Last weekend’s CounterPunch featured a long ‘Purim Special’ article by Gilad Atzmon entitled ‘From Esther to AIPAC’. Part of the article presents a novel interpretation of the Book of Esther. Novel to me, anyway.
In case your memory needs refreshing, Ahasuerus, the king of
‘The moral of the story is rather clear. If Jews want to survive, they better find infiltrates into the corridors of power,’ Atzmon writes, and that sounds like a plausible enough interpretation to me.
But that’s where we part company. Atzmon takes his insight into the meaning of the Book of Esther further, approvingly citing Dr Rafael Medoff's ‘glaring insight into the internal code of Jewish collective survival dynamics in which the assimilated (Esther) and the observant (Mordechai) are joining forces with clear Judeo centric interests in their minds.’ ‘With Esther, Mordechai and Purim in mind,’ he writes, ‘AIPAC and the notion of 'Jewish power' looks like an embodiment of a deep Biblical and cultural ideology.’ There is something inherent in Jewish religion and Jewish culture that points directly towards AIPAC, which is alleged to exercise considerable control over US foreign policy – ‘Jewish power’ – an allegation Atzmon clearly accepts. At this point, we get our first glimpse of his anti-Semitic agenda.
The claim he makes for his essay is,
I will try to further the search into the notion of Jewishness. I will make an attempt to trace the intellectual, spiritual and mythological collective bond that makes Jewishness into a powerful identity.
The first error he makes, which sets the stage for the balance of the article, is to deny that Jewishness is an ethnic category.
Clearly, Jewishness is neither a racial nor an ethnic category. Though Jewish identity is racially and ethnically orientated, the Jewish people do not form a homogenous group. There is no racial or ethnic continuum.
The ‘homogeneity’, the ‘racial or ethnic continuum’, that he thinks would provide evidence that Jewishness is a racial or ethnic category are transparently biological markers. The fundamental thing about racial and ethnic catagories is that although they rely in some measure on descent, or the perception of descent, they are basically social categories constructed by racism. The markers that racists use to identify a race are arbitrary and may be as varied as skin pigmentation, nose or eye shape, hair colour or texture, religious observance, language, or surname.
Since it is racists who construct racial identities, their definitions are the most relevant. In the case of Jews, some of the racial markers have actually been formally codified in such documents as the 1935 Nazi Nuremburg Laws, which defined Jews in terms of descent from ‘Full-blooded Jewish grandparents’ who ‘are those who belonged to the Jewish religious community,’ and the Isr
Whatever the marker or markers, they are not applied consistently. The point is that ‘we’ know who ‘they’ are and ‘they’ are inferior, or dangerous, or both. The victims of racism are not inoculated against racist attitudes. In some cases, this can lead to the kind of feelings of inferiority that the Black Consciousness Movement tried to address in the struggle against apartheid in
In reality, we will find that Atzmon implicitly assumes the same racial/ethnic definition of what a Jew is as everyone else does.
He starts out by attempting to tease out the ambiguity in terms like Jew, Jewish, and Jewry. There is of course the Jewish religion, Judaism, and its adherents are denoted as Jews and described as Jewish. At the same time, there is the ethnic group, which includes most of those adherents, along with their descendants, whether they participate in Macedonian Orthodox, Buddhist, Wiccan, or indeed Jewish religious traditions, if any.
He correctly rejects the view that
Jewishness may be seen by some as a continuation of Judaism. I would maintain that this is not necessarily the case either.
But then he asserts that ‘Though Jewishness borrows some fundamental Judaic elements, Jewishness is not Judaism and it is even categorically different from Judaism.’ What he probably means is that Jewishness borrows some of the cultural trappings of Judaism, largely gastronomical in nature. If so, I think he is wrong to describe these as ‘fundamental Judaic elements’. But I certainly agree that Jewish ethnicity is a phenomenon of a different category to the Jewish religion.
Furthermore, as we know, more than a few of those who proudly define themselves as Jews have very little knowledge of Judaism, many of them are atheists, non-religious and even overtly oppose Judaism or any other religion. Many of those Jews who happen to oppose Judaism happen to maintain their Jewish identity and to be extremely proud about it.
This follows directly from the distinction between the religion and the ethnicity and the proclivity I mentioned for members of an ethnic group to accept their identity as a badge of honour. It is an exaggeration to suggest that ethnic Jews oppose Judaism, the religion. Many ethnic Jews actually practice Judaism of some tradition to some extent or other. Among those who reject the Jewish religion outright, the vast majority don’t oppose Judaism because it is Judaism, but because it is a religion.
Atzmon’s next point is most puzzling.
This opposition to Judaism obviously includes Zionism (at least the early version) but it also is the basis of much of Jewish socialist anti-Zionism.
In reality, the vast majority of ethnic Jews who reject the Jewish religion do not reject Zionism and a great many embrace it enthusiastically. And those who reject Zionism do not do so on the grounds that they reject the Jewish religion. Indeed, some, like the Neturei Karta Atzmon is so fond of, reject Zionism on specifically religious grounds.
That socialists, whatever their ethnic background, reject Zionism, has nothing to do with opposing religion in general, or Judaism in particular. Socialists reject racism, nationalism, and other oppressive ideologies and explicitly oppose colonialism and imperialism. Socialism is based on class solidarity, Zionism on ethnic solidarity. It is unthinkable therefore that a principled socialist could embrace the Zionist project. By attributing ‘Jewish socialist anti-Zionism’ to ‘opposition to Judaism’, rather than to the fundamental contradiction between socialism and Zionism, Atzmon provides further evidence that his objective is not to understand Jewishness, but to denigrate Jews.
After dismissing on bogus grounds the possibility that Jewishness could be an ethnicity, Atzmon proceeds to ask ‘whether it is a new form of religion an ideology or if it is just a 'state of mind'’ and concludes that it is all three and it revolves around the Holocaust religion, where ‘the Jew becomes 'the Jews' new God', it is all about the Jew who redeems himself’, the new religion which, he claims, ‘is probably as old as the Jews’.
the Holocaust is actually engraved within the Jewish discourse and spirit. The Holocaust is the essence of the collective Jewish Pre-Traumatic stress disorder and it predates the Shoah. To be a Jew is to see the 'other' as a threat rather than as a brother. To be a Jew is to be on a constant alert. To be a Jew is to internalise the message of the Book of Esther. It is to aim towards the most influential junctions of hegemony. To be a Jew is to collaborate with power.
That’s quite a strong condemnation of all Jews, and note that Atzmon has here reverted to the undefined and rejected ethnic interpretation of Jew. And he doesn’t exclude anyone – if you are a Jew, if you identify as an ethnic Jew, it doesn’t matter whether you are a Zionist, a socialist, or a liberal, you are still implicated in the Church of the Holocaust.
The Jewish follower of the Holocaust religion idealises the condition of his existence. He then sets a framework of a future struggle towards recognition. For the Zionist follower of the new religion, the implications seem to be relatively durable. He is there to 'schlep' the entirety of world Jewry to
In case that doesn’t provide ample evidence that what we are seeing here is a real, live Jewish anti-Semite,
The Scholars who are engaged in the study of the Holocaust religion… are themselves orthodox observants. Though they may be critical of different aspects of the exploitation of the Holocaust, they all accept the validity of the Nazi Judeocide and its mainstream interpretations and implications…, no one goes as far as revisionism, not a single Holocaust religion scholar dares engage in a dialogue with the so-called 'deniers' to discuss their vision of the events or any other revisionist scholarship.
Now, I agree with Atzmon that it is an entirely unacceptable infringement of freedom of expression to outlaw Holocaust denial. But that is not what he is arguing here. He is insisting that actual scholars engage intellectually with these anti-Semitic, Nazi charlatans.
Back on Planet Earth, there are ethnic Jews who really do suffer from something like ‘Pretraumatic Stress Disorder’. They can magnify anything into the threat of another Holocaust. Suicide bombings, which have claimed less than 1000 Isr
But for one thing, some of these are people who practice Judaism. It is no longer clear whether Atzmon excludes them from the Church of the Holocaust. And for another, antiZionist Jews do not exhibit these symptoms. We call for a democratic secular state throughout
The reason ethnic Jews, whether observant or not, insist on identifying as Jewish in the absence of a real and present threat of antisemtism, is that