Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Comment Trail for the Wednesday:

Bob from Brockley has a guest post by Jogo which I consider important enough to reproduce in full:

Gilad Atzmon and secular Judaism

Jogo writes:

There is probably not a single person of pro-Palestinian persuasion in the world -- certainly not any relatively young, hip, culturally informed person-- who does not know the name Gilad Atzmon.

Gilad Atzmon must be one of the finest and most interesting jazz musicians alive. As a performer he is completely thrilling. I could watch and listen to him for hours. He is very, very great. But I think that, intellectually and morally, he is insane.

It would be possible to work actively for the "liberation of Palestine," yet come far short of the madness and extremism of Atzmon's positions. Unless your idea of the liberation of Palestine was the same as Hamas'."But he is a musician; an artist." No. Atzmon is every bit as much political activist as musician. You cannot see him only as a musician because he himself does not; he has at least two identities that are both of equal importance to him. By his own self-definition he is not "a musician." He is a musician and a political activist.It is specious to call him "a Jew," because in a way he isn't one. He is an Israeli-born person. And that fact is used to give him authority, and to refute accusations that he is a Jew-hater. The idea being: How could he be a Jew-hater?, he was born in Israel and served in the IDF.

He was raised, so says all the biographical material, as a "secular Jew."

Which is to say, NOT as a Jew.

He was raised as an Israeli, with a nationalist identity and a National Story, like any other person from any other nation. He disagrees with the National Story, which in this case is connected to a tribal story that he believes is a fake and malignant story. And in any case, the Israeli National Story, he believes, is an impediment to human progress, an affront to human dignity and a thorn in the side of the world. So he has no choice but to reject his national identity (except insofar as it is useful to his self-presentation and his cause; a piece of armor, as it were). As for cultural or spiritual identity, he never had either.An idea that I shall never give up -- because it has taken me a long time and a lot of serious thinking to come up with -- is: "Secular Judaism" is meaningless. It has meaning only in the abstract. In terms of an individual person, it has meaning only in its short life of a one- or two-generation journey from authentic Judaism, during which certain basic qualities of Judaism may still be vital and vibrant in the soul, intellect, moral intelligence and emotions of a person. And that is its lifespan.Anyone who disagrees with me on this point can try to transmit his "secular Judaism" to the third generation from its authentic root. And then he will see the rubber meeting the road, and he can come back to me and we'll resume the discussion.


Back to Atzmon:

Oliver Kamm nails him pretty good. The Contentious Centrist does as well, a bit more literarily, as is her wont and style.

And Bob From Brockley, an attentive Atzmon observer, has no illusions.

Bob from Brockley editorialises:

Is secular Judaism possible for more than a generation or two? I believe it is, but only if there is a community to sustain and transmit it. Such a community was emerging in Yiddishland in the first half of the last century, with a web of institutions (YIVO, the Bund, the Yiddish theatre and film industries...), and with a rich secular culture. Perhaps this infrastructure and culture was dependent on a certain exclusion from majority cultural life in Central and Eastern Europe (where there was formal equality, such as Germany, there was no such infrastructure; non-religous Jews assimilated after a generation or two). And, of course, that infrastructure was destroyed in the Shoah.

So, the question is, are there enough secular people with enough motivation to devote enough of their lives to the specifically Jewish to sustain secular Jewish culture? Probably not.

Here is my comment:

Very very interesting article by Jogo and Bob's footnote is also challenging, but I will leave my response to Bob's challenge until later.

As I always say, the phenomenon of the "self-hating Jew" belongs in the realm of compassion, not contempt. It is as rational* a product of virulent antisemitism as the death camps were. It is a kind of mutilation of the soul, for which there is no prosthetic.

Atzmon just joins a certain trend in the history of the Jews, the most recent example I encountered was this heartbreaking story of Irène Némirovsky, a Jewish author who wrote successful novels which depicted ugly, monstrous Jews before she was deported to die in Auschwitz.

"And after her arrest her husband, Michel Epstein, pleaded with the German ambassador for her release, arguing that "it seems ... unjust and illogical to me that the Germans would imprison a woman who, though originally Jewish, has no sympathy, and all her books show this ... for Judaism."

It's beyond ironic. Another irony I found in the fact that Nemirovsky, as hellbent as she was on getting away from her roots, married a Jewish man.

The whole thing reminds me of Louis Malle's film "Lacombe Lucien" in which an illiterate, anti-social French Nazi collaborator who likes to kill things, forces himself on a young beautiful, talented, Jewish woman who lives in semi-seclusion with her father. He takes her to a party where she is treated like a whore. At one point, she says (I'm paraphrasing from memory): I'm so tired of being Jewish... I want to stop being Jewish...

Can we condemn her?

Hannah Arednt understood the Nemirovskys and Atzmons of this world, as she observed in "Rahel Varnhagen": "In a society on the whole hostile to Jews, it is possible to assimilate only by assimilating to antisemitism also".

Cited here;


Engage put up a post about the Guardian's "Comment is Free" moderation, and possibly other, polcies:

This is how the question is discussed on the Guardian website nowadays. Search "protocols" in this page.

My comment:

As scary as some of these comments are, I think (maybe) that it is better to know what some people feel and think rather than suppress their expression and have them swell and fester concealed from sight. Sure enough they are painful to read, not only for their venom. I try to imagine what kind of information, upbringing, cultural inclinations, etc etc have to coalesce in order to produce this much distortion and self-righteous defamation.

I am reminded of Robert Graves' Claudius who said: let all the poisons in the mud hatch out.

Don't we need to know EXACTLY what kind of poisons are trapped in the mud?

I blogged about the Protocols once in response to an article in Counterpunch which seemed to doubt that the Protocols were indeed a forgery.


Anti-Racist blog has posted this article which brings up the "Protocols":

In a particularly distressing probe by Palestinian Media Watch directors Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook, we see scarifying evidence that revisionist history and open anti-Semitism of the vilest kind is common currency amongst "scholars" in Palestinian universities. If only shameless historical lies and routine classroom incitement to hatred were criteria for collegial shunning -- the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a standard "text" for Palestinian students -- rather than trumped-up charges of a non-existent "apartheid," Palestinian universities would be instant pariahs. Alas, thanks to our postmodern intellectuals' weakness for moral inversions, it seems even university-sanctioned incitement to literal genocide is no barrier to acceptance in the West's Islamophilic groves of academe.


Sidebar for some context:

If I had to define Bob's politics, I would say he is an awakened Marxist. He and I would be at loggerheads over the origins of Zionism, if it weren't for the fact that he is one of the most civilized interlocutors on the Internet, in the style of Norm Geras. The New Centrist is also a bird of the same feather.

I can explain better what I mean by slightly paraphrasing Cass Sunstein:

The antonym of respect is disdain or (better) contempt; the antonym of charity is selfishness or (better) stinginess. It is much worse to be disrespectful than to be uncharitable. [To] show respect is... not to attack the competence, the motivations, or the defining commitments of those who disagree with [you]. Those who show charity as well as respect tend to put opposing arguments in the best possible form, to praise the motivations of those who offer such arguments, and to seek proposals that specifically accept the defining commitments of all sides.

Sunstein is speaking of presidential candidates, who are, as per definition, moderate in their politics, and whose good will to serve is taken for a fact. Unfortunately, on the Internet, in the Blogosphere, such credentials are rarely allowed and even more rarely encountered. It takes a talent and genuine kindness to be able to maintain this sort of ethos, while keeping to one's position.


*By "rational" I mean a result that plausibly, or even inevitably, follows from certain circumstances. If the goal of antisemitism is the exclusion of Jews from the circles of legitimate humanity, then the concentration camp is one possible result that might optimally achieve that goal. Another possible result would be that members of the "de-legitimized" community will want to escape the boundaries that these exclusionary positions place upon them. And one of the ways to do so is to try and become one of the excluders.

Both are therefore rational consequences of the injustice of antisemitism.


At 5:52 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why are yous pending so much time on an insane Jew hater like Atzmon. Who cares if he can play an instrument. It's his playing with the lives of Jews that is the issue.

The guy should be in jail for incitement.

At 6:09 PM EST, Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

I can't answer this question. Maybe this quote from Jane Eyre could serve as a sort of response:

"(Rochester to Jane:).. that demon's vicinage is poisoned, and always was. But I'll shut up Thornfield Hall: I'll nail up the front door and board the lower windows: ... when MY WIFE is prompted by her familiar to burn people in their beds at night, to stab them, to bite their flesh from their bones, and so on--"

"Sir," I interrupted him, "you are inexorable for that unfortunate
lady: you speak of her with hate--with vindictive antipathy. It is
cruel--she cannot help being mad."


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