Looking back, three years later

18 Mar 2011

There have been three interesting developments in the three years since the Atzmon fiasco, and I thought it was worth an update.

The end of the Indymedia UK coalition per se

The first and most important change is that Indymedia UK, the coalition that runs the Indymedia UK aggregator site and newswire, is effectively being demoted by consensus of UK IMCistas. Other Indymedia collectives in the UK were increasingly unhappy with a hierarchy which implied that Indymedia UK was some sort of master-of-all-UK-Indymedia and that the Indymedia UK site did not represent the will of anyone other than the Indymedia UK collective rather than UK Indymedia as a whole.

With other UK collectives becoming convinced that the situation was unsustainable, there was a split (they refer to it as a ‘fork’) resulting in a decision for the removal of Indymedia UK’s collective from its point of centrality. By May 1, by mutual agreement of all involved, there will no longer be a coalition called ‘Indymedia UK’ nor a website called ‘uk.indymedia.org’. [Correction: the ‘uk.indymedia.org’ website will become a frozen archive of its current state.]

Indymedia UK served two functions: one as an all-UK aggregator of Indymedia stories, and another as a news-gathering collective in its own right. The function previously provided by the ‘Indymedia UK’ collective will be split into two. A new site will be created to serve as aggregator; that name is not yet decided, and it will not be in the hands of the current Indymedia UK collective. The current Indymedia UK collective will then have its own site, at the same hierarchical level as other local sites but with material provided by those who either don’t have a local Indymedia collective or can’t work with them for some reason. That site will likely be something like “UK Mayday Collective.”

This split was of course not caused by the Atzmon fiasco, destructive as that was. However, the enormous amount of energy and time of so many Indymedia people having been utterly wasted in 2007 and 2008 simply because one or two editors at Indymedia UK were blind to Atzmon’s blatant antisemitism, cuffed themselves to the barricades, escalated the conflict at every opportunity, and smeared anyone who disagreed with them as a Zionist conspirator no matter their anti-Zionist credentials – phreeww! – was the canary in the Indymedia coal mine, showing the fault lines and reflecting in advance the deep operational divisions which soon became clear between Indymedia UK and other UK collectives.

It’s famously been said that the internet considers censorship to be damage and routes around it. Indymedia in the UK is now routing around a different kind of damage.

Atzmon continues his descent

Gilad Atzmon, the anti-Semite at the center of the 2008 debacle, has continued to be more and more blatant about his antisemitism and in particular his embrace of Holocaust denial. The SWP, which used to have a page up saying, ‘We don’t always agree with him, but he’s no Holocaust denier,’ surreptitiously took the page down. Anthony Julius, among other things the solicitor who defeated David Irving, included Atzmon in his long study of the history of anti-Semitism in the UK, Trials of the Diaspora. Howard Jacobson put a former-IDF ex-pat jazz-musician anti-Zionist Holocaust denier into his Booker-winning novel The Finkler Question— although it was plainly not meant as a dig at Atzmon, since the former-IDF ex-pat jazz-musician anti-Zionist Holocaust denier plays jazz drums, not jazz saxophone, which is a completely different thing.

Atzmon has however a new champion in the form of American arch-racist David Duke, former head of the Ku Klux Klan, who adores him, posts Atzmon essays on his personal site, and praises him as ‘brilliant’.

In a 2010 visit to the US, Atzmon appeared on a local-access television channel in Aspen, Colorado as part of a panel discussion. He immediately began to play his Holocaust denial cards, and the others on the panel – all of them anti-Zionists who thought they were there to talk about Israel – turned visibly green bit by bit. It’s funny to watch how decent normal human beings react when they realize they are sitting on a panel with a Holocaust denier. You can see the nausea rising.

In short, in 2008 Indymedia and the SWP were the last two UK organizations not run out of someone’s garret somewhere granting Atzmon’s anti-Semitism even the slightest shred of political cover. Neither now does.

Israel Shamir exposed internationally as an anti-Semite

It’s also become clearer just why one Indymedia editor tied himself to the barricade and refused to accede in the banning of Gilad Atzmon from Indymedia. How was it possible for him to simultaneously be so wrong, so cluefree, and yet so hardheaded about it?

The answer turns out to be here.

The Israel Shamir who so stirred one of the problematic Indymedia editors to the bone, causing him to escalate the Atzmon dispute into the crisis it became, was getting his worldview from someone now internationally recognized as an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. (See also, e.g., here; there are plenty more links like that at Wikipedia.)

Israel Shamir hit the headlines over the past few months over his association with WikiLeaks. Say what you want about WikiLeaks – not the topic of this blog – but even the most sanguine of commentators in the press is bothered by Assange’s decision to work with Shamir. If you followed the press over the last few months, the general conclusion was that although Assange was not an antisemite himself – a few odd utterances and failed jokes aside – he was apparently a catastrophically poor judge of character, nowhere better emblemized than in his choice to work with the Holocaust denier Israel Shamir.

So now we know why one of the Indymedia editors felt it was his personal duty to put Indymedia in the UK through its worst crisis to date, overriding the better judgement of nearly every IMCista in the UK. He was prepared from day one to treat the whole issue as nothing more than ‘Zionist slander’ (from people any fool could see were obviously not Zionists) and to never once stop and question himself one bit whether Atzmon and Shamir were legit, no matter how the rest of the network begged him to do so. The editor had his initial frame, erroneous from the start, and swore by his sword that no fact could ever change it even one millimeter — all inspired by someone whose raw antisemitism is now the stuff of headlines, even though the editor could never quite see it and was reduced to mumbling smears smears smears as he could formulate no other response.

That’s the most disappointing part of the whole business. At the end of the day, the editor in question still doesn’t have clue one about what the discussion was even really about. His position did not change one iota from start to finish: Shamir and Atzmon are perfectly, perfectly innocent little lambs being persecuted by those mean anti-Zionist ‘crypto-Zionists’ through utterly false cries of ‘anti-Semitism!’ – and incidentally, what’s so very wrong with calling the gas chambers of Auschwitz “discredited” anyway? His position – exactly the defense offered by the mad hatters Shamir and Atzmon themselves – made no sense on day one and makes no sense now, but sometimes you have to simply stand back and let the force of implacable stupidity hold its sway.

So that’s it then

In the end it all comes out in the wash.