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Right of reply: Gilad Atzmon responds to Palestinian writers

March 21, 2012 4:08 P.M. (Updated: March 21, 2012 6:52 P.M.)
By: Gilad Atzmon
Correction appended

In mid-March, a group of more than 20 Palestinian writers publicly disavowed Gilad Atzmon, a musician and writer who was born in Israel, and accused him of attacking Jewish identity and suggesting that Jews who identify as such are necessarily Zionists. His response is below.

Ali Abunimah and company 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," the signatories 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, these writers have 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.

The writers say 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 US 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.

Gilad Atzmon is a musician and writer. He is the author of The Wandering Who?

(This version corrects that Ali Abunimah was one of 23 people whose names were listed alphabetically as signatories to the statement disavowing Atzmon, not its sole author.)
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