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Gilad Atzmon: The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics
Zero Books (2011).
Book review by Elias Davidsson, November 14, 2011

(Note: The numbers within parenthesis refer to the page numbers in the author’s book. The numbers within brackets refer to endnotes below)

Atzmon is an Israeli musician, author and political activist who lives in London. In his book he traces his own development from a young, rather typical Israeli, brought up in a fiercely nationalist and chauvinist family, to become a staunch opponent of Zionism and of the State of Israel. But his book is far more than a personal story. It is an attempt to understand what motivates secular people of Jewish background to continue to identify themselves as Jews. It is also an attempt to demonstrate the harmful consequences of Jewish identity, particularly when this is not based on Jewish religion.

While referring at various points to Israeli gross violations of human rights and international law, as well as to the Nakba of 1948, such facts merely represent part of the background of his canvas. His focus, as the title promises, is a study of Jewish identity, or as he writes, of Jewish-ness. For the author, much of Israeli (mis)conduct can be traced to such identity politics.

At the outset, the author makes sure to let the reader know about his qualities, such as courage (“In the military orchestra I learned for the first time how to be subversive, how to sabotage the system in order to strive for a personal ideal”, (5)), fame (“(…) this was the beginning of my international career as a jazz musician. Within a year I had become very popular in the UK.” (8)), erudition (“Zola, according to Weininger, would recognise the murderous impulse better than the murderer himself, rather than merely being subject to it”, (93)) and humour (“At a certain stage, around 2005, I thought to myself that I might be King of the Jews. I have achieved the inachievable, accomplished the impossible. I have managed to unite them all: Right, Left and Centre....They all hated Gilad Atzmon equally.” (54)).

His analysis of Jewish identity politics includes some good bits, but cannot by any means be regarded as a comprehensive treatise on the subject. Far more, it is a personal and highly selective treatment of the subject, an approach in which the author highlights particular elements and omits others. Admittedly, the author does not claim to have written a scholarly treatise. If his book were limited to the analysis of Jewish identity politics, it might have had some merit, at least as a contribution to the debate. But the author lacks the humility of a scholar, who limits himself to what he knows well. Atzmon makes numerous peremptory declarations in various fields, including history, economics, international relations, human rights and psychology, without a shred of evidence. If this were his only vice, one could dismiss the author as a fool. His pronouncements are not, however, haphazard: They sustain a specific, undisclosed, agenda that can only inferred from his book. As we go along, his agenda might reveal itself.

At the most superficial level, the author is clearly opposing Zionism. So far, so good. The zeal of the author to combat Zionism and what he regards as a nefarious form of Jewish identity, leads him to toy with murky fields of inquiry, which are not rigorously examined. These excursions appear at first superfluous add-ons to his subject-matter. The innocent reader might wonder, for example, why the author is devoting space to examine the credit crunch in the United States in a book on Jewish identity politics. We will come to that.

One of the door-openers to the world-view of the author is found here:

“It is more than likely that ‘Jews’ do not have a centre or headquarters. It is more than likely that they aren’t aware of their particular role within the entire system, the way an organ is not aware of its role within the complexity of the organism....This is probably the Zionist movement’s greatest strength. It transformed the Jewish tribal mode into a collective functioning system. Looking at Zionism as an organismus (sic) would lead to a major shift in our perspective of current world affairs.”(21) Adolf Hitler, incidentally, also used the term organismus in Mein Kampf to describe the organic nature of a human society as distinct from an organisation evolving from human agency.[1] Borrowing again from Hitler, who talked about Jews’ intent to “enslave” the German nation[2], the author asks in all innocence: “How did America allow itself be enslaved by ideologies inherently associated with foreign [Zionist] interests”? (26 - emphasis added). The author repeatedly borrows Nazi terminology, as can also be ascertained by his numerous writings.

His idea of a Zionist organismus or network appears widely throughout the book. Here another example: “Within the Zionist network there is no need for a lucid system of hegemony. In such a network, each element is complying with its role. And indeed the success of Zionism is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” (69)

The author reveals his desperate efforts to demonstrate the existence of such organismus and its responsibility for the initiation of wars of aggression when he selects three leading American Jews, Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby and Alan Greenspan, to represent, as it were, this “collective functioning system”, or as he prefers to call it “third category brotherhood”, an expression that he equates with “racial solidarity” and with “Zionism” (21).

The Wolfowitz Doctrine is the name of a 46-page policy document drafted by Paul Wolfowitz and issued by the U.S. Department of Defense under the authority of Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney in 1992. This document asserts that “America’s political and military mission in the post-cold-war era will be to ensure that no rival superpower is allowed to emerge in Western Europe, Asia or the territories of the former Soviet Union.” The document does not directly address Israeli interests. According to the author, Wolfowitz, by drafting this document, “laid out the strategy for merging American and global Zionist interests into a unified practice.” (23) The author does not provide evidence that this document attempted to "merge" American and Zionist interests. But the expression “global Zionist interests”, introduced at this juncture by the author, is remarkable, both in term of its historical connotations and because the author fails to describe what these "global" interests consist of. Does the author, using a euphemism, refers to a Jewish quest for global domination? We are left guessing.

Ascribing perfidy to Wolfowitz and his friends, the Iraqis are described by the author “as the victims of those third category infiltrators within British and American administrations” (emphasis added). The Bush administration is said to have “complied” with PNAC’s political philosophy (25), implying that Wolfowitz had a power to coerce the Bush administration, which duly “complied”. One is made to understand that the former two individuals are part of a group of Zionist infiltrators who are responsible for the Iraq war: “They planned to rob the Arab oil and to simultaneously ‘secure’ their beloved Jewish state.”(26) The author claims that “people like Wolfowitz and Perle dragged America and Britain into a futile criminal war in Iraq in the name of “moral interventionism”, “democracy” and “liberation” (64). Yet, the main justification by the Bush administration for this war was the alleged threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and not the human rights of the Iraqi population. Humanitarian intervention was, however, invoked for the US-NATO wars against ex-Yugoslavia and Libya. The author, surprisingly, does not mention these wars. Is it because he could find no Zionist motive for these wars? The author equally omits references to the war against Afghanistan, where no Jewish or Zionist interests could be adduced. It is by such omissions that the author constructs the idea of Zionist-inspired US policies.

The author wishes to convince the reader that the two aforementioned Zionist infiltrators convinced or even coerced the Bush administration and the U.S. military, to attack and occupy Iraq. Indeed, the author asks in what appears as contrived innocence: “How is it that America failed to restrain its Wolfowitzes? How is it that America let its foreign policy be shaped by some ruthless Zio-driven think tanks?” But the author does not provide an answer. For, had he attempted to answer the question, he would have had to inquire why the numerous American billionaires and board members of the largest US corporations, including Boeing, Enron, Halliburton, and IBM, did not oppose this alleged Zionist perfidy, if the Zionist plans were contrary to their interests. The inference left unexpressed by the author is, that absent Zionist infiltration, the US plutocracy would not have attacked Iraq (or Panama, or Grenada, or Afghanistan, or Libya) and that US imperialism is actually a Zionist enterprise. The author evidently does not spell such absurd theory, but his selective facts leave no other conclusion possible.

A similar, yet somehow less successful effort, is undertaken by the author to link another American Jew to a plan intended to defraud the American people, namely Alan Greenspan, at the time head of the Federal Reserve Bank. The author suggests - without actually referring to any hard facts - that Greenspan's monetary policies were based on his Jewish (or Zionist) identity, with the aim to assist the State of Israel. In order to emotionally prepare the reader for such insinuations, the author begins by mentioning, just in passing, that Jewish bankers have a “reputation” as “backers and financiers of wars and even [of] one communist revolution.”This casual remark is obviously intended to suggest that Alan Greenspan - by virtue of his Jewish background - is also one of these perfidious bankers. As proof, the author claims that Greenspan intended by his monetary policies to “divert the attention from the wars perpetrated by Libby, Wolfowitz and PNAC" in the defense of Israel. (27). Greenspan thus “provided his president with an astonishing economic boom...Greenspan...knew very well that as long as Americans were doing well, buying, and selling homes, his President would be able to continue implementing the ‘Wolfowitz doctrine’ and PNAC philosophy, destroying the ‘bad Arabs’ in the name of ‘democracy’, ‘liberalism’, ‘ethics’ and even ‘women’s rights’”.(27) The author does not deem it necessary to prove Greenspan’s motives, the causality between his monetary policies and the war on Iraq, or to inquire whether his policies were perhaps commensurate with the interests of the American ruling class. The profits generated by the Iraq war and flowing to US corporations are disregarded by the author. It must be remembered that Atzmon’s book was written, as he claims, to discuss Jewish identity politics and not to analyze US capitalism. Invoking Alan Greenspan in this book had one, and only one, purpose: To impress on readers the power, perfidy and callousness of people who do not negate their Jewish identity.

Sensing the danger that readers might regard him as peddling the idea of a “Zionist plot or even a Jewish conspiracy” to defraud America, he attempts to dismiss such suspicion by claiming - after detailing Alan Greenspan’s decisions and statements - that the US credit crunch was “no Zionist plot or even a Jewish conspiracy...for it was all in the open. It is actually an accident”.(30) One is entitled to doubt his sincerity, for if he really believes that the credit crunch was an accident and not a deliberately engineered result, why did he introduce the theme of America’s credit crunch into his book in the first place and why did he introduce his discussion by referring to Jewish bankers’ apparent reputation of financing and backing wars? His bad faith is here displayed in plain sight.

Atzmon’s main enemies: Socialists and human rights

Readers who have not read Atzmon's writings before might be surprised to discover that he spends inordinate efforts to discredit leftist and socialist groups such as “Jews Against Zionism” and “Jews for Justice in Palestine”(62), i.e. groups who oppose Zionism and support Palestinian rights in the name of Jews. For him, such groups exemplify a pathological clinging to Jewish identity. Yet, people assemble in various constellations for good causes: There are associations of physicians against nuclear armaments, lawyers for democracy, and even gay choirs. Are these, too, pathological phenomena?

There might, however, be a far more plausible explanation for supporting the Palestinian cause as Jews. The author must be aware that when Arabs criticize Israel, their accusations are not taken seriously. One must sadly admit that anti-Arab and islamophobic prejudice is extremely prevalent in the West. What Palestinian scholars wrote long ago about the Nakba was ignored in the West until the new Israeli historians, such as Benny Morris, Simha Flapan and Ilan Pappe began to expose the crimes committed by the Zionists in 1947/8. The fact that Western opinion considers Arab scholars as lacking credibility is deplorable and has led some anti-Zionist activists to speak out against Israel and Zionism as Jews in order to make their message more credible. The RETURN statement, signed by hundreds of Jews around 1988, provides a fair example of such a principled position.[3] One may debate about the wisdom of such an approach, but it is unfair and baseless to claim that those who do so, are motivated by Jewish tribalism.

Not contenting himself to deal with Jewish identity politics, the author ventures into the field of human rights. While harping on the need for Jews to espouse unidentified universal principles, the author surprisingly rejects the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a normative framework. He writes: “As opposed to the Kantian vision of ethical judgements being distinguished by openness, the Declaration is interpreted by some as a set of moral rules. As such, it impedes an authentic moral exercise. It is not surprising, therefore, that Neocon think-tanks, moral interventionists, Israeli lobbies and supporters of the war against Islam ground their argument in the declaration. It conveys an image of an ethical argument.”(64 -65). The author disregards the fact that the Universal Declaration is endorsed by almost all UN member states and constitutes the basis for numerous human rights treaties, which specify in greater detail what rights human beings are entitled to enjoy and what obligations states have to fulfill to protect, ensure and promote these rights. He does not, either, propose an alternative ethical framework that could replace the Universal Declaration.

The author does not reveal in his book the reasons for his opposition to the normative status of human rights. He laconically writes that “[f]or obvious reasons, [the Declaration] fails to provide answers to some different questions that arise as we proceed in time and live through some dramatic changes.”(63) The reader is left in the dark regarding the nature of these “different questions” and the “dramatic changes”. One is entitled to suspect that his opposition to the normative force of human rights is connected with his pandering to Islamic fundamentalism, revealed in his web-based writings.

For reasons that escape the reviewer, the author appears particularly inclined to disparage leftists, and among them particularly those who oppose Zionism. At various points, the author takes issue with such groups, including the now defunct Israeli leftist organization Matzpen, implying that these groups are essentially part and parcel of the Zionist organismus. The author actually devotes two pages under the subtitle “Matzpen and Wolfowitz” to discredit that organisation(108-110). The author’s bad faith can be gauged by the way he misconstrues Matzpen´s manifesto of 1967 (wrongly stated as 1962). In that manifesto, briefly cited by the author, Matzpen posited that the “solution to the national and social problems of this region...can come about only through socialist revolution, which will overthrow all its existing regimes and replace them by a political union of the region, ruled by the toilers.” Misrepresenting this manifesto he writes that “Matzpenists had a plan to ‘liberate’ the Arab world ”through a socialist revolution” (108 - emphasis added). The author omits to mention that Matzpen had also Arab members. By such misrepresentation, he could claim that “Matzpen’s principles are no different from Wolfowitz’s neocon mantra”. Delving into the realm of fantasy, the author found a formula that imputed to Matzpen even greater evil than the U.S. warmongers: “For the Matzpenist, to liberate Arabs is to turn them into Bolsheviks; the neocon is actually slightly more modest - all he wants is for Arabs to drink their Coca-Cola in a Westernized democratic society”. Leaving aside the absurdity of the claim that Matzpen intended or had the capacity to turn Arabs into Bolsheviks and that all what imperialists want is to make Arabs drink Coca-Cola, the previous sentence reveals the depth of the author’s hatred towards Socialists, even when these are already dead.

The author’s hatred for socialists is further demonstrated by his endorsement of a bizarre view expressed by Milton Friedman. According to Friedman, cited by the author, “Jewish affiliation with the left might be better understood as an attempt to disown some anti-Semitic stereotypes of the Jew as being’a merchant or moneylender who put commercial interests ahead of human values. “(116) The author makes it clear that he agrees with that explanation. Hiding behind Friedman, the author muses that what “moves the Jew to the left..is neither humanism, nor solidarity...nor kindness, but, instead, it seems to be a desperate attempt to replace or amend the Jewish image.” But while Friedman considered Jewish commercial inclinations to be a positive testimony of entrepreneurship, the author contends that “robbery and hatred is imbued in Jewish modern political ideology on both the left and the right.”(123). While Zionism practice indeed included robbery and hatred of Arabs, the author is apparently not ashamed to include under the headline of “robbery and hatred” leftist groups who actually place the struggle against robbery and hatred at the head of their agenda. To further press the point, the author writes: “within the modern Jewish national and political context, Jews kill and rob”, and they do so also in the name of “working class politics…[T]he progressive Jew [robs] in the name of ‘Marx’” We now know that according to Atzmon’s Gospel, Marxism is a Jewish ideology used to justify Jewish robbery and murder. Adolf Hitler would have been proud of his Jewish disciple![4]

In hindsight, it is easy to criticize Matzpen. But Matzpen must be credited as one of the earliest Israeli groups which opposed occupation and the oppression of the Palestinian people. It acted at the margins of Israeli society long before the author began to support Palestinian rights. What is the purpose of the author to select Matzpen as a subject of scorn? And what prompts the author to dispense moral marks to Jews who like to hold some Jewish traditions at home while taking full part in civil society?(“Either you pretend to be a cosmopolitan while in the street or you lie to your creator at your dwelling. This behavioural code (…) happens to be non-ethical by definition. It is based on deception.”)(57) He does not explain what is so unethical about eating gefilte fish at home. His displeasure also extends to people who present themselves as “progressive”, “secular” or “humanist” (105). According to him they “fail to grasp that true human brotherhood needs no introduction or declaration, only genuine love for one another.”(57) According to the author, people may present themselves as “popular saxophonists” but not as “humanists”. As illustrated above, the author demonstrates what “true human brotherhood and genuine love for one another” means to him, when empties his bile on genuine and courageous fighters for justice, or when he calls the present reviewer a “miserable creature”. Modesty and civility are apparently not among the author’s eminent qualities.

After circling around the search for an explanation for Zionist, or Jewish, identity, the author seems to have finally reached his goal. Zionist (or Jewish) identity today is the religion of the Holocaust! While there is a grain of truth in such a claim, it certainly does not apply to every person who claims Jewish identity nor does it constitute, strictly speaking, a religion. Invoking the theme of the Holocaust, provides the author, however, an opportunity to expose in public his empathy with Holocaust deniers. While the author correctly condemns the misuse of the Holocaust by the State of Israel and the Zionist movement, as others have done, the author suggests that there is more to it. He thus suggests: “I think that 65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, we must be entitled to start asking questions. We should ask for historical evidence and arguments rather than follow a religious narrative that is sustained by political pressure and laws.”(174-175) One is entitled to wonder what the author is alluding to, when suggesting that we “should ask for historical evidence” about the Holocaust. Is he suggesting that Jews were not exterminated industrially? Is he suggesting that Jews financed the Holocaust? The author does not reveal what he suggests. He reveals only a little about his true views when suggesting that we ask “why were the Jews hated?”, implying that there might have been a slight justification for the persecution, if not extermination, of Jews. (174) Is the author simply trying to play an enfant terrible by such provocations or does he espouse a world view that he dare not name?

Not content to suggest that historical evidence be demanded about the Holocaust (as if no such evidence exists), he claims that by failing to ask such questions “[w]e will continue killing in the name of Jewish suffering.” (176) We are thus asked to conclude that proximate causality exists between an act of omission and a resulting act of commission. That this is logically possible is beyond the comprehension of the reviewer.


If the author had limited himself to examine Jewish identity politics, his essay could have been considered as a modest contribution to the subject-matter. His numerous excursions into highly speculative areas, his repeated use of innuendo about the existence of a Zionist or Jewish cabal, unsubstantiated accusations and allegations, and his condescending and repulsive attacks on socialists and on genuine opponents of Israeli atrocities and Zionism, undermine the declared purpose of the book and raise disturbing questions about the author’s true motives. Borrowing from Nazi terminology and pandering to Holocaust deniers does not add to the credibility of the author. His book could be useful to those who seek to absolve the leaders of Western powers from criminal culpability in planning and carrying wars of aggression. Their legal counsel might in the future cite the author, a bona fide Jew and former Zionist, in claiming that their clients had been deceived and manipulated by perfidious Zionists to order an attack on Iraq and to defraud the American people. His attacks on socialists and on Marxism will undoubtedly please anti-communists, members of the US military, members of the ruling classes in the West and some Muslim constituencies. The book may, however, have pernicious effects on the struggle for liberation of and in Palestine, because contrary to the author’s claims, the ideas he presents can only exacerbate relations between Jews and Muslims. His perspective is a frontal attack on the progressive movement, similar in concept to that pursued by Adolf Hitler, who attempted to destroy the Socialist movement by replacing public opposition to capitalism with hatred towards Jews. Gilad Atzmon, who presents himself as a grandson of a Zionist terrorist who hated Germans and Arabs(1), wrote a book filled with hate. The present reviewer cannot recommend his book.

The reviewer, Elias Davidsson, was born in Palestine in 1941. He is a composer and a veteran activist for human rights, international law and for a just and lasting peace in his homeland. He now lives in Bonn, Germany. His webpage is www.juscogens.org
1. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (Sentry Edition, 1943): “The urge to preserve the species is the first cause for the formation of human communities; thus the state is a national organism and not an economic organization.” (p. 151)
2. Ibid. : “For a racially pure people which is conscious of its blood can never be enslaved by the Jew” (p. 325) and “Thus there arises a pure movement entirely of manual workers under Jewish leadership, apparently aiming to improve the situation of the worker, but in truth planning the enslavement and with it the destruction of all non-Jewish peoples.” (p. 295)
3. The RETURN Statement. Against the Israeli Law of Return - For the Palestinian Right to Return. http://www.juscogens.org/return
4. Adolf Hitler, supra n. 1 (“I began to study again, and now for the first time really achieved an understanding of the content of the Jew Karl Marx’s life effort. Only now did his Kapital become really intelligible to me, and also the struggle of the Social Democracy against the national economy, which aims only to prepare the ground for the domination of truly international finance and stock exchange capital” (p. 215) (“Marxism itself systematically plans to hand the world over to Jews” (p. 382) (“In this period my eyes were opened to two menaces of which I had previously scarcely known the names, and whose importance for the existence of the German people I certainly did not understand: Marxism and Jewry”, p. 21)



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