November 14, 2011

Atzmon and Alderman – preaching from the same hymn book

By David Landy

There have been a few reviews of my book, Jewish Identity and Palestinian Rights - generally positive, but also pointing out that it has too much sociological jargon, which is fair enough, I guess (sigh). There have also been a couple of bad reviews from exactly the type of people you’d dread getting good reviews from. In my case, from the right-wing Zionist Gilad Atzmon, and right-wing anti-Zionist Geoffrey Alderman. Or maybe the other way around.

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell.

Alderman’s brief review argues that the book proves that Jews who criticise Israel as Jews are trying out some bizarre form of perverse ethnic identification. Connoisseurs of Atzmon will be more than familiar with this particular thesis. In his review, Atzmon mixes this farrago with the conspiracy theories we’ve come to know and love. Thus, one failing of my book is that I don’t realize how these Jews are engaged in a conspiracy to expel the good folks out of Palestine solidarity. How could I have missed that? (maybe I’m part of the cover-up!) Another problem is my failure to understand that Jews in Jewish groups are somehow categorically different from Jews in general pro-Palestine groups (despite membership overlap). And so on.

But worst is when they agree with the book – for what they agree with is emphatically what the book does not say – Alderman on the tortured identities of participants, Atzmon dishonestly using a partial quote from page 26 to depict participants as selfish Zionists. This is even more irritating (just) than being called a postmodernist.

There’s loads in the book to criticize and/or praise, and I’ve received some genuinely fruitful criticism from movement activists. So why do these reviewers attack and support what isn’t actually there? No point in being naïve; the reason is clear. Both authors are using their reviews as an opportunity to once again launch their well-rehearsed attacks on Jews who criticize Israel. In this, the book itself is incidental, so small wonder that there is some similarity between their reviews.

Alderman at least doesn’t advise me to read Alderman, in the way Atzmon advises that the best I can do is read Atzmon. Ironic that. Alderman, for all the disagreements I have with him, can write well and does have interesting things to say about British Jews. Whereas Atzmon – well, I think I’ll treasure this line for the rest of my life: ‘Philosophical thinking also seems alien to Landy so he is unable to grasp the metaphysical depth of questions connected to identity, identification and authenticity in the context of Jewish culture and ideology.’

That’s me told.

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