Why are elite scholars praising a work that regurgitates classic anti-Semitic propaganda?
As the discourse about Israel on university campuses continues to degenerate, there is growing concern that some of Israel’s most vocal detractors are crossing a red line between acceptable criticism of Israel and legitimizing anti-Semitism. The recent endorsements by several internationally prominent academics—including John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Richard Falk of Princeton—of an overtly anti-Semitic book written by a notorious Jew-hater illustrate this dangerous trend.
The book in question is entitled The Wandering Who? and was written by Gilad Atzmon, a British jazz musician. Lest there be any doubt about Atzmon’s anti-Semitic credentials, listen to his self-description in the book itself. He boasts about “drawing many of my insights from a man who … was an anti-Semite as well as a radical misogynist” and a hater of “almost everything that fails to be Aryan masculinity” (89-90). He declares himself a “proud, self-hating Jew” (54), writes with “contempt” of “the Jew in me” (94), and describes himself as “a strong opponent of … Jewish-ness” (186). His writings, both online and in his new book, brim with classic anti-Semitic motifs that are borrowed from Nazi publications:
Throughout his writings, Atzmon argues that Jews seek to control the world:
- “[W]e must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously.”
- “American Jewry makes any debate on whether the ‘Protocols of the elder of Zion’ [sic] are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews do try to control the world, by proxy.”
Atzmon expands on this theme in The Wandering Who?, repeatedly conflating “the Jews” and “the Zionist”:
- He calls the recent credit crunch “the Zio-punch” (22) and says it was not “a Jewish conspiracy” because “it was all in the open” (30).
- Paul Wolfowitz, Rahm Emmanuel, and other members of “the Jewish elite” remain abroad instead of moving to “Zion” because they “have proved far more effective for the Zionist cause by staying where they are” (19).
- The American media “failed to warn the American people of the enemy within” because of money (27).
Atzmon has written that Jews are evil and a menace to humanity:
- “With Fagin and Shylock in mind Israeli barbarism and organ trafficking seem to be just other events in an endless hellish continuum.”
- “The Homo Zionicus quickly became a mass murderer, detached from any recognised form of ethical thinking and engaged in a colossal crime against humanity.”
Atzmon rehearses many of these ideas in The Wandering Who?:
- “[T]o be a Jew is a deep commitment that goes far beyond any legal or moral order” (20) and this commitment “pulls more and more Jews into an obscure, dangerous and unethical fellowship” (21).
- If Iran and Israel fight a nuclear war that kills tens of millions of people, “some may be bold enough to argue that ‘Hitler might have been right after all’” (179).
Atzmon regularly urges his readers to doubt the Holocaust and to reject Jewish history:
- “It took me years to accept that the Holocaust narrative, in its current form, doesn’t make any historical sense. … If, for instance, the Nazis wanted the Jews out of their Reich (Judenrein—free of Jews), or even dead, as the Zionist narrative insists, how come they marched hundreds of thousands of them back into the Reich at the end of the war?”
- “[E]ven if we accept the Holocaust as the new Anglo-American liberal-democratic religion, we must allow people to be atheists.”
Atzmon reprises some of this language in The Wandering Who?:
- Children should be allowed to question, as he did, “how the teacher could know that these accusations of Jews making Matza out of young Goyim’s blood were indeed empty or groundless” (185).
- “The Holocaust religion is probably as old as the Jews themselves” (153).
- The history of Jewish persecution is a myth, and if there was any persecution the Jews brought it on themselves (175, 182).
Atzmon argues that Jews are corrupt and responsible for “why” they are “hated”:
- “[I]n order to promote Zionist interests, Israel must generate significant anti-Jewish sentiment. Cruelty against Palestinian civilians is a favourite Israeli means of achieving this aim.”
- “Jews may have managed to drop their God, but they have maintained goy-hating and racist ideologies at the heart of their newly emerging secular political identity. This explains why some Talmudic goy-hating elements have been transformed within the Zionist discourse into genocidal practices.”
Atzmon returns to this theme repeatedly in The Wandering Who?:
- The “Judaic God” described in Deuteronomy 6:10-12 “is an evil deity, who leads his people to plunder, robbery and theft” (120). Atzmon explains that “Israel and Zionism … have instituted the plunder promised by the Hebrew God in the Judaic holy scriptures” (121).
- The moral of the Book of Esther is that Jews “had better infiltrate the corridors of power” if they wish to survive (158).
Finally, Atzmon repeatedly declares that Israel is worse than the Nazis and has actually “apologized” to the Nazis for having earlier compared them to Israel:
- “Many of us including me tend to equate Israel to Nazi Germany. Rather often I myself join others and argue that Israelis are the Nazis of our time. I want to take this opportunity to amend my statement. Israelis are not the Nazis of our time and the Nazis were not the Israelis of their time. Israel, is in fact far worse than Nazi Germany and the above equation is simply meaningless and misleading.”
In light of this Der Stürmer-like bigotry against Jews, it should come as no surprise that even some of the most hard-core anti-Israel activists have shunned Atzmon out of fear that his anti-Semitism will discredit their cause. Tony Greenstein, a self-styled “anti-Zionist” who recently participated in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s unprecedented disruption of an Israel Philharmonic Orchestra concert in London (which Greenstein compared to protesting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in the 1930s), denounced The Wandering Who? as “a poisonous anti-Semitic tome.” Sue Blackwell, who co-wrote the Association of University Teachers’ motion to boycott Israeli universities in 2005, removed all links to Atzmon from her website and placed Atzmon on her list of “nasties” along with David Irving and Israel Shamir. Socialist Worker, a website that frequently refers to Israeli “apartheid” and publishes articles with titles such as “Israel’s murderous violence,” removed an interview with Atzmon and called the evidence of Atzmon’s anti-Semitism “damning.” At least ten authors associated with the Leftist publisher that published The Wandering Who? have called on the publisher to distance itself from Atzmon’s views, explaining that the “thrust of Atzmon’s work is to normalise and legitimise anti-Semitism.”
Hard-core neo-Nazis, racists, anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers, on the other hand, have happily counted Atzmon as one of their own. David Duke, America’s premier white supremacist, has posted more than a dozen of Atzmon’s articles on his website over the past five years and recently praised Atzmon for “writ[ing] such fine articles exposing the evil of Zionism and Jewish supremacism.” Kevin MacDonald, a professor at Cal State Long Beach whose colleagues formally disassociated themselves from his “anti-Semitic and white ethnocentric views,” called Atzmon’s book “an invaluable account by someone who clearly understands the main symptoms of Jewish pathology.” Israel Shamir, a Holocaust denier (“We must deny the concept of Holocaust without doubt and hesitation”) who argues that Jews ritually murdered Christian children for their blood and that “The rule of the Elders of Zion is already upon us,” refers to Atzmon as a “good friend” and calls Atzmon one of “the shining stars of the battle” against “the Jewish alliance.”
But neither Atzmon’s well-established reputation for anti-Semitism nor the copious anti-Semitic filth that fills The Wandering Who? has deterred Professors John Mearsheimer and Richard Falk from actively endorsing Atzmon’s work. Mearsheimer, the Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, calls The Wandering Who? a “fascinating” book that “should be read widely by Jews and non-Jews alike.” Falk, Milibank Professor of International Law Emeritus at Princeton University and United Nations Special Rapporteur on “human rights in the Palestinian territories,” calls The Wandering Who? an “absorbing and moving” book that everyone who “care[s] about real peace” should “not only read, but reflect upon and discuss widely.” Falk’s endorsement appears prominently on the cover of Atzmon’s book. Mearsheimer’s endorsement is featured on its first page. These professors are not merely defending Atzmon’s right to publish such a book; they are endorsing its content and urging their colleagues, students, and others to read and “reflect upon” the views expressed by Atzmon. One wonders which portions of this bigoted screed Professors Mearsheimer and Falk believe their students and others “should” read and “discuss widely.”
Mearsheimer has defended his endorsement (on Stephen Walt’s blog) by questioning whether his critics have even read Atzmon’s book. Well, I’ve read every word of it, as well as many of Atzmon’s blogs. No one who has read this material could escape the conclusion—which Atzmon freely admits—that many of his “insights” are borrowed directly from classic anti-Semitic writings. Mearsheimer claims, however, that he has endorsed only Atzmon’s book and not his other writings. But the book itself is filled with crass neo-Nazi rants against the “Jew,” “World Jewry,” and “Jewish bankers.” He claims that “robbery and hatred is imbued in Jewish modern political ideology on both the left and the right” (123). And like other anti-Semites, Atzmon is obsessed in the book with Jewish names. It was Jews, such as Wolfowitz and Libby, who pushed the United States into war against Iraq in the “interests” of “their beloved Jewish state” (26). “How is it that America failed to restrain its Wolfowitzes?” Atzmon asks (27).
Likewise, according to Atzmon’s book, it was “Jewish bankers,” financiers, economists, writers, and politicians such as Greenspan, Levy, Aaronovitch, Saban, Friedman, Schiff, and Rothschild who have caused the economic and political problems of the world, ranging from the Bolshevik revolution to the wars of the 20th century to the current economic troubles (27,194). And like other classic anti-Semites, Atzmon doesn’t simply fault the individual Jews he names; he concocts a worldwide Jewish conspiracy motivated by a “ruthless Zio-driven” (27) “Jewish ideology” (69) that finds its source in “the lethal spirit” (122) of the Hebrew Bible. This sort of conspiratorial drivel is borrowed almost word for word from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion—the Czarist forgery that became a staple of Nazi propaganda.
A number of other prominent academics have defended Atzmon and his endorsers. Brian Leiter, the Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Chicago Law School, dismissed the reaction to the book and to Mearsheimer’s “straightforward” endorsement as “hysterical” and not “advanc[ing] honest intellectual discourse,” though he acknowledges not having read Atzmon’s book. On the basis of having perused one brief interview with Atzmon, Leiter is nonetheless prepared to defend him against charges that he is an anti-Semite or a Holocaust denier: “His positions [do not mark him] as an anti-Semite [but rather as] cosmopolitan. … He does not deny the Holocaust or the gas chambers… .” Leiter should read the book, especially pages 175-176, before leaping to Atzmon’s defense. There Atzmon reflects “that 65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, we must be entitled to start asking questions. We should ask for historical evidence and arguments rather than follow a religious narrative that is sustained by political pressure and laws.”
James Petras, Bartle Professor of Sociology Emeritus at Binghamton University, called The Wandering Who? “a series of brilliant illuminations” and praised Atzmon’s “courage.” The list of academics who have endorsed Atzmon also includes William A. Cook, a professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California; Makram Khoury-Machool, a lecturer at the University of Cambridge; and Oren Ben-Dor of the University of Southampton School of Law.
These endorsements represent a dangerous step toward legitimizing anti-Semitic rhetoric on university campuses. If respected professors endorse the views contained in Atzmon’s book as “brilliant,” “fascinating,” “absorbing,” and “moving,” these views—which include Jewish domination of the world, doubting the Holocaust, blaming “the Jews” for being so hated, and attributing the current economic troubles to a “Zio-punch”—risk becoming acceptable among their students. These endorsements of Atzmon’s book are the best evidence yet that academic discourse is beginning to cross a red line, and that the crossing of this line must be exposed, rebutted, and rejected in the marketplace of ideas and in the academy. (Another evidence of this academic trend in Europe appeared recently on Atzmon’s website, where he brags that he has been invited to “give a talk on ethics at the Trondheim University” in Norway. This is the same university whose faculty refused to invite me to speak about the Arab-Israel conflict.)
Accordingly, I hereby challenge Professors Mearsheimer and Falk to a public debate about why they have endorsed and said such positive things about so hateful and anti-Semitic a book by so bigoted and dishonest a writer.
This article originally appeared in The New Republic.
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