Israel/Palestine


In my inbox is a notice from World Village-Harmonia Mundi: Saxophonist Gilad Atzmon “makes a rare appearance in New York City beginning May 5th and is available for interviews.” Oddly I see no gig schedule listed.

In any case I won’t be interviewing Atzmon during his visit, because I’m too busy interviewing musicians who don’t claim that the Jews provoked Hitler. And don’t hail Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And don’t garner praise from neo-Nazi David Duke, or write things that end up cross-posted at racist sites that proclaim “No Jews. Just Right.”

My point, and one I’ve made many times before, is that Gilad Atzmon is a Jew-hater — and far from the only one in the UK and elsewhere who’s found it helpful to drape himself in the Palestinian cause, or the fashionable rhetoric of anti-imperialism.

But of course there’s something different about Atzmon: He’s a musician, and a strong one at that. He insists that his music is intrinsically political. And this is therefore something that every New York music journalist planning to cover Atzmon needs to weigh carefully:

How does a man of such views claim the mantle of “cultural resistance” that is so bound up with the history of jazz? How can an apologist for the Iranian regime — an apologist for Nazi Germany — claim to be “fighting oppression of every kind”?

He gets away with it only if compliant journalists allow him.

After critiquing Nir Rosen’s shoddy excuse-making for terrorism in January 2009, I paid only slight attention to his work. But on the occasions when I stumbled onto his Twitter feed, I actually had to stop and wonder whether someone had hacked his account. The opinions were so extreme, so loutish, so flagrantly unprofessional, so obviously unbecoming of a Fellow at the NYU Center for Law and Security (no longer), a writer with bylines in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Salon and other highly respected outlets.

But yes, that was Rosen. Now he’s telling us, in the wake of his appalling comments about CBS News correspondent and sexual assault victim Lara Logan, that he’s really not like this. Well, yes, he is like this, as anyone who’s looked at that Twitter feed in the last year would know.

I can only wonder, as others have, why Rosen was able to hold onto his NYU position after linking to Taliban propaganda on the anniversary of 9/11 — and declaring that he agreed with it. Or calling for a punitive bombing of Tel Aviv as far back as April 2002. And it’s Lara Logan, he tells us, who’s the “major war monger.”

Of course, Rosen is not alone in attacking Logan: right-wing nut Debbie Schlussel made an absolutely chilling and deplorable statement as well.

So we’re back to the question I’ve often been asked: Why am I, a person of the left, focusing my anger on Rosen rather than on Schlussel? Because we know what Schlussel is: a hate-spewing figure of the gutter. She stands for for unashamed racism. Yes, she is a menace, and she has not apologized (to my knowledge). Rosen, on the other hand, considers himself “someone who’s devoted his career to defending victims and supporting justice,” as he wrote in one of his many lame apologies. A lot of people believe him.

But Rosen hasn’t done any such thing. He’s devoted his career to offering apologetics for the Taliban, Hezbollah and other so-called “armed resistance” movements. He’s betrayed the victims of those groups, and thus supported injustice, even as he proclaims the opposite. It’s an Orwellian lie, it’s the height of hypocrisy, and it ought to raise the ire of far more people on the left.

Lawrence O’Donnell, Keith Olbermann’s replacement on MSNBC and host of “The Last Word,” devoted a segment to the Logan fallout the other night and focused entirely on Schlussel. He said nothing about Rosen. Look, it’s the left that prides itself on facing uncomfortable facts and confronting the whole truth. O’Donnell failed. He gave his viewers a partial account and did the public a disservice.

Much attention is focused on Tony Blair as he testifies before the Iraq Inquiry, but I want to say a quick word about Blair’s sister-in-law, Lauren Booth. A recent convert to Islam, Booth is someone whose politics, like George Galloway’s and Cynthia McKinney’s and Gilad Atzmon’s, can only be properly described as far-right — although all these individuals and their fellow travelers continue to masquerade as progressive.

Via Harry’s Place comes word that Booth will be sharing a bill with Mahathir Mohamed, at a speaking engagement organized by the new Malaysian branch of Viva Palestina (the land-based equivalent of the famously seafaring Free Gaza Movement).

As I’ve noted before, Mahathir, the former Malaysian prime minister and ruthless despot, recently voiced his disappointment that the Holocaust failed to wipe out every Jew. His reading of Jewish history includes the view that “[Jews] had to be confined to ghettoes and periodically massacred. But still they remained, they thrived and they held whole Governments to ransom.”

Lauren Booth, in associating herself with Mahathir, is either announcing that she holds the same neo-Nazi views, or that she is stupid and ignorant. Or both, I suppose. And yet on her Wikipedia page, Booth is described as a “human rights activist.”

(Don’t get me started on Wikipedia, which is useless or worse on matters of politics, though this doesn’t stop some from hailing its 10th anniversary with utopian rhetoric that really ought to be embarrassing.)

As habibi at Harry’s notes, Viva Palestina Malaysia has also recycled an article on its website by Michael Collins Piper, a talk-radio host and antisemitic conspiracy theorist who makes Rush Limbaugh look like a hippie.

And it gets better — the link at the bottom of the piece takes you to the website of Klansman and neo-Nazi David Duke.

So, Viva Palestina, begun by George Galloway, is a conduit of explicit antisemitism and far-right bigotry and a megaphone for American neo-Nazis and KKK figures. In today’s pro-Palestine movement, all of that is perfectly OK. And if anyone calls you out, just say you’re a “critic of Israel,” that antisemitism charges are always fabrications, and you’re being silenced by the neocon Zionist conspiracy. Plenty of people will back you up.

Yes, it is. So it’s good to see the fringe lefties at Socialist Worker retract and apologize for publishing an interview with a Nazi sympathizer. The fact that they felt no need to vet Gilad Atzmon beforehand speaks volumes, however. “Critics of Israel,” no matter how virulent, have come to be given the benefit of the doubt on the radical left.

Judeosphere has the story.

If Socialist Worker is “the best publication on the U.S. left,” as Safia Albaiti of Boston declares, then this is a sad commentary on the U.S. left. But I already knew that. Still I’m grateful to Albaiti for speaking up and making short work of the lie — perpetuated by NJ-based jazz musician Rich Siegel and others — that Atzmon has been taken “out of context.” Here is Atzmon:

In the light of Israeli brutality, the conviction of gross swindler Madoff and the latest images of Rabbis being taken away by FBI agents, it is about time we stop discussing the rise of anti-Semitism and start to elaborate on the rise of Jewish Crime.

And here is Atzmon:

Jewish texts tend to glaze over the fact that Hitler’s March 28 1933, ordering [sic] a boycott against Jewish stores and goods, was an escalation in direct response to the declaration of war on Germany by the worldwide Jewish leadership.

Atzmon has not disavowed these remarks, nor has he explained the “context” that supposedly requires us to read these words for anything other than what they are.

Rich Siegel, who is partnering with Gilad Atzmon as described in my previous post, has written me a terse reply. He says that the Atzmon quotes I cite “do not constitute racism or holocaust revisionism. I suggest you read them again.”

Michael Ezra, in the Z Word comments space, has also referred me to this piece of writing, in which Rich Siegel writes sympathetically of Holocaust revisionism: “It seems to me that if holocaust revisionists are wrong, then open dissemination of their views encourages those with opposing views to prove them wrong. And if they are right, all the more reason we should hear about it.” Note that this goes well beyond an argument for free speech. For Siegel, it is an open question whether David Irving and other like-minded hucksters are right or wrong. (Hint: It’s not an open question, and Irving’s Jew-hatred and pro-Nazism are copiously documented.)

Alas, it is not the case, as I’d hoped, that Siegel is deceived about Gilad Atzmon. He is in fact a fellow traveler through and through.

But because Siegel’s denials strike me as part of a larger political strategy to define antisemitism out of existence, allow me, as Siegel has suggested, to read Atzmon’s comments again. I do so at the risk of insulting the intelligence of my readers. But it seems that some in liberal and progressive circles have lost the ability to detect antisemitism even when it’s staring them dead in the face.

First Atzmon quote:

Carpet bombing and total erasure of populated areas that is so trendy amongst Israeli military and politicians (as well as Anglo-Americans) has never been a Nazi tactic or strategy.

Siegel sees no revisionism in this statement. To him, the notion that the Nazis never engaged in carpet bombing or, in a word, genocide, falls within the bounds of legitimate historical comment.

Second Atzmon quote:

One of the things that happened to us was that stupidly we interpreted the Nazi defeat as a vindication of the Jewish ideology and the Jewish people.

Siegel sees no racism in the notion that there’s such a thing as “the Jewish ideology,” or in the idea that a persecuted minority group requires “vindication” — as if the Jews, in the lead-up to the Holocaust, were collectively guilty of something.

But if you share Atzmon’s worldview, then yes, you do believe these things, as a third quote from Atzmon makes clear. I didn’t cite this in yesterday’s post, and I didn’t send it to Siegel for comment, because I’ve only just learned of it. But it puts Atzmon’s overt Hitler apologetics in plain view as perhaps never before:

Jewish texts tend to glaze over the fact that Hitler’s March 28 1933, ordering [sic] a boycott against Jewish stores and goods, was an escalation in direct response to the declaration of war on Germany by the worldwide Jewish leadership.

There it is: The Jews made Hitler do it. I can think of few political sentiments more chilling and, I would hope, more foreign to the spirit of jazz.

[Cross-posted at Z Word, and at Harry’s Place.]

The bloggers of Mondoweiss have worked very hard to convince the public that antisemitism does not exist among the Palestine solidarity movement — indeed, that all such charges of antisemitism are mere subterfuge concocted by “Zionists” to tar critics of Israel, who are by definition pure of heart.

So it’s important to note that Mondoweiss is now voicing support for the Israeli-born, UK-based jazz musician and virulent antisemite Gilad Atzmon.

Atzmon, who has declared, “One of the things that happened to us was that stupidly we interpreted the Nazi defeat as a vindication of the Jewish ideology and the Jewish people,” is scheduled to play two concerts in upstate New York with Rich Siegel, a pianist, vocalist and bandleader from New Jersey. Siegel is author of the Mondoweiss posts, here and here, alleging that the Rochester concert was nearly canceled thanks to what he calls “Zio-pressure.”

The Mondoweiss posts paint Atzmon in benign colors as an “anti-Zionist.” They cite Atzmon’s defense that he is “often quoted with ‘cherry-picked’ quotes taken out of context,” which is amusing, since the entire context of Atzmon’s political writing is coterminous with Israel and the Jews — and in any case, I’m not sure what “context” would render the above-mentioned verbatim quote morally acceptable. Or for that matter, this quote:

American Jewry makes any debate on whether the ‘Protocols of the elder of Zion’ [sic] are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews do try to control the world, by proxy.

A nearly identical argument about the Protocols appears in Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

Or this quote from Atzmon, also verbatim:

Carpet bombing and total erasure of populated areas that is so trendy amongst Israeli military and politicians (as well as Anglo-Americans) has never been a Nazi tactic or strategy.

It’s ironic that Rich Siegel, speaking about the Rochester venue’s decision to ignore complaints from a local rabbi, writes: “It seems that they came to a realization … that the rabbi was part of an agenda that they don’t want to support.” But apparently Siegel is comfortable supporting Atzmon’s agenda.

I am not familiar with Siegel’s work, but his website lists appearances with highly respected and important jazz musicians such as Art Baron, Cameron Brown, Eliot Zigmund and Bob Kindred. I’d like to believe that Siegel’s been taken in by Atzmon’s self-whitewash on the matter of antisemitism. Or it could be that Siegel has read Atzmon’s racist, lunatic writings and is in full agreement with them. I’ve emailed Siegel to get some clarity on that question. Meanwhile, we cannot sit by and allow Atzmon to hoodwink others in the American jazz community.

I tweeted on this the other day but let me recap here: This NYT piece reported that the ships in the Free Gaza Movement flotilla were funded by something called the Perdana Global Peace Organization. Greta Berlin, a founder of the Free Gaza Movement, herself acknowledged this link to Perdana. Look around Perdana’s website and you’ll find the organization is chaired by Mahathir Mohamed, former prime minister of Malaysia and one of the world’s most notoriously outspoken antisemites — a man who said this at a January conference:

The Jews had always been a problem in European countries. They had to be confined to ghettoes and periodically massacred. But still they remained, they thrived and they held whole Governments to ransom. Even after their massacre by the Nazis of Germany, they survived to continue to be a source of even greater problems for the world. The Holocaust failed as a final solution.

And people accuse Jews of fabricating the issue of antisemitism as a smokescreen.

There’s been very little reporting on Mahathir’s ties to the Free Gaza Movement as far as I’ve seen. Lots and lots of discussion about “what Israel has become” and such. Very little discussion of what the Palestine solidarity movement has become.

As for IHH, the Turkish organization involved in the melee on the flotilla’s biggest ship, my friend Yigal Schleifer, in his must-read posts on the Turkey-Israel diplomatic crisis, describes IHH as an organization of the Islamist far right. Yigal’s coverage is some of the fairest, most non-ideological and rigorous you’ll come across anywhere.

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In last week’s New Yorker, Pankaj Mishra reviewed Paul Berman’s new book The Flight of the Intellectuals, about the widespread liberal-left acceptance of Swiss Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan, and what this phenomenon says about intellectual culture in our time. Mishra, in short, offers a fine example of what Berman was trying to diagnose. He subjects Berman to a relentless drubbing over his liberal-hawk support of the Iraq war, thus shooting the messenger, while giving Ramadan a pass on his uncritical support of the extremist cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

First of all, Qaradawi doesn’t simply justify suicide attacks against Israel, as Mishra notes, although this would be bad enough. Qaradawi says things like this:

Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them – even though they exaggerated this issue – he managed to put them in their place.

Mishra further tries to undermine Berman’s case:

[Berman] says that Ramadan not just “admires” but “worships” Qaradawi, although the citations of Ramadan that he produces to illustrate this claim reveal nothing more fervent than the standard lexicon of scholarly attribution: “Yusuf al-Qaradawi aptly notes that…”; “For details, see Yusuf al-Qaradawi….”

I very much doubt that Mishra would agree it’s benign for Ramadan to cite, whether calmly or fervently, the work of a man who believes Hitler put the Jews in their place.

And yet wait. Here is Paul Berman himself, responding to another negative review, in which he notes that

…Ramadan, who has contributed prefaces to two of Sheikh Qaradawi’s collections of fatwas [my emphasis – DA], has revered and applauded Qaradawi in every one of his major books, beginning with the book about [Hassan] al-Banna. Anyone who takes the trouble to read through Ramadan’s work will discover that Qaradawi has been the most important of his mentors—a distinguished and learned sheikh with his own history of ties to the Ramadan family, by the way (which I mention … because Ramadan himself, in his book on al-Banna, chooses to boast of it).

Mishra, it seems, is misrepresenting facts in order to burnish his conclusion: that Ramadan “may not be ideal, but the impulse to engage with him seems to exemplify the best kind of liberalism….”

By all means, engage Ramadan, but do it in the way that George Packer did in this exchange, in which he pressed Ramadan repeatedly on the issue of antisemitism. “[H]e couldn’t give me a direct answer,” writes Packer. “He hedged, he spoke about context, he suggested that the quotes were mistranslated, that they didn’t actually exist. But he refused to acknowledge that his grandfather and the Muslim Brotherhood in its origins were characterized by anti-Semitic or totalitarian views. It seemed clear that there was a limit to what he would allow himself to say or think, and that I had found it.”

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Last but not least, the fact that racists such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are blasting veteran White House reporter turned pundit Helen Thomas does not mean that Thomas’s remarks were anything less than disgusting. And racist.

In response to this disastrous incident at sea involving the Israeli military and the Free Gaza Movement, Roger Ebert, the movie critic and prolific liberal tweeter, wrote this morning: “Why isn’t Israel firing on a humanitarian aid ship worse than North Korea firing on a warship?”

This was quickly retweeted by Jeremy Scahill, who appended the word “Exactly.” Scahill, to remind you, is an apologist for Somali pirates, or “pirates” as he refers to them. In other words, Scahill in some instances has no problem with heavily armed people waging violence against civilian ships. Just saying. It seems clear that Israel handled this recklessly and its conduct should be investigated. Let me also state that Israel has pursued an immoral and counterproductive policy in Gaza for some time, and should rethink its blockade (which, to be clear, was instituted in response to Hamas aggression).

However, from video evidence here and here, it also seems clear that some of the Free Gaza Movement activists on that ship attempted to engage Israeli soldiers in hand-to-hand combat. At this stage it is rash to describe this as a simple matter of Israel wantonly killing civilians. But of course that’s what many people want to believe.

This post by Glenn Greenwald makes no mention of the Free Gaza Movement, which is something close to journalistic malpractice. More than the humanitarian aid business, the Free Gaza Movement is in the propaganda business. It is an outlet of the extreme anti-Zionist left, essentially a Hamas support group. It has engaged in this same cat-and-mouse game with the Israeli navy for a long time. The people on that ship knew full well they would be intercepted. That was the whole point. These are theatrical stunts intended to provoke the Israelis.

Why is this incident unlike the Korean one? Because the Free Gaza ship was warned repeatedly to desist and change course, and then it was boarded — not fired upon, not sank. The North Korean regime sank a sitting-duck South Korean warship with premeditation and without a word of warning, apparently in order bolster the prestige and power of Kim Jong Il in a succession struggle. North Korea is a totalitarian state; Israel is a (deeply flawed) democracy.

What Ebert’s formulation says, sotto voce, is that the actions of totalitarian states shouldn’t bother us that much.

Dear Andrew,

You have written approvingly (here and here) of John Mearsheimer’s recent speech in which he divided American Jews into three camps: “New Afrikaners,” or right-wing supporters of Israel; “righteous Jews,” i.e., critics of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians; and the “great ambivalent middle.” I’d like to focus on something that you glossed over entirely in your remarks: Mearsheimer’s inclusion of Noam Chomsky among the “righteous Jews.”
Clearly you are determined to wade into the muck that is the debate over Israel/Palestine, and on one level, more power to you — arguing for an end to Israel’s destructive and immoral settlements policy is much needed. No one can plausibly claim that you’re an antisemite for doing so. And yet I believe your antisemitism detector is in need of repair, and that you could be doing more to fight it. Let me explain.
You are of course familiar with Noam Chomsky’s profile as an arch critic of American foreign policy, for you have linked in the past to Oliver Kamm’s voluminous work showing Chomsky to be an unscrupulous demagogue. Incidentally, Chomsky is of Jewish descent but has never made a point of publicly identifying as a Jew, which makes Mearsheimer’s mention of him all the more suspect. But that is for another post.
What you need to know is that Chomsky is listed here as an honorary member of something called the BRussells Tribunal [sic]. (Hat tip Adam Holland.) His name appears alongside seven other prominent figures and fellow honorary members, including Cindy Sheehan and the late Harold Pinter. At the top of this list is Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, the former prime minister of Malaysia, whose record of virulent antisemitism is well known. In a speech delivered in January of this year, Mahathir said this:

The Jews had always been a problem in European countries. They had to be confined to ghettoes and periodically massacred. But still they remained, they thrived and they held whole Governments to ransom. Even after their massacre by the Nazis of Germany, they survived to continue to be a source of even greater problems for the world. The Holocaust failed as a final solution.

Now, while it would not be fair to ascribe these views to Chomsky himself, Chomsky has opted to lend his imprimatur to an organization associated with Mahathir — indeed, even to allow his name to be displayed right alongside Mahathir’s. I’m sure you will agree that this weakens the case for Chomsky as a “righteous Jew,” but I would argue that it also reveals, at best, a fundamental ignorance and lack of judgment on the part of John Mearsheimer. (It is equally disgraceful that Mearsheimer listed as a “righteous Jew” Norman Finkelstein, a declared supporter of Hezbollah.)
To conclude: The charge of antisemitism is not simply a ruse, a means of silencing critics of Israel. Mahathir Mohamed is not a “critic of Israel”; he is a Jew hater. Noam Chomsky and Cindy Sheehan, among many others on the anti-Zionist left, are enabling his hatred and giving it a veneer of legitimacy. For many of us in the “great ambivalent middle,” to attack the Chomskyite left, or to fail to condemn Israel with sufficient ardor, is to risk being labeled a “New Afrikaner” by the likes of John Mearsheimer. This is the silencing phenomenon that few commentators seem willing to address. I wish you would do so.
Respectfully yours,
David R. Adler

Proponents of an anti-Israel boycott have tried to pressure Amitav Ghosh, one of my intellectual heroes, to turn down the Dan David Prize. Ghosh has declined to do so, and his reasoning is characteristically eloquent. Margaret Atwood, Ghosh’s co-recipient of the prize, has also rebuffed the boycotters, and just as eloquently.

In marked contrast, Gil Scott-Heron seems to have knuckled under to boorish anti-Zionist protesters and canceled an upcoming concert in Tel Aviv. But did he cancel or “reschedule”? It’s not clear, as Nathalie Rothschild reveals in this incisive column.

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