Who’s Afraid of Gilad Atzmon?
So as to avoid any confusion, let it be stated loud and clear: There is no Palestinian Solidarity Movement.
Palestinian solidarity is different from Palestinian Liberation, a principal that implies the Palestinian people being able to express their aspirations of freedom. Palestinian society, with its massive and disorganised diaspora, is lost in dispersion, lacks the means to insist that the media gives equal time to its story, and has enormous difficulty expressing and sustaining a unified project, whether it be a vision of a Palestinian State, secular or religiously inspired as it may be, or co-existence together in a single State with the Jews of Israel.
The sole element on which all Palestinians concur is their need to become political subjects and to abandon their stateless status. Only in this way will they be finally able to come into possession of their human and civil rights, including the Right of Return.
The Palestinian Solidarity "Movement" is rather a galaxy of individuals and organisations that are generally not Palestinians. The common ground is that they all agree that their program is "Peace in the Middle East". On one end of the parabola we have those who see no problem with the idea of Israel as a Jewish State. They would like to see some kind of settlement for the Palestinians that will abate them, tossing a virtual bone at them by supporting the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza (but not the West Bank, which is another story, seeing as how it is historically relevant to the Jewish people). They sustain that the only way to guarantee a secure Israel, which is a given, is by maintaining a Jewish majority, and other matters must take off from that premise. People in this camp run the gamut of the political spectrum, from right to left. They generally have the most space dedicated to them in public discourse, as it is a message that reflects and embraces many elements of the accepted Zionist stance, and they address a general public with great success, often depicting themselves as progressives when upon close observation, there is very little progressive in their ideas.
On the opposite end of the parabola, and often in conflict with the former are those who put the interests of the Palestinians first, as they accept to support the cause for justice of the victims of the appropriation of Palestinian land and those living under occupation or in exile. This group often, but not always, insists on the full Right of Return for the Palestinians, because it is a guaranteed right, and therefore, legitimate and just, in addition to compensation and integration into a unified State together with Jews. This group sometimes is in touch with what Palestinians aspire to, but not always.
Since these people are often not Palestinians, they have a tendency to identify and define themselves by their personal characteristics. Within this latter group we find primarily people who identify themselves as being on "the Left". Many are members of leftist political parties, others are sympathisers, almost all engage in dialectical discussion groups with progressives, rather than reach out to the first group or even to the general public. They operate in a closed milieu of others just like them, progressive or Marxist collectives and discussion groups. Many of them have years of hands on political experience, and are imbued with the culture of these groups. They refer to those in other parties as comrades quite naturally. In essence, they should be weaned on dialectic.
In the UK, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) has invited Gilad Atzmon to appear at their annual convention this July, "Marxism 2005". Atzmon, former Israeli, is a fervent and outspoken anti-Zionist, promoter of full Right of Return, and is in favour of the establishment of a Single State which encompasses all the people in historical Palestine. He is engaged in deconstructing the supremacist nature inherent in an ideology like Zionism that excludes a priori those who are not Jews, and which grants Jews special rights in historical Palestine. He is a writer and musician. His performances include the message dedicated to his political beliefs. Although he is not affiliated with any political party, he is a political artist whose agenda is Palestine and the interests of the Palestinian people.
It is expected that he won’t just perform his music at Marxism 2005, but that he will make a presentation of some sort, the title advertised as being "Beauty Against Zionism". This will be Atzmon’s third appearance at the SWP convention, or rather, it is scheduled to be, since there are some Marxists who don’t want that to happen.
In the UK, Jews Against Zionism can’t abide Gilad Atzmon, and they have demanded that the SWP renege his invitation. Tony Greenstein, together with others, has publicised his demands on the forum of Just Peace UK, a mainly, but not exclusively Jewish group. He has put forth an edict that Atzmon is an anti-semite (as well as anyone who supports him), that he is associated with anti-semites (because he, like thousands of others, reads material which Tony does not approve of), and that he is a Holocaust Denier or at the very least, an apologist for them.
Greenstein and several of his friends on JPUK, the UK Left Network and JAZ have determined that Atzmon is a liability (a title wielded at Atzmon’s supporters as well as some other even more offensive opinions) to the Palestinian Solidarity Movement and that his voice is leading towards a dangerous path and has no place in it. He has placed conditions upon Atzmon, as well has having placed demands upon the SWP even though Greenstein is not affiliated with this party.
He undertakes these actions, which seem to be the tip of the iceberg that has been building up for a long time in his desire to weed out the movement, and divide it into Tony-friendly or not, largely for the stated reason that Atzmon distributed through his mailing list a paper "The Holocaust Wars" written by Paul Eisen. Greenstein, having decided that it is classified as "Holocaust Denial" yet not having been able to establish his position except within his small group of comrades, ("It is not an opinion, it is a fact", he states), actually assigns the third person voice of the author as representing Atzmon’s views. Atzmon is accused of having read the paper and thinking others might want to read it as well. Regardless of the content of the paper, which should be debated properly, if anyone is really interested, the very appearance of the paper is unfathomable for Greenstein and for those who share his opinion. Those responsible for it should not have voice in the Palestinian solidarity movement, because they would contaminate it.
Greenstein has written to the SWP demanding, not requesting, that they cancel Atzmon’s appearance as well as a speaking event at the SWP’s bookshop in London, which in lieu of cancellation, will be picketed. In other words, Greenstein decides who he likes or not, who has the right to speak or not, and when they do speak, he dictates what it is they talk about. He wants to be master of discourse; the most vocal, most pure, and official voice of the Palestinian Solidarity Movement. Those who disagree with him and his agenda are in his mind on the "other side of the camp" and gone full circle, having fallen into anti-semitism. They are not good for the Palestinian people.
Atzmon wrote an article exposing the attempts of some of the members of this group to undermine an important Palestinian Solidarity group, Deir Yassin Remembered (DYR), which has the crime of hosting people on its board of whom Greenstein and his close allies do not approve and not for any merit or demerit of the organisation itself. Greenstein criticised the contents of the article, but since it was primarily direct quotes from people on the JPUK board, it could not be contested for accuracy or denied. In a recent epistolary exchange between Atzmon and Greenstein, we see Greenstein saying:
"I certainly wish to see a speedy end to Deir Yassin Remembered. It can only do great damage to the Palestinian cause in so far as it is led by a holocaust denier and associated with another virulent anti-Semite."
Greenstein seems to know what is best for the Palestinian people, but what precisely gives him this information is a real mystery. Is he a self-appointed spokesman for them or does he just set the agenda because his ideas are the most important, significant and true ones? Atzmon claims that non-Palestinian activists are soldiers for the Palestinian people, required to listen to them and be at their service and states, "Instead of doing that (debating the paper he contests) you prefer to act under your Jewish banner whatever it means (something that you do constantly). You run campaigns solely with your Jewish comrades (rather than in the forefront of world working class). Rather than joining or even forming a humanistic open discourse, you try to stop the world from moving on. You insist on locating your worldview in the centre of any possible discourse. Why do you do it? Because you are a supremacist Jew. You must believe that you know better. You must believe that you know better than the SWP what is important for the British working class. You must think that you know better than the Palestinians what is right for the Palestinian people. Are you familiar with the notion of modesty? Just contemplate over the remote possibility that you may not know better."
One can read Atzmon and not agree with him, dislike his ideas or style, and especially when he critiques the mindset of Zionism and Jewish Identification as well as the mechanisms that protect Israel from having to act decently as is expected of any other nation in the world,, but no one should be permitted to deny him the possibility to exercise his right of free speech. One might not like what he says, whether the critic be Zionist or anti-Zionist, but shutting him up seems to be very old school left, right out of Stalinism.
MARY RIZZO lives in Italy. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org