Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

When academic anti-Zionism shades into endorsing antisemitism

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Critical discussion of Israel may be one thing, but increasingly ‘academic' discussion of Israel can cross a red line into blatant antisemitism.

Gilad Atzmon is an Israeli-born Jazz musician living in Britain who has declared himself a "proud self hating Jew." He is known not merely for being critical of Israel but for his antisemitic writings in which he encourages belief in a global Jewish conspiracy of world domination, casts doubt on the Holocaust and blames Jewish persecution - including by the Nazis - on Jews themselves. Atzmon wrote in his essay "On Anti-Semitism" that "We must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously." and "American Jewry makes any debate on whether the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion ‘are an authentic document or rather a forged irrelevant. American Jews do control the world..." Atzmon has also written, very plainly and clearly, "The history of Jewish persecution is a myth, and if there was any persecution the Jews brought it on themselves."

Therefore, it is alarming that Atzmon's latest book The Wandering Who?, which reprises many of Atzmon's antisemitic themes has been endorsed by ‘respected' academics including John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Richard Falk of Princeton.

Mearsheimer, famous for writing, together with Stephen Walt, a controversial essay and book about the supposed illegimate and nefarious power of the "Israel Lobby" over American foreign policy, wrote:

"Gilad Atzmon has written a fascinating and provocative book on Jewish identity in the modern world. He shows how assimilation and liberalism are making it incredibly difficult for Jews in the Diaspora to maintain a powerful sense of their 'Jewishness.' Panicked Jewish leaders, he argues, have turned to Zionism (blind loyalty to Israel) and scaremongering (the threat of another Holocaust) to keep the tribe united and distinct from the surrounding goyim. As Atzmon's own case demonstrates, this strategy is not working and is causing many Jews great anguish. The Wandering Who? Should be widely read by Jews and non-Jews alike."

Richard Falk, a UN official known for his highly extreme criticism of Israel, incluiding comparisons of Israel to Nazi German wrote:

"Gilad Atzmon has written an absorbing and moving account of his journey from hard core Israeli nationalist to a de-Zionized patriot of humanity and passionate advocate of justice for the Palestinian people. It is a transformative story told with unflinching integrity that all (especially Jews) who care about real peace, as well as their own identity, should not only read, but reflect upon and discuss widely."

John Mearsheimer and Richard Falk's endorsement has been heavily criticised.

Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic writes:

"Atzmon is quite obviously a twisted and toxic hater. His antisemitism is so blatant that activists of the so-called BDS movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions), which seeks the elimination of Israel, refuse to have anything to do with him . But Atzmon still has at least one friend among anti-Israel activists: The R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, and co-author of 'The Israel Lobby,' John J. Mearsheimer."

Goldberg notes that Mearsheimer wrote "The Israel Lobby," with Stephen Walt, of Harvard, and while the authors may have claimed that it was merely a critique of American foreign policy, "Now, Mearsheimer is endorsing the writing of a man who espouses neo-Nazi views. In other words, he's not even bothering to make believe anymore -- he's moved from a self-described critic of Israel to a corrosive critic of Jewry itself."

Renowned Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz has also written an article in The New Republic criticising Mearsheimer:

"Mearsheimer claims, however, that he has endorsed only Atzmon's book and not his other writings. But the book itself is filled with crass neo-Nazi rants against the "Jew," "World Jewry," and "Jewish bankers." He claims that "robbery and hatred is imbued in Jewish modern political ideology on both the left and the right" (123). And like other anti-Semites, Atzmon is obsessed in the book with Jewish names. It was Jews, such as Wolfowitz and Libby, who pushed the United States into war against Iraq in the "interests" of "their beloved Jewish state" (26). "How is it that America failed to restrain its Wolfowitzes?' Atzmon asks (27)."

Dershowitz is also concerned by the other prominent academics who have defended Atzmon including: Brian Leiter, the Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Chicago Law School, James Petras Bartle, Professor of Sociology Emeritus at Binghamton University, William A. Cook, a Professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California; Makram Khoury-Machool, a lecturer at the University of Cambridge; and Oren Ben-Dor of the University of Southampton School of Law.

Dershowitz is rightfully concerned that academic are crossing a red line:

"These endorsements represent a dangerous step toward legitimizing anti-Semitic rhetoric on university campuses. If respected professors endorse the views contained in Atzmon's book as "brilliant," "fascinating," "absorbing," and "moving," these views-which include Jewish domination of the world, doubting the Holocaust, blaming "the Jews" for being so hated, and attributing the current economic troubles to a "Zio-punch"-risk becoming acceptable among their students. These endorsements of Atzmon's book are the best evidence yet that academic discourse is beginning to cross a red line, and that the crossing of this line must be exposed, rebutted, and rejected in the marketplace of ideas and in the academy."

It should be obvious that blatant antisemitism that encourages people to doubt the Holocaust, suggests that Jews are evil in nature, that they seek world domination, that they are to blame for deliberately creating the current financial crisis is dangerous, has no place in academic discussion, and undermines the credibility of anyone who participates in such a crude debate.

What's sad is that we have now reached the point where it is necessary to make this argument - where academic culture has deteriorated to the point where some academics are seriously prepared to argue that there is nothing wrong with any of that - provided it helps the campaign against Israel. As American law Professor David Bernstein commented:

"Unfortunately, it's increasingly the case that even those who approach anti-Zionism from one or more... perspectives [which are not necessarily anti-semitic] are at best tolerant of the anti-Semitism indulged in by some of their allies, and at worst engage in rhetoric that smacks of classical anti-Jewish themes, even if the individuals in question are not themselves anti-Semitic.

As I've noted before, there are two basic reasons for this phenomenon. The first is that given longstanding Western cultural prejudices against Jews, marrying anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism can be extremely effective from a rhetorical perspective. And, second, if you are inclined to believe that Israel and its policies are an especially grave danger to world peace and security you will tend to err on the side of being tolerant of anti-Semitism to the extent that you think it is furthering the anti-Israel cause..."

 

 

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