Talk review by Tom Mayer

GA: An interesting review of my yesterday's talk at CU Bouldr. Tom Mayer offers an interpretation of my work from an American Jewish secular perspective.   

Tom Mayer's comment:
The talk by ex-Israeli jazz musician and cultural critic Gilad Atzmon was ewas highly biographical, punctuated by brief saxophone solos, and not particularly systematic.  Gilad's talk was, however, studded with telling if controversial insights about Israel and Jews.

Gilad has been accused by some of antisemitism, and listening to his talk I tried to divine why such charges might be made.  Of course I am entirely aware of the cynical and dishonest use of antisemitism accusations to discredit critics of Israeli oppression.  Indeed, I have often been accused of being a self-hating Jew.

Gilad strongly criticizes Jewishness and the Jewish state.  His criticism, however, does not derive from hatred for Jews or a desire to end Jewish presence in the Middle East.  His criticism is rather a lament for deep self-destructiveness that he detects in Jewish and Israeli culture, and a forlorn effort to stimulate change before catastrophe strikes.

Gilad is fond of making rather shocking declarations.  Apartheid, he points out is not an apt description of what most Israeli's desire.  They do not want to segregate the Palestinians, they want to be rid of them.  In this fervent desire to be rid of the Palestinians, Atzmon claims that the Israeli's resemble the Nazis.

Gilad's critique of Jewishness is summarized by a passage towards the end of his book The Wandering Who? (2011.) He repeated this passage almost word for word in his talk last night: "Israel is the Jewish state and Jewishness is an ethno-centric ideology driven by exclusiveness, exceptionalism, racial supremacy and a deep inherent inclination toward segregation.  For Israel and Israeli's to become people like other people, all traces of Jewish ideological superiority must be eliminated first." (p. 188)

Gilad Atzmon grew up in an exceedingly right wing, even semi-fascist, Israeli family that apparently despised egalitarianism.  His grandfather, as he mentions with some backhanded pride, was a leader of the pre-1948 terrorist Irgun, which engaged in repeated acts of violence including extensive ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

By contrast, I grew up in a secular socialist family that participated in the abortive anti-Nazi underground in Hitler's Germany.  My sense of being Jewish was entirely different than Gilad Atzmon's.  For me it meant commitment to universal ideals, respect for reason, belief in the essential equality of human beings, openness to different cultures, and a duty to make the world better.  There was, to be sure, a certain sense of exceptionalism, but it was an exceptional dedication to the ideals just mentioned.

I do not like to trade on being Jewish.  I am an atheist, a lifelong radical, and I feel a sense of identity with other radicals not particularly with Jews.  However, I must admit that the values I associated with being Jewish have energized my lifelong opposition to the racism and imperial wars of the USA.  They continue to motivate my sharp critique of Israel and the notion of a Jewish state.

Peace and Justice,
Tom Mayer