By Ramzy Baroud
The issue of Israeli-UK author, Gilad Atzmon’s political views and writings keep coming up and I am often urged to offer my views or to take a position on this issue.
I am not part of the UK Palestine solidarity scene, and from afar, it seems odd to me that an individual, no matter how divisive, can divide pro-Palestine groups and jeopardize the work of a large community that has been building grassroots support for Palestine for decades.
Let me be frank, I don’t find Atzmon’s work intellectually thought-provoking enough to the extent of a controversy. I haven’t read anything he has written for years because his work has grown quite obsessed with Gilad Atzmon himself, as if the author has become the cause and the issue.
Moreover, I have reached the conclusion that Palestinian human rights is rarely a factor in Atzmon’s political views and writings.
I did read his book, and in fact, I endorsed it – along with Professor Richard Falk, Professor John J. Mearsheimer, Karl Sabbagh and others – after it was released.
My endorsement then was genuine. Israel and its Zionist supporters conflate, misuse and exploit Judaism, Jewish nationality and Jewish identity to achieve their sinister political motives. For an Israeli to acknowledge such a fact and push it into the public sphere seemed like a good idea at the time.
Of course, the discourse imparted by Atzmon – in the book but specially in his articles – has not always been consistent. It lacked focus and oftentimes was self-aggrandizing.
However, what transpired since the release of his book was quite disturbing. A group of respected Palestinian activists and intellectuals decided to disassociate the Palestinian movement from Gilad Atzmon and his writing, fearing that what they judged to be his anti-Semitic views is tainting a movement that is meant to present humanistic, anti-colonial and anti-racist discourses.
On one hand, I understand why they felt compelled to do so, considering the incessant efforts by Zionists to undermine the global appeal of our movement.
On the other hand, I disagreed with the method and style in which that important message was conveyed. Moreover, disavowing Atzmon in that fashion set a precedent and had the kind of affect that reverberated beyond the impact of a single individual or a few.
While I would not assert that the Atzmon saga has split the entire movement, it left a negative impact on many small groups across the UK, Europe and even beyond. And just when you would think that the whole subject has been pushed to the margins it keeps resurfacing.
As my forthcoming book tour continues to be organized for this year, friends in a small northern UK town asked me: ‘what is your stance on Gilad Atzmon?” as if the answer will determine what groups will support or not support my visit to their town.
I must say that it felt truly discouraging.
Being a Palestinian refugee, whose family was ethnically cleansed during the ‘Massacre of Beit Daras’ in 1948 and has dedicated his life to narrating the story of his people through books, thousands of articles and numerous TV and Radio hours, the question was quite disrespectful, just to say the least.
A Palestinian refugee author being quizzed by western activists over his stance on an Israeli writer is quite strange, for neither the Western activist has the right to control my narrative, nor the Israeli writer has an iota of authentic understanding of my history.
For all of them, it is a convenient conversation that is happening outside the confines of my history, memory of pain and in fact present reality. Neither Gilad Atzmon, his fan club or the anti-Gilad movement who determine the priorities of the Palestinian narrative, nor should they, all of them, serve as gatekeepers to our narrative as Palestinians.
(Strangely, the group has not yet asked me what my book is about or what is ‘people history of Palestine’ in the first place.)
I just hope that those individuals, including Gilad Atzmon who has done much damage to our struggle kindly step aside for we have far more urgent issues to contend with at the moment, lead amongst them is our unity as Palestinians. It is our united voice that will have to serve as the litmus test for those who support our struggle or purport to do so.
As for those who use our struggle as a personal platform for their own individual wars and conflicts, I appeal to them to please stop, think and place your focus entirely on Palestine and her people at home and in diaspora. Their ongoing ego-driven crusades and conflict have not freed a single Palestinian from Israeli prison, or benefited our movement in the slightest.
I really hope that this message serves as a start of a conversation, not one that takes us back into the pro-Gilad vs. the anti-Gilad debate, but one that is aimed at freeing the platform of solidarity for Palestinians so that their voice is maybe, finally heard.
– Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.