Islington’s ban on Gilad Atzmon

29 Dec

Some of us have been aware for a long time of creeping inroads, on freedom and such open society fundamentals as presumption of innocence, made in the name of progressive values. Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Woody Allen stand convicted by media and by what is naively called “public opinion” – as if such a thing had independent existence, as opposed to being manufactured along lines set out by Herman and Chomsky.

(Oddly enough Bill Clinton, proven liar on Monica Lewinsky and with a name for philandry in power quite the equal of those others, does not stand so convicted. Funny old world, innit?)

A week before Xmas I told how legislation all but outlawing support for the BDS Movement has been enacted in twenty-six American states, and is in the pipeline for a further thirteen. That’s the context for the plight of sacked Texan speech therapist Bahia Amawi, as set out in my post, Land of the Free.



That post and a response to it led me to pen a second, on Israel’s propaganda war. In it I cite Islington Town Council’s banning of jazz musician Gilad Atzmon in the name of no-platforming antisemitism. Atzmon is a third generation Israeli vehemently critical not only of Zionism but – renouncing his own lineage – of Jewishness itself. That said, and for all the deep waters such questions take us into, two things seem very simple.

The first really is simple. Atzmon, a world class tenor saxophonist, was coming not to argue his political views but to blow on his horn. The second, however, is less straightforward. Mr Atzmon has been barred from playing because a hitherto unknown chap by the name of Martin Rankoff wrote to Islington Town Council to say he would not attend such a concert. Which of course is his prerogative. Whether it was Islington Council’s prerogative to respond by banning Atzmon is an altogether different matter.

My information on the Islington affair came via Facebook and OffGuardian, the latter posting a link to Rankoff’s Twitter page. Here’s its masthead:

Well so what? If you’ve stayed with me this far you likely already knew your common or garden Joe Confused But Indignant has a hard time telling support for Palestinians from antisemitism. (For the real McCoy on the latter, take a peek at what’s been going down in Ukraine ever since George Soros, Saint John McCain and Victoria “fuck the EU” Nuland teamed up to get their way at Maidan Square. You could start with the recent Times of Israel assessments given here.)

Thing is though, it turns out Martin Rankoff is by no stretch of the imagination your common or garden Joe Confused But Indignant. Today, in a second piece on Giladgate, OffGuardian says:

Now it appears that the single complainant – Martin Rankoff – was not just an anonymous fan of Israel but the UK director of Likud-Herut. Herut (or ‘freedom’) was Israel’s founding nationalist party from 1948 until it later merged with Likud. It is a militant and extreme Zionist organization whose roots go in a straight line from Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin up to Benjamin Netanyahu today. Jabotinsky and Begin helped form the Irgun terrorists in 1937.

Irgun committed notorious massacres in Palestine leading up to and during the Nakba (or ‘catastrophe’) of 1947-1948. These include the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946, killing 91 people, and the massacre at Deir Yassin in 1948 in which 254 unarmed Palestinian villagers were brutally murdered as an incentive for other Palestinians to leave. On its web site Likud-Herut UK lists Jabotinsky and Begin as “visionaries”. Likud-Herut is a member of the World Zionist Organization and the Zionist Federation of the UK who believe in “the inalienable right of all Jews to live and settle in all parts of the Land of Israel.”

In a letter to the New York Times in 1948 Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, and others compared Herut to the Nazis and Fascists who had just been defeated in World War II. Referring to this letter, Ramzy Baroud recently wrote, “the ‘Nazi and Fascist’ mentality that defined Herut in 1948 now defines the most powerful ruling class in Israel. Israel’s leaders speak openly of genocide and murder, yet they celebrate and promote Israel as if an icon of civilization, democracy and human rights.”

To Rankoff and his ilk has Islington Town Council cravenly acceded in the name – and I write as one repelled by antisemitism – of anti-racism. It gets worse. Says OffGuardian:

When Atzmon moved to appeal his being banned, formidable opponents again appeared in the form of the Simkins Law firm, one of the most expensive law practices in Britain, with not one but two partners at Simkins being put on the case. These are Gideon Benaim and Tom Iverson. Benaim recently became well known in Britain for winning an invasion of privacy suit against the BBC on behalf of pop singer Cliff Richard, who said he spent£3.4m ($4.3 million) on the case.

Unless we’re spectacularly obtuse – and I flatter myself that folk who visit this site seldom fall into that category – we’ll find all this deeply disturbing. We may even ask what such crusaders for truth and freedom as Guardian Media Group – which argued long, hard and I say cynically for Jeremy Corbyn to “stamp out antisemitism in the Labour Party” – are doing to bring such sinister erosions to our attention.

Then again, why ask when we can see for ourselves? Your homework today, should you choose to accept it, is a Google on Guardian Islington Atzmon then on Guardian Bahia Amawi.

Trust me. Reading the search returns won’t take long.


17 Replies to “Islington’s ban on Gilad Atzmon

  1. I think it’s safe to assume that Islington’s priorities are somewhat compromised and fall very short of being either representative of the many Jews who despise the Zionist Israeli terrorists or any attempt at a fight back against Anti Semitism (since the Zionist extremist are rather fond of calling Jews who do not support the false entity which calls itself Zionists, every foul name under the sun).

    Yep. It’s a funny old world, or would be if there was anything approaching honesty, integrity or decency in certain councils.

    • Who’s the guy – Burke? – wrote that for evil to prevail it suffices only that good men do nothing? This is how McCarthyism works. We needn’t suppose Islington Councillors other than swift to panic, to give knee jerk response the moment the ‘antisemite’ bullet is fired. Confusion in the face of so organised and funded a lobby begets pusillanimity.

      • Is it right to suppose such a thing?

        For one, I think nobody (least of all the council heads where Corbyn has his constituency) can be unaware that 2018 was the year of weaponisation of the antisemitism label. They know that appeasement fails.

        For another, the Labour Left are in a very strong position within the party. They have gained control of just about every office of any significance and the membership outnumbers the combined membership of all other parties. The coffers are healthily full.

        For a third, Islington councillors must be aware that Likud-Herut is, let’s be frank, a fascist movement. They must be aware that they have taken the side of, not an opportunist centrist trying to defame the Left, but a rabid extremist -against an opinionated jazz musician playing a christmas gig.

        For a fourth, they employed lawyers to defend their stance toward Atzmon. Not just any lawyers, but expensive ones with connections to the most reactionary and powerful zionists in the world.

        Finally (although I could go on), Chris Williamson, contender for the most radical and reliably honest backbench MP in parliament, also immediately capitulates and defames Atzmon without justification and without response to demands for clarification.

        I cannot fit this together. How can a council in a Corbyn’s heartland, with Labour Left apparently so strong, willingly cow so easily before the demands of a singular fascist? It makes no sense. Accusations (so-called antisemitic tropes) which claim that zionist lobbies effectively control political discourse within the UK, look to me to be on more solid ground as a consequence of this dispute. The likes of Jonathan Cook and Tony Greenstein seem reluctant to wade into this matter.

        Corruption, co-option, conspiracy, coercion. Any one or more of those would make sense of it. ‘Confusion’ doesn’t do it for me.

        • …and where is George Galloway on this?
          A staunch anti-zionist, someone who doggedly pursues an issue, who interviewed Atzmon on his Sputnik show where he said that he and his wife read Atzmon’s book with rapt interest on their honeymoon. Where is he now that Gilad is fighting his corner?

          I am deeply unsettled by this matter.

        • Well and ably argued, mog. Comments like yours affirm my belief that, at its best, the digital age can change the nature of political and other discourses. Instead of the one-to-many of mainstream media, and print publishing at large, it offers a many-to-many platform – and with it the potential for rich and ongoing inquiry. I’m frequently asked: why don’t I write a book? One of my answers is that traditional publishing lacks this vibrancy of dialogue.

          More specifically, I don’t rule out the alternatives to ‘confusion’ set out in the final paragraph of your main comment. It’s just that they aren’t mutually exclusive in my view. Your point (and OffGuardian’s) on the speed with which so expensive a law firm was engaged packs a punch – not that your other points don’t. Yet the ease with which Joe Confused But Indignant can be manipulated has to be reckoned with. You are speaking of the few within Islington Labour Party. I’m speaking now of the many.

          I’m often accused of being too soft on those – from George Monbiot to local reporters and now to Labour Councillors – who Get It Wrong. I take that charge seriously but if I err on that side it’s because I seek systemic and scientific explanations. Is there corruption of political life in the UK as a result of (among many other things) meddling by the well organised and funded Israeli Lobby? Absolutely, and I think I’ve made my views clear on that. My point, which does not negate yours, is of the dialectical – at once cause and effect – relationship between the power of corrupt individuals and the credulity (in its own way lazy and self serving) of the rank and file.

          PS I’m hoping Jonathan Cook, who in the past has defended Atzmon, will indeed chime in on this debate. If I can find an email address for him I’ll send an alert.

          • PS I should add the broader point that Islington LP’s stance points in my view to the most fundamental problem of all: an achilles heel of ‘the parliamentary road to socialism’. That’s vulnerability to (among other things) bourgeois ideology in general and the capitalist media (Chomsky’s Manufactured Consent) in particular.

        • If I might focus, in order to provide some more contextual light, on a very specific point which mog makes and which I feel is based on a false assumption.

          mog writes: “the Labour Left are in a very strong position within the party. They have gained control of just about every office of any significance”

          This view may well be largely accurate at the top of the Party (for now, and remains an uncompleted work in progress) and at the grassroots level in many CLP’s & BLP’s (again an uncompleted work in progress). However, there are still many, many decision making positions in the middle, within the Party bureaucracy and management at Regional and Local Campaign Forum (LCF) levels (what were once District Labour Party’s) still controlled by those placed there during the Blair era or replacements cut from the same mould.

          Moreover, just because someone joins Momentum and holds a position, say in a local party unit or as an elected Councillor, based on an endorsement from Momentum does not necessarily make them of ‘the left.’ Unfortunately, life is not that straightforward. In what I would consider to be the limited circles in which I have some involvement I’m aware of a number of individuals in positions based on a Momentum endorsement who in no way on god’s green earth can be considered anything other then fellow traveller careerists using the system.

          Consequently, it is little surprise that we witness decisions of Councils like Islington in this case and anonymous (possible) quotes in the media from LP apparatchiks denouncing Atzmon.

          • Hi Dave and thanks for your input. I often cite you as that rarity (in my experience at least) of a Labour Party Stakhanovite who has a solid grasp of international, and especially middle east, politics.

            Your points on “the sergeants” – who in any organisation can make or break policy implementation – and avoiding conflation of Momentum endorsement with socialist principes are important. The more so given your detailed knowledge of how Labour works at grassroot levels.

          • Interesting to read.
            I left the party last year, and left Momentum before that, so am only getting outsider perspectives.
            I do think that Momentum seems a fundamentally undemocratic structure, and it has taken some surprising positions over the past 18 months for a ‘pro-Corbyn’ campaign group.

  2. As I recollect Greenstein also regards Gilad as an antisemite.

    The problem is that the sort of self criticism which is essential to the health of any culture- think about being English and recognising the long and sordid tales of anti-irish legislation and popular prejudice, or the story of the empire, colour etc- is seized upon by professional zionists and others in the Jewish community and examined carefully for traces of ‘antisemitism.’

    We see something like this on the alt Right where the history of slavery and abuse of indigenous peoples is held to be a libel on ‘white people’ . Actually we see it now in places like Poland and Hungary and the ukraine in particular where a history of local assistance to the Nazi pogroms is denied- greatly to the applause of the Israeli government whose worst nightmare is of a world in which anti semitism has slipped from the status of stock in trade to one more forgotten prejudice, ghost of an old world.

    • Hi bevin, good to hear from you. The general point I make at start of my reply to mog applies equally to you …

      I confess, though I’ve twice seen Atzmon play at gigs, I haven’t read him. Two Jews who have my respect – which hardly makes them infallible – are critical of him is all. As ever, there’s no substitute for direct engagement at source!

      I take your analogy with Englishness seriously but see obvious differences. One is that millions of English people were not sent to death camps within what is still, just, living memory. (I’m with Finkelstein in abhorring Zionist playing of the Holocaust Card, but find equally abhorrent a real antisemitism within some anti-Zionists. More generally, I wish critics would acknowledge – not to defend the indefensible by refusing to stand with the Palestinians, but in recognition of why so many Jews have a visceral response to criticisms of Israel – that there are two potent narratives at play here, not one. That the Netanyahus of this world have every interest in overstating the extent to which they clash does not alter this truth.

      The other difference points to why this issue is not only emotionally but semantically challenging. Jewishness is not exactly a racial category. While race is always steeped in category confusion, it is especially so here. Equally though, it’s not a religious category. Of the two dozen or so Jewish friends I can claim, not one is a synagogue goer, while several have never in their lives set foot in one.

      (An Israeli friend, both a hard nosed Zionist AND – who said life was simple? – one of the most generous hearted souls I know, once cheerfully told me that “we Jews don’t help ourselves by claiming to be God’s Chosen People”.)

      If Jewishness is neither a (wholly) racial nor (even broadly) religious designator, WTF is it? If the heat could be taken out of the inquiry – i.e. if neither Hitler nor Nakba had happened – I’d be less hesitant in embracing your analogy with Englishness.

      Needless to say I don’t regard my words as definitive, nor the matter as closed!

  3. The nub of it for me:

    The fundamental binary that we face is between on the one hand a politics of biological denterminism and on the other a politics based on an idea that we all have more in common than we have separating us. It is tribalism vs Universalism.
    There are layers and convolutions to this obviously, but that is what I have grown up being presented with : we either pull together and learn how to live as equals on Earth, or we all die fighting each other. The climate and resource crisis, combined with the fact of nuclear weapons makes this imperative.

    Jewish identity seems to be an amalgam of a (claimed) racial heritage and a distinct set of cultural ideas. To critique the latter is to be accused of prejudice toward the former.

    If I thought Atzmon was racist I would not waste one minute on him, but he clearly is not. He is one of the few with the intellectual integrity and personal story to attempt an honest look at Jewish identity politics. I recommend his work, and I think he makes a strong argument that the quintessential cultural idea of Jewishness is ‘chosenness’ or ‘exceptionalism’. There is an obvious tension between this and the humanist tradition that exists on the Left.

    With regard to Labour Party politics, much has been written about the dynamic between indentitarianism and universalism. I read Jewish Voice for Labour’s mission statement and constitution yesterday. To my knowledge these are decent people who are committed to anti-zionism, they take time out of their lives to try and redress the injustice in Israel-Palestine. Yet, they claim to be advocates for ‘universal human rights’, whilst being a jewish only organisation. Is this not a contradiction?

    There lies an example of the contradiction that has existed in socialism for well over a century: To give up one’s identity (as a jew, a woman, a christian, a homosexual, a black person etc.) and simply be a human being working and living alongside fellow humans in peace is not an easy thing. What idea is powerful and all encompassing enough, such that the diversity of humanity can put their differences aside and all subscribe to it?

    Maybe there is not such an idea. Yet so many of us feel the pull. The idea of exceptionalism and its manifestations stand firmly in the way.

    • Again, powerful points mog. Who’d disagree? And I will add Atzmon to my reading list.

      Meanwhile two thoughts. One, we should reject on the one hand crassly economistic dismissals of the real oppressions of black, female, gay and, yes, jew; on the other exceptionalist claims by any such grouping. As is so often the case, younger people (and/or those newly outraged by the state we’re in) come to such debates thinking them new. We could all do worse than reacquaint ourselves with relevant debates within the First and Second Internationals, with the upsurge in progressive values that always accompanies revolution, with Trotsky’s occasional writings on Jewishness, and with the exchanges between Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg on national identity.

      Two, whatever conclusions we draw on such matters, Islington’s decision was a further milestone on the slippery slope I began with: those “creeping inroads, on freedom and such open society fundamentals as presumption of innocence, made in the name of progressive values”.

  4. I’m not sure that i made my point clearly,

    As I understand it Atzmon is held to be ‘anti-semitic’ because, as a Jew, he subjects Israel’s culture to sharp criticism. In doing so he says harsh things about ‘the Jews.’

    He after all is writing not in the aftermath of Auschwitz but in the light of his own experience as part of an invading army, brutal and arrogant, in Lebanon. And he is writing about his fellow conscripts, the Generals, the Knesset that sent him to Lebanon to kill and intimidate, and the ‘public’ at home lapping up the whitewashed reports in the media and howling ‘Death to the Arabs’ down the back alleys in Jerusalem, and the Israel Supporters Club in the UK, the USA and across the Empire, many of whom long to return to the days when ‘we’ did the same sort of thing and the wogs respected ‘us’.

    Just as in England for years we, or a school amongst us, have written as if we went through the Blitz, stood out alone against Fascism and made do with rations “No Bananas!’.

    I think that Gilad is of the opinion that, as a Jew and an IDF veteran he has not only the right but the duty to speak sharply about the burgeoning culture of the Jewish thug, and insist on clarity instead of sentimentality in writing-80 years on- about the War.

    It could be said that Gilad hates Jews but only in the way that Barbara Castle hated the British-because they let him, and themselves (and in Castle’s case) us and the rest of our countrymen and women, down by doing shameful things. Things that make Gilad feel ashamed to be a Jew. Like the things that HMG has done to the applause of the Daily Mail and Hillary Benn which make me ‘ashamed to be English’. In the way that I am ashamed, weird though it might seem, when I meet up with a young member of the local (in Ontario) Ojibwe nation.

    Of course, I might be wrong and Comrade Atzmon might actually be an anti-semite. I doubt it though.

    • bevin whatever faults may or may not be laid at your door, lack of clarity is not one of them. I agree with pretty much all you say – though it looks from your phrasing as if, like me, you haven’t read Atzmon. My earlier reply was confined to the usefulness or not of comparing Jewishness and Englishness. (A slightly more useful analogy, in my view, would be Irishness.) Whatever Englishness may or may not mean, it can be spoken of without reference to a thousand years of pogrom and persecution; its zenith/nadir the extermination of two thirds of Europe’s Jews. That’s my point. I don’t see it as negating the wider thrust of yours – far less the thrust of my post, that Islington LP has made a deplorable call – but, as I said to mog, do see a need to get familiar with just what Gilad Atzmon is saying.

      Meanwhile, he blows that sax like there’s no tomorrow.

  5. Dear Philip.

    You and I are of two diverse approaches. I sometimes accuse you of being “too kind” (to the likes of Monbiot etc). Your article refrained from making unevidenced accusations, whereas I am straight out of the trap lids with unfounded opinion. So, which of us do you think has retained integrity – well it’s obviously not me, so that shortlist is now down to one – you.

    You gave us the evidence with which to draw our own conclusions and your readers fired the ammunition in whatever direction they saw fit.

    It does you credit that you are not given to casting aspersions based simply on perceptions devoid of any concrete facts, rest assured, you can leave that to the likes of me!

    🙂 Susan

    • Susan now it’s your turn to be too kind! I’m neither a patient man nor especially indulgent of human folly (and worse). It makes me happy though that you appreciate my respect for evidence (even if you go too far down the road of belittling your own). It’s not that I have a rose tinted view of humanity; more that I’m wary of explanations, of the dire straits we’re in, that focus too much on individual rogues, too little on the logic of capital. But sometimes I bend the stick too far, and go too easy on serial offenders.

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