Gilad Atzmon in London on Saturday

31.1.20   **** HE HAS CANCELLED****** thanks to pressure including from CAA.

Gilad Atzmon is an ex-Israeli jazz musician whose book, The Wandering Who? was labelled by the CST in 2011 as ‘quite probably the most antisemitic book published in this country in recent years.‘  Atzmon is reported to have blamed the Grenfell Tower tragedy on “Jerusalemites” as well as reportedly telling university students (at a meeting where I was present) that “the Jews were expelled from Germany for misbehaving.” He is not shy about his antisemitism, telling a Jewish Twitter user in 2014: “I am not a Jew any more. I indeed despise the Jew in me (whatever is left). I absolutely detest the Jew in you.”

CAA reports that Atzmon has stated that Jews were responsible for their persecution by the Nazis, Jews should apologise for making gentiles hate them, burning synagogues is “a rational act”, Jews are trying to control the world, Jews are harming the planet, Jews caused the credit crunch, and Israel is worse than Nazi Germany. He has also trivialised the scale and impact of the Holocaust.

In December 2018 Islington Council banned him from performing at the Council-owned Islington Assembly Hall. On 15 March 2019  there was a large demonstration (including me) outside the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston where Atzmon was performing.

On Saturday 1 February Atzmon is due to perform at the 606 Club in Chelsea (90 Lots Road SW10 0QD).

Here is how club owner Steve Rubie ‘As a Jew’ ludicrously defends booking Atzmon….

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For those who are reading this I appreciate you taking the time to understand my viewpoint regarding the current Gilad Atzmon situation and why I have reached the conclusions that I have.

I would firstly start by saying, as I have already communicated to Jewish News (JN) on several occasions now, that I’m not looking to be an apologist for Gilad Atzmon in any way, he can look out for himself, that’s not my job or frankly concern. I’m more concerned about the liberal tradition within my own community of tolerance and reasonableness of which I am proud.

I was brought up with the adage from my parents of “I don’t necessarily agree with what you say (in Galad’s case I probably don’t agree with about 70% of it), but I will fight for the right for you to say it”. This, to me, is the foundation of Jewish liberal thought and is the basis of my stance in this case, particularly in a world which seems to more and more be dominated by fake news, post truth and “alternative facts”.

And these are the facts and this is the situation as I see it:

I have known Glad in excess of 15 years and over that time have discussed various issues with him for what I imagine would be in excess of 100 hours. So I like to think I have a reasonable grasp of his views and ideas.

And based on my many conversations I feel pretty confident in saying that Gilad is not anti-semitic. Vehemently anti-Zionist certainly, but that, I would suggest, is a different thing.

He has been accused of being anti Jewish but I would draw your attention to a letter he sent to the Guardian which ended “…any form of anti-Jewish activity [in Israel] may be seen as political retaliation. This does not make it right.” Note the final sentence “This does not make it right”. So not exactly anti Jewish nor, critically, does he support the use of violence.

And then we come to the accusations of anti-semitism. I think it’s important to dig down in particular to what he has written. And the crux of it is, and he has again expressed this to me just recently as a result of the current situation, that he sees the Jewish community as split in to three section, “1. Those who follow Judaism 2. Those who regard themselves as human beings that happen to be of Jewish origin 3. Those who put their Jewish-ness over and above all of their other traits”. Somewhat arbitrary in my opinion, but nevertheless crucial to understanding Gilad’s thinking.

His, self avowed left wing, view is that those who fall in to category 3, what he likes to call the Zionist “Neocons” (neo-conservatives) or “bad Jews” (my attempt at clarification, not his), are responsible for maintaining a regime he vehemently disapproves of in Israel and the US (a particularly fanciful notion to my mind) and so have contributed to some of the major issues we are confronted with now. Critically, though, he considers those in category 2 (the “good” Jews) to be the all important Liberal Jews and of which I think he sees himself as leader and in the list he sent recently included me (who knew!), his wife and family, the Jewish musicians he works with etc. So the “struggle” in his mind is and should be led by those Jews who fall in to his (somewhat arbitrary) Group 2 against those in the equally arbitrary Group 3. Essentially he’s looking for one section of the Community to take on the other, not based on any ethnicity but on Political ideology.

At this point I think it’s worth saying I’m not making this up. It really, really, is his stance, with which I’m very familiar and which he reiterated to me again just a couple of days ago.

Unfortunately, however, those he has attacked in his self styled Group 3 he has often referred to as “Jews”, and when I reprimanded him for this he replied that if people read his writings they “would understand what he meant”. Which of course they don’t and they don’t. This in turn has led to a group of people seeing themselves seriously berated and assuming that, being Jewish, the reason for the attack is their religion. This in turn has given rise to the accusation that he is “anti semitic”, when from Gilad’s fairly strident left wing position it’s actually all about their politics, not their ethnicity.

I understand that this is a somewhat convoluted and muddled approach to the Community, but it does explain why Gilad is so keen for approbation from Liberal Jews such as myself, who he sees as being part of his Group 2 and an important part of his political struggle. And I would certainly be prepared to admit that I have serious misgivings about the former administration in Israel which I would argue strongly does not make me anti semitic. I’m a Jew, I’m entitled to criticise how my fellow Jews behave. Similarly, in a mature democracy, Gilad is entitled to his strident views as long as they stay on the right side of decency, which means to my mind not inciting hate or violence (which I genuinely think he doesn’t do).

I appreciate that this looks like some sort of “apology” for Gilad’s behaviour but I have known hm a long time and I can assure you that it really does reflect his position. As I say I’m certainly not here to defend him, that’s up to Gilad and none of my business, but the idea that he is anti semitic when he puts so much stake in the support of Jews from his Group 2 clearly gives the lie to that. Unfortunately, however, once Social Media gets hold of a bone it is, as we are now witnessing, very hard to get it to let go.

And then there is his supposed “denial” of the Holocaust. I have actually spoken with him at some length about this recently, discovering to my surprise that his mother’s family and my father’s came from the same place in Poland! He was absolutely clear in that conversation that, along naturally with his mother, he felt a sense of loss and anguish about what occurred and was particularly clear that he in no way questioned the essential facts around the holocaust nor did he question it’s veracity or the impact that it had.

His objection, and I have to say in this case one I share, is that the Holocaust should never be introduced in to political discourse in order, particularly in the case of the Israeli hard right, to justify highly questionable actions. I lost every member of my father’s extended European family to the holocaust, something which for my generation is still very real, and I object vehemently to anyone using that painful loss as an excuse for any kind of political behaviour or attitude. As I say Gilad also lost most of his mother’s family at around the same time and so to suggest he is somehow “denying” this is simply untrue. He also extends his argument to encompass the concept of free speech, which by his argument should mean that denying the holocaust (something he has no sympathy for) should not be criminalised, as it is in places like Israel and Germany, but dealt with by attacking the issue through rigorous intellectual debate. Personally I think that’s naive and we have had several lively debates on the matter.

Unfortunately, however, he has chosen to defend this, in my opinion not unreasonable, position by referring to those who he disapproves of as practicing the “Holocaust Religion” (a term, incidentally, he did not coin). I personally find this offensive and would prefer he did not use such inflammatory language around such an important issue, but that, again in my opinion, is a matter of taste not substance.

I would also highlight what I feel is one critical aspect of all this. Which is that, despite his statements to the contrary (again said to make a point rather than a reality), Gilad is an Israeli Jew and a former member of the Israeli armed forces. This to my mind is really important. I believe that in much the same way a black comedian can use the “n”word and be lauded but if I were to use it I would, quite rightly, be open to the accusation of racism, so Gilad, as a member of my community can raise issues that he sees as problematic within that community without necessarily being hounded for them. As much as some of his writings and utterances are, in my opinion, intellectually questionable I am at the same time aware that his basic motivations are anger and frustration (fuelled I would suspect by his experiences as an Israeli soldier) at what he sees as a serious problem in what is, ultimately, his own community.

I would again agree that some of his naïve discourse can be said to be misplaced, but I would argue quite strongly that it does little to spread the scourge of anti-semitism. And, I guess as a “liberal” Jew, I would point out the behaviour of the previous right wing administration in Israel, with it’s walls (really, they built a wall to keep people in a social enclosure?), it’s denigration of the Palestinian people’s by passing laws such as the Nation State law and it’s continued building on the West Bank of illegal settlements, all actions which as far as I can tell are supported by many of those accusing Gilad of anti-semitism, do more to fuel the International spread of ant-semitism than anything Gilad is likely to do or say. Something of an irony, I would suggest.

Having said all this (and I appreciate that my response has been long but it is, as I’m sure you can tell, something I’ve thought long and hard about), I am constantly keeping an eye on Gilad’s behaviour and if he does reach a point where I feel he’s crossed a line I would certainly respond to that.

Anyway, I hope that helps explain my position with regard to Gilad Atzmon!

Steve Rubie