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The unfortunate division over Gilad Atzmon

While people are suffering in Israeli prisons and being killed in Gaza, it is sad to see time and energy expended in a campaign against Israeli author and saxophonist Gilad Atzmon. I respect and like people on both sides of this controversy and am troubled over this distracting and destructive (but, I hope, temporary) split.

I, of course, come down on the side of open discussion, even when the  subject matter is difficult or troubling – in fact, that's probably when it's most needed. I believe in such old fashioned but critical concepts as the free marketplace of ideas, and I oppose censorship and would-be "thought police" telling others what they may or may not do, even when those attempting to do this have created valuable work that I admire.

The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, which sponsored a discussion with Atzmon, has posted the most recent letter against Atzmon, followed by Atzmon's response here.

This recent letter against Atzmon was preceeded by an earlier one, which was posted on this anonymous blog; interestingly, Palestinians seem to have made up an extremely small percentage of its signatories. My guess is that some of the people behind the first letter helped push for the recent attack, though perhaps I'm wrong.

Despite this campaign against Atzmon, many people, including Richard Falk, Samir Abed Rabo, and James Petras, have endorsed Atzmon's book, calling it a "must-read," and many others have spoken up in his defense.

A Palestinian activist sent out an email with the subject header: "Palestinian 'activists' stand on the side of Israel and AIPAC," that reads:

Palestinian "academists / activists" stand on the side of Israel and AIPAC. Willingly or unwillingly, they distort Gilad Atzmon work and thought. They don't seem to have ever listened to his lectures or read his book, "The Wandering Who?" Their vicious attack will not silence or convince this wonderful man to abandon his staunch and effective support of the Palestinian cause. The great musician, a former Israeli Jew, is a humanist and a Palestinian at heart. I am ashamed as a Palestinian. I am greatly honored to have him as a friend.

Rich Siegel has written about the attempted censorship in "Permission to examine 'Jewishness'.

Kevin Barrett has discussed the situation in "Why Hate Gilad Atzmon?" and "Why Hate Gilad Atzmon Pt. 2: “He’s WRONG!” (Or Is He?)"

Oren Ben-Dor has opposed such attempted black-listing of Atzmon for years and in n 2008 wrote "The Silencing of Gilad Atzmon,"explaining why he opposed the campaign against Atzmon. He and a number of other prominent thinkers have refused to sign these letters.

There are numerous commentaries on the British website Deliberation.info, such as this, this, and this.

Below is Jeff Blankfort's response, which has circulated widely in emails (with his permission) but that I don't believe is yet posted anywhere. Philip Weiss banned Jeff from commenting on Mondoweiss awhile ago, despite Jeff's important work on Palestine, which predated Weiss's awakening by several decades.

I suspect whoever initiated the list, and it appears that it was Abumimah, was pressed to do so by the Jewish left equivalent of the mainstream Jewish machers who pressure local black leaders to denounce Louis Farrakhan whenever he makes an appearance and has the audacity to speak out Jews and the slave trade which, like Zionist-Nazi collaboration, is a classic Left taboo.

Most of the rest, with the exception of  Joseph Massad, probably signed on because he asked them do so. I would bet that none of them, some of whom are friends of mine, have read or even seen your book. Massad, it should be recalled was the Palestinian professor at Columbia who was targeted by The David Project and accused of harassing Jewish students. He showed that he had learned his lesson by being the very first person to write an article denouncing Mearsheimerand Walt for their LRB article on the Israel Lobby which was lauded and reprinted by Asad Abu Khalil who seems almost as concerned about antisemitism as Abe Foxman.

After I took Massad's article apart, paragraph by paragraph, for Dissident Voice, Henry Herskovitz in Ann Arbor suggested that Massad debate me on the issue when he made a speaking appearance in Michigan. Massad declined, claiming that I was an "antisemite." When I wrote to Massad, asking if he had made such a statement I received no reply which told me all I need to know about him. Abu Khalil would only debate me and Hatem Bazian, one of the signatories to the letter, if we stipulated that The Lobby was the only factor in determining US policy, which of course we wouldn't.

It would be nice if there was such a statement denouncing those in the movement who dismiss the power of the Jewish establishment over US Middle East policy but then they would be subject to charges of "antisemism" themselves, which most of them seem to greatly fear. So it goes.

A partial list of those sponsoring Atzmon's talks and his remaining events can be seen here.

I hope anyone who is interested will attend these events, and I hope that all of us will continue our urgent work to bring justice and peace. Today a boy in Gaza died from his wounds and Israeli jet fighters pounded Gaza City's men, women, and children. We need to join together to expose and stop this carnage.

Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 01:15PM by Registered Commenter[Alison Weir | Comments1 Comment | References2 References

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Thank you for writing this, Alison.

As a personal friend of both Ali Abunimah and Gilad Atzmon, I am just too saddened by this whole episode.

The vicious campaign against Gilad is not a Palestinian campaign, and it is not new. I have always been impressed with Ali's wisdom of staying out of it. Gilad has always stood squarely behind the Palestinian cause, but his internal-Jewish soul-searching is only tangentially related to Palestine. There is no need for a Palestinian consensus on a Jewish issue, and I believed that Ali understood that.

Disagreement is healthy and constructive, but distorting quotes in order to underpin a bogus accusation is not. Haven't we all been tarred by ugly accusations of antisemitism often enough? Gilad has repeatedly stated that while rejecting chosenness, exceptionalism, and supremacism in all their forms, he is neither anti-Jewish nor antisemitic nor racist, and his attempts, as a Jew, to understand the foundation and the mechanisms of antisemitism do not make him an apologist - as I am sure every honest reader of his book will acknowledge.

Like Alison, I am on the side of open discussion - let there be no doubt. But even if someone has a good reason to think that shutting down Gilad's voice is a desirable goal, then resorting to smear tactics is not an acceptable way to do so.

Knowing and respecting Ali, I find it hard to believe that he wrote that 'No Quarter' letter. I rather think that his signature ranks first only for reasons of alphabetical order. Still, I am sad to see that he (and other good people) have lent their names and prestige to this campaign.

The 'No Quarter' letter leaves me dejected. This is not about Gilad anymore, but about chilling of speech, exclusion of dissent, and the falsely accused-abused becoming false accusers-abusers. If this is how people who espouse a pluralisatic inclusive One State vision for Palestine treat dissent, this does not bode well. My gut response is to walk away.

But then, as Alison reminds us, a boy died from his wounds in Gaza today, and I have no ethical choice but to continue supporting Ali in his important work for Palestine. And Gilad in his.

Ali and Gilad share the same vision for Palestine. I hope this episode will blow over soon, and not detract from the important work that they BOTH are doing.

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Shunra
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