Beware of the Snakes in the Grass

Sometimes it is necessary to warn others about individuals because of their questionable actions, habits or simple folly. It is particularly important to be aware of such persons when they seek to be active in solidarity organizations or claim to be one’s ally. Alas, this is the problem in the pro-justice groups in the UK where there are a few individuals who claim to be “jewish anti-zionists” — the echt anti-zionists. Add to that mix ultra-left-ism and suddenly one has a toxic brew and it is best to, at the very least, handle such individuals with care.

The case of Tony Greenstein

In January 2008, an activist group in Brighton, UK, sought to host an event with Gilad Atzmon, a world renowned Jazz saxophonist, thinker, and writer (a frequent contributor to Dissident Voice). A church hall was found as a venue for the talk, but the event was undermined when Tony Greenstein initiated a smear campaign. TonyG sent defamatory letters to the venue director and threatened that a group would picket the event; similar defamatory flyers were distributed in the area. Instead of attending the talk where TonyG could have debated Gilad, he chose to shut down the event by levelling vile accusations of anti-semitism, holocaust denial, etc. Now, we happen to live in what is putatively still a democracy, and one would expect people to behave accordingly, to act in a civil manner and to engage in an open discussion. What TonyG chose to do has all the hallmarks of totalitarian societies, where debate is barred, and where dissenters are vilified and threatened. The only missing stage prop would have been for TonyG to distribute his vile flyers wearing jackboots.

And what causes TonyG’s tantrums? Gilad Atzmon and Paul Eisen have written some essays in which they examine the origins of the “conflict” in Palestine by looking at our own society. Some see the “conflict” as a post-1967 issue where only the occupied West Bank and Gaza are matters of contention (Israel “proper” has already been conceded as a Jewish state), others take a broader post-1948 framework, but Gilad Atzmon and Paul Eisen look at the broader Jewish society. It is a fact that the most fascistic and violent settlers are those who emigrated from the United States. So, why is it that American zionists arriving in Israel are eager to dispossess and ethnically cleanse Palestinians? What is it in American society that explains this behaviour? Similarly, why are American Jews (or other diaspora Jews) so intent on promoting the Israeli colonial project? Why does the “Israel Lobby” receive such wide support and funding? Why do politicians throughout Europe form pro-Israel groups like Labour Friends of Israel, European Friends of Israel…? All of these questions are pertinent to the “conflict” and the continued grand larceny of Palestinian land. It would seem that examining our own society to determine where the Israel imperative comes from would be a worthwhile and welcome research exercise, and this is exactly what Gilad Atzmon and Paul Eisen have done. Paul Eisen’s contributions can be found here, and the article that seems to have upset TonyG most is “Jewish Power.” Similarly, Gilad Atzmon’s contributions can be found here, and TonyG seems most upset by “The Protocols of the Elders of London.”

If we read Gilad’s and Paul’s contributions, we will find a very productive discussion about “our” society. It is usually very easy to discuss and criticize others, but when it is closer to home it becomes more uncomfortable, and possibly the reason TonyG is upset. Another reason TonyG may dislike Gilad’s articles is that TonyG is a humourless person. Many of Gilad’s articles are suffused with humour, but such wit is usually taken as an insult by humourless and insecure people.

Tony’s tribe

TonyG is a member of “Jews against Zionism” (JAZ), a London-based groupuscle of former ultra-lefties who consider themselves to be the real anti-zionists. However, much of their evident activity seems to be directed against Gilad Atzmon and Paul Eisen who also happen to be anti-zionists! If JAZ actually spent the same effort railing against carnivore zionists as they expend against Gilad and Paul Eisen, then one could say that the groupuscle had some merit. However, most of their public effort is directed against Gilad.

The creation of a solidarity group with the Palestinians which is premised on the exclusion of all but a certain “in-group”, replicates the apartheid that we are supposedly fighting. In London there are several “Jews this/that groups” like “Jews against Zionism”, or “Jews for Justice”, etc. Instead of becoming part of a wider movement, they segregate themselves and recreate the tribal components that might actually be part of the problem. Many of the members of these groupuscles attend solidarity meetings and are easily detected because (1) they often preface their statements with “as a Jew I think…”; (2) they seek to “raise awareness” to issues dealing with “anti-semitism” or the holocaust; and (3) often raise objections about comments made about Israel, the Israel lobby, or media bias with statements such as “that is anti-semitic”, and thereby attempt to smother discussion.

While JAZ may be a worthwhile groupuscle if they actually confronted their own society, their activity becomes meaningless or detrimental if they merely segregate themselves, or if they primarily criticize others about their stance on zionism, anti-semitism, or the holocaust. While JAZ may be putatively in favour of a boycott of Israeli products or academia, they subvert the project by producing lists of recondite conditions which must be met to make a boycott acceptable. Such groups are also detrimental if their excessive zeal about anti-semitism results primarily in censoring discussion. By simply broadening the frame of reference of the Israeli colonial project to include analysis of the Jewish society, Gilad Atzmon and Paul Eisen earned themselves the vile “anti-semitic” label. Thus JAZ is accusing two Jews of being “anti-semitic”; this accusation is virtually the same as the “self-hating-Jew” accusation-of-last-resort flung by the usual zionist apologists. JAZ and TonyG are possibly indicating that Gilad and Paul are not part of their tribe but belong to some unacceptable “Other”.

Maybe Jews are too accustomed to requiring kosher labels in everything they consume. A visit to the supermarket shows that kosher products have a little label on the package. Maybe in societal discourse, magazines or intellectual life we are also starting to see the same phenomenon. Thus speakers at events will require their little stamp of approval before they are even allowed near the podium. This is already evident when Palestinians are invited to speak at events. Before they are accepted they will be asked what they think of the one-state vs. two-state solutions, and those who are critical of the one-state will not be invited, or even invited, but then dis-invited to really rub it in. Anyone having something positive to say about Hamas or Islamic groups will also suffer the same fate. And when anyone wants to discuss zionism, then the same censoring process seems to take place. JAZ and TonyG are there to hand out kosher labels to “anti-zionists”. Those who don’t pass their rigid qualification standards are then barred or vilified. Better yet, those who encompass Jewish society in their critique are branded with nasty labels, and the self-censoring crowd will not attend their events or read their articles. Maybe orthodoxy certificates have already become standard means to censor.

Against censorship and in favour of civil discourse

The attempts to bar or censor the Brighton event incensed me. Who is the little — and that is really the only adjective that comes to mind — squirt who has been vilifying Gilad Atzmon and Paul Eisen, sending out defamatory letters and picketing their events? I wrote a brief comment about TonyG’s efforts to bar Gilad Atzmon’s talk, and this elicited another TonyG-tantrum. Our email exchange quickly degenerated with TonyG’s brusque “don’t write to me again”. In the meantime he used sections of my direct email exchange with him to write a vile article castigating me for my defence of Gilad and PaulE — TonyG labelled me an apologist for holocaust deniers and anti-semites. Well thank you Tony, but I am not going to be too bothered by insults spewed by a pipsqueak who happens to have a criminal record; your desire to insult me also devalues the meaning of your favourite terms of abuse. First, I find it absurd and obscene that Gilad Atzmon and Paul Eisen are smeared with “anti-semite” labels, and I find it mildly amusing that my defence of their freedom of speech lands me with an “apologist for anti-semites”. Second, the holocaust has been milked for propaganda purposes as Norman Finkelstein’s masterful book The Holocaust Industry has demonstrated, and it is necessary to wrest the appropriation of the holocaust from zionist misuse. There is also a need to do away with the cult of exclusive remembrance — the genuflecting at Yad Vashem; the construction of hundreds of holocaust memorials, etc. There is a need to transform the lessons of the holocaust into a universal message where “never again” applies to all. Alas, taking this stance may cause TonyG to throw further tantrums.

It would seem that the Israeli genocidal project against the Palestinians should trigger vigorous action — implement boycotts, stop the preferential access Israelis have to Europe, etc. It is necessary to confront the collusion of European governments with the Israeli colonial project. Instead one finds contemptible groupuscles engaging in vilification campaigns and disruptive tactics at the time when clear action is needed. Maybe this is where TonyG really demonstrates his true colours — his actions distract Palestine solidarity organizations from the most important task on hand. And wouldn’t that be what zionist groups actually desire?

Tony Greenstein is a contemptible person who has wasted much time, degraded civil discourse, and insulted important pro-justice activists. Palestinian solidarity organizations should be aware that individuals may be disruptive due to their personal insecurity and emotional hang-ups, but they also may be deliberate agents provocateurs. Or as our African friends like to say, beware of the snakes in the grass.

Paul de Rooij is a writer living in London. He can be reached at Read other articles by Paul.

11 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Shep said on February 12th, 2008 at 8:35am #

    Fine article. The story of the century is how a little, illegally-peopled country, backed by powerful financial interests, has its claws so deeply into the entire global industrial society that most often they are the only ones presenting information on both sides of virtually every issue. The reach and depth of the penetration is truly amazing.

  2. sk said on February 12th, 2008 at 9:06am #

    FYI, MP3s of Gilad Atzmon’s Brighton talk which Tony Greenstein tried to shut down. It’s entitled ‘The Primacy of the Ear: The Road from Music to Ethics’ : Part 1 and Part 2.

  3. greybeard said on February 12th, 2008 at 9:34am #

    On this side of the “pond”, I had heard of the viciousness of some of the “ultra-left” anti-Zionists, but not seen an example of it. Mr. de Rooij puts his finger on the essential problem–the maintaining of an “insider-outsider” mentality even though the “outsider” is promoting fairness (e.g., with respect to Palestinians). Both Atzmon and Eisen of classy people, working in an incredibly hostile environmnet. England is richer for having them, as well as now having Ilan Pappe.

  4. Michael Kenny said on February 12th, 2008 at 10:39am #

    I’m never very happy with personal attacks on named people, which are an American bad habit. I have never heard of Mr Greenstein and have no idea if Mr de Rooij’s criticisms of him are justified. However, Mr de Rooij raises an interesting point about European attitudes towards Israel.

    Except for rural Poland, where an American attempt to re-colonise the “Stadtle” with Jews has given rise to an anti-Jewish political party, anti-Jewish feeling in European at the moment is more or less zero. That’s not because Europeans like the Jews but rather because, unlike earlier generations, they simply don’t see very many of them. There are currently about 2.3 million Jews in Europe, 0.3% of the population, 15% of the world’s Jews. Of those about 700 000 live in Russia and about 600 000 in France, where they represent 1% of the population, the largest in Europe. Moreover, roughly half the French Jews live in Paris. In 1933, there were about 9.5 million, 2% of Europe’s population and 60% of the world’s Jews.

    In addition, the strategy of the European Jews since WWII has been to be invisible. To hide in plain sight, so to speak. That strategy has been immensely successful, allowing them to recover their property and re-establish their business and professional activities while avoiding charges that they are “taking over” and the resentment that that would breed. US neocon antics have made the European elite increasingly conscious that Jews have got into positions, particularly in the economy and the media, which give them influence and power far beyond their numbers, but nobody really sees what can be done about it, or even if anything should be done about it.

    The logic of Israel for Europe was to get rid of the Jews, or most of them, once and for all and as far as the man in the European street can see, that has happened. What worries European leaders is what would happen if Israel suddenly collapsed. Since many Israelis have European nationalities, they would probably flood back into Europe and the effect and the effect of that remains to be seen, particularly if it was accompanied by an economic crisis, following, say, the collapse of the US. Equally, European leaders fear that any rise in anti-Jewish feeling in Europe would start the remaining European Jews fleeing towards Israel, which would aggravate the situation there and make a political solution even more difficult. At the same time, they do not dare offend the Arab/Muslim world because of its current wealth and influence.

    Thus, European leaders want a political solution in Palestine. Any solution. At any price. That leads to (typically European!) ambiguity. Basically, the Palestinians can name their price … as long as it does not involve any significant number of Israelis flooding into Europe! The current “seepage” of population from Israel towards the US thus suits Europe extremely well, and is probably viewed as the best long-term solution, but the lid has to be kept on the pot until then!

    Thus it is not so much that Europe is in some way “complicit” with Israel but that it is looking after No 1, i.e Europe! If the US had done likewise, it might not be in its current mess! Nor, indeed, would the Middle East!

  5. heike said on February 12th, 2008 at 12:09pm #

    Greenstein’s recently published response to de Rooij, for those interested in the other side of the story.

  6. Rev. José M. Tirado said on February 12th, 2008 at 3:47pm #

    Please tell me the source of statements such as “The logic of Israel for Europe..:” or “What worries European leaders..:” or “European leaders fear..:” or “European leaders want..:”.

    I live in Europe, travel to Greece, Italy, Spain and Britain pretty regularly and have yet to meet one “European leader” nor have I met anyone in Europe who shared your view of Jews in Europe or what “Europe” wants. Maybe I´m missing something. But what is the source of your information about Europe and its leaders?

  7. DavidG. said on February 12th, 2008 at 8:20pm #

    The continuing tragedy of Palestine is a blot upon the whole world. It demonstrates how easy it is for a small, strategically placed group of influential, monied, religious fanatics to manipulate the whole world.

    No other nation in the world would be allowed to get away with what Israel does: the genocide, the occupation, the warcrimes, the stealing of land, the collective punishment, the ignoring of U.N. Resolutions and Human Rights Conventions, etc.

    It is an indictment of most nations in the world, especially America.

  8. thecutter said on February 13th, 2008 at 6:20am #

    This is what Palestinians and activists for Palestinians have to say to Tony Greenstein. There are quite a few signatures. Obviously, he disregards what they think, which is quite telling.

  9. Gary Lapon said on February 13th, 2008 at 9:18am #

    Here, Tony G makes the case that Gilad Atzmon’s positions are anti-Semitic and therefore detrimental to the movement for Palestinian liberation. Anti-Semitism was the keystone of the ideology used to justify the Zionist project from the beginning (“a land without a people, for a people without a land”), and Zionists today falsely accuse Palestinian liberation activists (and anyone who criticizes Israel) of anti-Semitism. This does not mean, however, that there is no anti-Semitism within the movement. Tony G does not oppose anti-Semitism primarily because he feels it’s a major threat to Jews (he actually states that he thinks it’s declining in the West); he opposes it because he thinks it weakens the Palestinian liberation movement. It weakens the movement because it supports the Zionist argument that anti-Semitism is eternal, still a major problem, and that therefore the state of Israel is necessary.

    Read it, read Atzmon, and decide for yourself. If Atzmon is in fact anti-Semitic, then I think that picketing his appearances makes sense, since bigotry should always be confronted no matter who it targets, and a movement that takes a principled stand against all forms of oppression is likely to be most effective:

    Atzmon’s article:

    Tony G’s response:

  10. sk said on February 14th, 2008 at 6:51am #

    FYI, cogent advice from Norman Finkelstein on the importance of “steer[ing] as much away as possible from slogans and sloganeering”. His top advice for dealing with those whose mission in life is to deflect attention from the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine (which can be heard between minutes 3-6 of this recent talk) is:

    Number 1: steering clear of ideological debates and discussion…I never mention the word Zionism, because I don’t want to get involved in ideological debate about whether or not you’re a Zionist.

  11. jaime said on February 17th, 2008 at 1:14pm #

    Finkelstein’s a good role model for you!