I heard famous Israel critic and sax player Gilad Atzmon interviewed on the BBC, and he said two things that caught my attention on the air. The first was something I knew he had wrong, “If you are a Gentile, you can not really join a Jewish anti-Zionist cell, because you are not racially qualified.”
The second was pure egotism, “No one until now said that I got my facts wrong, that I misquoted anyone, nobody until now. There is not a single critical voice who said Gilad is wrong about something.”
Since Jewish Voices for Peace and the Jewish Antizionist Network welcome non-Jewish participants and members, I thought I might have a chance to qualify as the first person to say that Gilad Atzmon had got a fact wrong. Gilad and I had worked together on the Klezmer Musicians Against the Wall compilation CD, so I hoped, as an ally, I could influence him to change this erroneous talking point. I contacted him about it.
Gilad response was “no Gentile would like to join a racially segregated club of chosens, and if you cannot see it, we are both wasting our time.”
I responded that non-Jews can and do join such groups. Also, of course, anti-Zionist Jews don’t think of themselves as the “chosens.”
Gilad countered by asking if a “goy” could become Chairman of the Jewish Antizionist Network. Though I was pretty sure they don’t even have a “Chairman,” I tried stay focused on his initial erroneous statement, that non-Jews couldn’t even join such groups.
Gilad then went on a rant, “What is this nonsense, can I join Chinese Student union? Can you Join the Polish National party? Jewish political organizations are racially driven, they are ethnocentric to the bone… and I welcome you to provide me with the statistics… How many Gentiles are members of the ‘Jewish Socialist Group’ or ‘Jews for Peace’… let me tell you, I looked into it, not many, in fact none… I suggest you read my latest book, you will find the answers there.”
I happen to be part of a group called Desi Punks, even though I am not South Asian. It seemed like a good place to get some other perspectives. I asked them what they thought about Gilad’s example of the Chinese Student Union. Some friends responded that at their universities, student groups cannot deny membership because of race, creed or religion, and that students often join the clubs of other ethnicities to be with their friends, or just because they are interested. A Pakistani-American sister of a friend of mine was even the president of a Caribbean students club.
I reported this back to Gilad, and his response to this was, “I am not going to waste more time on you… Would you join a gay club being hetrosexual?
Yes Gilad, I would.
When Gilad concluded “You are just not intelligent enough to grasp the argument,” I had no choice but to give up. I tried to end things positively, saying that I hoped we might have healthier dialogs in the future.
He dismissed my hopes, saying, “I wish myself to interact with people who move beyond the Talmudic phase.” I think what this means, is that he thinks anti-Zionist Jews don’t mingle enough with non-Jews, just like in pre-1800 Europe, when Jews lived in every country, but separately within their own communities. This final insult of his was again way off-mark — anti-Zionist Jews often have non-Jewish partners, and are committed to working in diverse movements.
I will read his book, and see what evidence he has that Jewish anti-Zionists are insular, segregated, or think of themselves as “chosen,” but then again, I might not be “intelligent enough to grasp the argument.” I doubt Gilad can teach me much about Jewish anti-Zionists because he seems too irrational on this topic to have done a proper study.
Given his inability to grasp the idea of people of various ethnicities being welcomed in each other’s groups, and given some of his word choices such as “Jewish anti-Zionist cell” and “Chairman,” it seems that Gilad has an archaic conception of the character of activist, ethnic, and cultural groups, clubs, and movements.
Gilad strikes me as dismissive of constructive feedback, happy in the role of the lone voice in the wilderness, and prideful in this precarious assertion that no one can say he ever gets anything wrong. Being a member of a functional interactive group could help his messaging and broaden his understanding. Accepting constructive feedback from allies, and acknowledging that we sometimes get things wrong, makes us more effective writers and speakers. In the struggle against racism, authoritarianism, and privilege, the first oppressors we must confront are ourselves.
I asked Gilad if I could publish this article, and he agreed, and even offered to publish it on his blog, which was nice of him.
Nick Cooper is the producer of Klezmer Musicians Against the Wall, the drummer of Free Radicals, and a BDS activist based in Houston and New York