A Review of "The Who"
by Stanley Heller
I have been repelled by Gilad Atzmon's writings over the years so I had no intention of reading his book, "The Wondering Who", but as a number of prominent human rights activists mysteriously have given the book praise I felt it has to be given a careful refutation.
How it could be treated seriously is beyond me. One chapter is particularly rancid. It's Chapter 11 "Sex and Anti-Semitism". He starts it with this sentence: "For the last decade I have been drawing many of my insights from a man who has been totally eradicated from Western academic and scholarly discourse." The man is named Otto Weininger 1880-1903. According to Atzmon, Wittgenstein, Heidegger and Freud were interested in his ideas. And another, "Even Hitler supposedly mentioned him, admitting: 'There was one decent Jew, and he killed himself.'" Huh? The ultimate beast, Adolph Hitler, likes Weininger and that's a testament to his significance?
In the first few paragraphs Atzmon writes "Weininger was an anti-Semite as well as a radical misogynist." In the conclusion of the chapter he writes, "Otto Weininger was just twenty-three when he committed suicide. One may wonder how he knew so much about women. Why did he hate them so? How did he know so much about Jews, and why did he hate them so?" (p.95)
Atzmon's insights come from a Jew hater and a woman hater and we're supposed to take him seriously? Sure Hitler liked Weininger. Pathetic Weininger worshiped the Aryan ideal. Take Weininger or Atzmon seriously? Ridiculous. After Atzmon finished his book tour I expected him to announce that his writings were all a joke done to see how many people he could take in. He would smirk and point out the cues to his scam all sprinkled throughout the book.
But apparently that didn't happen so I held my nose and forced myself to read the whole book. I did it as a public service so you don't have to.
It is very important to do so. Atzmon is a perfect useful idiot for Zionists who claim that the Palestinian rights and liberation movement is all based in hatred of Jews. We have to be very clear about the chasm between us.
In his first chapter Atzmon tell us that his grandfather was a "terrorist", a former Irgun commander. (p.1) He hated the Germans, the British and didn't like the Palestinians for living in "his" land. "More than anything, though, my grandfather hated Jewish leftists." (p.1) (As we shall see later the grandson does, too.) Atzmon says it's because his grandfather didn't want any kind of humanism or universalism to taint his tribalism.
20 Years of Missing Activism
In the forward Atzmon tells his own story. He was gung-ho as a youth, but discovered jazz (the only interesting part of the book) and his military ardor dampened. He was drafted in to the Israeli military in 1981 and served until 1984. He was a soldier during Israel's horrific invasion of Lebanon (20,000 or so killed in the attack) in 1982 though he doesn't talk in the book about where he was. At some point he joined the Israeli Air Force Orchestra. In 1984 the orchestra went on tour in Lebanon and at one point he saw the infamous Ansar prison in south Lebanon. That changed him. The conditions were awful, yet the Palestinian prisoners were angry. The place was a concentration camp. "The inmates were the 'Jews', and I was nothing but a 'Nazi' " (p. 6)
Fine observation. But what did Atzmon do? When he gets out of the military he goes to Europe for a few months and comes back to Israel for ten years. When does he make his first public criticism of Israel? Hard to tell. My guess is in 2001 inside of a novel he wrote called "A Guide to the Perplexed".
Compare his record to some Jewish leftists, Israeli citizens who openly demonstrated inside Israel at the start of the '82 invasion, who were spit upon and they marched in the street. Or compare his military service to the soldiers who refused to go to Lebanon and formed Yesh Gvul ( "There is a Limit"). Did he even take part in the leftist rally in Israeli of 300,000 to 400,000 expressed horror over the Sabra Shatilla massacre of September 1982?
His Big Discovery "Jewish-ness"
In Chapter 1 he explains his big discovery, "Israel and Zionism were just parts of the wider Jewish problem". Now he goes to great pains as saying he doesn't have problems with the Jewish religion, nor does he consider Jews a "race". He says there are three categories of Jews, the first who are religious, the second " Those who regard themselves as human beings that happen to be of Jewish origin." (p.16) For him the problem is from Jews in a third category, "those who put their Jewish-ness over and above all of their other traits."
Well, what is "Jewishness"? Atzmon doesn't go into that for another dozen chapters. Instead in this chapter he quotes Chaim Weizmann, first president of Israel saying there are no German, or American Jews, just Jews who live in those countries. OK, this is classic Zionist thinking. It's also Orthodox Judaism as far as I can tell, the notion that Jews are a people apart who mystically all chose to take on the full set of God's commandments (not just the lite version given to Noah).
What's the big revelation here? Jews have seen themselves as a people apart for millennia; their religion was all consuming, even totalitarian until the Enlightenment. The Reform movement tried to reinvent Judaism. Its followers were just citizens like anyone else with their own set of spiritual beliefs. Other Jews became atheists, dropping the spiritual notions altogether. Then along comes Hitler who tries to wipe out the "race" of Jews. So Jews, even atheists, humanists and Buddhists are forced to remember that they are Jews. Something wrong with that?
But Atzmon makes of this a big deal saying that third category Jews are all sayanim. A sayan he says is one who would "betray the nation of which he is a citizen out of devotion to a notion of a clannish brotherhood." Well, certainly there have been some examples like Jonathan Pollard, who out of fanatical Zionism gave away U.S. state secrets, but most Zionists work for Israel knowing full well that their own governments want it. Only a handful would defy their governments let along break the law on behalf of Israel.
"I call it third category brotherhood and Weizmann calls it Zionism. But it all means the same thing…" So it's Zionism with a clunky new name. Then why claim it's a bigger, darker, age old tribal conspiracy? Then he makes a leap. "Apparently, Zionism is not about Israel…there is no geographic centre to the Zionist endeavor" What? Where does this come from? Israel certainly, obviously, most assuredly is the center of Zionist interests. Atzmon claims, "Zionism is not a colonial movement with an interest in Palestine, as some scholars suggest. Zionism is actually a global movement that is fuelled by a unique tribal solidarity of third category members." . Not a colonial movement? Didn't the British conquer the whole area and help the Zionist movement for decades. Doesn't Israel regard the Palestinian "natives", as others to be exploited if docile and repressed if rebellious? And what is the goal of the "global movement" if not Israel? The Nazis goal was "world domination". What about the goal of the "global movement"? We don't learn it. Atzmon moves on and says there is no leader for this movement. It's an "organism". Palestinians are just one of the victims. Iraqis are too, victims of "third category infiltrators within British and American administrations" p.21
And then we're off to understand the Great Recession.
How America Became "Enslaved"
He blames it on two Jews.
He starts with the notion that neo-conservatives led by Paul Wolfowitz took over U.S. policy for the sake of the Third Category global movement. He asks, "How did America allow itself be enslaved by ideologies inherently associated with foreign interests?" So, American governments were pure as the driven snow. It had never occurred to them to use force around the world to seize resources and bases until Wolfowitz enslaved them. Vietnam, Chile, Guatemala all never happened. Imperialism is a foreign ideology forced on Washington.
But Atzmon tells us Wolfowitz was a failure and we needed a diversion.
Enter Allan Greenspan.
First an introduction, "Throughout the centuries, some Jewish bankers have gathered the reputation of backers and financers of wars and even one communist revolution." (p.27)
But Greenspan is different. "Alan Greenspan provided his president with an astonishing economic boom. It seems that the prosperous conditions at home divert the attention from the disastrous war in Iraq. (p. 27)
Greenspan "knew what he was doing", using excessive deregulation in creating a housing boom, so President Bush could continue the "Wolfowitz doctrine". All this for the sake of the global movement. "But somehow, the Jewish state is always set to benefit." (p. 30)
In the end Atzmon says it all collapsed into a "credit crunch". "It isn't a plot and certainly not a conspiracy"…It was an accident (p. 30) It was a Zio-punch, a plan for Middle East conquest that went bad.
This chapter is pitiful and truly anti-Semitic. Sure the neo-conservatives had power and they hooked up with the Christian Zionists and the war industrialists and the Pentagon and made war. They were just one of the criminal forces, not the puppet master behind everything. And saying that neo-liberal economics is just a diversion so the "global movement" could make war is laughable. Getting rid of regulation and taxes is at the core of what the corporate class wants. It's not some diversion.
The Global War on Terror and the Great Recession all were engineered by two Jews in thrall to the "Global Movement"? Give me a break!
Jewish-ness and Matza Balls
With blame for the Great Recession assigned Atzmon goes into a long tedious chapter full of philosophical jargon. What we learn are Jews are "marginal" and the "third category Jews" make sure to remind Jews they can never really assimilate or fit it and that these types are glad for acts of anti-Semitism because it keeps the clan in line. Well, we know the type. Nothing new here.
But he goes further: "Zionists created an image of emerging anti-Semitism" in 19th century Europe. Anti-semitism in Europe was only an "image"? What about the pogroms in Russia and mobs howling against Jews in France. No, according to Atzmon "a myth of persistent persecution was needed."
In the sixth chapter Atzmon opens attack on the Jewish Left. He noticed in 2005 that all the "primarily Jewish groups" "hated" him. It's because, he says, he discovered "Jewish political identity". The more secular Jews hate him, he says, because he exposed the fact that tribalists (anyone who says they are Jews in any way) can't be followers of any "universalist humanist" set of ideas. (p.55)
He says outside of the Jewish religion there's not much to being a Jew. "Jewish-ness is a template of negation fuelled by racial orientation and spiced up with some light cultural references such as matza balls and chicken soup."
And then he says the same thing in a whole chapter "Dialectic of Negation". Of some interests is a collection of ugly Zionist quotes disparaging Jews in the Diaspora, statements saying they cannot be a complete human being, for example: " The Jew is a caricature of a normal, natural human being, both physically and spiritually." (from a Hashmir Hatzir pamphlet) (p.58)
Early Zionist critiques of the "diaspora Jews" indeed sound much like what the anti-Semites were saying. But this has been said before and better.
Zionism's Goal Revealed
As I pointed out Atzmon said that Israel isn't the main goal of Zionism. I'm expecting him to say the real goal is Patagonia or Kenya, but in chapter 8 he tells us "Zionism can be interpreted as a Jewish global movement that has as its aim the prevention of assimilation." (p.70) That's it? That's all? Zionists just want Jews to stay Jews like rabbis have demanded through the ages? That's the secret plan? What a letdown!
Most of the chapter is devoted to trashing one particular British couple Julia Bard and David Rosenberg who are part of a group called "British Jewish Socialists". Atzmon says "David and Julia do not belong to a synagogue, do not believe in God and are antagonistic towards Zionism." , but for Atzmon they are tribalists, part of the Jewish "tribal left".
They are passionately interested in Jewish history, follow certain Jewish religious customs and want to be part of the Jewish community. They have a love of Yiddish and Hebrew.
And their tribal sin is?
Maybe they like blintzes or maybe they like the pool at the Jewish Center. Maybe they don't like the idea that for 20 centuries people have looked down on Jews and have told them to carry a cross.
No, Atzmon says, despite being anti-Zionists in conduct they really are Zionists because they commit the sin of wanting a Jewish community to continue. "Julia Bard and Gold Meir are two sides of the same Zionist coin", he writes.
Only if they divorce themselves from being Jews in every conceivable religious, ethnic, or cultural way will Atzmon be satisfied. They must become like him, a "proud self-hating Jew". (p.73)
Let's consider that phrase for a moment. The term is a Zionist political term of abuse, not a psychological malady, (After all we don't hear about self-hating Norwegians or self-hating Venezuelans.) By calling himself a "self-hating Jew" Atzmon seems to be sticking it to the chauvinists. However, Atzmon is not a Jew religiously and is appalled by anyone who identifies as a Jew in any other sense. He describes himself as a Hebrew speaking Palestinian. (p.73) Well, if he's not a Jew, he's not self-hating. He's just a non-Jew who hates Jews, a very real psychological malady.
There's not a bit wrong with people using their ethnicity or religion in their political, human rights or charitable actions. There are plenty of Catholic, Muslim, Irish or whatever organizations. And in the case of Palestinians the existence of solidarity groups with the words "Jews for" in the title can be a big plus. It gives the lie to the Zionists who brand all solidarity work anti-Semitic.
Getting Insights from a Pathetic Bigot
You recall I talked about his "Sex and Anti-Semitism" chapter at the start of this piece. If you think I'm taking things out of context read the essay here on his website.
The stuff about Weininger on the site is nearly word for the word the same as the chapter in the book. Two changes though. In the talk he gave six years ago he said, "Let me assure you that I am not interested in Weininger's sexist and anti-Semitic tendencies. If anything, I find those two aspects of his writing rather entertaining" He left those sentences out of his book. The other change is that in the book he adds the sentence that many of his "insights" come from Weininger (that I quoted earlier). I think he's being very frank here. Weininger's ideas on Jews and women are not entertainment any more. They're the source of his inspiration.
What has any of this to do with Zionism? Atzmon writes that one of Weininger's big insights was that you hate in others things you don't like about yourself. The Nazis hated the Jews because the Jews were effeminate and materialistic, the very things the Nazi types hated about themselves. "I have to admit that my own personal war against Zionism and Jewish identity politics could be seen as a war I have declared against myself. Taking it a step further, we may all have to admit that fighting racism for real primarily entails opposing the racist within." (p. 95) Big of him.
And then Atzmon ends the chapter with the stuff about how much Weininger knew so much about Jews and women and the supposed rhetorical question, "Why did he hate them?"
Claims Jews are Robbers
Chapter 15 is entitled "Swindler's List". I thought with the wordplay on Schindler's List we'd see here all Atzmon's "doubts" about the Holocaust "narrative". But no, that comes later.
Atzmon starts the chapter by quoting some blood-thirsty verses from Deuteronomy and concludes "The never-ending theft of Palestine in the name of the Jewish people is part of a spiritual, ideological, cultural and practical continuum between the Bible, Zionist ideology and the State of Israel." (p. 121) Except that Judaism in its most "fundamentalist" form is not based on the literal Torah (five books of Moses). It's the Talmud, the rabbinical interpretations of the Bible that are definitive for Orthodox Jews, not the literal word of the Torah itself. Anyway Orthodox Jews are a minority of Jews around the world. Reform Jews highlight the generally humane Prophets not the Talmud and the Reform repudiate the cruel calls for genocide and such in Deuteronomy.
Atzmon refers to the late Israel Shahak in the book, but he doesn't understand him. Shahak was a Holocaust survivor, an Israeli human rights activist, an exposer of Israeli apartheid and a fierce critic of Orthodox rabbis, but he never thought that Jews, Judaism or "Jewish-ness" had some unchanging essence. All of it depended on history and social conditions for this or that Jewish community, class, etc.
Nevertheless, Atzmon says the "lethal spirit of the scriptures has infused the essence of modern Jewish political discourse." (p. 122) And it's all Jews he's talking about, not just the religious. Atzmon says the Jewish socialists of the Bund who were active in the Russian empire before the Holocaust were simply trying to carry out the Bible, stealing from a class rather than from native residents. "I realized vengeance toward an entire class of wealthy goyim is no more than an extension of God's exhortations via Moses in Deuteronomy." (p. 123)
Atzmon considers all Jews thieves. The religious Jews do it in the name of God. "The Israeli' robs in the name of 'home-coming', the progressive Jew in the name of 'Marx', and the moral interventionist murders in the name of 'democracy'." (p. 123)
I see grandpa coming to the fore again. Socialists just want to steal from those poor innocent billionaires who made their money "the old fashioned way", exploiting the hell out their employees.
Finally, he Defines "Jewish-ness"
If you recall Atzmon says he's not against Jews or the Jewish religion, just "Third Category Jews" who put their Jewish-ness first. Earlier he said "Jewishness" was "negation", but doesn't say much more.
Finally in chapter 18 he starts by talking at length about "Jewishness". What is it? Religion, ideology, state of mind or something else
After a slew of rhetorical questions Atzmon decides on an answer: Jewishness is the following of a new religion, the "Holocaust religion", whose central belief is that Jews suffered genocide and survived as a people and that because of what was done to them they can do anything they want.
"In the new religion, instead of old Jehovah, it is 'the Jew' whom the Jews worship: a brave and witty survivor of the ultimate genocide, who emerged from the ashes and stepped forward into a new beginning." (p. 149)
We learn, "This new Jewish religion preaches revenge. It could well be the most sinister religion known to man, for in the name of Jewish suffering, it issues licenses to kill, to flatten, to nuke, to annihilate, to loot, to ethnically cleanse. It has made vengeance into an acceptable Western value." (p. 149)
And for him any self-identifying Jew is part of the "religion". The new Jew, "redeems himself", not just Zionists, but Marxists and humanists, too.
Then he says the Holocaust religion isn't new at all. "I shall maintain that the Holocaust religion was well established a long time before the Final Solution (1942), well before Kristallnacht (1938), the Nuremberg Laws (1936) and even before Hitler was born (1889). The Holocaust religion is probably as old as the Jews themselves." (p. 153)
So for him Jewish-ness is as old as Jews themselves, a self-worshipping of each and every Jew and a license to kill.
What can you say about this sludge? His "third category Jews" are really not only all present day Jews, but all Jews throughout history.
And he can't understand why people don't like him?
Queen Esther and AIPAC
Chapter 19 is called "The Book of Esther" and here Atzmon discovers that AIPAC comes out of this story where Queen Esther (listening to advice of her uncle Mordechai) convinces her husband to spare the Jews under threat from a king's minister named Haman. The lesson he says: "If Jews want to survive, they had better infiltrate the corridors of power." (p. 158) And this is something insidious, something part of the Holocaust religion.
"To be a Jew is to see a threat in every Goy , to be on a constant alert. To internalise the message of the Book of Esther is to aim for the most influential centres of hegemony, to collaborate with power and bond with rulers." (p. 162) [Note once again he's talking about all Jews, no "third category" nonsense here.]
For an example he talks about the period of Nazi-Zionist collaboration in the '30's rediscovered in the '80's by historian Lenni Brenner. Atzmon talks about the delusions of the top German Rabbi (and Zionist leader) Joachim Prinz (who Brenner interviewed in the US). Prinz had thought the separation of Jews from German society was the answer to the Zionist dream. He tried his best to have German Jews fit into Nazi Germany while the future "Israel" was being built.
Brenner deemed the collaboration "treachery", but Atzmon says he misunderstood. "Prinz and the ZVfD were not traitors, they were genuine Jews, adhering to a very Jewish cultural code. They followed the Book of Esther, assuming the Mordechai role." (p.164)
"Be flexible, fit in and adopt relativistic thinking. Prinz, a devoted follower of Mordechai, realised that whatever is good for the Jews is simply good." (p.164)
What rubbish! Prinz and the Zionists weren't appealing to the good Persian king. They were making nice with "Haman" for the goal of building the future Jewish state . Making this deal with the devil was not "good for the Jews"
Yet for Atzmon Rabbi Prinz was just the following the eternal Jewish practice "lobbying" and Brenner is confused in not recognizing this.
What Happened to His Great-Grandmother
Chapter 21 is mistitled "Truth, History and Integrity". It should be titled "Flirting with Holocaust Denial"
His great-grandmother died during the war. (He doesn't use the word "killed".) "She probably perished of exhaustion, typhus or maybe even by mass shooting. This was indeed bad and tragic, but not that different from the fate of many millions of Ukrainians, on learning the real meaning of communism. The fate of my great-grandmother was not so different from hundreds of thousands of German civilians who died in deliberate, indiscriminate bombing, just because they were Germans." (p. 175)
Atzmon talks the language of the genocide deniers. "A lot of people died" "Maybe it was disease" "Not different from what happened to Germans". No mention of the efficient use of modern industry and science to wipe out millions.
A few paragraphs later he writes, "65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz we should be able to ask - why? Why were the Jews hated? Why did European people stand up against their neighbours? Why are the Jews hated in the Middle East …"
Disgusting! It was the "Europeans" who turned on the Jews (rather than a fanatic anti-Semitic minority). And we have to ask why the Jews were hated (as if this hasn't be exhaustively explained) and then immediately "Why are the Jews hated in the Middle East…" implying the reasons are the same and that it was Jewish bad behavior in Europe that brought on the hatred.
(For a selection of some more quotes of Atzmon doubting aspects of the Holocaust click here for some things posted on his website.)
And the Topper
In chapter 21 "Being in Time" he writes a bunch of philosophical mumbo jumbo which all comes down to saying Israelis don't think about the long term consequences of what they are doing. He talks about Israeli threats against Iran and writes these sentences,
"We, for instance, can envisage an horrific situation in which an Israeli so-called 'pre-emptive' nuclear attack on Iran escalates into a disastrous nuclear war, in which tens of millions of people perish. I guess that amongst the survivors of such a nightmare scenario, some may be bold enough to argue that 'Hitler might have been right after all.' "(p. 179)
Atzmon is saying under certain circumstances it would be "bold", that is correct, to argue that Hitler was right in thinking that Jews should be exterminated because they were inherently evil.
No, Mr. Atzmon it would not. In the case of that nightmare scenario it would be correct to conclude that a vile nationalism had brought on a unspeakable catastrophe and crime. Your formulation is appalling.
What's Atzmon conclusion? He has supposedly identified this nightmarish "Jewish-ness" this "Holocaust religion", this "license to kill" that afflicts every Jew who identifies as a Jew. He sees it as the source of all the (very real) atrocities done to Palestinians.
So what should be done? In the very last paragraph he writes,
"My answer is simple: for Jewish ideology to universalise itself and for Jews to move on and emancipate themselves, a vigorous and honest process of self-reflection must take place" (p. 189)
From the mountain of denunciation comes only this molehill of cure. Jews should meditate about themselves. That will do the trick. No boycotts. No divestment. No cut off in aid. No UN sanctions. Nothing stronger than some good self-reflection. Atzmon could find a home for himself in J-Street.
My advice is for the political writers like Falk and Mearsheimer and others who wrote positive blubs for the "The Wondering Who" to take another look. Go beyond the denunciation of Israeli actions and see the very real hatred of all Jews that this ex-Israeli, ex-Jew is spouting.
My advice for Palestinian rights activists? Keep far, far away from Gilad Atzmon.