Truth in Stuttgart

by Gilad Atzmon / February 19th, 2011

Three months ago, I briefly participated in a Palestinian solidarity conference in Stuttgart. The event was dedicated to the ‘One State Solution’. As it happened, I was touring in Germany at the time, and thus accepted an invitation by the organiser to say a few words.

Being primarily an artist, rather than a politician or an activist, I am committed to truth and beauty rather than a party-line or any given ideological doctrine. Yet, without my intending to do so, and in just a few sentences – I managed to cross every possible ‘red line’, and I bought myself a few more enemies.

In my speech, I said that as much as ‘universalism’ is a beautiful idea, it is incompatible with Jewish culture, since Jewish culture is tribally oriented. I also told the German Palestinian supporters that as much as ‘peace’ is a beautiful concept, associated as it is with harmony and reconciliation, Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, is actually interpreted by Israelis as ‘security for the Jews’.

I thought that the supporters of the ‘One State Solution’ should be aware of the complexities that lie ahead.

I also managed to infuriate some, by suggesting that I was against the comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany. Indeed, I believe that from certain ideological perspective, Israel is actually far worse than Nazi Germany, for unlike Nazi Germany, Israel is a democracy and that implies that Israeli citizens are complicit in Israeli atrocities.

Needless to say, a few of the attendants of the conference were angry with me. Such ideas are hardly expressed on German soil. Some of the Jewish activists, and at least one Marxist, demanded that I should be removed from the protocol.

I was obviously sad about it — I believed that those who advocated the ‘One State solution’ should be able to support intellectual pluralism — But it turns out that a few of those who promote democracy in Palestine would be better advised to first confront their own Stalinist tendencies.

Later, I learned that one legendary German Jewish activist and speaker at the conference stood by me. Evelyn Hecht-Galinski firmly announced that if I was to be removed from the protocol, then she also wanted to be removed. She argued in my defense that I was telling the truth about both Jewish and Israeli culture.

In spite of relentless Jewish pressure, a video of my presentation was later uploaded to youtube and has now been seen by many.

Two days ago I learned that Arbeiterfotografie, (the group who documented the conference) transcribed my talk and considered it “most convincing and humane”. They thought that it should be ‘disseminated widely’ (read below).

I guess that truth cannot be suppressed anymore — not even in Germany. If Israel defines itself as a Jewish State, then surely, it is our duty to question what Jewishness is all about.

I believe that solidarity with Palestine becomes a more meaningful event once we are brave enough to stand for the truth. Rather than fit ourselves into any given consensus or discourse, our duty is to present an alternative reality, whilst aiming at ethics and beauty.

For Justice to prevail, truth must be told.

Arbeiterfotografie: What did Gilad Atzmon actually say in Stuttgart?

One of the most essential phrases at the very beginning of Gilad Atzmon’s welcome address at the Stuttgart conference is certainly the following: “We all agree upon ‘ONE state’, and we all agree that this is most probably the only ethical and universal approach to the crisis. We all agree that this is the right road to peace.” Gilad Atzmon explains that universality and peace, in the sense of reconciliation, are alien to the Jewish – and especially Israeli – culture. He states that Jewish culture is tribe-oriented. And that when Israelis use the word ‘shalom’, they do not mean peace but security for the Jews. He believes that it is crucial to apply maximum pressure on Israel through « Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions » (BDS).

Although it may be fair to say that statements of this nature are bound to cause strong reactions amongst the proponents of racist and zionist ideologies, it is barely comprehensible that this should be the case within the Palestine Solidarity movement.

It is the following passage in particular that has been quoted out of context: “I think Israel is much worse than Nazi Germany. Why? Israel is a democracy. Nazi Germany was not a democracy. The Reichstag was dissolved, the Germans have no responsibility for actions and crimes committed by the Nazis. Israel is a democracy; hence every citizen is complicit. Every citizen is complicit, as am I, as a British citizen, in the crimes committed in Iraq.”

The above passage has served to disqualify Gilad Atzmon and reject a discussion with him. Is this justified? The answer to this question becomes apparent as soon as we reflect on the context these phrases were spoken in. The passage that has been taken out of context is part of a digression in which Gilad explains why he dislikes comparisons – comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany, and comparisons between Israel and South Africa. By reducing his words to the passage in question, his statement is deprived of its original intent and meaning. [See complete interpolation below].

Gilad Atzmon’s most fundamental concern, however, is to bring understanding to the Israelis with regard to an idea that he describes as follows: “But then suddenly a very important concept became clear to me. And it is the only one we can make the Israelis understand. It is very simple [interpolation, see below]. I believe the Israelis’ fear and hysteria regarding the delegitimisation of Israel has to do with the fact that they may be beginning to understand that sooner or later they will be living together with the Palestinians … This is also my main message to you today. It is the Israelis who are now prisoners – prisoners of future Palestinian benevolence. No one can absolve the Israelis from their deeds and their crimes – neither the British, the French, nor the Germans. The only people who will ever be able to forgive them are the Palestinians. In order to receive forgiveness, the Israelis must start thinking NOW. [They must start thinking:] Destiny has condemned us to live in this society. It is an irrevocable process. There will be ONE state, and we must make sure they understand this – and understand that everything they do from now on will be subject tp Palestinian benevolence. We must make this point clear to them.”

His train of thought is unusual, but it is by no means deserving of condemnation.

It is a most convincing and humane idea, and we should support and disseminate it widely. We should no longer play along in the game that consists in reversing the roles of the robbers and robbed, the oppressors and oppressed, the terrorists and terrorised. We must recognise who has systematically committed crimes against whom over the decades. And in this context we must acknowledge Gilad Atzmon’s idea: the situation can no longer go on in this way. Each and every additional crime committed by Israel against the Palestinians plants hatred towards this state and makes reconciliation even more remote. This cannot be what we want, especially if we are part of a Christian society.

The intellectual digression in full [in italics]: “We have already heard about the comparison between Israelis – Israel and Nazi Germany. I am not fond of this comparison, as I believe Israel is far worse than Nazi Germany. Why? Simply because Israel is a democracy. Nazi Germany was not a democracy. The Reichstag was dissolved, the Germans were in no way responsible for the actions committed by the Nazis – apart from those who directly committed a crime or were politically responsible. Israel, by contrast, is a democracy.

Hence every citizen is complicit, as am I, as a British citizen, in the crime currently being committed in Iraq. Obviously, I am not as responsible as Tony Blair or Lord Goldsmith, or perhaps Lord Levy (his no. 1 fundraiser). As for the comparison between Israel and South Africa …. there were massacres [in South Africa] – but there was no genocide, no genocidal politics against blacks. This [however ] is what is taking place in Israel. We all witnessed what happened in Gaza in 2008/2009. At any rate, I do not care for comparisons, yet ….”

These are reflective asides. They are thought-provoking but by no means justify a rejection of communication, the more so as they focus on a concept that could hardly be more humane.

  • Transcript — lightly edited to make it readable.
  • Gilad Atzmon was born in Israel and served in the Israeli military. He lives in London and is the author of two novels: A Guide to the Perplexedand the recently released My One and Only Love. Atzmon is also one of the most accomplished jazz saxophonists in Europe. He can be reached at: other articles by Gilad.


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