Gilad Atzmon addresses Keith Kahn-Harris’ criticism in the Forward
Every few months The Jewish Forward, a New York so- called progressive outlet, appoints one of its less gifted writers to destroy Gilad Atzmon. This week, Keith Kahn-Harris, a London-based sociologist, took on the mission.
“Cloaked In Pretensions, Gilad Atzmon’s Anti-Semitism Soldiers On” is the title Khan- Harris gave to his article. As we will see, Khan-Harris desperately tries to present yours truly as a pretentious masturbatory writer, but instead he takes us on a spectacular journey through a hollow Jerusalemite mind. Khan-Harris fails to substantiate any of his claims. Actually, it seems that by the time Khan-Harris reaches the end of his piece, he has become something resembling an avid converted ‘Atzmonite.’ Read for yourself:
“Atzmon’s diagnoses of the pathologies of the ‘post-political’ age certainly resonate with the zeitgeist in a time when extraordinary new alliances and ideological fusions emerge on a daily basis. Atzmon can offer a patina of philosophical respectability, a thrilling sense of intellectual discovery, to fellow adventurers – and even if he might wish it to be otherwise, his disavowed Judaism provides a useful alibi to anti-Semites.”
I can assure Khan-Harris, that his paragraph would make my Israeli mother proud.
Khan-Harris’ commission was to portray my work as a directionless anti-Semitic rant. Here, according to Khan-Harris, is an example of my worthless philosophical speculation:
“I suggest that instead of looking at the world through the rigid lens of the Right/Left dichotomy, or a particular ideological perspective, it is more instructive to impose an alternative (meta-ideological) method that juxtaposes “the human” i.e. the human condition, with the political spectrum as a whole. Instead of imposing any particular ideology, be it Right, Left, Capitalism, Fascism and so on, I examine the complementarity between a political system and the human condition.” (Gilad Atzmon, Being in Time – A Post Political Manifesto).
I am, naturally, very proud of the above, but Khan-Harris complains that I used the terms “‘complementarity’, ‘meta-ideological’ and ‘the human’ simply to position myself as a sophisticated thinker. He points out that “the quote resists easy comprehension, not because he [Atzmon] is offering a difficult and complex mode of theorising, but because its argument is absurd.”
In scholarly terms, this is a promising beginning. Perhaps Khan-Harris is about to demonstrate the ‘absurdity’ of my core argument. Let’s see what evidence this ‘academic’ presents.
“Atzmon is claiming that his writings transcend ideology, that he speaks from a place of common, universal humanity. This is not only arrogant, it is delusional. We all speak from somewhere.”
That a tribal academic is unable to cope with the ‘universal’ is no surprise. After all, the tribal and the universal are like water and oil. But Khan-Harris fails to understand that the universal, no doubt an abstract term, is actually ‘a thing’ and even ‘an authority.’ This is an indication of how far removed Khan-Harris is from accomplishing an intellectual exercise.
Khan-Harris continues, “Being in Time, like Atzmon’s previous book, The Wandering Who? is founded on the conceit that it is both possible and ethically essential to reject ‘identity’ and any form of politics that would speak for it. This is a ridiculous argument: humans can no more transcend identity than they can transcend elbows and body odour; identity is nothing more than the way we define ourselves in the world.”
Our ‘sociologist’ seems to contend that the human condition has morphed radically in the last three decades. Does he really believe that we, the people, can’t find our way without the assistance of the identitarians and a bunch of cultural Marxists? How does his statement even resemble an academic or scholarly argument? Where or what is the argument? From a formal, logical perspective Khan-Harris’ statement is constructed like a mitzvah or biblical commandment rather than a scholarly position. Kahn-Harris could have saved our time and reduced his extended ‘criticism’ into a one-liner – “Gilad Atzmon is totally wrong. Because!”
But I am by nature a kind and experienced educator and so I will assist the Jewish social scientists. Khan-Harris’ statement that “humans can no more transcend identity than they can transcend elbows and body odour,” is neither a ‘law of nature’ nor it is axiomatic. It is merely a peculiar identitarian position that begs support, something Khan Harris fails to produce. I wonder whether he or anyone can.
Rarely Kahn-Harris comes closer to his target, “Jewishness is the original sin, according to Atzmon.” Though I wouldn’t use those words. I do see a deep problem at the core of Jewishness. But what is Jewishness? In my work, rather than criticising Jews (the People) or Judaism (the religion), I focus on Jewish ideology (Jewishness) – the racially oriented sense of entitlement known to Jews as choseness (ניבחרות, Hebrew). The concept of choseness is overwhelmingly familiar to every self-identified Jew, whether Zionist or ‘anti.’ It is embedded in the philosophy of those who claim someone else’s land in the name of a book they don’t even believe in. And it is also symptomatic of the anti Zionists who operate in racially exclusive cells and believe that it is down to the Jews to give Palestinian solidarity a “kosher stamp.”
Jewishness, hence, refers to Jewish ideology. It contains a manifold of different Jewish exceptionalist precepts. But Khan-Harris’ argument is that Jewish ideology (Jewishness) is beyond criticism. Unwittingly, he provides support for my definition of Jewish power. Jewish power as I define it, is the power to suppress criticism of Jewish power. In his Forward article Khan-Harris preforms a clumsy attempt of just that sort. He really doesn’t want us to discuss Jewish ideology. I wonder, is there any other ideology he shields or is it just the Jewish one that better be protected?
And what is it, you may wonder, that makes Atzmon an ‘anti-Semite’? Here he goes:
“Being In Time features some anti-Semitic tropes from central casting: Atzmon decries ‘Jewish power’ and the silencing of critiques of it; he takes sideswipes at billionaire and left-wing donor George Soros, at Jewish dominance of international finance, at ‘cultural Marxism’, at the neo-Marxist intellectual movement known as the Frankfurt School, at Jewish volunteers in the Spanish civil war and at many others. He also cites the work of anti-Semitic thinker Kevin MacDonald and even Henry Ford’s The International Jew with approval.”
Notice that Khan-Harris doesn’t want any discussion of Soros or the extent of cultural Marxism’s influence. And his argument? He doesn’t make one. We are still paddling in the Mitzvah swamp where thought is devoid of reason or logos. It is true, I am attracted to controversial texts. I have learned that the books they are desperate to burn are exactly where disclosure (Heidegger, I guess) comes into play. I believe that Kevin MacDonald’s Culture of Critique is one of the 20th century’s most important texts on Jewish culture and survival strategies. I do not agree with MacDonald on some issues. MacDonald has criticised my work for avoiding a biological argument. Yet, within the Athenian realm, open debate is where humanity comes alive.
In Being in Time, I exercised care in how I dealt with the books The International Jew and The Bell Curve. I explained the controversies to my reader. I used the books not because I agree with every word in them, but because I wanted to focus on certain arguments in each book that I regard as crucial to an understanding of contemporary affairs. I accept that because I irreverently insist upon delving into ‘prohibited’ texts, I elicit anger and fear within the progressive ghetto. And this suggests that the burning of books is at least evoking some guilt.
In Being in Time I delve into the unique ability of self identified Jews to dominate both poles of pretty much every debate considered relevant to Jewish interests. For instance, Jews are at the centre of the capitalist world and advocacy of free markets. And they are also at least as dominant amongst anti capitalist revolutionaries. Many Jews, as we know, affiliate themselves with Zionism, but at the same time, it is Jews who are at the vanguard of the so-called anti Zionist call. As a ‘sociologist,’ Khan-Harris might be expected to find this phenomenon interesting and try to explain it.
Instead, Khan-Harris writes, “this Jewish colonisation of almost every point on the political map is the reason why, as Atzmon sees it, we are living in a ‘post-political’ world in which politics has become irrelevant, power acts unchallenged, and the freedom to speak has been extinguished.” I really can not detect an argument. Or even a counter argument. Of course, in the realm of mitzvoth and commandments there is no need for counter arguments. This is precisely the difference between Athens and Jerusalem.
“If there is hope for Atzmon, it lies in a ‘return to Athens’…he identifies the latter (Athens) with a fearless search for truth, for discovering the ‘essentials’ of the human condition… In contrast, Jerusalem stands for authority, law and obedience, for a ‘political correctness’ that shackles truth.” This is a correct description of my argument in Being in Time. Let’s see what Khan- Harris, the prototypical Jerusalemite, makes of it. “In other words, the only hope for humanity is to transcend its essential, flawed Jewishness.” My call is for a departure from Jerusalem, it is Khan Harris who equates Jerusalem with Jewishness. I would like to believe that Khan-Harris fell into this obvious trap because he could easily identify Jerusalem at the core of his own Jewishness. While I differentiate between Jerusalem and Jewishness, it seems that most Jews do not know where Jerusalem ends and Jewishness starts.
In his desperation to establish an argument that holds water, Khan-Harris writes “Atzmon denies he is a racist, partially on the grounds that he loves the work of Charlie Parker and other African-American jazz musicians.” This is just wrong. I’m not a racist because I hate racism. I’m not a racist because I dedicated my adult life to fighting racism through my music, my writing and my public life. I’m not a racist because I hate biological determinism and I oppose racially exclusive politics whether it is White, Black, Aryan, Zionist or ‘anti-Zionist’! In none of my work is there a single critical reference to anyone as a biology, as a race or as an ethnicity. If Khan-Harris or anyone else can point at a place where I criticise people as race, I won’t just issue an apology, I will join my foes and publicly denounce myself.
Towards the end of his article, Khan-Harris affirms that there is “ Atzmonism” there: a body of ideas that offers a new outlook on the Jewish universe and its role in the world. Khan-Harris is right, and it is no secret that my work has been endorsed by some great scholars and humanists. And if there is ‘Atzmonism’ out there, Khan-Harris lacks the subtlety to grasp its depth.
“Another central tenet of Atzmonism, namely, that anyone who identifies as a Jew in any way cannot be, for Atzmon, an ethical human being.” Now here, Khan-Harris has failed to do his homework. In The Wandering Who? I acknowledge that Jewish identity is complex. It is an identity that is largely threefold: part religion, part ancestry and part politics. In my work on Jewish identity I reference only the 3rd category: those who identify politically as Jews. Within the third category there is no dichotomy between Zionists and Jewish anti Zionists for both identify politically as Jews. Both are engaged in a racially oriented exclusive political discourse.
“So how dangerous is Gilad Atzmon? “ Khan-Harris asks. Apparently very and why? Because “Old-style anti-Semites such as David Duke are certainly happy to cite him approvingly. After all, the only good Jew is an ex-Jew.” It seems that I am also dangerous because, despite the relentless Jewish terror campaign against my supporters and me, I am still “invited to speak in some leftist circles.” Khan-Harris may be too dim to grasp that he has written a certificate of approval for my work. My philosophy gets past the banal and dated Left/Right binary. My work is warmly endorsed by people on the Left, the Right, communists, nationalists, humanitarians as well as racists. I do not fit and do not want to fit within the binary left/right universe. I offer an alternative. A possible vision of unity, a concept that could bring people together. And when I speak about people being together I obviously refer to everyone, including Jews who, unlike Khan-Harris, are inspired by the universal and accept that it is out there even if they can’t touch it or reduce it to shekels.
In case you were hoping for a Holocaust free article you are about to be disappointed. “Atzmon is deliberately apathetic about the Holocaust and other atrocities against Jews, nodding towards without completely embracing both justification and denial.” This is true. Since Jewish history is basically an endless chain of holocausts, I don’t see any particular reason to delve into one shoah and skip another. Instead, I prefer to ask what is it about the Jews that arouses so much animosity in others in so many different places and different times?
I grew up in Israel in the 1960s and 70s. Some members of my family had numbers tattooed on their forearms. Obviously I was aware of the holocaust and Jewish suffering, but like other Israelis of my generation, I didn’t want to identify with suffering and victimhood. As a thinking adult with an affinity for philosophy, I came to realise that history is the attempt to narrate the past as we move along. Accordingly, history is a revisionist adventure. To revise the past is to allow ethics to come into play. For me, understanding the Holocaust for real is to prevent the next one—to understand once and for all, what is it that provokes hatred on a genocidal scale. Israel and Zionism are fascinating test cases. Zionism was a promise to bring about a new civilised Jew. It vowed to make Jews people like all other people. Zionism failed and its failure is a window into the core essence of Jewishness. My study of Jewishness suggests that there is no collective remedy for the Jewish question. If you care enough; break out, run for your life. Search for the universal, the ordinary, the bread, the butter and brotherhood.
If they want to burn it, you want to read it...