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.

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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.”

Source.

“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 diffĂ©rance 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.


What motivates the defenders of Atzmon? Pt I

27 Dec 2007

An Indymedia UK editor gives an impassioned plea against the no-platforming of Gilad Atzmon, using as an example the figure “Israel Shamir.” This is an ethical mistake; the example he uses even more so.

Source.

“A few years ago, Gilad Atzmon wrote an article about the demonisation of Israel Shamir. . . .

I had quite a long chat with Israel, and I was impressed by his passion for justice. This was before his banishment from the Palestinian solidarity movement by a group whose behaviour Atzmon claimed amounted to ‘modern Jewish secular intolerance.’ He described the process:

‘The liberal Zionist cell, as we are going to read, cannot really take it. They demand the cleansing of Shamir. They insist upon ruining his intellectual career or at the very least, his reputation. They would use any possible manipulative strategy to have him thrown out of DYR, which is the first step towards sending him beyond the pale.’

He asserted that his readers that the episode was ‘a glimpse into the abusive, assertive and violent world of Zionist lobbying.'”

There’s one problem with Atzmon’s version of events, which the editor seems to accept so unquestioningly: it’s fundamentally wrong.

Who no-platformed “Israel Shamir”? It wasn’t “the liberal Zionists” as Atzmon claims — even if one grant’s Atzmon’s peculiar definition of the word “Zionist,” which to him appears to mean “anyone who self-identifies as a Jew and thinks Atzmon’s an anti-Semitic crank.”

“Israel Shamir” was clearly no-platformed by the pro-Palestinian movement as a whole, not just the Jews within it. In fact, the first important criticism of “Shamir” came from Ali Abunimah, founder of the Electronic Intifada, and Hussein Ibish.

The open letter.

See also Wikipedia for more gems from “Israel Shamir,” the man who so impressed the Indymedia UK editor with his “passion for justice.”

What Abunimah — by no imaginable stretch a Zionist figure — has to say is worth repeating, because it’s just as appropriate when applied to the anti-Semite Gilad Atzmon as to the anti-Semite “Israel Shamir”:

“Many people have welcomed the contributions of Israel Shamir in good faith, but we feel they may not be paying close enough attention to what he is saying. Perhaps this is because many of us welcome criticism of Israel from someone who appears to be an “insider,” that our hunger for validation from Jewish Israelis sometimes allows us to proceed without the requisite skepticism or overlook excesses we otherwise would not tolerate. Perhaps some are ready to overlook statements that appeal to anti-Semitic sentiments because the person making them identifies himself as a Jew. But the identity of the speaker makes such statements no less odious and harmful. We do not have any need for some of what Israel Shamir is introducing into the discourse on behalf of Palestinian rights, which increasingly includes elements of traditional European anti-Semitic rhetoric. Such sentiments will harm, not help, the cause. We urge all our friends in the movement for Palestinian rights to seriously consider the long-term effects this rhetoric will have on the cause, and act accordingly.

The no-platforming of “Israel Shamir” was a triumph over bigotry within the Palestinian solidarity movement, but to the Indymedia UK editor — and his bizarrely skewed version of history — it was a tragic lynching by the Zionists. After all, “Shamir”‘s friend and admirer Atzmon has told him so, so it must be true — that it was “leftist Zionists” who knocked “Israel Shamir” off his pedestal, and they were now planning to do the same thing again:

“And now the same group that went for Shamir are gunning for Atzmon. They are demanding that we kick him out. . . It worries the shit out of me that Indymedia might just give them [i.e. what Atzmon calls “the liberal Zionist cell”] their first taste of blood in this new kill.”

The editor is right in part; the principled disassociation of the Palestinian solidarity movement from the rank anti-Semite “Israel Shamir” should be followed, for the same reasons, by their principled disassociation from the rank anti-Semite Gilad Atzmon. He’s wrong, though, about what those reasons were. Atzmon — just as “Shamir” did before him — waves the “Zionist censorship” flag, and the editor is so helplessly transfixed by it, he doesn’t stop to consider that it’s not “a liberal Zionist cell” but anti-Zionists who are calling for Atzmon to be no-platformed.

Characteristically, though, the Indymedia UK editor can see no actual anti-Semitism in “Shamir,” and concludes he was simply persecuted with false cries by those who metaphorically “killed” him (by no-platforming his racism).

As we’ll see, this is part of a pattern for the editor, who scurries to the defence of anti-Semite after anti-Semite — Atzmon and others — to save them from “Zionist censorship” and “false cries.” This then is the framework from which the Indymedia editor blocked the no-platforming of Atzmon: a routine inability to detect anti-Semitism others see without difficulty (or else this is only pretended blindness), and a routine assignation of “Zionist censorship” as the true motivation of attacks on such anti-Semites.

One of the other editors provides a very simple reply:

very wordy stuff.

are you sure you’re onsite with the spirit of the editorial guidelines?

i don’t think you are.

cheers

I don’t think he is either. He defends anti-Semites and attacks those who condemn anti-Semitism. He can’t tell Zionists from anti-Zionists. I think he’s definitely lost the plot. But then losing the plot is a prerequisite for defending Gilad Atzmon.