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Reply to Gilad Atzmon’s ‘What is to be Done?’

Tony Greenstein and Roland Rance

‘Anti-Semitism is not the answer’
We write as two of the initial founders of Palestine Solidarity Campaign in 1982 in the UK in reply to Gilad Atzmon's article ‘What is to Be Done? Palestinian Solidarity in Time of Massacres’, Counterpunch, 22 November 2006). Gilad Atzmon shows all the enthusiasm of a child with a new toy in his lecture to Scottish Palestine Solidarity. He sees the terrible depredations in Gaza, the massacres and the bombings and asks why we can not end it. The answer, it seems to him is simple. It is a failure of the Palestine solidarity movement in the UK and elsewhere.

If only it were so simple. If there was a silver bullet it would have been fired years ago. The tragedy is that there is no solution that can be wished into existence by a magic wand. Atzmon however is determined that he has found the key to unlocking the door. Israel is a "Jewish only state". And further it is fascist. And even more surprising there are differences between Palestinians living in Israel and the Occupied Territories (OT) and those living in the Palestinian diaspora, mainly refugee camps.

Taking these three in order:

i. The aim of Zionism is indeed to create a pure Jewish society. This is not an original discovery! However, that has not yet been achieved, and it is important that, with the inclusion of an open advocate of transfer in the Olmert government, Avigdor Lieberman, we redouble our efforts against the beginnings of an overt transfer programme in Israel (which began with the Law that prevented Israeli Arabs from marrying Palestinian spouses from the OT).

ii. If you don’t like a State, and think it is a vicious, nasty State, then Atzmon’s reasoning, such as it is, is that the State is fascist. But fascism refers to a particular kind of State formed in specific circumstances such as the defeat and atomisation of the working class. Israel is not such a State, which does not mean that it is not everything else Atzmon has described it as. It is racist, it is expansionist, it is genocidal when it can get away with it and it relegates the Arab to the category of non-human. All of this is true but that doesn’t mean it is fascist.

On the contrary, it is the settler colonial nature of the Israeli state which best explains its expansionism. No one doubts that the South African State was racist and expansionist, but it wasn’t fascist. The fact that these states allowed certain freedoms, such as of the press, voting etc., for their own herrenvolk, demonstrates this. The democratic rights for Jews in Israel, within certain limits, also spill over into a partial leakage of such rights for Israeli Arabs. It is something that has to be fought for and it is an unequal struggle, but it serves no one’s purpose to pretend that it doesn’t exist.

iii. Following on from this it is clear that the Palestinians of the OT and those in the refugee camps surrounding Israel are in the worst position of all. The level of repression directed against the Palestinians of the OT is horrific. But Atzmon is wrong to suggest that their demands are therefore different. The question which naturally follows is what are those demands? What are we aiming for?

It should be clear now beyond any doubt that a two-state solution is no solution at all. It therefore follows, as Atzmon says, that the only solution to the Palestinian Question is a unitary state, but also a democratic, secular unitary state in all of Mandated Palestine. It should also follow that the aim of both Israeli Arabs and the Palestinians of the OT are consonant. In other words both groups are fighting for equal rights, i.e. a state which doesn’t discriminate against someone because of their nationality or religion or any other arbitrary characteristic. In such a state there will be no question that those Palestinians who wish to return, will have an absolute right to return to the State of Palestine.

A Jewish or Jews-only State
Gilad Atzmon emphasises repeatedly that it is a Jewish or Jews-only State that is the principal antagonist for the Palestinian solidarity movement. Not so. It is the Zionist movement and the racist Israeli state that it has created. Atzmon emphasises the Jewishness of the Israeli state, but a state cannot pray to a god, nor wear a skullcap, nor fast on Yom Kippur. If Atzmon is saying that the Israeli state defines the chosen ones, the herrenvolk, those with privileges, as Jewish then we would agree. But, given that one-third of Soviet immigrants in the 1990s were non-Jewish it would appear that Jewishness is becoming synonymous with being a white European and being Jewish defines the oppressor.

Atzmon’s purpose, however is quite different. It is to imply that because there is something specifically Jewish about the Israeli State it is that, and that alone, which defines its barbarism. It is this implication which we reject.

Unfortunately Atzmon becomes confused along the way and says that our problem is to admit that Zionism is a continuation of Jewishness. In fact he is wrong. It is a break in many ways from Jewishness, which is why the Zionist movement always had such contempt for the Jewish diaspora and its battles for socialism and equal rights. This is not Zionism’s battle. It wishes to deny rights for others, not to fight with others for common, universalist, human goals.

But, like the clock that gets it right twice a day, Atzmon is correct to (nearly) say that modern Jewish identity is formed, primarily, by Zionism. This is no secret, certainly not on the left, and we would recommend that Atzmon reads issue No.1 of Return magazine an in particular the articles ‘Zionism and Jewish identity’ by Akiva Orr, an Israeli Jew, or ‘Jewish identity through the Ages’ by Ilan Halevi, a Palestinian Jew, or ‘Holocaust Analogies’ by Tony Greenstein in Return No.2, or his pamphlet Zionism and its Shadow. It is no secret that Jewish communities in the West have moved to the right and predominantly support the Israeli state, however critically at times. The point is what conclusion one draws from this fact.

One other fact that Atzmon, in his diatribe doesn’t consider, is that, when Jews were freed from the ghetto walls by Napoleon and discrimination gradually ended, more and more Jews assimilated to the majority communities. We welcome that. More Jews for example survived in Europe under the Nazis because they "married out" i.e. to non-Jews than because of the Zionist project. Today in the world, with the virtual absence of anti-Semitism, over half the Jews in Britain and America are marrying out. In other words the visible Jewish community outside Israel is fast declining. Gilad Atzmon however would resurrect the one thing that Zionism claims has traditionally preserved the Jewish people – anti-Semitism. As Herzl noted in his Diaries (p.231): "anti-Semitism too probably contains the Divine will to Good, because it forces us to close ranks, unites us through pressure, and through our unity will make us free."

Zionism believes that Jews are strangers in the lands they were born and brought up in, and should "return" to Israel, and that the struggle against anti-Semitism is futile. we therefore don’t understand why Atzmon refers to the ADL-Bnai Brith and Abe Foxman, who are not in the least concerned with anti-Semitism, i.e. the fight against anti-Jewish racism. Their concern is merely to defame and libel their opponents, to tar them with the brush of anti-Semitism.

Jewish Gatekeepers?
However it is when he comes to the alleged gate-keepers of the Palestine Solidarity movement that Gilad Atzmon reveals his agenda. Israel is a Jews-only State, therefore anyone who is Jewish is automatically suspect. We are a fifth column within the Palestinian Solidarity movement. Anyone who is Jewish and who dares oppose the Gilad Atzmon, Israel Shamir line in the movement – and as he says, "I have been closely monitoring the Jewish left discourse for more than a few years" – is damned as a Zionist, which for Atzmon seems interchangeable with being Jewish.

Atzmon’s logic is impeccable for its Zionist credentials, which as readers will be aware is no more than the other side of the coin of anti-Semitism. Jews, be they in Britain as a whole or in the Palestinian solidarity movement, are outsiders, strangers, interlopers. We do not belong. And where do we belong according to this logic? Why in Israel, the Jews-only State! You couldn’t make it up if you tried. For all his posturing, Atzmon repeats the Zionist canard he learnt at his parents’ knees, viz. that Jews outside Israel are neither fish nor fowl – they are neither proper Jews nor accepted citizens of the countries they live in. Surprising as it may seem, we reject this nonsense.

So yes, Moshé Machover is quite right. Anti-Semitism is indeed a Palestinian problem. Not in the sense that they personally experience it, but because any growth in anti-Semitism cannot but have adverse consequences for the Palestinians. But for anti-Semitism there would have been no Zionist movement and certainly no Israeli state. The fact that Atzmon cannot understand this simple fact suggests he doesn’t understand what Zionism is.

The rest of the attack on Moshé Machover, someone who is rightly respected by both Palestinians and Jewish anti-Zionists, is just an absurd caricature. We do not know of any single Jewish anti-Zionist, certainly not Moshé, who has attacked Palestinians because they are not interested in fighting anti-Semitism. To be blunt we would prefer not to fight anti-Semitism, certainly not within the Palestinian solidarity movement. We prefer things like supporting asylum seekers, ending the war with Iraq and the attempted domination by the USA, with and without Israel, of the Middle East and its oil resources. And the fight against anti-Muslim racism in Britain is our priority, because we agree with Norman Finkelstein that anti-Semitism is a declining phenomenon in the West, which the Zionists of course try to pretend is otherwise.

Atzmon tells us he is a philosopher and an essentialist. What he really means is that he is unable to place anything in its proper context or perspective. If he was he wouldn’t be searching for the "spirit" of Zionism, which would seem to be what Zionism describes as the "essence of Judaism". Nor would he be so concerned about "that which transforms the Israelis and their supporters into ethically blind killing machines".

Atzmon might also want to consider what made supporters of General Pinochet or South Africa’s John Vorster or George Bush and his millions of supporters into just such machines. We’re afraid concepts such as imperialism rarely fall from Atzmon’s lips.

Atzmon declares his true agenda when he says that, if Israel as a Jewish State is wrong, then Jews Against Zionism, the Jewish Socialists Group etc. are also wrong. Wrong Mr Atzmon. It is precisely because Israel claims that it is acting in the name of Jewish people everywhere that it is incumbent upon those who are Jewish and who are socialists or are genuinely opposed to anti-Semitism on principle to also oppose racism which is directed against the Palestinians. There is no contradiction here, except in the mind of someone who is afraid of his own identity.

Anti-Semitism has no place in the Palestine solidarity movement
Gilad Atzmon is too coy. In ‘On Anti-Semitism’ (20 December 2003) he writes that "If we go along with the Zionist call to regard Jewish-ness as a nationalistic category rather than a religious one, we should be consistent and regard any act against Jews as a political reaction rather than an irrational racist attack. In other words: the success of Zionism drains away any possibility of anti-Semitism." What he is saying is that we should accept at face value the Zionist definition of Jew=Zionist and then proceed to attack Jews on the basis that they are synonymous with Israel and Zionism. Wonderful. We can’t think of any better way of strengthening the very Israeli state Atzmon purports to oppose.

In the same essay, Atzmon wrote: "we must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously." We note that Atzmon has now substituted "Zionists" for the "the Jewish people", but the same intent and meaning remains. Zionists are Jews and Jews are Zionists. On this Atzmon agrees wholeheartedly with the Zionists. And if there were any doubt on this score, then further into the essay he writes that "American Jewry makes any debate on whether the ‘Protocols of the elder of Zion’ are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews (in fact Zionists) do control the world." This rehabilitation of the oldest and most infamous of anti-Semitic tracts, about which Hitler also declared that it was irrelevant if they were a forgery, should be shocking in anyone who declares themselves an opponent of Zionism.

Yet, not satisfied with this, Atzmon was determined to write his own version of the Protocols, which can be read on his website:

"Now, it looks as if Zionist lobbies control American foreign politics. After so many years of independence, the United States of America is becoming a remote colony of an apparently far greater state, the Jewish state.... The idea that Zionists have taken over America might sound bizarre in the first instance but we must remember that this kind of strange scenario does happen. Last month I heard Israel Shamir’s observation regarding this very issue." (‘The Protocols of the Elders Of Zion (Verse 2)

Israel Shamir is the spider at the centre of the small, but growing, group of people who believe that anti-Semitism can somehow of be assistance in the development of a Palestine solidarity campaign. Believed to be a Russian-Swedish fascist Adam Ermash living in Israel, he openly denies that there was a Holocaust of European Jews, and argues that that Auschwitz was merely a labour camp, that there is substance to the medieval blood libel and that the Palestine solidarity movement should align itself with white supremacist and far-right organisations and individuals. To which end Shamir hasn’t hesitated to speak on the same platforms as David Duke, the ex-KKK leader, at a Kiev Conference on "anti-Zionism" last year, and to praise Horst Mahler of the German NPD. Other luminaries in this group include Paul Eisen, British Director of Deir Yassin Remembered, whose article ‘Holocaust Wars’ features on Shamir’s web site. It is a fulsome tribute to Holocaust Denier, Ernst Zundel. It is an article which Atzmon has described as "a great text" – something he has never withdrawn. To give but a flavour of Eisen’s works:

"World War II – that is, the war against the East – was really a preventive/defensive war against Communism, which was Jewish." Which is of course how the Nazis justified the war against the Soviet Union. And he tells us that "Ernst Zundel was not the only German who loved Hitler and is probably not the only German who still loves Hitler. Millions of Germans loved Hitler who for twelve years impacted on them as no German has or probably ever will." This of course is the fascist tyranny which not only exterminated millions of Jews, gypsies and gays, but others it considered untermenschen. It was a state which, despite repeated blandishments from the Mufti of Jerusalem, was steadfast in its support for the Zionist state-in-the-making in Palestine. Its racial philosophy was not merely aimed at Jews, but held in equal contempt Blacks and third world peoples. That was why Hitler was determined to do nothing that undermined the British Empire and certainly not to support or encourage any Palestinian rebellion against the British."

This is, apparently, the direction in which we should be going. Atzmon, together with Shamir, believes that Jews today are "Christ killers", and offers the Palestine solidarity movement the prospect of an alliance with medieval Christian anti-Semitism and other assorted racists. It is an offer we should refuse.

Tony Greenstein and Roland Rance are members of Jews Against Zionism (UK)