Gilad Atzmon was born in what some call Israel, and now lives in Britain. In addition to being a well-known musician (according to the Guardian one of London’s finest saxophonists, with thirteen albums, many exploring the music of his native land), he is also a prolific blogger and the author of two novels. He has defined himself variously as a “proud self-hating Jew,” an “ex-Jew,” and “a Hebrew-speaking Palestinian.” His latest book is The Wandering Who: A Study of Jewish Identity Politics. His criticisms of Zionism, Jewish Identity and Jewishness have led to accusations of racism and antisemitism, including from anti-Zionists. What follows is an exchange between Atzmon and Noel Ignatiev on the occasion of Atzmon’s recent U.S. tour, plus a comment by longtime anti-Zionist Jeff Blankfort:
From Noel Ignatiev, Monday, March 5, 2012, 4:35 PM
Dear Mr. Atzmon:
I am writing in dismay at what may have been a mistake on my part. To establish the background, I am letting you know that I have been involved in exchanges with people who oppose your U.S. tour and condemn you as a “racist” and an anti-Semite, including people whom you list in your March 3 post as members of the “Atzmon Defamation League.” As part of these exchanges I wrote the following:
Atzmon says that the Zionist settler-colonial state is an outgrowth of
“Jewish ideology” going back to antiquity. To him the essence of “Jewish
ideology” is chosen-ness, exclusiveness . . . I agree with him . . .
2) He says that any attempt to retain a Jewish identity (other than on purely religious grounds) plays into the hands of Zionism . . . leading those who hold it to be more Jewish than Socialist, more Jewish than internationalist, more Jewish than Marxist. I am not sure he is right, but it often seems to work that way.
3) Atzmon says that European Jews were not mere victims chosen at random but by their actions bore some responsibility for the hostility of their neighbors, which the Nazis were able to mobilize as a political force . . . I agree.
For writing these things in a semi-private exchange, I have been criticized and even personally attacked by people I respect and who up until this point have respected me, and warned by friends that I am jeopardizing the good will I have accumulated through decades of struggle against all forms of racial supremacy, including Zionism. I understand that people feel strongly about these issues, and so I try not to take the attacks personally, and moreover I like to think I cannot be swayed by finding myself a minority of one, but I would hate to be mistaken on something this important.
What brings me to question myself is something that was written about you that you posted on your website. I am talking about the article by Jim W. Dean, posted today, March 4. In one of the semi-private exchanges I referred to above I wrote, “So far as I know Atzmon has neither made white supremacist remarks nor claimed white supremacists as friends.” Your inclusion of Jim Dean’s article on your website forces me to question that assertion, for there is no doubt in my mind that he is a white supremacist.
Dean denounces “Imperial Wizard” Dershowitz and other well known Zionists as slimeballs and bullies—fair enough. He denounces the “Lobby’s” plan for a U.S. war on Iran—no problem here. He even throws in a pro forma negative reference to the Ku Klux Klan—easy since hardly anyone defends the Klan publicly these days. The payoff is in his last two paragraphs:
Atlanta has a lot in common with the Palestinians. We got invaded by foreigners with a desire to colonize. And like the Radical Orthodox Jews who want to ethnically cleanser Palestine of all Arabs, there were Yankees who called for the extinction of the “Southern Race’. They called for the killing of every man, woman, and child . . . and then having the land repopulated with ‘loyal stock’. Nice neighbors . . . kind of like the West Bank settlers.
Downtown on the Capitol grounds is an historical marker commemorating the Atlanta Nakba, where all 15,000 residents were ordered to pack up whatever they could carry and hit the road, after most had had their horses and wagons confiscated.
That passage is one lie after another: The “South” was not invaded by foreigners but liberated by Americans, black and white, who could no longer countenance the domination of the Union by an oligarchy of slaveholders. No one called for the extinction of the ‘Southern race” or for the killing of every southern man, woman, and child; they called for the end of white supremacy and the construction of democracy. Union General Sherman burned Atlanta as an act of war, not an act of race or regional hatred, making it clear that he was doing so because it was being used as a resource by the enemy, and promising to help rebuiild it as soon as the war ended, which he did.
More important, the passage is code for white supremacy, an appeal to those who lament the fall of the slave system, which they self-servingly call the “Old South” or the “Lost Cause.” Perhaps you do not know this, but every literate American knows it, and most important of all, Jim Dean knows it. This business reminds me of when I was looking to buy a home in Georgia, and I commented on the Confederate flags I saw. “That’s a Georgia thing,” explained the real estate lady who was showing me around. “Oh, yeah,” I said, “I don’t see any black Georgians flying them.”
Apart from this one column, I do not know Mr. Dean. I deliberately did not google him out of fear of what I might learn. Besides, this is enough. You may dismiss it as only two paragraphs, but it is enough for me; I wouldn’t touch him with a barge pole, for, in the words of a great man I knew and admired, “I cannot be friends with the enemies of black progress.”
So I have a question for you: Do you consider Mr. Dean a friend or a foe?
You may reply that you cannot be responsible for everything that is written by people who admire you, and that is of course true. But the line here is so clear that I feel justified in calling upon you to say whether you welcome or reject his support.
If you decide that you welcome Mr. Dean’s support, that will not lead me to decide that I cannot learn from you, but it will force me to read things you have written less generously than I have in the past, and stop trying to get people I like to pay attention to you.
I await your answer.
Your humble servant,
From: Gilad Atzmon, Monday, March 5, 6:10 PM
Dear Noel, I may be fool here, but the following paragraph seems to me a critical stand against the Yankee genocidal approach:
Atlanta has a lot in common with the Palestinians. We got invaded by foreigners with a desire to colonize. And like the Radical Orthodox Jews who want to ethnically cleanse Palestine of all Arabs, there were Yankees who called for the extinction of the ‘Southern Race’. They called for the killing of every man, woman, and child…and then having the land repopulated with ‘loyal stock’. Nice neighbors…kind of like West Bank settlers.
From Noel Ignatiev, Monday, March 5, 9:18 PM
Thank you for getting back to me so quickly. The best thing in your note is the first line, where you acknowledge that you may be mistaken. The rest of your reply leads me to question whether you read my note, in which I attempted to refute Dean’s claims that you repeat with approval.
I understand you may not be as familiar with U.S. history as you are with the history of other places, and I realize that you are busy now, but please allow me to give you a brief history lesson. Although it started out as a struggle over which class of exploiters, the slaveholders or the northern capitalists, would control the government in Washington, the Civil War soon took on the character of a war against slavery. There are many infamies in U.S. history, but the Army that marched across the land singing “As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free” was one of the few proud moments. Jim Dean treats southern whites as the counterpart of modern Palestinians, and “Yankees” as the counterpart of Jewish settlers. He is wrong: it was southern blacks who were the counterpart of the Palestinians. They welcomed the Yankees as liberators and fought alongside them against slavery, just as the Palestinians of today would welcome and join with a Pan-Arab army that came to free them from Zionist rule. What you call Dean’s “critical stand against the Yankee genocidal approach” would sound perfect coming from the mouths of Zionists raging against the destruction of the Jewish state.
When I wrote that to my knowledge you had not made white supremacist comments or befriended white supremacists, I was aware that David Duke and other poisonous elements had sought to make use of you for their own purposes, but that so far you had not returned their embrace. Now, by putting Jim Dean’s comment on your website, you have crossed a line. I urge you in the name of universalism to turn back.
From Gilad Atzmon, Tuesday, March 6, 1:46 AM
Brother. I totally understand. But is this really a white supremacist
argument? Is there any evidence of JD being a white supremacist except
the interpretation we are attributing to him? Is there something I miss
In the next 2 days I’ll check it closely. It is a very serious accusation…
From Noel Ignatiev, Tuesday, March 6, 6:36 AM
There is no question of interpretation. Southern whites were the “master race” of the Old South, just as Jews are in the Zionist entity. In the passage I quoted, Dean describes them as innocent victims of Yankee invaders/colonizers, and leaves the slaves, almost half of the population of Georgia, Dean’s home state, out of the story altogether. I see that you are listed as a featured columnist for Veterans Today, of which Dean is Managing Editor. Why don’t you ask him?
Since I wrote you, I have googled Dean and Veterans Today. His biography on VT says he has worked with the Sons of the Confederate Veterans. The Confederate States of America was, in the words of its vice-president Alexander H. Stephens, “the first government in the history of the world founded upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.” The southern army was the largest mob of slavedrivers assembled on earth up to that time, not redeemed by being largely composed of poor whites fooled and drafted into service—just as the IDF is largely composed of poor Russians and Ethiopians (plus an occasional saxophonist). Can you imagine the Sons of the IDF getting together a century from now to commemorate the glories of the First and Second Lebanese Wars, the Gaza campaign, etc?
From Gilad Atzmon, Tuesday, March 6, 6:57 AM
I don’t argue S Race didn’t regard themselves as a master race. What I
am saying is that in this very quote JD is referring solely to Yankees’
racist genocidal tactics. Now if JD is known for being a racist or a W
supremacist please let me know as soon as you can, because I’ve a date
in Atlanta and I really must make sure that I do not being trapped
I am not American and these nuanced issues are not known to me. However, I am sending this correspondence to my tour manager. I will let him look into it immediately.
I wouldn’t expect VT to align itself with White Supremacy.,
Also as far as I am aware, my Atlanta meeting is involving Cynthia McKinney. Would she operate with a W supremacist? I really don’t think so. We will look into it carefully
From Gilad Atzmon, Tuesday, March 6, 8:22 AM
I spent the last 90 minutes searching for any evidence of JD
being White superiority. I found none. If you find anything as such
please let me know,
I also learned more about JD’s affiliation with the all those southern heritage organizations. As far as I can read, all he says is, there is more to south that slavery. I didn’t find a single sign of Dean’s endorsement of any kind of racial supremacy. I don’t say it isn’t there, I just couldn’t see a single trace of it on the net.
So I suggest, you conduct your research and share your finding with us, and i really want to see a smoking gun rather than ‘consequential evidence’.
I just mention that blaming a person for being a racist without substantiating it is really beyond me.
From Noel Ignatiev, Tuesday, March 6, 9:47 AM
Smoking gun? Is that the standard you apply when analyzing the universe of Zionism? I warned you that you will rarely find such a thing in American discourse. Your note reminds me of something I heard years ago from a person who visited a country where the state security agencies were notoriously repressive and reported that he saw no signs of secret police. Of course not, replied a listener: they are secret. You say Dean is affiliated with “southern heritage” organizations. Whose southern heritage? (“Southern heritage” is the U.S. counterpart to “Israeli” hummus.) By the way, I did not call Dean a “racist”; I do not use that word.
I am afraid we have exhausted this conversation for now, so I will bow out and leave it to others to continue. In order not to be rude, I promise to read any answer you send, though I am not likely to reply.
From Gilad Atzmon, Wednesday, March 7, 12:57 PM
Sent from my iphone:
> Smoking gun? Is that the standard you apply when analyzing the universe of Zionism?
G: Absolutely, in fact, smoking white phosphorus is what they provide us with. Is not the Nakba and 6 million refugees a smoking gun? AIPAC advocacy for attack on Iran is also a smoking gun. However, I guess that we apply different methods when analyzing an institutional collective crime and referring to a case of a singular subject.
> I warned you that you will rarely find such a thing in American discourse.
G: I am not so sure. I think that David Duke and Kevin McDonald are pretty clear and far from being nuanced .They say what they think about race and biological determinism.
Also I am now following some elements in the left, people who openly criticize white Europeans and white Americans. Seemingly people are not really afraid to employ racially oriented terminology. However, I didn’t find any of that in JD. It may be there but I didn’t see any evidence of it.
> I am afraid we have exhausted this conversation for now, so I will bow out and leave it to others to continue.
G: Good. I assume that this means that you really don’t have any evidence that JD is a white supremacist or affiliated with such an ideology. And I am left puzzled: Why did you start this exercise in the first place? In my humanist and universalist world, people are kosher unless proved otherwise.
> In order not to be rude, I promise to read any answer you send, though I am not likely to reply.
G: I am OK with it. I appreciate your honesty. 🙂
From Noel Ignatiev, Tuesday, March 13, 9:48 AM
May I have your permission to circulate our email exchange?
From Gilad Atzmon, Tuesday, March 13, 12:52 PM
I am OK with it. I would just ask you to go over the English because I
wrote most of it on my iphone. Also, for your information, Cynthia
McKinney circulated JD’s information about the event and was present in
the event. And I really do not think she would support a White
Comment by Jeff Blankfort:
Dean is, without a doubt, a white supremacist who comes across as
something else on first glance but who exposes where he is coming from
on a closer look. Some years back, he offered support for me and, as I
recall, wanted me as a guest on a radio program he hosted. Before
accepting, I took that closer look at what he had written and decided
not to have anything to do with him.
Gilad may be too eager as well as too busy to examine the background of all those who like what he writes and says. In the end, it is one thing that someone like Dean offers words of support and/or prints what one has written, it is quite another to embrace such a person. The worst sort of Nazi apologists used to publish Israel Shahak’s writings but he never embraced them as a number have published my work. If what I have to say is valid it is not my responsibility how someone uses it. The internet, of course, has created new problems and new challenges in this arena and this is where Gilad should be careful. There was indeed Yankee genocide but it was not directed against Southern whites, but at the continent’s indigenous peoples and Southern whites were as much a part of that genocidal war as were the Yankees.
There are sections of the book with which I am in disagreement, but he has exposed something that needs to be openly discussed and that is the role of Jewish tribalism, and the negative effect it has had on the movement.