By Gilad Atzmon, GiladOnline.com
I launched my study into Jewishness two decades ago. It began as a result of my reaction to the relentless attacks on dissident Jewish thinkers who didn’t fit with the ‘revolutionary agenda’ of the so-called Jewish ‘anti-Zionist’ Left.
I quickly grasped that it was actually the Jewish Left, the radicals and progressives, who displayed the most problematic traits associated with Zionism and Jewish identitarianism.
I was perplexed: the same people who adhere to tribal politics and operate in racially segregated political cells preach universalism to others. I came to understand that nothing was transparent or obvious about Jewish culture and identitarianism and that this was by design.
I decided to untangle the Jewish enigma from a new perspective: instead of asking who or what Jews are, I asked what those who self-identify as Jews believe in, what precepts they adhere to. This question was the beginning of my struggle.
By the time I published The Wandering Who? (2011), I realised that those who identify as Jews can be divided into three non-exclusive categories.
1. Those who follow the Torah and Mitzvoth.
2. Those who identify with their Jewish ancestry.
3. Those who identify politically as Jews.
In The Wandering Who I argued that while the first and the second categories are innocent, the third category is always contaminated by biological determinism. The third category is, in fact, racist to the core. While Jews aren’t necessarily a race, Jewish politics are, too often, racially oriented. This applies to both Zionists and the so-called ‘anti’ Zionists.
In my work, there is no real distinction between Jewish Zionists and their Jewish dissenters. I have found them to be equally racist.
There is more to draw from this categorical approach. It is apparent that not many self-identified Jews fall exclusively into just one of the categories. Jewish identity is a multilayered construct. A West Bank settler, for instance, is usually a follower of Torah and Mitzvoth (cat’ 1), most often he/she speaks in the name of their Jewish ancestry and even claims lineage to Biblical figures (cat’ 2).
And it goes without saying that a West Bank Jewish settler identifies and acts politically as a Jew (cat’ 3). Surprisingly, a JVP activist in Brooklyn isn’t all that different. He or she may not adhere to the Torah but likely identifies ethnically as a Jew (cat’ 2) and certainly acts politically as a Jew (cat’ 3).
In The Wandering Who I argued that If Zionism is a racist ideology, then Jewish anti-Zionists are at least as guilty of the same crime. In fact, in the Israeli Knesset, the third biggest party is a Palestinian party. You do the goy count: try to figure out how many Palestinians or Gentiles are on JVP’s board or amongst the British Jewish Voice for Labour (that doesn’t even accept gentiles as equal members). Needless to mention, this observation didn’t make me overwhelmingly popular amongst Zionists and the so-called ‘anti.’
On the day of the publication of The Wandering Who, hell broke loose. What started as a struggle to seek the truth or at least some understanding, evolved into a bloody war. Oddly, no one bothered to find a mistake in my work or pointed to where my argument was lacking.
No one claimed that the facts I based my argument on were inaccurate. Both Zionists and ‘anti’ have deployed every trick in their Hasbara book to try and silence me. I was called a racist, an anti-Semite, and a Nazi despite the fact that my entire work is anti-racist and in defiance of the Jewish racial argument.
Since 2011 I have been subject to a cowardly smear campaign. But the war called upon me has actually helped me to refine my views on Jewish Identity Politics. I realized that Jewishness (yehudiyut) is a manifold of different forms of chosenness. Rabbinical Jews celebrate being God’s favorite children.
Atheist Jews in practice dumped the God who first chose them in order to validate their own superiority as godless people. Jewish Marxists are special for their belief in inequality. Tikun Olam Jews believe that it is down to them to save the Goyim. After a few more years of this study, I realized that Judaism is just one Jewish religion amongst many and it is not even the most popular Jewish religion.
The great Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz figured out in the 1970s that while Jews uphold many religions and beliefs, all Jews believe in the Holocaust. It was this observation by Leibowitz that planted the notion of the Holocaust religion. When I wrote Being in Time, I realised that practically every precept can become a Jewish religion as long as it sustains a lucid concept of ‘chosenness’, self-love or auto validation.
The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan revealed that the ‘unconscious is the discourse of the Other;’ the fear that one’s deepest secrets could be unveiled and make it into the public discourse. In Lacanian terms, the Jewish unconscious is the fear that the ‘Goyim Know.’ Their torment is that people ‘out there’ will start to converse about what has taken place in front of their eyes: whether it is AIPAC dominance of US foreign policy or the destruction of the Labour Party or the constant threat to world peace imposed by Israel and its Lobby.
Judging by their desperate attempts to silence me, I assume that I must be seen, at least in the eyes of my Jewish detractors, as a prime conduit for that ever-expanding general awareness – after all I have been blowing the whistle for a while.
Jews do not like those who leave the tribe. Jesus paid a price, as did Uriel da Costa and Spinoza. For Jews, the former Jew, or ex-Jew, is a threat most likely because many Jews may feel insecure about the ethical ground of their core beliefs, culture and ideology. Enlightened Jewish progressives are probably clever enough to admit to themselves that being born into chosenness is a problematic racially supremacist concept.
Honest Jews may have gathered that being chosen by a God you yourself invented to favour you over the rest of humanity is actually funny. Orthodox Jews understand that large parts of their core beliefs are inconsistent with the western universal humanist tradition. Many Zionists know that their claims to a historic right to a land they have never been in are ridiculous.
The Jewish strategy to handle their fears includes the suppression of elementary freedoms: Jewish Power as I define it is the power to suppress criticism of Jewish power. I believe that it was I who coined the slogan, ‘We Are All Palestinians.’
In accordance with my definition of Jewish power, Palestinians are those who can’t even utter the name of their oppressor. While Israel calls itself the Jewish State and boasts about itself as Jewish, the Palestinians and their solidarity movement go out of their way to avoid the ‘J word.’
When British Jewish institutions including the chief rabbi and the British Jewish press called an open war on the British Labour and its leader no one in the Labour party dared utter the ‘J word’ except when asking for Jewish forgiveness. The condition of being Palestinian, of not being able to name one’s oppressor, is now a global symptom. This suppression of speech and thought has evolved into a tyranny of correctness.
By the time I wrote Being in Time, I understood that my struggle has implications that far exceed my initial intellectual objectives. What we face as western subjects is a massive battle between Athens and Jerusalem, where Athens is the birthplace of Western thought and Jerusalem is the city of revelation. Athens teaches us how to think, Jerusalem demands our obedience.
The Western humanist values and intellectual assets we are now nostalgic for came from Athens: democracy, tolerance, freedom of speech, philosophy, Agora, science, ethics, poesis, and the tragedy. Jerusalem gave us laws, mitzvoth, regimes of prescribed and proscribed behavior. Athens teaches us how to think ethically: in Jerusalem, ethics are replaced by the Ten Commandments; rules to obey.
Jerusalem is not solely a ‘Jewish domain.’ The Jerusalemization of our universe is apparent in every corner of society: from pop culture to the workplace, to academia and beyond. It is the tyranny of correctness adopted by the new Left and it is at least as infectious within right identitarianism.
My struggle as I now understand it has evolved into a metaphysical quest. I battle to reinstate Athens within my soul. If you want to make the West great again, my struggle is your struggle. Defy Jerusalem, say no to authoritarianism, embrace Athens in your heart: learn to speak your mind, tell the truth as you see it and bear the consequences.
Gilad Atzmon is an Israeli-born British jazz saxophonist, novelist, political activist, and writer.
Atzmon’s album Exile was BBC jazz album of the year in 2003. Playing over 100 dates a year, he has been called “surely the hardest-gigging man in British jazz.” His albums, of which he has recorded nine to date, often explore the music of the Middle East and political themes. He has described himself as a “devoted political artist.” He supports the Palestinian right of return and the one-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
His criticisms of Zionism, Jewish identity, and Judaism, as well as his controversial views on The Holocaust and Jewish history, have led to allegations of antisemitism from both Zionists and anti-Zionists. A profile in The Guardian in 2009 which described Atzmon as “one of London’s finest saxophonists” stated: “It is Atzmon’s blunt anti-Zionism rather than the music that has given him an international profile, particularly in the Arab world, where his essays are widely read.”