Gilad Atzmon: Ex-Israeli jazz musician on Middle East and identity


Israeli-British jazz musician and philosopher Gilad Atzmon spoke to Daily Sabah about issues of identity and Middle East conflicts

Born in Jerusalem and raised in a Zionist family, one of the most gifted jazz saxophonists Gilad Atzmon now lives in the U.K. His album "Exile" was voted BBC Album of the Year in 2013. Atzmon is also a philosopher and deals with the Middle East problem and his experiences in the 1982 Lebanon War were influential.

In an interview with Daily Sabah he spoke about his views and the current crisis around Jerusalem.

Daily Sabah: You are a gifted jazz musician. In addition, you are actively engaged in peace in the Middle East and criticize the state of Israel within that context. I can see two separate identities here - you are a musician and a political activist. At the social and political level, you complain about identity politics in the West. What is that all about?

Gilad Atzmon: To start with, you are very kind in your description of me, but let me correct you. I am not a political activist, I have never been involved in politics and I prefer to stay away from the so-called activist community. The reason is simple. Activists always know the answers. I am a philosopher. My task is to refine the questions. I can easily live in peace with more than one answer and even with competing and contradicting answers.

However, let me address your question regarding identity politics. In the world in which I grew up, the role of the political and especially leftist politics was to point at that which unites us. Our leftist icons insisted that it didn't matter whether one is a Muslim, black, Jew or woman. We were all united against the mammonites, those capitalist plunderers in the city. But this has changed. At a certain stage the left decided to embrace new tactics. We were taught how to speak "as a," as a woman, as a Jew, as a black, and so on. Instead of being united we were set up to fight each other. In this New Leftist/progressive universe, we the people are divided by our biology yet the global market is united in its war against us the people, against humanity and humanism.

D.S.: How do you explain the allegations of anti-Semitism, which are repeatedly directed against you? You yourself differentiate between Judaism and Jewish politics. According to the logic of the people who accuse you, critics of "Islamism" must be Islamophobics - or is the term "Islamism" itself problematic?

G.A.: The accusation of anti-Semitism is obviously an empty one. It is designed to stifle criticism of Israel and Jewish power. In my entire life I have never criticized Jews or anyone else as a people, race, biology or ethnicity. I deal solely with identity politics, ideology and culture. For me racism becomes a problem when blind hatred is performed, when you hate X for being X, when you hate black people for being black or when you hate white people for being white. I can't think of anyone who hates Jews for being Jews. I would admit that more than a few may oppose Jews for what they interpret as Jewish politics, Jewish lobbying, Jewish ideology and so on. This tendency deserves our attention. It clearly deserves Jewish attention but Jewish power is the power to suppress criticism of Jewish power.

Now, your point regarding Islamists and Islamophobia deserve

s attention. I don't believe that there are such things as "Islamists" or "Islamism." In Islam, like in Judaism, there is no distinction between politics and religion. Islamism is a Zionist/Neocon invention. It was created in an attempt to draw an imaginary dichotomy between the religious reality and the political. It is basically a projection of the Jewish post-assimilation reality on the Muslim world. It was invented in order to provide a "rationale" for America and Britain so they could flatten Arab cities on behalf of Zion.

D.S.: You said once in an interview for Russia Today that your charm is your defense against the anti-Semitic allegations. Can you elaborate? Can a likeable person basically not be an anti-Semite? And do you sometimes wonder if your critics are secretly playing your music before they go to bed?

My comment on George Galloway was obviously comical. It is pretty obvious that a person who plays music every night with many Jews and shares platforms with rabbis cannot be "anti-Semitic." It is hardly a secret that many of my supporters are Jews and even Israelis.

I would have loved to think that my detractors can enjoy my music. But I do not have any reason to believe that they are aesthetically inclined.

D.S.: You grew up in a Zionist family and witnessed the Lebanon War in 1982. Would you be so committed to peace in the Middle East today if you had not had that experience? How do you feel about it when you reflect on your past?

It is hard to say. I am not a political person. I am doing what I am doing because I am curious.

I left Israel because I didn't want to live on someone else's land. But when I witnessed the Jewish Diaspora Zionists' hawkish attitude and even worse, the duplicity at the core of the Jewish anti-Zionist discourse, I realized how intense Jewish identity is. I started to dig into it. We are dealing with complex and fascinating people who are shaped by a very old tribal philosophy that morphs quickly. By the time you think that you understand Jewish ID politics, it only suggests that Jewish ID politics has already morphed into something else.

D.S.: How do you rate the recent move by the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) led by President Erdoğan against the Trump decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel? Will the U.N. resolution do something?

I do not think that anyone can liberate the Palestinians except the Palestinians themselves. How they do that is indeed a complicated question. I believe that [Palestinian leader Mahmoud] Abbas is right. Time is their weapon. To survive is to win. The only people who can destroy the Jewish state are the Jews themselves. This is how they have always done it along their history.

D.S.: In recent years, President Erdoğan has repeatedly, loudly complained of the Israeli government's behavior toward the Palestinians and used harsh words such as "terrorist state" or "child murderers." Many leaders of Arab states would never dare to do so that concretely. So Erdoğan's popularity in Palestine seems very high. Do you believe that President Erdoğan can build a powerful counter-pole to Israel and the United States? It seems as if EU member states have also moved a bit toward the Palestinians politically since the last Jerusalem crisis - even if they are looking for political pressure against Israel in vain.

President Erdoğan was indeed outspoken when it comes to Israel but I do understand how volatile the situation he is in. He has to deal with a very complex situation. Syria, the Kurds, [Fetullah] Gülen, NATO, Russia and the U.S. Unfortunately, Israel is a key player in all of that. We have seen the Turks swinging on issues to do with Israel. At the end of the day, Erdoğan was elected to serve the Turkish people and this mission is probably difficult enough considering the complexity involved.

D.S.: Do you still believe in the possibility of a two-state solution?

I've never believed in a two-state solution. And I am not so sure that the discussion about solutions is leading anywhere. It is designed to keep some activists busy so they have something to shout in their gatherings and pickets.

What we really see is facts on the ground. Israel and Palestine are one state. One electrical grid, one international pre-dial number, one sewage system yet this state is oppressive, abusive and often genocidal toward the indigenous people of the land. Why? Because Israel defines itself as "the Jewish State." It is a state of the Jews rather than "a state of its citizens." For the situation to be resolved Israel must be "de-Jewishified" (when it will become a state of its citizens, regardless of their ethnicity or religion). However, when this happens Israel will become Palestine from the river to the sea.

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