By Gilad Atzmon
The short piece that follows has very little to do with Palestine, it is not about the starvation in Gaza, it tells nothing about Israeli road blocks, it is not about the right of return. It will have zero effect on Palestine or the enormous Palestinian suffering. It is about a tiny group of Jewish activists who made solidarity into an ongoing nightmare. This piece is written with some severe pangs of conscience. I wanted to believe that we would never have to get there.
This small piece is dedicated in particular to Mr Tony Greenstein, a Palestinian Solidarity activist who is engaged solely in smearing and throwing mud on other activists, especially intellectuals with some continental appetite.
Two years ago, I had come across his name for the first time. It happened after I performed in a very moving event in remembrance of the Deir Yassin massacre. The event was organised by DYR and it was by far the biggest Palestinian event and gathering of Palestinians I have ever come across in the UK. I was shocked to find out a few days later that a group of Jewish activists who call themselves ‘anti-Zionists’, for some peculiar reason, were investing some enormous energy in destroying DYR.
Bewildered by their viciousness, I then started to monitor what is known as the Palestinian solidarity activity of the Jewish people in the UK. For the first time in my life I confronted the real meaning of Diaspora Jewish identity, for the first time I learned what segregation and Goy hating is all about. For the first time in my life I realised how devastating Jewish lobbying is. I summarised my impression in a satirical piece that was comprised of genuine quotes made by those very few JAZ (Jewish anti-Zionists). I called it ‘The Protocols of The Elders of London’. The piece was circulated vastly. I was convinced at the time that the piece would have a positive impact in increasing some self-awareness amongst those activists. Indeed, some left the group known as Just Peace UK, where the quotes themselves came from, some admitted to being Zionists and joined Engage, some just disappeared but a very few were left to retaliate. This was indeed a beginning of a world war.
It didn’t take long before Tony Greenstein, one of those quoted, found an opportunity to hit back. The next time I learned about him was when he organised a picket against me outside a London Marxist bookshop (Bookmarks). As a result of my circulating a piece written by Paul Eisen, whom he regards as a NASHD&M (‘Nazi’, ‘Anti-Semite’, ‘Holocaust Denier’ and a ‘maggot’), Greenstein tried to stop one of my readings, blaming the SWP for ‘giving a platform’ to guess what: an ‘Anti-Semite’, ‘Racist’, a ‘Nazi’ and a ‘holocaust denier’. Yes Greenstein and his friends are not economical with expressions. Needless to say, that the SWP ignored them completely.
As time went by, I saw Greenstein tossing accusations in almost every possible direction, but then something rather unusual happened. A week ago Greenstein published a piece on the Guardian’s CIF, once again he was campaigning against DYR, blaming its Directors for nothing else but being Holocaust Deniers and Anti-Semites. This time Greenstein & Co wanted the UK Palestinian Solidarity campaign (PSC) to shun DYR. He did it in spite of the fact that DYR memorials are probably the biggest and most successful Palestinian gatherings in Britain.
Within the first few hours after publication, the Guardian blog filled up with the usual meaningless Zio-centric comments, yet one was made by an unknown character with the nickname of Sachman who was referring to Greenstein’s past:
"Is this the same Tony Greenstein who was banned from National Union Of Students Conferences in the 1980’s for hitting a Jewish student?" (CIF)
Some red lights started to flash. I asked myself whether it was possible that the same Greenstein who picketed against me, calling me an anti-Semite was himself involved in some violent acts against Jews. I may admit that I myself have never been involved in any violent incident, either against Jews or anyone else and this includes the 3 years I had wasted in the IDF. I asked myself, is it the same Greenstein who accuses my friend, activist Paul Eisen, the most peaceful person I have ever come across, of being a racist?
At that stage I was totally convinced that the accusations against Greenstein were nothing but trash from a Zionist plant. I raised the question at the Peacepalestine blog. It didn’t take too long before some devastating information about Greenstein’s past started to flood in.
Apparently, Greenstein has a lot to hide, his personal history is tainted with some unsavoury unlawful activity. Yet, this is not the issue here. I do not care much about people’s past. Nevertheless, Greenstein is famous for passing ethical judgments on others. I tend to believe that people who are engaged in righteous preaching should themselves stand as an example of moral clarity. Moreover, though I do not hold Greenstein’s past against his present activity, I do believe that a politician who runs some deadly defamation campaigns and motions against an international Palestinian solidarity group and solidarity activists should be prepared to have his own past exposed.
David Cameron, the Tory leader, had to confront the resurfacing of his juvenile affair with cannabis. Blair and Clinton had to face the music (both on guitar and on saxophone) of their old crimes that were exposed to the public in their first electoral campaigns. In case you decide to live a political life, you have to bear in mind that your past becomes public property.
Greenstein couldn’t agree less. Once he realised that more than a few of us were starting to learn about his rather serious unlawful past, a new measure of threatening tactics were put into place.
Indeed, the British law allows convicted criminals to lie about their past after the period of spent conviction. The law is indeed morally correct. It allows the convicted person to open a new page. The British law allows Mr Greenstein to lie about his past, yet it doesn’t necessarily mean that the rest of the world should do the same.
However, whether people do or do not lie about their past is neither my concern nor my business. Nevertheless, when a politician tries to impose a lie on me I have to stand up against that. When a person with such a past insists upon dictating the ethical ground of the Palestinian solidarity agenda, I just go for a war.
But there are some wider ethical and ideological implications that should be explored. Interestingly enough, Greenstein presents himself as a Shoah historian. Not that he has written any book or produced any body of substantial work about the subject. However, he is obsessed with the issue of Holocaust denial and historical revisionism. Thus, it is rather amusing that Greenstein has such little respect for historicity when it comes to his own past.
One categorical question to do with Greenstein’s double standards is left open. If Greenstein is indeed convinced that he is legally entitled to lie about his past due to his ‘spent convictions’, what exactly gives him the right to confront the Israelis about their 1948 crimes? If that is the case, wouldn’t it be better to just forget it all? Is there some point where law takes priority over truth, where the loopholes that exist should be taken advantage of to promote a personal cause or even to cover up something unpleasant or even criminal? Using that reasoning, if Greenstein adopts the rehabilitation law so enthusiastically, would he have something to say by analogy and about just how much one can mention the Nazi crimes. Wouldn’t the Nazis deserve the same measures of spent convictions, if we are taking the ethical stance of Greenstein at face value? Or is there a mobile moral compass that he is aware of that the rest of us still haven’t grasped?
Actually, I am not interested in Greenstein’s answer to those questions. I believe in forgiveness, in grace and in love. I believe that to understand the Holocaust is to understand its meaning rather than its historicity. I believe that to understand the Nakba is to understand its meaning. If Greenstein would understand the meaning of his own past in terms of abuse of others, he may stop being a bully and a self-appointed inquisitor. I can easily live with Greenstein’s past as long as he presents me with an image of an empathic future.
I do feel guilty for writing this piece. I do feel guilty for being personal and referring to the conduct of an old man who may as well be a good man with a genuine positive will. But I am afraid that by avoiding it I would betray my beliefs. The smearing and the defamation must be stopped. I believe that Solidarity with Palestine must be based on an ethical thinking, on empathy and on love between people. I am tired of those hateful campaigns run by Greenstein and his friends, I am tired of people being labelled Nazis, anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers. Enough is enough.
I would never suggest banning Greenstein and his friends, though this is exactly what they suggest doing to others. All I ask for is a free discourse. A dialogue that allows different people to think differently. I have written this piece with regret. I was always hoping that we would never have to get there. The solidarity movement should move forward, it is all about Palestine rather than about the four or five UK Marxist Jews who care solely about anti-Semitism. Palestine solidarity is about Palestine. It is not about Jews being anti-Zionists. It is about people who protest against the inhuman crimes committed by the Jewish state.
-Gilad Atzmon was born in Israel and served in the Israeli military. He is the author of two novels: A Guide to the Perplexed and the recently released My One and Only Love. Atzmon is also one of the most accomplished jazz saxophonists in Europe. His recent CD, Exile, was named the year’s best jazz CD by the BBC. He now lives in London and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org