An Interview with Gilad Atzmon
Israeli occupation: Calling A Spade A Spade
by Silvia Cattori*
Gilad Atzmon is an outstandingly charming man. He is often described by music critics as one of the finest contemporary jazz saxophonists. But Atzmon is more than just a musician: for those who follow events in the Middle East, he is considered to be one of the most credible voices amongst Israeli opponents. In the last decade he has relentlessly exposed and denounced barbarian Israeli policies. Just before his departure on a European Spring Tour, “The Tide Has Changed “, with his band the Orient House Ensemble, he spoke to Silvia Cattori.
Silvia Cattori: As a jazz musician, what brought you to use your pen as a weapon against the country where you were born and against your people?
Gilad Atzmon: For many years my music and writings were not integrated at all. I became a musician when I was seventeen and I took it up as a profession when I was twenty four. Though I was not involved with, or interested in politics when I lived in Israel, I was very much against Israel’s imperial wars. I identified somehow with the left, but later, when I started to grasp what the Israeli left was all about, I could not find myself in agreement with anything it claimed to believe in, and that is when I realised the crime that was taking place in Palestine.
For me the Oslo Accord was the end of it because I realised that Israel was not aiming towards reconciliation, or even integration in the region, and that it completely dismissed the Palestinian cause. I understood then that I had to leave Israel. It wasn’t even a political decision — I just didn’t want to be part of the Israeli crime anymore. In 1994 I moved to the UK and I studied philosophy.
In 2001, at the time of the second Intifada, I began to understand that Israel was the ultimate aggressor and was also the biggest threat to world peace. I realised the extent of the involvement and the role of world Jewry as I analysed the relationships between Israel and the Jewish State, between Israel and the Jewish people around the world, and between Jews and Jewishness.
I then realised that the Jewish “left” was not very different at all from the Israeli “left”. I should make it clear here that I differentiate between “Left ideology”— a concept that is inspired by universal ethics and a genuine vision of equality – and the “Jewish Left”, a tendency or grouping that is there solely to maintain tribal interests that have very little, if anything, to do with universalism, tolerance and equality.
(Beautiful jazz. Click on either of the two hyperlinks above to listen to more. You won’t be disappointed.)
Silvia Cattori: Would you argue that there is a discrepancy between Jews and left?
Gilad Atzmon: Not at all. I should explain here that I never talk about Jews as a people. I differentiate between Jews (the people) Judaism (the religion) and Jewishness (the culture). In my work, I am only elaborating on the third category, i.e. Jewishness. Also it should be understood that I differentiate between the tribal “Jewish Left”, and Leftists who simply happen to be Jewish. Indeed, I would be the first to admit that there are many great leftists and humanists who happen to be of Jewish origin. However those Jews who operate under a “Jewish banner” seem to me to be Zionist fig leafs: they are solely there to convey an image of “Jewish pluralism”. In fact, when I grasped the full role of the “Jewish left” I realised that I may end up fighting alone against the strongest power around.
Silvia Cattori: Do you fight alone?
Gilad Atzmon: More or less alone. I like to fight alone; I take responsibility. Along the years, there have been a lot attempts to destroy the few of us who have stood up against Jewish power. I found myself in trouble for supporting people like Israel Shamir and Paul Eisen, for standing up for their right to think freely and to express their opinions and ideas openly. I remember one of those infamous “Jewish Left” activists telling me, “listen Gilad, once you shun Shamir we will let you be”. My answer was simple: I was not about to bargain with intellectual integrity. For me, freedom of speech is an iron rule — I would never silence anyone.
Within the liberation movement and the solidarity movement, I do not actually believe that we have any intellectuals. And why we do not have intellectuals? Because in the name of “Political Correctness”, we have managed to destroy every single English speaking creative mind within our movement.
What we see here may be an endemic problem with “the Left”. To speak in broad (or rather Germanic philosophical) terms, “the Left” is “forgetful of Being” — Instead of understanding what Being in the world is all about, it tries to suggest to us what being in the world ought to be. “The Left” has adopted a preaching mode that has led to a severe form of alienation, and this is probably why “the Left” has failed to come to terms with, fully understand, and grasp the significance and power of Islam. And this is why “the Left” is totally irrelevant to the current revolution in the Middle East. As we know by now, “the Left’s’ tolerance”, somehow evaporates when it comes to Islam and Muslims. I find it very problematic.
Read the rest of Gilad’s interview by clicking HERE