What is an intellectual? Some say it is the educated lot in the ivory towers of academia. Sure, many of those professors are intellectuals, but many of them are also challenged outside their field. Intellectuality is a concept that transcends university degrees.
So how to define an intellectual? An intellectual is someone who thinks beyond the strictures imposed by upbringing, education, societal norms, dominant media, etc. to arrive in agreement with other conclusions or to form one’s own conclusions. It is more than simply thinking outside a box or applying critical thinking to issues and challenges because intellectuality also demands honesty and integrity.
Gilad Atzmon is someone who encompasses what it means to be an intellectual. He is someone seemingly unbound by a specific group or milieu. Atzmon turned away from the Zionism of his father and the – what he calls — Nazism of his fellow Jews in Israel. Atzmon recalls the plight of captured Palestinian freedom fighters at the Ansar internment camp during his time in the Israeli military: “The place was a concentration camp. The inmates were the ‘Jews’, and I was nothing but a ‘Nazi’.” He has discarded the scoundrel’s refuge of patriotism. He has rejected what is morally anathema inculcation, propaganda, mendacious narrative, and supremacism of Jewish “culture.” Atzmon realizes that we all are human beings; we all possess 23 pairs of chromosomes.
Atzmon exposes a twisting of history, a narrative that lies about who the Jewish people are, lies about a historical and contemporary dispossession, occupation, and oppression carried out by his kinsfolk. That is an exceedingly difficult dilemma for most people to recognize, acknowledge, and overcome. It is especially difficult to fight because when such a colossal crime is denied, whether consciously or through gullibility, by the masses of one’s kinsfolk (Atzmon states: “Israel is largely supported by world Jewry institutionally, financially and spiritually.”), it estranges one from one’s tribe.
Atzmon has written The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics wherein he answers the titular question. Atzmon is interested in identity: who are the Jews? He differentiates “between Jews (the people), Judaism (the religion), and Jewish-ness (the ideology).” Jews, Atzmon notes, do not form an ethnicity. He describes Jewish society as an amalgam. It is assimilationist for Jews and separatist from Goyim.
The Jews and the Jewish state come first for Zionists. Atzmon details how financial, economic, and political control are sought. He cites “the first and prominent Zionist prophet Theodor Herzl” as to “what political Zionism is all about: getting superpowers to serve the Zionist cause.” The abject speech by US president Barack Obama rejecting Palestinian statehood is a prime example of serving Zionism.
He cuts through the hasbara: “For most Israelis, shalom doesn’t mean ‘peace’, it means security, and for Jews only.”
When it comes to history, Atzmon seeks truth even when it is ugly. Like any good scientist or historian, Atzmon believes a theory or narrative that has been disproven is one that should be disregarded for a superior explanation. Historical revisionism for Atzmon is part of the search for the closest approximation to the truth. When a clearer picture emerges of history, then amending the narrative to reflect the new facts and clearer picture is demanded.
The narrative is important, and many Jews are highly skilled in discourse. Atzmon writes that Zionists realised that full control over language would allow them to impose their worldview on subsequent generations of Jews. Israel Shamir in his book, Masters of Discourse, illuminated how pervasive the Jewish narrative is in many societies.
But the Jews are not always so clever in their attempts to control the message. Atzmon relates how the IDF prevented all foreign media from entering Gaza, not to propagandize the Goyim but to keep Israelis and Zionist Jews from seeing themselves through the eyes of the Goyim. Atzmon describes this approach as “completely countereffective”: “the Israelis ended up seeing themselves through the gaze of Arabs, Iranians, Muslims. … Humiliated and pulverised, Israelis saw their true nature exposed.”
Atzmon explains, “… it is not the idea of being unethical that torments Israelis and their supporters, but the idea of being ‘caught out’ as such.”
Atzmon identifies a hypocrisy in Jews identifying as Jews. “Some Jews,” he writes, “may, for instance, proudly carry the Jewish banner (Jews for Peace, Jews for Justice, Jews for Jesus and so on) as if they believe that the ‘J’ word contains special righteous attributions. However, they will also be gravely offended if they are called a ‘Jew’ by others. Suggesting to a Jew that ‘he is a Jew’ or ‘behaves like a Jew’ can be regarded as a serious ‘racist’ offence.”
Jews for Peace exemplifies Jewish separation. However, as for offensive labeling, context is important. When the speaker is equating group membership with a negative attribute and stereotyping all members with that attribute (although untrue), then that is indeed a racist offense and umbrage at such labeling is warranted.
Wondering about Atzmon
Atzmon knows who he is: “I regard myself a ‘Hebrew-speaking Palestinian’, I do not seek anyone’s approval to do so. I also regard myself as a ‘proud, self-hating Jew’ and again, I do not need anyone’s approval.”
Why does Atzmon describe himself as a self-hating Jew? He does not hate himself, but he hates what being a Jew — to him — represents, especially a Zionist Jew: “ Zionism is all about the abolition of the other, the re-creation of conditions in which Jews can celebrate their symptoms, in which they can love themselves for who they are – or, at least, who they think they are.”
It is not just the message that Jews manipulate, according to Atzmon, but also the economic system. Atzmon cites Milton Friedmann who made it clear: “Jews do benefit from hard capitalism and competitive markets.”
In fact, again citing Friedmann, Jews were never about sharing and caring economies and their ideologies: “Jews or Jewish intellectuals are not really against capitalism, it was just the ‘special circumstances of the nineteenth century that drove Jews to the left, and the subconscious attempts by Jews to demonstrate to themselves and the world the fallacy of the anti-Semitic stereotype’. It was neither ideology nor ethics.”
How does one understand a people without a history? Atzmon says, “It is an established fact that virtually no Jewish history texts were written between the first and early-nineteenth centuries. That Judaism is based on a religious historical myth may have something to do with this.”
Atzmon dispenses with biblical fiction — “an ideological text that is being made to serve social and political ends” and the mythical exile of Jews (citing the work of Israeli historian Shlomo Sand).
The Wandering Who? examines the political landscape, wondering about the “overwhelming” over-representation of Jews in the political institutions of the United Kingdom and United States. This is a fact, but should one blame Jews for taking advantage of the political system and the voting tendencies of the citizenry? Politics in western so-called democracies is, after all, about forming groups that can gain political power.
Atzmon criticizes the leaders in the UK and US, asking: “And what qualifications did [Tony] Blair or [George W.] Bush possess before taking the wheel?” Atzmon supplies the answer: “none.” He continues, “Our lives, our future and the future of our children are in the hands of ludicrous, clueless characters.” Here Atzmon digresses weakly and too far from his core thesis. Ad hominem should be unpersuasive in intelligent discourse, and Atzmon fails to address what are the qualifications that Bush and Blair lack; what qualifications does Atzmon propose are necessary?
In a speech arguing against Palestinian statehood, United States president Barack Obama said: “There is no shortcut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades…” Atzmon demurs: “… the so-called Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved in 25 minutes once both people decide to live together.”
However, according to Atzmon, “The only people who can bring peace about are the Palestinians, because Palestine, against all odds and in spite of the endless suffering, humiliation and oppression, is still an ethically-driven ecumenical society.”
The Wandering Who? reveals the infatuation with self and the Jewish struggle for identity; it presents a reasoned and principled account into understanding the mentality of an occupier and oppressor.