Arenal, professor emerita, CUNY Graduate Center/Hispanic & Luso-Brazilian Literatures and Women's Studies, New York, NY
Gabriel Ash, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Geneva, SWITZERLAND
Joel Beinin, Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA
Dan Berger, Wild Poppies Collective, Philadelphia, PA
Chip Berlet, Boston, MA
Nazila Bettache, activist, Montréal, CANADA
Sam Bick, Tadamon!, Immigrant Workers Center, Montréal, Québec
Max Blumenthal, author; writing fellow, The Nation, New York, NY
Lenni Brenner, author, Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, New York, NY
Paola Canarutto, Rete-ECO (Italian Network of Jews against the Occupation), Torino, ITALY
Paulette d’Auteuil, National Jericho Movement, Albuquerque, NM
Susie Day, Monthly Review, New York, NY
Ali Hocine Dimerdji, PhD student at The University of Nottingham, in Nottingham, UK
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, professor emerita, California State University
Todd Eaton, Park Slope Food Coop Members for Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions, Brooklyn, NY
Mark Elf, Jews sans frontieres
S. EtShalom, registered nurse, Philadelphia, PA
Benjamin Evans, solidarity activist, Chicago, IL
First of May Anarchist Alliance
Sherna Berger Gluck, professor emerita, California State University/Israel Divestment Campaign, CA
Neta Golan, International Solidarity Movement
Tony Greenstein, Secretary Brighton Unemployed Centre/UNISON, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, Brighton, UK
Andrew Griggs, Café Intifada, Los Angeles, CA
Jenny Grossbard, artist, designer, writer and fighter, New York, NY
Freda Guttman, activist, Montréal, CANADA
Adam Hanieh, lecturer, Department of Development Studies/SOAS, University of London, UK
Swaneagle Harijan, anti-racism, social justice activism, Seattle, WA
Sarah Hawas, researcher and solidarity activist, Cairo, EGYPT
Stanley Heller, "The Struggle" Video News, moderator "Jews Who Speak Out"
Mostafa Henaway, Tadamon!, Immigrant Workers Center, Montréal, CANADA
Elise Hendrick, Meldungen aus dem Exil/Noticias de una multipátrida, Cincinnati, OH
Doug Henwood, Left Business Observer, New York, NY
Ken Hiebert, activist, Ladysmith, CANADA
Elizabeth Horowitz, solidarity activist, New York, NY
Adam Hudson, writer/blogger, San Francisco Bay Area, CA
Dhruv Jain, Researcher at the Jan Van Eyck Academie and PhD student at York University, Paris, FRANCE
Tom Keefer, an editor of the journal Upping the Anti, Toronto, CANADA
Karl Kersplebedeb, Left Wing Books, Montréal, CANADA
Anne Key, Penrith, Cumbria, UK
Mark Klein, activist, Toronto, CANADA
Bill Koehnlein, Brecht Forum, New York, NY
L.A. Palestine Labor Solidarity Committee, Los Angeles, CA
Mark Lance, Georgetown University/Institute for Anarchist Studies, Washington, DC
David Landy, author, Jewish Identity and Palestinian Rights: Diaspora Jewish Opposition to Israel, Dublin, IRELAND
Bob Lederer, Pacifica/WBAI producer, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, New York, NY
Matthew Lyons, Three Way Fight, Philadelphia, PA
Karen MacRae, solidarity activist, Toronto, CANADA
Heba Farouk Mahfouz, student activist, blogger, Cairo, EGYPT
Marvin Mandell and Betty Reid Mandell, co-editors, New Politics, West Roxbury, MA
Ruth Sarah Berman McConnell, retired teacher, DeLand, FL
Kathleen McLeod, poet, Brisbane, Australia
Karrie Melendres, Los Angeles, CA
Matt Meyer, Resistance in Brooklyn, New York, NY
Amirah Mizrahi, poet and educator, New York, NY
mesha Monge-Irizarry, co-director of Education Not Incarceration; SF MOOC City commissioner, San Francisco, CA
Matthew Morgan-Brown, solidarity activist, Ottawa, CANADA
Michael Novick, People Against Racist Terror/Anti-Racist Action, Los Angeles, CA
Saffo Papantonopoulou, New School Students for Justice in Palestine, New York, NY
Susan Pashkoff, Jews Against Zionism, London, UK
Tom Pessah, UC Berkeley Students for Justice in Palestine, Berkeley, CA
Marie-Claire Picher, Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory (TOPLAB), New York, NY
Sylvia Posadas (Jinjirrie), Kadaitcha, Noosa, AUSTRALIA
Roland Rance, Jews Against Zionism, London, UK
Danielle Ratcliff, San Francisco, CA
Liz Roberts, War Resisters League, New York, NY
Emma Rosenthal, contributor, Shifting Sands: Jewish Women Confront the Israeli Occupation, Los Angeles, CA
Penny Rosenwasser, PhD, Oakland, CA
Suzanne Ross, Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, The Riverside Church Prison Ministry, New York, NY
Gabriel San Roman, Orange County Weekly, Orange County, CA
Ian Saville, performer and lecturer, London, UK
Joel Schwartz, CSEA retiree/AFSCME, New York, NY
Tali Shapiro, Anarchists Against the Wall, Boycott From Within, Tel Aviv, OCCUPIED PALESTINE
Simona Sharoni, SUNY, author, Gender & the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Plattsburgh, NY
Jaggi Singh, No One Is Illegal-Montreal/Solidarity Across Borders, Montréal, CANADA
Michael S. Smith, board member, Center for Constitutional Rights, New York, NY
Pierre Stambul, Union juive française pour la paix (French Jewish Union for Peace), Paris, FRANCE
Muffy Sunde, Los Angeles, CA
Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of Jacobin, Bronx, NY
Tadamon! (http://www.tadamon.ca/), Montréal, CANADA
Ian Trujillo, atheist, Los Angeles, CA
Gabriella Turek, PhD, Auckland, NEW ZEALAND
Henry Walton, SEIU, retired, Los Angeles, CA
Bill Weinberg, New Jewish Resistance, New York, NY
Abraham Weizfeld, author, The End of Zionism and the liberation of the Jewish People, Montreal, CANADA
Ben White, author, Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination, and Democracy, Cambridge, UK
Laura Whitehorn, former political prisoner, NYS Task Force on Political Prisoners, New York, NY
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, founding member, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-BIG)
Asa Winstanley, journalist for Electronic Intifada, Al-Akhbar and others, London, UK
Ziyaad Yousef, solidarity activist
* List in formation
* Organizations listed for identification purposes only
* Contact us at: email@example.com
This text is not intended as a comprehensive critique of Gilad Atzmon's politics. It was written quickly by some North American anti-imperialists who learned of Atzmon's 2012 speaking tour just days before it was to begin in late February 2012. At first it was thought it would be signed by just a few people, but the initiative quickly took on a life of its own, being posted to the web and to multiple listservs, discussed via email and on Facebook, and elsewhere, even before the wording had been finalized or a decision had been made as to how to use it (the initial assumption had been that it would be passed on to organizers with far less fanfare). Instead of a few signatures, within a week there were dozens, and emails continue to arrive from people wishing to sign on. We believe that this speaks to the deep frustration that many of us feel when confronted with Atzmon's anti-Jewish beliefs, which constitute an affront to our anti-racist principles, as well as a distraction from the essential tasks of opposing colonialist genocide and Israeli apartheid. What this response makes clear is that for many anti-imperialists, opposing such racism remains essential to building a movement against imperialism and the myriad forms of oppression that both feed on and are fed by it.
Any subsequent news or information about this initiative will appear here on the Three Way Fight website (threewayfight.blogspot.com). Those wishing to endorse or discuss this initiative, or for more information, should email firstname.lastname@example.org. We wish to reiterate that we consider many of those promoting Atzmon's work to be allies, but would ask that they reconsider their decision to do so. This is not a call for censorship, but for consistency and accountability.
 Gilad Atzmon, "Swindler's List: Zionist Plunder and the Judaic Bible," Redress Information & Analysis, April 5, 2008.
 Gilad Atzmon, "An Interesting Exchange With A Jewish Anti Zionist," Atzmon's Web site, August 17, 2011.
 Gilad Atzmon, "The Herem Law in the context of Jewish Past and Present," Atzmon's Web site, July 16, 2011.
 “Herem” is a Hebrew word that refers to banning or excluding someone, it is also the name of the repressive legislation Israel recently passed to enable punitive lawsuits against those calling for a boycott of the apartheid state. For Atzmon, this law is just one more example of Zionism’s Jewish uniqueness (guess he never heard of SLAPPs), as he concludes that “this is what Jews do best: destroying, excluding, excommunicating, silencing, boycotting, sanctioning. After all, Jews have been doing this for centuries.”
 Quoted in Shabana Syed, "Time for World to Confront Israel: Gilad Atzmon," Arab News, June 14, 2010.