by Kim Petersen
When someone within the broad framework of social justice espouses views that are repugnant to others within a social justice movement, disavowal of such views is fair.1 Attacking the holder of the repugnant views would be overstepping the lines of decency. Nevertheless, it is bizarre that mass murderers and war criminals are accorded much more respect than racists, homophobes, or misogynists. How else to explain why no social justice group has formally called for a disavowal of Barack Obama, the Nobel Peace Prize winner complicit in the killing of so many Afghanis, Iraqis, Iranians, Bahrainis, Egyptians, Yemenis, Syrians, Libyans, Palestinians, etc.? Yet when “a musician born in Israel” speaks out against occupation, oppression, and killing and denounces the groups behind the occupation, oppression, and killing, he is excoriated allegedly because of racism against the occupier-oppressor group.
A group led by a pro-Palestinian rights campaigner, Ali Abunimah put out a call for a disavowal of Gilad Atzmon, “a musician born in Israel and currently living in the United Kingdom, [who] has taken on the self-appointed task of defining for the Palestinian movement the nature of our struggle, and the philosophy underpinning it.”2 [italics added]
Self-appointed? Please. Do humans need an appointment to oppose social injustices?
The anti-Atzmon signatories state they know best how to define the Palestinian movement the nature of the Palestinian struggle; that may very well be so, and that is something that is rightfully promoted by Palestinians in the struggle.
I have not read every word or heard every speech by Atzmon, but I never came to a conclusion that he was defining anything for Palestinians. Atzmon has been focused on the occupiers, a group he stems from, and what makes them occupier-oppressors, and as a member of the group (he has since renounced allegiance with), and as a human being he has every right (indeed, it should be a duty of every human) to criticize the war crimes and crimes against peace and humanity perpetrated by another group.
Surprisingly, the signatories resort to the gutter of Zionist tactics and hurl the abused canard of racism and anti-Semitism against Atzmon. Yet Atzmon’s entire thesis is predicated upon the fact that everyone belongs to the group called Homo sapiens. He is opposed to fractionalization into groups that ignores the basic humanity of all and the rights that all humans must share equally. He opposes group/tribal supremacism and calls for the dignity of all humans to be respected.
That members of one group in large numbers deny the humanity of another group of humans must be opposed. However, it is not merely sufficient to oppose this inhumanity; it should be eradicated so that such inhumanity never surfaces again. To solve the scourge of inhumanity that arises within a group, it is only logical that the group be studied in depth and the causes of the inhumanity be identified so that solutions may be forthcoming.
Atzmon does not mince words. He states matters boldly and forthrightly. I do not always agree with his wording, and I diverge from some of his findings and conclusions. Nonetheless, his basic thesis — that we are all human beings and must treat and respect each other as equally endowed with human rights — is a thesis with which I fully agree.
Abunimah et al. charge:
Atzmon’s politics rest on one main overriding assertion that serves as springboard for vicious attacks on anyone who disagrees with his obsession with “Jewishness”. He claims that all Jewish politics is “tribal,” and essentially, Zionist. Zionism, to Atzmon, is not a settler-colonial project, but a trans-historical “Jewish” one, part and parcel of defining one’s self as a Jew. Therefore, he claims, 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. We could not disagree more. Indeed, we believe Atzmon’s argument is itself Zionist because it agrees with the ideology of Zionism and Israel that the only way to be a Jew is to be a Zionist.
Atzmon, say the signatories, claims that all Jewish politics is “tribal…” How to respond? I am left wondering what exactly “Jewish politics” is? Is it politics inside Israel where Zionism is thoroughly dominant or does it include politics in Canada, the US, and the UK, and elsewhere where the Jewish Lobby holds extraordinary sway? Politics is, by its very nature, tribal. I disagree with it, but it is a fact.
As far as I understand, Atzmon does not say that one cannot self-describe as a Jew and also do work in solidarity with Palestine. Abunimah et al. have set up a strawman to criticize. I understand that Atzmon finds it is unnecessary to self-describe as a Jew and that such self-description obfuscates the thesis that we are all humans. For this writer, to identify as a Jew does not mean to be a Zionist. A core principle of progressivism is respect for diversity. That people identify with any group is non-problematic as long as the basic humanity of everyone is respected.
The signatories may well be characterized as having sprung a “vicious attack” on Atzmon. Describing Atzmon as being obsessed with “Jewishness” is like criticizing a Canadian patriot with being obsessed with “Canadianness” or a devout Catholic as being obsessed with “Christianness” because Atzmon was born a Jew. When a group starts charging others with racism and anti-Semitism, then they should be careful of uttering allegations that smack of racism and anti-Semitism.
Abunimah et al. state without offering one example in their call: “… as Palestinians, we see such [Atzmon's] language as immoral and completely outside the core foundations of humanism, equality and justice, on which the struggle for Palestine and its national movement rests.”
This is splittism; it is disunity; it is anti-solidarizing. It is well known that a house split against itself will fall. I am sure that many Palestinians support Atzmon for having the courage to accuse a large segment of Jewry of condoning and supporting Zionism and its crimes. It is important is that there is a solidarity against all racism, Zionism, colonialism, and imperialism, even though there will be disagreements on tactics in achieving social justice.
The anti-Atzmon signatories “reaffirm that there is no room in this historic and foundational analysis of our struggle for any attacks on our Jewish allies, Jews, or Judaism…” With all due respect, this is misleading and just plain wrong. First, as stated, I do not find that Atzmon is defining the struggle for Palestinians as Abunimah et al. claim (without presenting one piece of clear evidence). Second, while solidarity is crucial to resistance and revolutionary movements, the tenets of an ideology (or in this case, a religion) are — and must be — challengeable. Judaism must be as open to honest scrutiny as any other religion like Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, etc.
I agree wholeheartedly with the signatories that anti-Semitic or racist language is anathema.
I support wholeheartedly the Palestinian people’s struggle for social justice, for human rights, for the rights to regain what has been criminally dispossessed from them. However, Abunimah et al. appear disingenuous when they write, “We will not allow a false sense of expediency to drive us into alliance with those who attack, malign, or otherwise attempt to target our political fraternity with all liberation struggles and movements for justice.” First, who is driving who? The only driving that is palpable from their invective (because they are maligning Atzmon) is to drive Atzmon out. Second, I am unaware of anyone driving Abunimah et al. into alliance with Atzmon or that he has requested such a specific alliance. Third, Atzmon has not sought leadership — that I know of — to any political fraternity or liberation struggle. He is a free agent, and free agents have what any free human has, the right to speak freely, and particularly to give voice to their conscience when they see evil. No one has the right to deprive another human of this freedom.
Palestinians must guide their liberation struggle. They must protect the integrity of their movement; but the integrity of a movement is impaired by wilfully attacking others — especially the human rights and freedom of others — outside of the movement. If Palestinians want to go it alone against the Zionists, then that is their prerogative. I believe, nonetheless, that Atzmon is strategically correct and Abunimah et al. are strategically wrong. Zionism, racism, colonialism, and imperialism are best defeated when the tidal wave of a united humanity washes away the evils of inhumanity.
May all humans conspicuously recognize, affirm, and support the humanity and dignity of Palestinians, the humanity and dignity of Tamils, the humanity and dignity of Indigenous peoples everywhere, and the humanity and dignity of all peoples who suffer occupation and oppression wherever they may be.
- I did so myself when one writer opined that Jews were a monolith. See “This is Not Progressivism,” Dissident Voice, 6 February 2006. [↩]
- Ali Abunimah, et al., “Granting No Quarter: A Call for the Disavowal of the Racism and Antisemitism of Gilad Atzmon,” US Palestinian Community Network, 13 March 2012. [↩]