Time to say goodbye
Why does the SWP not break its links with holocaust-denier Gilad Atzmon? Tony Greenstein has more evidence of his anti-Jewish racism
As readers of the Weekly Worker will know, the Socialist Workers Party has had a relationship with Gilad Atzmon for some three years.1 Atzmon has played regularly at the SWP’s annual Marxism event as well, as at its Cultures of Resistance festival.2
The SWP argues that it only promotes Atzmon because of his musical, not political, talents. However, given that Atzmon uses his concerts to promote his political views, that argument is clearly nonsense. The idea that you can separate art and the artist from politics is profoundly unMarxist. Did the SWP put Eric Clapton on its platforms when he came out with his ‘I’m backing Enoch’ statement? No, it set up Rock Against Racism instead. Using an anti-semite and a holocaust-denier to front Cultures of Resistance would seem, in the circumstance, to be a sick joke.
Three years ago when Jews Against Zionism first encountered Atzmon we hesitated to call him a holocaust-denier. Today there can be no doubt that Atzmon has crossed the red line from anti-semitism to holocaust denial,3 despite his previous assertion that he only tries to “scrutinise its role within western politics and discourse”.4
The evidence that Atzmon is, and always has been, not merely anti-semitic but a holocaust-denier is becoming clear. I recently came across an email dated March 28 2005 from Ron Cohen on the Just Peace UK list: “I had the pleasure to participate in one of Atzmon’s monologues during last new year eve party. Me and others in this party learned some interesting things from him: (a) that he is anti-semitic; (b) that “no more then few hundred thousands of Jews were killed during World War II”; (c) that Israel Shamir is a dear person … such a pity that the thing on the other side of the sax is such a shmock.”5
Another email was sent to me in early February by Moshé Machover, an Israeli socialist and founder of the anti-Zionist Matzpen group, in which he reported that a friend had managed to track down the source of what Atzmon had said during a concert in Germany. Atzmon’s comments were subsequently used by Sylvia Stolz, the lawyer for the neo-Nazi, Ernst Zundel, in the trial of another holocaust denier, Rigolf Henning.
“I found myself curious about the source of this Atzmon quote, which I have never seen before … After much searching, I found it: in 2005, a local newspaper, Ruhr Nachrichten, reported on his lively performance in Bochum, Germany. What followed was a heated debate ... during which several spectators left the room in protest. Atzmon described the known history of the Second World War and the holocaust as a whole as a forgery initiated by Americans and Zionists ... Particularly fierce debate erupted as Atzmon argued that there is ‘no forensic evidence’ that the number of Jews killed during the holocaust is really six million.”6
The official holocaust denial sites were in raptures about this latest convert. The Adelaide Institute reported: “Because he is himself a Jew and highly esteemed worldwide, Atzmon’s words carry especial weight. In his appeal to the Germans he is quoted as follows:
‘In his books, Gilad Atzmon has attempted to “rearrange this past”. He describes the historiography of the Second World War and holocaust, so familiar to us, as a complete falsification invented by Zionists and Americans. He shows that the real enemy was not Hitler, but Stalin.
‘The Germans must finally realise this and stop feeling guilty - and above all, to stop feeling responsible. “It is you who are the victims,” Atzmon says.’”7
Yet what was the SWP’s response? In January 2007 Michael Rosen wrote to Socialist Worker to complain about Atzmon’s presence at Cultures of Resistance: “He is someone who has frequently expressed racist ideas and surely we have always said that you can’t fight racism with racism?”8
Lindsey German’s response was that, “While it’s a mistake not to recognise racism in any form, it’s at least as big a mistake to fail to understand the main form of racism at any particular time.”9 In other words, because Atzmon was playing at a conference to fight ‘mainstream’ racism, the SWP could ignore his ‘lesser’ racism - anti-semitism.
Hannah Dee and Viv Smith, in the same Socialist Worker letters column, were no less subtle, arguing that “Our entire history has been one of fierce opposition to fascist organisations and anti-semitism.” Which surely makes the presence of Atzmon more reprehensible, not less? They added: “Faced with such accusations, Gilad has issued a personal statement making it clear that he is not a racist or a holocaust-denier.”
But that begs the question. Has the SWP ever made any attempt to investigate what Atzmon says or who he associates with and defends? Or are they content to take his word for it? Dee and Smith state that “Gilad has now played around a dozen fundraising events for the SWP and we can say categorically that he has never made any offensive/racist comments …” The naivety is breathtaking. It is to be expected that Atzmon will be more comfortable making racist statements in front of more receptive audiences!
The clincher, however, is their comment that Atzmon “is a Jewish exile from Israel who was a member of the Israeli army. As part of his struggle to break from his Zionist upbringing he has become an angry and bitter opponent of Israel.” Clearly it never occurred to them that he might not have forsaken his racism, but rather refocused it. In fact Atzmon describes himself as an ‘ex-Jew’ and is known to be a christian convert. Nothing wrong with that except that he has adopted the most vile and medieval forms of anti-semitism of another convert, Israel Shamir.
People often ask how this affair with Gilad Atzmon started. In the early part of 2005 some of us became aware of the resignations of Lea Tsemel, Michael Warschawski and Jeff Halper, from the board of a small group, Deir Yassin Remembered (DYR). In their joint letter Tsemel and Warschawski wrote, regarding the decision to appoint Israel Shamir to the advisory board of DYR: “There is no room for a racist in an institution aimed to fight for the memory of the Deir Yassin victims of ethnic cleansing and massacre. We therefore ask you to clarify whether or not Israel Shamir is indeed part of DYR.”10
Jeff Halper explained that Shamir “deflects the discussion from the essentials of Deir Yassin onto the supposed characteristics of the perpetrators. To cast all ‘Jews’ as perpetrators of such heinous crimes … is racist, absolutely unacceptable and deflects entirely from the issue of Deir Yassin itself … Has Deir Yassin been hijacked by a cult more intent on pursuing hate campaigns against the fictive ‘Jews’ than in searching for the humanistic, universal, critical and truly relevant elements of the Deir Yassin story?’11
We soon became aware of an article, ‘Serious concerns about Israel Shamir’ by Ali Abunimah and Hussein Ibish, written in 2001, where it is stated: “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.”12
It was on this basis that we issued a call to ostracise DYR from the Palestine solidarity movement. It was abundantly clear that Israel Shamir was virulently anti-semitic. Yet it was Atzmon who, of his own volition, sought to defend DYR and Shamir. By way of response he penned an article, entitled ‘The protocols of the elders of London’, modelled on the anti-semitic forgery by the tsarist secret police, The protocols of the elders of Zion.13
Atzmon described how “a tiny cell of so-called ‘liberal’ Jews meets in the wee small hours … There is one man who they really detest - his name is Israel Shamir ... An ex-Jew, Shamir is a very civil and peaceful man and probably is the sharpest critical voice of ‘Jewish power’ and Zionist ideology ... The liberal Zionist cell … demand the cleansing of Shamir. They insist upon ruining his intellectual career or at the very least, his reputation.”14
When I sought clarification, Atzmon confirmed: “Indeed I correspond with Shamir occasionally. I find him an extremely charming man and rather entertaining. But, more to the point, my ties with Shamir are merely intellectual. I regard Shamir as a unique and advanced thinker.”15
In June 2005 Jews Against Zionism picketed the SWP’s bookshop, Bookmarks, where Atzmon gave a talk about his favourite philosopher, Otto Weininger, of whom Hitler once said that he was the only good Jew and he had gone and killed himself.16
The SWP justified their decision to give Atzmon a platform by referring to the fact that Atzmon is an Israeli-born Jew who served in the Israeli Defence Force and who now lives in “self-exile” in Britain. As if this is a guarantee against someone being a racist. They also pointed to the fact that “he is an internationally acclaimed jazz musician whose album Exile won BBC Best Jazz Album of 2003”. As if this had any relevance to his racism.17
The SWP emphasised: “We have a record of opposing fascism, anti-semitism and all forms of racism that is second to none.” But how does a past record of opposition to racism justify the SWP’s relationship with Atzmon now?
If the SWP examined Atzmon’s record, they could not but help find that he is deeply anti-semitic and racist. For example he wrote in November 13 2007, responding to criticism of Indymedia UK for publishing Hunters of Goliath 18, using the metaphor of christian medieval anti-semitism: “The extreme form of this very binary opposition leads towards crucifixion … the group of people who assault you at the moment are doing nothing but nailing intellectuals and Palestinian solidarity institutions to the wood … they did it to Paul Eisen and Israel Shamir - these people have managed to crush DYR … These people had tried to divert the Palestinian solidarity movement and to turn it into a Judeo-centric witch-hunt crusade.”19
And what of Paul Eisen, British director of DYR? Well he, like Israel Shamir, is an open holocaust-denier. Eisen’s ‘In clear sight of Yad Vashem’ (January 2006)20 describes how “Over the last 50 years, revisionist scholars have amassed a formidable body of substantial evidence, which runs in direct opposition to the traditional holocaust narrative. ‘Where is the evidence,’ they say, ‘for this alleged gargantuan mass-murder? Where are the documents? Where are the traces and remains? Where are the weapons of murder?’”
Elsewhere he writes: “Regarding gas, again I am not sure, but the evidence for the use of homicidal gas chambers is not good at all. The evidence against it is much, much stronger.”21
This is typical holocaust-denial fare. There is an abundance of Nazi documentation testifying to, for example, the activities of the Einsatzgruppen (killing squads in Poland and Russia). But for these people no amount of documents, eye-witnesses or other evidence will ever suffice, since they are in denial.
The best answer to this racist nonsense was put by the exiled former member of the Israeli knesset, Azmi Bishara: “What possible Arab or islamic interest can it serve to even offer to exonerate Europe of one of the blackest pages in its history?”22
Although Atzmon has been more reticent about the Nazi holocaust than either Shamir or Eisen, preferring to speak in code about the “Zio holocaust narrative”, his own views have on occasion come to the surface. As the old Jewish saying goes, ‘What is in the throat of a sober man is on the lips of a drunkard.’
One clue to Atzmon’s real views is his unremitting support for Israel Shamir. In a crowded marketplace for racist and chauvinist ideas Shamir is certainly unique, even if not very advanced. Shamir does not attempt to hide his views, yet despite this Atzmon has consistently leapt to his defence.
But Atzmon too has become more explicit in his overt anti-semitism. In his article ‘Saying no to the hunters of Goliath’, which sparked off a fierce controversy in Indymedia UK after it was published there, Atzmon speaks of “a world Judaic view” and explains that “the Jewish state and the sons of Israel are at least as unpopular in the Middle East as their grandparents were in Europe just six decades ago”. This is “the real meaning” of the Nazi holocaust. It was not fascism or ideas of racial supremacy that led to Auschwitz: it was because the Jews and presumably the gypsies, Slavs and gays were “unpopular”. By the same logic the Palestinian’s situation can also be blamed on their ‘unpopularity’.23
In ‘Esther to Aipac’24 Atzmon comes closest to making his real views clear: “Interestingly enough, most scholars who are engaged in the subject of holocaust religion are engaged with a list of events that happened between 1933 and 1945. Most of the scholars are themselves orthodox observants. Though they may be critical of different aspects of the exploitation of the holocaust, they all accept the validity of the Nazi Judeocide and its mainstream interpretations and implications. Most of the scholars, if not all of them, do not challenge the Zionist narrative - namely Nazi Judeocide - yet, more than a few are critical of the way Jewish and Zionist institutes employ the holocaust. Though some may dispute the numbers (Shraga Elam), and others question the validity of memory (Ellis, Finkelstein), no one goes as far as revisionism - not a single holocaust religion scholar dares engage in a dialogue with the so-called ‘deniers’ to discuss their vision of the events or any other revisionist scholarship.”
In other words Atzmon is criticising well-known anti-Zionist historians like Norman Finkelstein and Lenni Brenner for not ‘daring’ to engage “in a dialogue with the so-called ‘deniers’ to discuss their vision of the events”. It could not be clearer if Atzmon wore a sign saying ‘There was no Nazi holocaust’.
The only question is why the SWP is still associated with someone who is so fundamentally racist and reactionary?
1. See ‘Blind eye to anti-semitism’ Weekly Worker July 8 2005.
2. See Socialist Worker December 2 2006.
3. See my article ‘Gilad Atzmon - now an open holocaust denier’
6. See also judeosphere.blogspot.com/2008/01/gilad-atzmon-witness-for-defense.html;
7. Source: Ruhrnachrichten (News of the Ruhr,) Bochum, Tuesday, November 29, 2005
8. Letters Socialist Worker January 6 2007.
9. Letters Socialist Worker January 13 2007.
10. groups.yahoo.com/group/JustPeaceUK/message/16181 May 5 2005.
13. A forgery accepted by all except Atzmon (along with assorted neo-Nazis), who writes that “we must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously ... American Jewry makes any debate on whether the Protocols of the elder of Zion are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews do try to control the world.” He later changed “Jews” to “Zionists”, but the meaning stayed the same: www.gilad.co.uk/html%20files/onanti.html
15. www.israelshamir.net/Contributors/Contributor48.htm June 12 2005.
16. A Hitler Monologe im Führerhauptquartier Hamburg 1980, p148.
22. Al Ahram of December 21-27 2006