Gilad Atzmon is an internationally acclaimed jazz musician whose CD Exile was selected by the BBC in 2003 as Album of the Year. He was born in Israel and raised as a secular Jew. He served his compulsory military service at the time of the Lebanon war (1982), an event that made him very skeptical about Zionism and Israeli politics. Ten years later, after studying music in Israel, he left with a no-return ticket for the UK. In the UK, he studied Philosophy but after graduation he chose a musical career. Later he also became a novelist. But in some circles, he is best known for his peace activism. On his website, he produces a continual flow of articles in which he rails against the government of Israel, criticizes the racist policies of the Zionists, and has put his art to the service of liberating the Palestinian people.
This article, which comes closest to understanding Gilad Atzmon’s mind as it pertains to his former country, Israel, and the Palestinian cause he has taken up, was originally presented to the International Seminarium in Stockholm, Sweden on March 17, 2007. His cartoon portrait below was done by Ben Heine.
From Guilt to Responsibility
The impossible condition of being an ex-Israeli as well as an ethically orientated human being necessary leads towards a serious guilt complex. I am referring here to the obvious case of one feeling guilty for the crimes committed on one’s behalf by one’s brethren. Yet, I have to confess that while guilt can be charming, at least for a while, it is far from being a productive state of mind in the long term. Guilt is a self-centered endeavor, it doesn’t aim towards a change. In guilt alone, there is not much hope for better future. In fact, the only way to translate guilt into productivity is to transform remorse into responsibility.
At least in my case, responsibility is primarily grounded on the deep acknowledgment that, though totally against my will, as things are set by the Jewish State, every atrocity committed by Israel is actually committed in my name and on my behalf. In other words, my commitment to the Palestinian issue is evoked by my acceptance of my responsibility. Though shouting `not in my name’ would have helped to vindicate me as an individual person, it won’t change the grave sinister fact that every Israeli war crime is actually done in the name of the Jewish people. Thus, I have never been an advocate of the `not in my name’ call. Clearly, I am not searching for my own self-redemption but rather for a metaphysical shift of awareness. Consequently, responsibility is for me a form of intervention that bridges the necessary gap between silent acceptance and ethical commitment. My responsibility is my pledge to do whatever I can to bring the suffering of the Palestinians to an immediate halt.
I obviously set myself a very serious challenge here. Bearing in mind that my weapons are my saxophone and my pen, it may even sound slightly pathetic. One may wonder whether it is possible to knock down a nuclear regional superpower with a soprano saxophone or even with a pencil. Though I don’t have a definite answer yet, I am willing to admit that in the last seven years I have given it a go.
For me, being responsible means looking into the Israeli atrocities while regarding myself at the crux of the issue. While in the past I somehow tended to remove myself from the conflict, positioning myself as a detached scout, I now happen to search for the answers inside myself, in my own soul, in my esoteric experience. Following Otto Weininger, I’m inclined to believe that artists’ revelations about the world are the direct outcome of some sincere self-searching. However, while looking into myself I clearly found out that whereas I may be able to say some things about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I probably cannot really say much about its political aspects.
Generally speaking, discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is far from being an easy job. Furthermore, lately, the task is becoming more and more difficult. Due to some intensive pressure imposed on the Palestinians by Israel (with the full support of the willing and obedient West), the Palestinians are pushed into a state of civil war. As a result, the emerging animosity within Palestinian society (both in Palestine and in the Diaspora) makes it very difficult to suggest any intellectual or ideological contribution that may refer to a conflict resolution. Palestinian society is now officially divided about almost everything. Moreover, Palestinians may even find it difficult to agree upon the notion of the Palestinian cause. As it seems, many of us in the West happen to claim to support the Palestinian cause without really being able to suggest what this cause is anymore. Rather often we happen to classify activists based on their vision of the conflict resolution. We would say, “he is OK, he is for `one State’, but leave her alone, she is a Zionist `two States’ supporter.” In other words, we identify political affiliations with what seems to us as the `true’ Palestinian cause. But in fact, our image of the Palestinian cause is in itself dependent upon our own political culture, personal political struggles, personal affiliations and lifestyle. It has very little to do with Palestine, the Palestinians and their current or future needs.
Such a realization may challenge the notion of solidarity and it implies some possible criticism over the entire issue of responsibility. Consequently, I have been recently coming to terms with the idea that I must be very careful with any rhetoric having to do with Palestine. Consequently, I avoid talking in the name of the Palestinians. Moreover, being an ex-Israeli, I do not allow myself to interfere with the Palestinian discourse of resolution. I am totally convinced that the future of Palestine is an internal Palestinian affair. The future of Palestine should be determined by the Palestinian people and by themselves alone. Yet I feel more than entitled to talk about the atrocities that are committed in my name. This is where my responsibility is coming into play.
My task is far from being hard to define. I would argue that if indeed the crimes against the Palestinians are committed by the `Jewish State’ in the name of the `Jewish’ people, before any progress can be made, we first must grasp what the word `Jewish’ stands for. In other words, it is Jewishness which I am trying to contemplate. I try to learn its metaphysics, its historical and cultural background. I try to understand how Jewish lobbies are operating within different organizations, institutes and systems of hegemony. I argue that if it is the Jewish State that is engaged in terrorizing the Palestinians, we better understand once and for all what hides behind the notion of Jewishness. Yet, I find it necessary to elaborate on the differences between the different categories having to do with the `J’ word.
Resolutely, I differentiate between Judaism (the religion), Jews (the people) and Jewishness (the ideology). I refrain categorically from referring to Jews and avoid criticism of Judaism. The reasons are obvious. First, though Israel regards itself as the `Jewish State’, it is far from being the State of the Jews. Many Jews are living outside of Israel and have nothing to do with Israel or the Israeli crimes. Second, it isn’t Judaism that inflicts so much pain on the Palestinians but rather people who follow some peculiar modern secular vision named by some as Zionism. Thus, it is the Jewishness that I am interested in, the ideological mindset and the cultural framework. I am interested in the collective bond that provides Zionism with a substantial body shield. I am interested in that which transforms Global Zionism into a leading and winning contemporary worldview.
But this is exactly where the real problem starts. Although I firmly refrain from referring to racial or ethnic categories, enormous energy is invested in stopping me and others from saying that which we feel entitled to say. Jewish political pressure groups both in the left and in the right, both Zionists and anti-Zionists, both sectarian Marxists and Fascist settlers fight to keep the differentiation between Judaism, Jewishness and the Jews as blurred as possible. May I suggest that they know what they are doing. It is this tactic that allows them to dismiss any possible criticism of Israel and its lobbies as being a racist assault. As long as the demarcation between Judaism, Jews and Jewishness is obscure, Israel is safe from criticism.
By maintaining such a tactic, Jewish groups in the left and in the right have managed to block any meaningful debate having to do with Israel, the Jewish State, Palestine, world Jewry, the Israeli Lobby in America, etc.. Every essential discussion is dismissed immediately as a form of racism or as plain anti-Semitism. My responsibility therefore is to stand up and resist. My duty is to insist that Jewishness is an Ideology, or at least a mindset. It is an idea that made the Nakba possible, it is an ideology that has maintained ethnic cleansing policies for six decades, it is a unique intuition that lives in peace with 80% starvation in Gaza.
It is not the Jews and it is not Judaism that are to be blamed here, but it is not Zionism either. Jewishness is actually a deeper concept than mere Zionism. How do I know that it is deeper than Zionism? I know because I look into myself and into my past. I know because I grew up in Israel and I can tell that as a young lad, the word Zionism was foreign to my ears. My peers and myself were Israelis, we were the Jewish people, we were not Zionists. Zionism was a foreign abstract expression, it smelled of Galut (Diaspora). We were Jews and our enemies were the `others’ whoever they were at the time: the Germans, The Goyim, the anti-Semites, the Arabs in general the Palestinians in particular and so forth.
My responsibility thus is to expose the real meaning of the Jewish idea in its full extent. My mission is to get to the essence of this almighty fear that settles comfortably at the core of the Jewish collective psyche. My responsibility is to expose the carriers and protagonists of this ideology. As an artist, my duty is to look into myself and to trace its origin in my own soul.
If I am indeed correct and Jewishness is an ideology, then it cannot just position itself beyond criticism. If I am indeed on the right track, it is my duty as an intellectual and as an artist who believes in free spirit, to point out that the Palestinian discourse is viciously shaped by an absurd form of political correctness that blocks any meaningful and fruitful discourse.
I will use this unique opportunity and mention as well that I am tired of hearing people telling me “Gilad, you can say it all, you are a Jew.” I just do not accept it. There is nothing in my ethnic belonging or biological origin that should grant me with any special entitlement. I must admit as well that I have never found myself telling a Muslim or an Arab friend “you can say it, you are an Arab.” I do not remember myself ever hearing anyone suggesting to anyone else: “you can say it, you are Protestant, Irish, Black, etc.” Noticeably, the Jewish State and its supporters have managed to position their beloved country in a very privileged precious position, far beyond criticism. My responsibility is to expose this tactic as a complete fallacy.
I believe that we cannot bring hope to Palestine unless we teach ourselves to speak freely, unless we allow ourselves to open up the discourse. I may as well suggest that I truly believe that the Zionists and the Israelis will benefit from such an initiative.
The Israelis and their supporters set themselves in an artificial detached heaven. They have surrounded themselves with security walls and have managed to block all channels of criticism. While in a complete state of blindness, the Israelis have failed to notice that they have become the embodiment of modern evil. More than anyone else, it is the Jewish State and the Israelis who need an immediate wake up call.
Gilad Atzmon’s web site is: www.gilad.co.uk. He can also be reached at: email@example.com. I thank him for permission to post this article here.