The Gilad Atzmon InterviewBy nessie - (Tuesday January 27, 2004 at 01:32 AM)
Israeli born musician Gilad Atzmon regards himself as a devoted political artist. He supports the liberation of the Palestinian people. In his writings on the issue, Gilad suggests a solution of one state for the many people based on equality and democracy. In his forthcoming album: 'Exile', Gilad & The Orient House Ensemble, the band tries to remove the unnecessary barriers between Jewish and Arabic cultures, and to emphasize the similarity between the two peoples that lived in perfect harmony for hundreds of years. The new album features the great Palestinian singer Reem Kelani and the world famous vocalist and aud player Dhafer Youssef.
nessie: Before we get into politics, tell us a little about yourself, your home town, and your family. When were you born?
Gilad: 1963, Israel, right wing family. I would even say "far right". My grandfather was a Commander in the Irgun (an anti-mandatory paramilitary fascist organization). My grandfather was a devoted Jabotinsky follower, and so was my mother as a juvenile (not anymore). I must admit that I, myself, enjoy reading Jabotinsky. Although I disagree with his racist orientation, I can still follow his logic, something that doesn't happen to me when I read the so-called "left" Zionists. As a young Israeli boy we joined one of those settlers' marches in the West Bank. It was then when both my parents and I started to realise that something about the Zionist adventure is "slightly immoral". Since then the more I learned about the conflict the more I >realised that I have very little to do with the Jewish state. In 1994 I moved to London. If anything, it was the Oslo "wet fantasy" that made me realise for the first time that peace with the Jewish state is impossible. It would never happen.
nessie: Would you ever go back?
Gilad: I don't have any plans to go Israel, neither to visit nor to live there. I would be delighted to come back to a civilized place. I assume that when that happens it won't be Israel anymore - probably democratic Palestine.
nessie: How would you be treated?
Gilad: As we learn from the news, yesterday an Israeli soldier opened fire on another Israeli while in a demonstration against the emerging wall. Identifying myself with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian struggle, I would expect to be treated as a Palestinian. It isn't an experience one would look for.
nessie: What brought you to London?
Gilad: I moved to London to attend postgraduate studies in Philosophy. After Oslo I realised that there is no home to go back to. I decided to become a self-imposed exile.
nessie: When are you going to play in San Francisco?
Gilad: Good question! Our music is available in America, and my book is available in America. I am not so sure whether America is available in America (at the moment). I assume that sooner or later we'll come for a tour. We get more and more invitations. I make my living playing Afro American music. I will have to come one day.
nessie: A lot of people seem to hate you and everyone like you. We get threats just for publicizing you.
Gilad: It is strange that you say that a lot of people hate me. As you might know we are playing all over the world. Here in the UK we won the BBC Jazz Awards for the best Jazz album. This category was voted by the British public. Yesterday I won another two Jazz Awards (again voted by the public). We are playing night after night in sold out clubs and concert halls. I am fully familiar with the fact that some Zionists do not like me, and they manage to be pretty vocal about it. We have to remember that hatred is fundamental to Zionist thought and to Zionist people. First they hated the European Gentiles, then it was the Assimilated Jews, then the Arabs, and now it's me. This is exactly what I am saying about Zionists. They need to hate, but more than anything else they need to be hated. I want to believe that if they hate me so much, they must have a good reason. I play with the idea that I probably say something they really do not like to hear. But, again, I might be completely wrong. It is very possible that they hate me just because hate is the name of their game. Talking about 'hate', I am pretty sure that the most vicious weapon against Zionists is just to love them with all your heart. I've tried it myself. It isn't easy at all, but it works.
nessie: How has playing music shaped your view of humanity?
Gilad: Generally speaking, I am fascinated by German philosophy and especially by E. Kant. Being an artist, I am searching for aesthetic meaning. I would say that it is the artist's job to present an alternative world view, an alternative reality or vision. Being an artist, I try to deal with different hot topics within an aesthetic framework. As one would guess, I do believe (like many other people) that the real "axis of evil" is the BBS (Bush, Blair, and Sharon); hence, it is my personal duty to overwhelm their destructive impetus with aesthetic statements. It probably sounds pathetic or even pretentious, but I am truly convinced that it is Picasso (Guernica) and Erich Paul Remark who tell us what war is all about. They portray a far better image than million real-time TV snaps of blood and human corpses. I would argue that the conflict between beauty and BBS expansionist ugliness is the battle I would like to maintain. Not to win - it is impossible to win - just to maintain. Just to survive this battle is a great victory.
nessie: How did you come to decide to speak out with words as well as with music?
Gilad: Never decided. It just happened. I wrote my book as a joke. Never thought to publish it. I didn't dare, thinking that anyone would find it interesting enough. I found it six years later by a complete coincidence. I thought that it was interesting enough. I sent it to a publisher. He loved it and published it. It got translated and published in quite a few languages. Since than I am a writer 'til further notice.
nessie: Since someone posted an excerpt from one of your essays here, you've come in for a lot of abuse. So have we, just for having you here. They call us names. They call me names. They even call my mother names. I shrug it off. What do you have to say to people who call you a "self-hating Jew", or a "pawn of the anti-Semites", or an "anti-Semite" yourself?
Gilad: Naming is very crucial in Jewish thought. God is called "A-Shem" in Hebrew which means "The Name". The Jewish circumcision ceremony is named in Hebrew "Brit Mila" which means "a covenant with the word". Jews, along their long history, have had very many names for their many many enemies only because their enemies define their segregated identity. In biblical times it was "Amalek", then the "Philistines", then the indigenous habitants of Canaan, then it was "Jesus" and his followers , then "Christianity". Then the Zionists came and improved the model. First it was the "Assimilated Jew", then the "Palestinians", then the "Arabs", then "Rabin", then the "European Union", then "SF Indymedia", then you, and now it's "Gilad", a jazz player from London, the "self-hating Jew", the "pawn of the anti-Semites". I say names, names, and names!
I read your site and follow the Zionist verbal abuse. It is clear that those Zionists, who stand behind those provocations, enjoy the public contempt they manage to generate. They enjoy being ugly. We have to remember that the Zionist identity is defined by negative dialectic, by its opposition. In a way, both you and I are supporting some mentally psychotic creatures. We just have to remember that the brothers of those psychotic people are living in Palestine. They are fueled by very similar energies, and they turn the Middle East into a ticking bomb. They have hundreds of nuclear bombs, and they put our planet at a severe risk.
nessie: Your disparagers around here can't seem to decide whether you are a "self-hating" Jew, or even a Jew at all. What's wrong with these people?
Gilad: Judaism is all about differentiation (avdala). Differentiation between the sacred (Sabbath) and the "everyday", between the Jew and the Goy (Gentile), between the chosen and the inferior, between dairy products and meat ones, between Kosher and non-Kosher, and so on. In order to allow the Jew to cope with his self-imposed strange reality of segregation and prohibitions, every aspect in the Jewish daily life is supported by the Talmudic "grand theory". Rabbinical Judaism is a system of laws that create a form of correspondence between prohibitions and dated explanations, explanations that are far too short to satisfy any rational mind. (J. Lacan would say that it is the lack of satisfying explanation which portrays the depth of genuine religious conviction.)
Zionism, a secular movement, adopted this very rabbinical method. When it gets to criticism it would be categorically classified as anti-Semitism (as if anti-Semitism is a form of explanation). The Zionist would argue that all Gentiles are anti-Semites. It makes life very simple unless you really need the support of the Gentile. (For instance, when the Israeli needs the American aid, then the Americans stop being anti-Semites and become good Gentiles, at least temporarily.)
When it comes to criticism raised by a "Jew," Zionists get into a real problem. Because Zionism is supposed to be the "final solution" for all Jews, wherever they are, any criticism made by a Jew must be eradicated.
As you, yourself, noticed, one popular way is to define the critical "brother" as a "self hating" Jew. The other method is to declare that the critical voice isn't actually a Jew or even not a Jew anymore. The later is obvious. If one isn't a Jew, he must be a Gentile; hence, an anti-Semite. No more explanation needed!
The former is more interesting because "self-hating" is basically a form of psychotic mode. The Zionists actually admit that something went wrong in the process of Jewish reproduction. A member of the community "lost his mind". First, it saved the Zionists, themselves, from taking any criticism from a "mad man". Second, it warns the rest of the world not to take the criticism seriously, the man is apparently "mad".
For many years this doctrine was pretty effective. Jewish anti-Zionists calls were successfully muted by the Zionist lobbies, but apparently this doctrine isn't effective anymore. The western world and Europe, especially, are far too tired of the Zionist victim blackmail. With Israeli atrocities on the TV screen night after night, people start to realize that the "mad," "self hating Jew" might have something crucial to say. We better listen to him.
Haaretz published today that "nearly one in five Britons would oppose having a Jew as Prime Minister, and one in seven believes the scale of the Holocaust is exaggerated" (haaretzdaily.com 24.1.2004). The Zionist conspiracy to control world opinion is proved to be counter-effective. The British people start to show some real signs of severe fatigue. The French and the Germans are already really tired. If anything, the world is awaiting for the "self hating" Jews to open their mouth. Uri Avinery, Gideon Levi and Amira Hess are far more popular in SF-IMC than in Tel Aviv.
When it comes to me, my racial identity isn't something I would like to share with the world. I have never spoken as a Jew or in the name of any Jewish people. I do not think it gives me any credentials. In the doomed reality created by Israel, being a Jew becomes something to hide rather than being proud of. I speak on behalf of myself. I speak as someone who was born in Israel and escaped as soon as he realised what being an Israeli is involved with. I wouldn't say that I hate myself, but I would admit that I find it very difficult to "love" those who claim to be my brothers. I would confess that I find some great wisdom in Judaism but, at the same time, I have some serious problems with the symptoms of Jewish identity.
nessie: Since, by definition, a Zionist is anyone who supports the State of Israel, the majority of Zionists are not only not Israelis, they're not even Jewish. The majority of Israel's supporters are at least nominal Christians. Some are very devout Christians, who support the State of Israel for religious reasons. What do you have to say to Christian Zionists?
Gilad: Sorry. It isn't as simple as you present it. First we have to ask ourselves again what Zionism is all about.
Zionism is the belief that Jewish people have the right to have a land and this land is in Zion (Palestine). I do not have a problem with the idea of Jewish people having a land, but I do have a big problem with the idea of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. I do have a problem with the idea of an apartheid racist regime. I do have a problem with the idea of confiscation of lands. Palestine is not free!! It is highly populated with Palestinians. If Jews want to live in Palestine, they must respect the Palestinian indigenous population and to welcome the millions of Palestinians who were dispossessed in 1948 and later.
Now to the other part of your question. For me the question whether the supporter of Zionism is a Jew, Christian, Buddha, or even Muslim is completely irrelevant. We are talking here about basic and simple understanding of the notion of human rights, something all Zionists prefer to ignore.
nessie: The real anti-Semites say that America is Israel's puppet, that we are ruled by "ZOG," the "Zionist Occupation Government." I say it's the other way around, that Israel is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Anglo-American neo-colonial empire. It is, in effect, an unsinkable American aircraft carrier, one that differs from the carriers at sea only in that it uses Israeli women and children for human shields. What do you say?
Gilad: (a.) I do not agree that anti-Semitism exists, and the kind of argument you, yourself, present is a perfectly legitimate political argument whether we agree with it or not.
(b.) The unsinkable qualities of Israel are very much in doubt. Personally I think Israel is sinking by the minute.
(c.) And now to your question. I think that originally Israel was there to support western colonialism (Balfour Declaration, etc.). It didn't stop there. American administrations realised in the late '70s and '80s that the only real danger to western globalization is Arab opposition and Islamic resistance. Israel was there to maintain a continuous conflict in the region. The Americans got involved in the peace process, not in order to push for peace, but rather to maintain the conflict forever. So, in a sense, at least historically, you are right. Israel was there to serve American interests, but things have changed. In the last ten years we face a shift in the balance of power. The new bond between Zionists, Republican, and right-wing Christian groups introduced a completely new phase in the American-Israeli relationship. I think that American people would do themselves a great favour if they start to scrutinise the acts of their government. Americans should ask themselves whether it is American interests that are looked after or rather Israeli ones.
The war in Iraq is a good place to start such an intellectual exercise.
nessie: While I find political Zionism to be repugnant for all the same reasons I find Nazism repugnant, I have no quarrel with spiritual Zionism. I think that reverence for land, and the respect for life that goes with it, is a good thing - a very good thing. All too many people look beneath their feet and see, not our Mother, giver of all life, but a convenient place to spit, and, when the occasion arises, soak with innocent blood. Am I being unrealistic about the role of spiritual Zionism in Israel and the world today?
Gilad: I don't know what "spiritual Zionism" is. I think it is a myth. I grew up on that myth. Being an old boy I realise now that those "leftists" who taught us to "love the land" and to "respect the Other" were actually those who committed the worst atrocities against the Palestinian people (just to mention Ben-Gurion, Peres, and Rabin). The vast majority of Israeli Kibbutzim are located on Palestinian confiscated lands.
nessie: I reject the "invader" analysis of aliens. I don't believe in borders. People have a right to live wherever they can make themselves welcome. Jews have a right to live in the Land With Two Names in peace, unmolested by their neighbors. They just don't have the right to lord it over others. That's how I feel. As someone more familiar with the facts on the ground, tell me. Am I being unrealistic to believe this is possible?
Gilad: I don't know. Obviously I agree with you totally about the right of people to live wherever they want, but, again, whether the Zionist identity can encompass any form of peaceful thinking is a crucial question. Do you really think that those zealot Zionists, who visit your site and try to tell you things about your mother, can live in peace anywhere? Do you, yourself, want to live in peace with them? Do you realise what form of abuse those people perform when they are given a Uzi sub machine gun and let free on Palestinian lands?
I honestly do not think that peace with the Israeli identity is possible, but, at the same time, we have to remember that Israeli identity is very young. Many Jews decided to reject Zionism. Many Jews have thought that emancipation is a great opportunity to transform themselves into something else. I want to believe that such a process can take place in Palestine. I want to believe that one day the Palestinian Jews will understand that "loving their neighbours" is the ONLY way forward.
nessie: To judge by the way Zionists behave on SF-IMC, one could easily come to believe that the essence of the Zionist way is to lie, forge, and barge in by force where they are not wanted. Is this a reasonable analysis, or does it only apply to this one batch of computer nerds?
Gilad: Zionism, as we all know, is deeply rooted in some serious lies, but this isn't very particular to Zionism. For instance, isn't "war against terror" a big lie? Isn't "American democracy" a big similar lie? Wasn't "weapons of mass destruction" a big, pathetic lie? When one is involved with vicious immoral acts, one usually prefers to lie to oneself as well as the other. It is more likely that soon after, one would start to take one's lies seriously as if they are factually true. This mode of behaviour is symptomatic in contemporary English-speaking cultures. It is the norm of Zionism since the Nakba (the expulsion of the Palestinian in 1948). I try to tell the American and the British people - look at Israel! If you don't stop now, you'll soon look like the Israelis. Nothing to wish for!
nessie: Jews, like all peoples, are a mixed bunch. Some are righteous, some are evil, and most are in between. As an anarchist, I have a special place in my heart for anarchist Jews. Without the contribution of Jews, anarchism, as we know it today, is barely conceivable.
Do you have any advice for modern anarchist Jews?
Gilad: First, I am afraid to tell you that you are wrong when saying that "Jews, like all peoples". Far too many Jews regard themselves as "chosen" people. If you are chosen, you aren't like "all peoples". You are "far better". This very perception of being chosen is actually a distortion of the biblical lesson (largely adopted by Zionists). According to the Bible, Jews are chosen to carry God's moral teaching. Few Orthodox Jewish groups, mostly non-Zionist ones, do realise the wrong interpretation of the idea of being chosen. For them being chosen is a heavy moral burden. As we know some Orthodox Jewish groups support the Palestinian struggle. Likewise, Assimilated Jews naturally detach themselves from any perception of chosen-ness. They prefer to join the human family and to adopt universal perception of humanism. I would say that any Jewish involvement in world affairs, whether anarchistic or within the boundaries of law, should avoid any sense of chosen-ness. When it comes to different world affairs, one should act as a human being rather than as a Jew. Belief should be a personal and intimate matter.
nessie: A guy once said that art is not a mirror held up to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it. What advice do you have for anti-Zionist artists, especially Jewish anti-Zionist artists, like my friend, Susan Greene?
Gilad: I don't know what "anti-Zionist artist" means, but I do know what "art" means, and I know what anti-Zionism is referring to. Personally, I am a devoted anti-Zionist, and being an artist, my art reflects my views. I agree that art should shape reality. It is down to the artist to criticise and to suggest alternative perception of reality. It is down to the artist to expose the existential hidden layers of Being. Nowadays, in the age of vast consumerism, when art and artists are entirely controlled by industrial "cultural" monopolies (corporate and governmental), this very artistic approach is almost impossible. Artists are now demanded to produce fashionable "artifact" which conforms with market value system. Beauty isn't relevant anymore. We don't have John Coltranes but rather Norah Jones and Kenny G.
For me being an artist is a war, a war against every convention, against any possible symbolic order, against any given syntax.
Like before, the Jewish issue is completely irrelevant for me.
nessie: Can you recommend any good reading for those of us who wish to educate ourselves about what is really happening in Palestine/Israel?
Original Sin - Benjamin Beit Hallahmi
51 Documents-Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis - Lenni Brenner
Jewish History, Jewish Religion - Israel Shahak
Palestine/Israel: Peace or Apartheid - Marwan Bishara
Strangers in the House - Raja Shehadeh
The Holocaust Industry - Norman G. Finkelstein
nessie: Despite all the slander and vitriol that has been directed at you on this site, many of our other readers would very much like to experience your own art. How can they do that?
Gilad: My Latest album "Exile" (Enja, Just in time) and my book, "Guide to the Perplexed" (Serpent's Tail) are available in America both "on line" and in shops.
Another option is to get it via my site: http://www.gilad.co.uk/.
nessie: Thank you, Gilad. We hope to hear from you again soon.