How low can the “left” sink? It appears that these days belief in a “World Jewish Conspiracy” is not enough to get one “No-Platformed”. Instead, if you make the right noises on Palestine, you might even get invited to speak.
The SWP has invited the jazz musician Gilad Atzmon to play at Marxism 2005 and on 17 June he addressed a meeting on “Deconstructing Zionist Identity” at the Bookmarks, the SWP’s bookshop.
Here are some extracts from an article “On Anti-Semitism” on his website:
“Zionists complain that Jews continue to be associated with a conspiracy to rule the world via political lobbies, media and money… Is the suggestion of conspiracy really an empty accusation?... we must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously… American Jewry makes any debate on whether the ‘Protocols of the elder of Zion’ are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews do try to control the world, by proxy.”
The Bookmarks meeting faced a picket of about 30 people organised by Tony Greenstein through “Jews against Zionism”. Its basis was not good politically. Their leaflet unfortunately stated that “the greatest crime the SWP have committed in inviting Atzmon” is not giving a platform to an anti-Semite but rather “giving ammunition to the Zionist libel that anti-Zionists are, after all, motivated by anti-Semitism.”
Who is Gilad Atzmon?
Best known as a jazz saxophonist, Atzmon is by origin an Israeli Jew, who sees himself as an ex-Israeli, ex-Jew and a “Hebrew-speaking Palestinian”. He gives his music an explicitly political content. Yet I have been to several concerts of his and the conspiracy theories are never aired, presumably as they would not go down well with his audiences.
But the other side of Atzmon is not hard to find. What does he mean by “deconstructing Zionist identity”?
Firstly, for him identity is “not a genuine expression of a real self” but an “identification”. Everyone who thinks of themselves as Jewish does so for a reason. What is the reason? “To be a Jew is to be a victim and to enjoy your symptoms. To be a Jew is to believe in the holocaust, to be a Jew is to believe in a historical narrative constructed around endless merciless sagas of persecution and harassment… The victim strategy is the latest and most sophisticated form of Jewish supremacist segregation.”
The American socialist Stephen Eric Bronner writes: “The anti-Semite turns the Jew into a chameleon… The explanatory power of anti-Semitism ultimately rests on its use of what might be termed the chameleon-effect.” Atzmon echoes this almost word for word:
“The Jew’s are the ultimate chameleons, they can be whatever they like as long as it serves as some expedient... not only can’t they win… they can’t lose either, they can never be defeated… They move forward and backwards, from left to right, from right to left, from spirituality into materialism, from orthodox Marxism into hard capitalism…”
But enough of Atzmon. From our second paragraph it should already be clear that he shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a left meeting.
How could the SWP invite him? Not by mistake or through ignorance — since the Bookmarks picket they have issued a statement confirming and justifying the invitation to Marxism. Let’s look at the arguments.
Just a musician? One line of defence adopted by Atzmon was that “I am not a politician” but rather “a jazz musician and a novelist”. At the same time Atzmon argues that his music should and does reflect his politics: “I try to turn my music into a mouth for those who were very unlucky to confront the most radical exposure of my people’s discrepancies”.
In the 70s when Eric Clapton made public racist remarks in support of Enoch Powell at a gig, IS (now SWP) members set up Rock against Racism. And now?
Taking his word for it? Judy Orr of Bookmarks wrote: “We talked to Gilad at length and Gilad has given us a statement… While we do not agree with all of Gilad’s ideas and statements… we feel that none justify saying that he should not be allowed to come to the shop to talk about his book.” If Judy Orr really is familiar with “all of Gilad's ideas and statements”, this is a justification for giving a platform to a rather obvious anti-Semite. If she isn’t, she shouldn't just take his word for it.
Deconstructing the SWP statement
The political points in the statement of 21st June can be boiled down to the following:
- “We would never give a platform to a racist or fascist… The SWP does not believe that Gilad Atzmon is a Holocaust denier or racist.”
One can only assume therefore that the SWP does not see Atzmon’s anti-Semitic sentiments as racist. His stated attitude towards anyone who identifies themselves as Jewish is one of antagonism. He attributes negative characteristics to a racial group as a whole. Not racist??
- “We do not believe that Gilad should be ‘banned’ from performing or speaking.”
This is an evasion. Nobody has suggested “banning” Atzmon from performing. The issue is whether self-proclaimed socialists should offer him a platform, which can only serve to discredit the left. One SWPer said this was opponents picking on the SWP. But shouldn’t the SWP have higher standards than commercial promoters?
- ”we [in no way] endorse all of Gilad’s views. We think that some of the formulations on his website might encourage his readers to feel that he is blurring the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.”
Another mealy-mouthed evasion. Which do the SWP endorse and which not? To be specific would undermine the contention that the SWP are not giving a platform to a racist. There is no clear condemnation of Atzmon’s views as anti-Semitic. Rather “formulations might encourage his readers to feel” he is “blurring a distinction”. Belief in a “World Jewish Conspiracy” apparently only blurs distinctions rather than being something to be specifically repudiated.
And what does the distinction consist of? For the SWP there is a continuum between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism in which it is possible to “blur the distinction”. This may reflect reality as there are doubtless many for whom “anti-Zionism” serves as disguise for an explicit anti-Jewish racism. For the SWP, it is enough to be pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli to “blur the distinction”. (At Marxism Atzmon is appearing as part of “An Evening Celebrating Palestinian Resistance”.)
- “‘No Platform’ is a principle that the left has always reserved for fascists and organised racists. Where other disagreements occur, the left, with the same vigour, has defended the right to freedom of speech, debate and the clash of ideas.”
The SWP' supposed commitment to free speech will appear odd to anyone of their many critics who have been prevented from speaking at SWP meetings. As will this definition of “No Platform”. In another irony the SWP have been advocates of the boycott of Israeli academics. While they are to be denied any links to their counterparts, even if they are advocates of Palestinian rights (as in the Mona Baker affair), it appears to be OK to give a platform to an “anti-Zionist” of Atzmon’s type.
What is left?
The evasiveness of the SWP statement makes explicit their refusal to confront Atzmon’s anti-Semitism. It speaks volumes about their politics and the state of the left today. Double standards abound. One cannot imagine these apologetics for other forms of racism. However for much of the left anti-Jewish racism is a lesser form somehow qualified by Israel’s war on the Palestinians.
There are reports that many SWP members were unhappy with the decision to give Atzmon a platform. Now, faced with their leadership’s rationalisations and refusal to reconsider, they should also question the politics that have got them to this point.