Silvia Cattori: Would you argue that there is a discrepancy between Jews and left?
Gilad Atzmon: Not at all. I should explain here that I never talk about Jews as a people. I differentiate between Jews (the people) Judaism (the religion) and Jewishness (the culture). In my work, I am only elaborating on the third category, i.e. Jewishness. Also it should be understood that I differentiate between the tribal “Jewish Left”, and Leftists who simply happen to be Jewish. Indeed, I would be the first to admit that there are many great leftists and humanists who happen to be of Jewish origin. However those Jews who operate under a “Jewish banner” seem to me to be Zionist fig leafs: they are solely there to convey an image of “Jewish pluralism”. In fact, when I grasped the full role of the “Jewish left” I realised that I may end up fighting alone against the strongest power around.
Silvia Cattori: Do you fight alone?
Gilad Atzmon: More or less alone. I like to fight alone; I take responsibility. Along the years, there have been a lot attempts to destroy the few of us who have stood up against Jewish power. I found myself in trouble for supporting people like Israel Shamir and Paul Eisen, for standing up for their right to think freely and to express their opinions and ideas openly. I remember one of those infamous “Jewish Left” activists telling me, “listen Gilad, once you shun Shamir we will let you be”. My answer was simple: I was not about to bargain with intellectual integrity. For me, freedom of speech is an iron rule — I would never silence anyone.
It appears to me that “the Left” mislead us and itself by depicting Zionism solely as a colonial project. The “Left” likes the colonial paradigm because it locates Zionism nicely within their ideology. It also leads us to believe that the colonial/post-colonial political model provides some answers and even operative solutions; following the colonial template, we first equate Israel with South Africa, and then we implement a counter-colonial strategy, such as the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions).
Let us return now to further comparison of Israel with the colonial model — Israel is also markedly different, for example, from earlier colonial states such as South Africa, because Israel implements genocidal tactics. South Africa was indeed brutal — but it stopped short of throwing white phosphorous on its indigenous population. South Africa was a settler state, and was exploiting its indigenous population: but it wanted to keep them alive and oppressed. The Jewish state, on the other hand — would much prefer to wake up one morning to find out that all the Palestinians had disappeared, because Israel is driven by a Talmudic racist ideology. For those who have not realised it yet, the Zionism that presented itself initially as a secular project was, in fact, a crude attempt to transform the Bible into a land registry document, and an attempt to turn God into a nasty estate agent. It should be understood that Zionism follows a completely different political operative mode to any other settler state, and the colonial paradigm is simply incapable of fully addressing that.
Silvia Cattori: Yes, but can we really compare the two?
Gilad Atzmon: Why not? We compare between two ideologies, between two racist ethnocentric precepts. It was the artists who came up with that simple and essential truth. It was the artists who dismantled the colonial paradigm in just a one swift move. Seemingly our artists are well ahead of our “intellectuals”.
Silvia Cattori: I would like further understand your objection to those who consider Israel a colonialist State. Already in the sixties, South Africa severed institutional relations with Great Britain and had withdrawn from the Commonwealth. Thus there was no more a "motherland" outside South Africa. And yet the Black population fought the “settlers” who had installed the apartheid. In that sense, can we not consider that there is a similarity with the present struggle of the Palestinians for their rights against Jewish settlers who settled on their land, and that this struggle is, in a way, a struggle against colonialism? It is true that white South Africans did not implement murderous tactics against the natives. Is it because you’re focusing on this point and emphasising the comparison with the Nazi holocaust that you put forward the uniqueness of the Zionist project, instead of colonialism?
Gilad Atzmon: The big question I try to raise here is: why can’t we practice coherent scholarship? The issues surrounding the appropriation of the colonial paradigm is obviously just one example. We are subject to a lethal tyranny of political correctness.
1. It is safe; it makes the criticism of the Jewish state look legitimate.
Where is the problem in such an approach, you might ask? Well, it is pretty obvious — this entire discourse is actually completely irrelevant to the Zionist disease. It is like treating a patient who has bowel cancer with some strong diarrhea pills — just because the symptoms are slightly similar.
Silvia Cattori: But those within the solidarity movement, who denounce “Israeli colonialism”, criticise Israeli racist agenda and support the right to return— aren’t they saying exactly the same thing as you are saying?
Gilad Atzmon: To start with, we are indeed part of the same movement, and I guess that we are driven by the same ethical intuitions.
However, there is a clear difference between us, because by employing the “colonial paradigm” their intention is to communicate the idea that the Jewish national project is entirely reminiscent of a 19Th century national trend. This is to say that, just like most other European settler nations, the Jews happened to celebrate their “national symptoms” — it is just that they did so after everyone else.
The “colonial paradigm” is then, invoked to also support the idea that Israel is an apartheid state, and pretty much like most other earlier colonial settings. My approach is totally different, because I would argue that Israel and Zionism is a unique project in history, and the relationship between Israel and the operation of the Jewish Lobbies in the West is also totally unique in history. I would even take it further, and say that whilst the Palestinians are indeed at the fore front of a battle for humanity, the fact is that we are all subject to Zionist global politics. According to my model, the credit crunch is in fact a Zionist “punch”. The war in Iraq is a Zionist war. I would argue forcefully that Zionism has a long time ago moved from the “promised land” narrative into the “promised planet” nightmare. I also argue that it would be impossible to bring peace to the world unless we confront the true meaning of contemporary Jewish ideology.
Interestingly enough, many of those who enthusiastically support the “colonial paradigm”, were also very quick to denounce the work of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt on the Israeli Lobby. If Mearsheimer and Walt are correct, and I think that they are, then it is Jewish power which we have to confront.
And this is exactly what the “Jewish Left” and Jewish intelligentsia are there to prevent us from doing.
Silvia Cattori: Your views clearly oppose intellectuals such as Bernard-Henry Lévy who support Western expansionism and Israeli policies. For you Israel is the danger. Don’t you think that some people see there an element of provocation?
Gilad Atzmon: Provocation is not a bad thing. I wrote an article recently about Bernard-Henry Lévy. The man is lame beyond belief. We have more than a few “Bernard-Henri Levys” here in Britain too, Jews who portray a false image of scholarship. And as it happens, we intellectually smash them, one by one. We expose them for what they are. By the way, Norman Finkelstein did a great job with Dershowitz. We should not be scared about it all.
Silvia Cattori: What differentiates Gilad Atzmon from those who say, "I am a Jewish anti-Zionist"; "We are Jews for peace", etc, yet always highlighting their tribal identity?
Gilad Atzmon: It is very simple: for me, the fight for peace is a fight for a universal cause. For me, to support the Palestinians is an ethical necessity. And if it is a universal cause and an ethical necessity, I do not see any reason to fight it “as a Jew”, “as a man”, or “as a jazz artist”. When I come across those who call themselves “Jews for peace” and “Jews for justice”, I stand up and say “what do you really mean by calling yourself a ‘Jew’? Are you religious?” When a Torah Jew says he identifies as a Jew I know what he refers to. When Torah Jews say “we are religious Jews and we support Palestine in the name of our faith”, I say “go ahead, you have my support”.
Silvia Cattori: If I understood well, those who identify themselves as “anti-Zionist Jews” or “Jews for peace” believe that this makes their voice louder than others’ voice.
Gilad Atzmon: For sure, and that is a valid point. But again, I still have some reservations, because if I say “I am a Jew for peace,” and I believe that this is enough to make my voice more important than yours, what it really means is that I am still consciously celebrating my chosen-ness. And isn’t that exactly the problem we have with Zionism?
Silvia Cattori: Is this consciously a way to humiliate non Jewish people?
Gilad Atzmon: That is possible; but I do not think that Jews who succumb to Jewish tribal politics are really conscious of the effect it has on others.
Silvia Cattori: Israelis who describe themselves as ex-Israelis, ex-Jews, are very rare. Are you the only one?
Gilad Atzmon: I may as well be the only one. However, I do not really talk as an ex-Jew — I talk as Gilad Atzmon. I avoid collective banners. When you read me, you read what I think. You see it for what it is, and you either agree, or you don’t agree. I do not need flags or phantasmic identities to hide behind.
Silvia Cattori: Few famous artists have had the courage to stand up openly and firmly for victims of Israeli oppression. We know that, in general, well known people are afraid to be placed on the "anti-Semitic" list. Rogers Waters has dared to break the taboo. David Gilmour, Robert Wyatt, followed. What do you say to those who are still scared?
Gilad Atzmon: I believe that the only way to liberate ourselves is to begin to talk. The only way to fight is to express ourselves openly. I have taken that risk and if I can do it, then I think that everyone can do it. I have paid a price in that my career has suffered a little, and I make less money. But I can look at myself with pride.
Silvia Cattori: To those who would argue that your political positions are, let’s say, “borderline”, what do you answer?
Gilad Atzmon: I do not actually know what “borderline” means. For years I encountered endless attempts to silence me, but they all proved to be counter effective because if anything, the repressive measures taken against me brought many more people to read my materials, and encouraged more people to think things through for themselves. I was accused by Zionists and Jewish anti-Zionists of being racist and anti Semitic, but embarrassingly enough for them, not a single anti Semitic or racist argument has ever been found in my many papers. On the contrary, there is an anti racist attitude that stands at the very core of my criticism of Jewish identity politics and Jewish ideology. I have been writing now for ten years, and for all those years, I have had a note on my web site saying “If you find something racist or anti-Semitic in my writings, let me know. I will apologise and remove it immediately”. And not a single person has ever come up with anything.
Silvia Cattori: Your voice helps people to understand what Israel is all about. In general, covering this subject is not easy. However, should not journalists take more responsibilities in exposing the power games that devastate the Middle East? What have been the responsibilities in this regard of Western media?
Gilad Atzmon: I will be very honest with you; Western media has failed all the way. Western media has betrayed us. It has failed to understand that Palestine is not that far from our “Western haven”. The media have failed to see that we are all Palestinians — Palestinians are at the forefront of the battle against evil, but the rest of us are fighting in exactly the same battle, and we are all confronting the same enemy. What happened in America with the credit crunch and evolved into economic turmoil is the direct outcome of global Zionist politics.
America invests its tax payers’ money maintaining the Jewish State and it launched its people into a war to “save Israel”. Consequently, we are all facing a financial disaster, and as we speak, the Arab masses are rising: they demand liberation, and they want an immediate end to the Zio-political grip. What you see now in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen is there to prepare us all, and we may well see the same thing unfolding soon in Berlin, Paris, London, Madrid, Barcelona, and New York City, because we all face the same enemy.
Silvia Cattori: I wonder whether your readers understand what you refer to when talking about Zionism and global Zionism.
Gilad Atzmon: That is indeed a very crucial point. You may find it hard to believe but even Israelis do not understand what Zionism is all about. Zionism is the belief that Jews (like all other people) should be entitled to celebrate their right for a national homeland, and this homeland is Zion (Palestine). Though this idea sounds almost innocent, it is entangled with very problematical ethical issues, because Zionism has morphed into political reality in the shape of a Jewish State, built entirely at the expense of the ethnically cleansed and abused Palestinian people. Moreover, along the years, the Jewish State has been utilising some very powerful lobbies and think tanks in our Western capitals; and these bodies promote global Zionist interests such as endless confrontation with Islam and the Muslim world.
Silvia Cattori: When do you see the emergence of Islamophobia and what was the cause?
Silvia Cattori: What is fascinating about you is your freedom of speech. You can’t stand the truth being “half told”. Isn’t it the case?
Gilad Atzmon: I think that is a good way to put it. I have developed a severe allergy to spins and deceitful narratives. As I said before I do not claim to know the truth; however, I am pretty effective in detecting lies, ploys and diversions. Being a philosopher I am also effective in raising questions and deconstructing inconsistencies. I am puzzled by the activists around us who believe that we can beat Zionism by sketching out some phantasmic narratives of resistance. I honestly believe that truth-seeking and total openness will prevail. If you want to grasp the growing popularity of my writing, I guess that this is what it is — instead of playing political games I really try to get to the bottom of it all. I try to understand what it is that drives and fuels Zionism, Israel, Jewish lobbying, neoconservative expansionist wars and even Jewish anti Zionism.
Silvia Cattori: Thank you.