A note on vocabulary

30 Dec 2007

Some of the vocabulary related to this discussion isn’t completely satisfactory, but it’s not necessary to get bogged down in endless Socratic debate over dictionary definitions when it should be quite clear what I’m talking about.

The definition of “anti-Semitism” in the dictionary on my Mac — based on the Oxford Concise — is unambiguous: “noun; hostility to or prejudice against Jews.” That is the definition in its entirety; it’s also what I mean by it.

It is argued sometimes that the word is unsatisfactory because Arabic is also a Semitic language and Arabs are therefore also Semites. This is simply another way of saying that the anti-Semitic pamphleteer Wilhelm Marr, who gave the world the term in his popular anti-Jewish (but not anti-Arab) screed “Antisemitizmus” in 1877, made a stupid category error when casting about for a scientific-sounding euphemism for “Damn I hate the Jews.” I am unpersuaded that there is any serious contention about what the word “anti-Semitism” means in this regard, and note in particular that the same dictionary I mentioned above does not even have an entry for what we’re sometimes told should be the preferred circumlocution, “Judeophobia.” By excluding Arabs from the definition of “anti-Semitism” I don’t mean to imply that they too are not victims of prejudice, just that there’s another perfectly acceptable and widely accepted word for it: “Islamophobia.”

When I call anti-Semitism “racism,” I don’t mean to say that I consider the Jews a race per se, but that I consider prejudice against Jews to be so analogous to racism that the term is, if not a perfect fit, certainly not a very wrong one. One sometimes hears “Anti-Semitism isn’t really racism because the Jews are not a race” — and it has the distinct timbre of at worst a straw man and at best a largely irrelevant one.

Neither, however, is it absolutely wrong to consider the Jews *not* a race. The peculiar nature of Jewish history — survival in exile through most of recorded history — makes the usual markers of identity problematic. Jews are and are not a race; they are and are not a religion; they are and are not a cultural tradition; and so on. One can become a Jew by converting to Judaism, for example (Marilyn Monroe did), but there are also genetic diseases like Tay-Sachs highly correlated with Jews. I don’t think it’s a useful exercise to demand that anyone come down on one side of the line or the other on any of these terms, since on whichever side you choose, there are substantial reasons to chose the other side as well.

I think we all know what these terms mean with sufficient clarity to proceed without substantial confusion, and I especially don’t see absolute, chapter-and-verse agreement on these terms as a necessary precursor to discussion anti-Semitism.


What motivates the defenders of Atzmon? Pt II

29 Dec 2007

Here is the US’s leading racist embracing Atzmon:

Atzmon’s incredibly insightful article shows us that extremist Jews seek to use the Holocaust as a narcissistic death and redemption theme that essentially denies an external God (he failed to rescue them) and replaces Him with the Jewish people themselves. The one thing I would add is that the Holocaust religion not only makes Jews a God to themselves, it also seeks to make themselves the new God of the Gentiles. It is an all-powerful God that Gentiles are obliged to worship at the altar of the Holocaust. Gentiles must pronounce their belief in his holy writ (The Holocaust). No one may question or challenge this new God, for whom we must kill, torture and oppress other peoples, and ultimately — even sacrifice ourselves.”

“I urge all readers of http://www.Davidduke.com to use the following link and read the article in its entirety.”

Now, if one thing is certain, it’s that David Duke is a racist lunatic. His embrace of Atzmon could be nothing more than another bizarre bit of insanity on his part. Taken in isolation, it proves nothing and could be dismissed as a curiosity.

But taken in concert with the rest of the examples of Atzmon’s anti-Semitism detailed on this blog, it seems just as likely that David Duke praises Gilad Atzmon because Duke’s anti-Semitism is of a kind with Atzmon’s anti-Semitism, and Duke is simply embracing a fellow racist.

In the recent Indymedia interview, Atzmon says that he does not exercise control over where his stories appear, and that he specifically refuses to ask Duke to take his essays down. What Atzmon does not address, and what his interviewer unsurprisingly fails to challenge him on, is this question: “What is it that David Duke, America’s leading anti-Semite, finds so attractive about your writing?”

To be clear: one doesn’t have to be a racist to defend Gilad Atzmon’s right to speak, just as one doesn’t have to be a Holocaust denier to defend David Irving’s right to speak at Oxford. I have repeatedly stated that I do not believe that any genuine anti-Semites are in the Indymedia UK editorial collective. But David Duke doesn’t just defend Atzmon’s right to speak; he praises highly Atzmon’s take on Jewish issues, and that’s another reason true anti-racists should take pause when it comes to Gilad Atzmon.

What motivates the critics of Atzmon? Pt IV

29 Dec 2007

Sue Blackwell led the 2005 campaign in the Association of University Teachers to boycott two Israeli universities, saw it overturned, and then worked to try a similar boycott in the new UCU. Visiting Blackwell’s site should leave no doubt about her anti-Zionist credentials.

Yet Sue Blackwell also considers Gilad Atzmon someone who “compromises the Palestinian movement.” She puts Atzmon on the same “nasties” page as the Holocaust deniers David Irving and Paul Eisen, and the anti-Semite “Israel Shamir” (who may or may not be a Holocaust denier too; I haven’t looked).

The page comes with a disclaimer necessitated by a legal threat from Gilad Atzmon: “I believe that some of the individuals and currents within the Palestinian movement compromise it in one way or another. Surprisingly, some of the unsavoury characters named on this page have got upset at being placed in one another’s company here and have sent me litigiously-worded letters. Consequently, they all now have their own pages and it should not be assumed that any of the names below is associated with any of the others unless this is explicitly stated.”

Blackwell has also removed any links to Atzmon’s site.

Here is an excerpt from a Blackwell comment published in Al-Ahram, hardly a Zionist hotbed:

“Hitler was a great fan of the Protocols, and so are those today who think he got a bad press, such as Ernst Zündel who is currently facing trial in Germany for Holocaust denial. Worryingly, some of my correspondents don’t see anything wrong with promoting the writings and websites of people like Zündel or fellow Holocaust deniers David Irving or Paul Eisen. “My enemy’s enemy is my friend” seems to be the reasoning: and so these Asian and Arab activists, with no apparent sense of irony let alone shame, send me links to sites with names like “Stormfront” which preach “White Power”. And because the Holocaust is used as justification for Jewish emigration to Israel, those who detest what Israel represents feel that justification cannot be allowed to stand.”

As noted here, Atzmon is among those promoting the Holocaust-denying writings of Paul Eisen.

Atzmon claims that those anti-Zionists who oppose him are secretly in thrall to their own inner demon, “Jewishness.” That argument is silly when applied to Jewish anti-Zionists, but when applied to non-Jewish anti-Zionists like Sue Blackwell, it’s simply ridiculous.

Blackwell recognizes the damage anti-Semitism can do to the Palestinian solidarity movement, and has decided that Atzmon should have no platform on her site. Indymedia UK should decide the same.

Atzmon’s anti-Semitism, Part VI

29 Dec 2007

Imagine someone wrote a paragraph like this:

“I don’t want to talk about blacks today. Instead, I am going to talk about a purely hypothetical, abstract, imaginary group I’ll call the B-people. The B-people are lazy and shiftless but they all have natural rhythm. The B-people eat lots of watermelon and have squads of nasty little illegitimate babies and rob liquor shops to pay for their drug habits . . . ”

And so on. And imagine that the writer then went on to list a long series of the classic signifiers of the negatively stereotyped black.

Then let’s suppose the writer claimed, “I couldn’t possibly be a racist! This is not by any means a racist post. I specifically say that I am not talking about blacks. I am dealing with abstractions, I am simply engaging in pure ideology. Anyone who accuses me of racism must have an ulterior motive — in fact, they must be racist themselves.”

Would anyone buy that excuse?

And the answer is apparently yes, as long as the target is not blacks but Jews.

Gilad Atzmon on the “J-people.”

Here is Atzmon on the “J-people” doing all those traditional “J-people” things — running the government, owning the media, in charge of the October Revolution:

“For them, it is all about winning, they are set to win, unconditional success is brewed into their spirit both culturally and religiously. But they can never win, by the time they win they get lost. They stop being victims. Occasionally it looks as if they are almost there, you can see them running the show, running American political life, running American show business, running the ‘new middle East’, running the Communist revolution but then, as it appears, something always goes wrong. Suddenly, completely out of the blue, everyone around is standing up against the plot. As it seems, they always win the battles but somehow manage to lose the war, very much like contemporary America. Is it a coincidence? I don’t think so.”

But this transparent rhetorical gimmick allows Atzmon to pour his anti-Semitic heart out in other, creepier, ways as well.

To Atzmon, the “J-people” can’t be loved:

“But then, let me tell you, there is only one thing they can’t cope with, one thing that drives them mad. Something that never settles peacefully in their well protected binary world. It is called love. If you love them you kill them.”

To Atzmon, the “J-people” are “fueled by negation.”

To Atzmon, the “J-people” are driven by a need to be hated, critically wounded psychologically, and lack the power of empathy:

“Don’t you ever forget, they are doing all those horrible things not because they are that horrifying, they just feel an urgent need to remind you that you really hate them. When you meet them in person you learn that they are not that vicious, they are just slightly immature beings due to the fact that they are not very competent in social life, they are born chosen. They live in a segregated mental ghetto. They never learned how to handle human company, they know very little about empathy.”

Atzmon is not — as he likes to claim — working in the realm of “pure ideology,” but in pure racist garbage. Because he dresses that garbage up in pseudo-scholastic terminology, however, there are those (including, unfortunately, at Indymedia UK) who are prepared to give him a free pass.

Who am I?

29 Dec 2007

In case you are wondering.

Because this discussion has devolved so frequently into the bitterest kind of personal attacks, I have decided to remain anonymous, in order to keep the focus where it should be: on Indymedia UK editorial policy and its current inability to keep the site free of anti-Semitism (but not other forms of racism).

I will also particularly note, since this is likely to be the accusation, that I am in no way working with or coordinating with Tony Greenstein or any other member of JAZ. Although opposition to Atzmon is loudest from JAZ, they do not (as Atzmon likes to imply) represent the totality of the opposition to his anti-Semitism. I think some of Greenstein’s arguments are good, some not so good, but that his better arguments were lost in the counterproductive noise of his frontal assault on Indymedia UK. There is more at stake here than the long interpersonal battle between the anti-Zionist Greenstein and the anti-Semite Atzmon, and it’s a important not to simply retreat to a “pox on both your houses” response to being dragged into such a long and bitter squabble.

The question it all comes down to is this: Is Indymedia UK truly an anti-racist site, or is it a place where anti-Semitism — when properly coded, of course — is welcomed? If Gilad Atzmon’s anti-Semitism is clear (and it certainly is) then he should be given no platform at Indymedia. It’s as simple as that.

Atzmon’s anti-Semitism, Part V

28 Dec 2007

Duchamp L.H.O.O.Q.

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.

More Latuff cartoons

28 Dec 2007

Something one notices after seeing enough cartoons from Carlos Latuff is that that he’s unable, apparently ever, to move beyond simple propaganda of the most blatant “we’re heroes, they’re villains” sort.

Earlier I posted a link to a rather vile cartoon attempting to portray all claims of anti-Semitism to be — exclusively — more “Zionist censorship” and false cries.

Looking back, this seems to be a major theme for Latuff, and he returns to it again and again.

Only Zionists complain about anti-Semitism, and the cries are false.

Only Zionists complain about anti-Semitism, and the cries are false.

Only Zionists complain about anti-Semitism, and the cries are false.

Only Zionists complain about anti-Semitism, and the cries are false.

It is hard not to see Latuff’s cartoons as diagramming the de facto editorial stance at Indymedia UK: any accusation of anti-Semitism is to be instantly disbelieved, ignored, or ridiculed — if not hidden immediately — because it’s really only a Zionist complaining (even when it is not), and who cares what they say, since their cries are false (even when they are not).

Then, going back further, comes one that brings me up short:

Only Zionists complain about anti-Semitism, and the cries are false.

Sorry, but is there a way not to see Latuff’s grotesque caricatured Jew as exactly that — a grotesque caricature of a Jew?

And isn’t that particularly troublesome when there’s no indication that the email he’s replying to came from someone Jewish?