That is, if you don’t recognize it, another one of Marcel Duchamp’s joke paintings, a moustache and beard drawn on a Mona Lisa postcard. The image came to mind for reasons which will be clearer later in his post.
What does Gilad Atzmon have against the Jews? Nothing, he says. He’s very careful to remind anyone who listens that he has nothing against the Jews as a race, and therefore he couldn’t possibly be an anti-Semite. He then turns around and says that Jewishness is an evil to be fought. But, he then tells us, he doesn’t mean by “Jewishness” what everybody else means by “Jewishness,” so when he attacks Jewishness it’s not anti-Semitism either. He then loads up his version of Jewishness with the same sort of traditional attributes anti-Semites have assigned to the Jews for centuries — but claims that, since he’s not attacking Jews but “Jewishness,” then again what he says can’t possibly be anti-Semitism, no matter how anti-Semitic it sounds; he is, after all, only attacking an abstraction.
“As far as my writings are concerned, I always do my best to differentiate between people and ideology. I do harshly criticise Jewishness, yet I avoid any form of criticism of Jewish people or of Judaism.”
“I’m not against Jews, I’m against Jewishness,” he says, and amazingly, there are otherwise intelligent people who are fooled by this simple bit of sophistry. Fortunately, those who aren’t so easily dazzled by such conceptual gimmickry see straight through the game.
What is “Jewishness” to Atzmon? It means, in part, holding “the Judaic worldview.” By which he means:
“In the Judaic worldview clear binary oppositions are set to differentiate between Good and Bad: One God/many idols; Truth/false; West/the rest; Left/fascists; Us/the others. Within the Judaic worldview it is always us who are right and they who are wrong.”
If all he means by “the Judaic worldview” is “uses strong binary oppositions,” I’d like to meet someone who doesn’t. By Atzmon’s definition, for example, the perfect good v. perfect evil world of Carlos Latuff makes him a perfect exemplar of “the Judaic worldview.” And Atzmon is willing to grant the existence of non-“Jewish” Jews and non-Jewish “Jews,” as long as you take away his central, oft-repeated idea: that there is a character flaw which he calls “Jewishness.”
Now, if it were his intention that “Jewishness” in the special Atzmon sense were meant to signify something utterly different than Jewishness in the normative sense, one can only wonder why Atzmon chose a term that was designed to create confusion. Why didn’t he call it “dichotomous thinking” instead, or any of a dozen other possibilities that don’t involve the letters j, e, and w? The answer, it’s hard not to feel, is that the term is literally designed to create confusion, to create a rhetorical space in which he is free to attack Jews with impunity. If Atzmon makes his anti-Semitism too plain, he knows his bluff will be called by everyone in sight. If, on the other hand, he weaves a layer of deconstructionist différance argle-bargle around it all, then his bluff will only be called by those who can see through that layer — in this case, unhappily for Atzmon, apparently nearly everyone in the Indymedia UK editorial collective.
Atzmon’s case isn’t helped when he describes “Jewishness” in terms resembling medieval anti-Semitism:
“As we all know, the extreme form of this very binary opposition leads towards crucifixion. As sad as it may sound, the group of people who assault you at the moment are doing nothing but nailing intellectuals and Palestinian solidarity institutions to the wood.
Now, let’s stretch our memories a little bit. Wasn’t there something historical involving pogroms that was related to a certain crucifixion? Such as, e.g., nearly two millenia of Christian anti-Semitism, much of it murderous, stirred by the cry, “The Jews are the killers of Christ”? Even the most ignorant about the history of anti-Semitism know that this is the pitch Atzmon is playing his game on.
What does such a “Jewish” crucifixion look like?
“They did it to Jeff Blankfort, one of the prominent American Palestinian Solidarity activists, they do the same to Mary Rizzo, probably one of the most adorable activists in Italy, they did it to Paul Eisen and Israel Shamir, these people have managed to crush DYR, probably the most successful Palestinian gathering in this country. These people had tried to divert the Palestinian solidarity movement and to turn it into a Judeo centric witch-hunt crusade. They believe that fighting anti-Semitism is a Palestinian priority.”
So once again we have the innocent and persecuted Holocaust denier Paul Eisen and the innocent and persecuted raving anti-Semite “Israel Shamir”, victims of — not their own demonstrated bigotry, but a “Jewish” “crucifixion.” And those who quite rightly don’t want the Palestinian solidarity movement sullied with such blatant anti-Semites are, per Atzmon, engaged in “a Judeocentric witch-hunt crusade.”
And by this point Atzmon has completed the Alice in Wonderland circle — attacking the “Jewish” critics (most of which are not only “Jewish” but Jewish, by no great coincidence) by calling them “crusaders” planning a “crucifixion,” while fully aware the actual Crusaders slaughtered Jews by the thousands for being “Christ-killers.”
I could excuse an Indymedia UK editor without any grounding in the history of anti-Semitism for not seeing how Atzmon’s language intentionally baits Jewish readers, and for therefore being helpless in the face of it. (To their credit, most Indymedia UK editors have educated themselves enough about the history of anti-Semitism to spot it in Atzmon, overcoming helplessness.) But Atzmon has no such excuse. He knows exactly what he’s doing when he intentionally invokes historically anti-Semitic tropes — such as the “Jewish” throng calling for crucifixion — when painting the villainous concept of “Jewishness.”
And the wispily unconvincing excuse that he’s attacking a pure abstraction arbitrarily called “Jewishness” rather than actual Jewishness itself, and that therefore everything is A-OK on the anti-Semitism front — it should be clear that on the whole that that line is about as persuasive a disguise as a moustache on a Mona Lisa.