Gilad Atzmon, Syria and the “chosen people”

Posted: 03/12/2014 by editormary in "Israel", Counter-terrorism, No thanks!, Hasbara Deconstruction Site

syiswritten by Santiago Alba Rico, translated by Manuel Talens, editor’s note at the bottom. 

One of the curious effects of Israeli bombardment on Syria – to which Bashar Al-Assad immediately responded by bombing Aleppo, Deraa and Raqa – is his regime’s legitimization plus the criminalization of “rebels” and, by extension, of left-wingers in solidarity  with the  Syrian people’s struggle against dictatorship. Indeed one section of European anti-imperialism and anti-Zionism considers that such a solidarity means support of Israel and its occupation of Palestine and, therefore, needs “our” more active “ethical and moral rejection” of it as paladins of both the Palestinian cause and global liberation.

The fact that such a multi-semantic shortcut – equivalent to confounding apples and oranges back and forth – is frequent within the anti-imperialist side does not make it less painful and destructive as its dark power multiplies when the man who uses it is a committed and renowned  intellectual (http://www.tlaxcala-int.org/article.asp?reference=9628).
To tell you the truth, I don’t like the casual and bully tone with which Gilad Atzmon, a very good guy, bumps off at once both the complexity of Syria’s situation and the solidarity gesture of, among others, Tariq Ali, Fredric Jameson, Norman Finkelstein and Ilan Pappe. Where does Atzmon speaks from? From a superior commitment? After all, he is “a very good guy who wants to liberate Palestine” and as well as other very good guys like Ali, Jameson, Finkelstein, and Pappe, he devotes part of his time and his effort to defend a just cause. What’s the  difference? All of us are very good people who, in any case, don’t put our life at stake – or at least not directly – but only our intelligence, our speech and perhaps our prestige (the Achilles heel where a spear can wound us). Words are our only weapon, but even if we only compromise our words it involves at least two consequences.
The first one is that if we only “say” we also only “do” what we say: our actions are our verbs. I don’t think we need to remember everything Tariq Ali, Jameson or Pappe have said throughout their lives on the Israeli occupation, nor that such “discursive actions” have never been denied outside the discourse – the contradiction we call hypocrisy or double standards – by any material action: they certainly have not colonized the West Bank nor bombed Gaza while talking about freedom and democracy, and they have not ever shared cocktails with hangmen nor participated – for instance – in a pro-Israeli demonstration. They are as good people as Gilad Atzmon who – like Gilad Atzmon – consist on what they write, and nothing they have written to date contains the slightest hint of support, either direct or indirect, to Israel and the occupation of Palestine.
The second consequence of only committing words is that we have to be extremely careful about what we say. And if Tariq Ali, Jameson and Pappe have had an extreme care in drafting the statement on Syria (http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article28370) the same thing cannot be said of Gilad Atzmon’s criticism. Breaking language legs is not like breaking a brother’s legs, of course, but it is a exceedingly serious breaking of something we have a close relationship with. Atzmon cares little about language. He abuses it. He forces it to say things that disable its capacity to make a difference, that is, its power to signify. He says that Ali, Pappe and Jameson have “ended up in bed with Bibi” because he, Atzmon, has decided that there is some mysterious hypotaxis (i.e. subordinate) relationship between the two terms of this coordination: the signing of a statement in solidarity with the Syrian people and the bombing of Israel on Damascus.
But such a hypotaxis is worse than phony, it’s evil, or even worse than evil: it’s false. No argument totally reversible – one that allows contagious associations ad libitum – is truly an argument. An arbitrariness that shortcuts all possibility of thinking and introduces differences is not a thought. Let’s examine it: if Atzmon says that solidarity with the Syrian people is equivalent to ending up in bed with Netanyahu, the U.S., Qatar, NATO, etc., we could also say that solidarity with the Palestinian people amounts to ending up in bed with Iran, the Islamic Jihad, radical rabbinic sectors, the French National Front and anti-Semitic neo-Nazi groups. Even more absurd: this kind of two-way escalators leads to self-destruction because down the road we would have to accept that being in favor of both Syrians and Palestinians – as is the case of Ali, Jameson and Pappe – means also being for and against jihadists, Nazis, NATO, the U.S., Israel and Palestine, that is, in favor and against all players, friends and enemies, all together in that kind of group-sex bed Syria has become.
Why does Atzmon, an intelligent and committed man, do this to our Mother tongue? Why does he mock those who “want to liberate the Syrian people”? Doesn’t he want to liberate the Palestinian people? Does one people deserve less than the other? Do we have to choose between one of the two? Those of us who are simultaneously committed to affirming principles and complexity don’t think so. Some of us are committed only by word through statements and articles, but in Syria, on the ground, there are thousands of men and women (from Local Coordinators to revolutionary left parties, including many Palestinians) who are risking their lives defending principles (democracy, secularism, sovereignty, socialism) and assuming a complex opposition: certainly to Al-Assad’s criminal dictatorship, but also to Israel, the Gulf powers, the U.S., the Muslim Brotherhood, the Al-Nusra Front.
Atzmon will say that there are not particularly many, and they won’t win, that geostrategy imposes its fierce noose, that now is no time for softness nor naivety, that we have to choose a resounding Jesuit simplicity instead of principles and complexity (forget “humanism” or “progressiveness”). But then, in the name of what, how he dares to speak – and with such a patronizing and dismissive wrapping – of “ethics and morality”? When I think Atzmon’s criminal shortcut faithfully reproduces the Syrian regime’s logic I find particularly painful the invocation of “ethics and morality” with which he dispatches “those very good people”. Ali, Jameson, and Pappe are safe, and Atzmon doesn’t want to kill them. But to those who in Syria think as Ali, Jameson and Pappe such a criminalizing logic – “rebels” are “terrorists” who end up in bed with Israel – is literally reducing them to pieces: bombing raids, torture, indiscriminate massacres. Perhaps Atzmon thinks they deserve it – guilty of ending up in bed with Netanyahu – and that Israelis deserve as well the same (a collective expiation of a massive collective crime), but he should dare, if he has guts, to root that bloody madness in “ethics and morality.”
Consistent reasoning is like homeopathy: at worst it has no effect. However inconsistent reasoning always has material consequences. Atzmon, who has suffered in his own flesh these pollutant hypotaxises should not surrender to the lust of criminalization because it has offspring as he well knows monster descendants roaming at night, vigilantes who purge the ranks of those who are not enough Zionist, not enough anti-Zionist, not enough friends. Equal logic produces equal effects, be it Israel or Syria, and those who suffer the blows are people and their defenders. There is something decidedly “Israeli” in the Syrian government and decidedly “Syrian” in the Israeli government. And nowadays there is something decidedly Palestinian in the Syrian people and decidedly Syrian in the Palestinian people. Couldn’t Atzmon, a very good guy, oppose “Israeliness” in general while showing solidarity with these two massacred peoples, Syrians and Palestinians, instead of “choosing” one – as Israel does – or instead of criminalizing those who defend justice, democracy and dignity for all – as Israel also does?
The worst thing that can be said of Tariq Ali, Jameson, and Pappe is that they have verbally supported the Syrian people; the best that can be said of Atzmon is that he has abandoned it. But it has done something much worse: he has said that the same ones who denounce Israel for its crimes … are supporting Israel’s crimes when they denounce the Syrian regime for their own! Is it possible to say such a thing without reducing language to shreds? Do word-bombs exist? A few days ago, the Spanish Interior Minister, Jorge Fernández Díaz, issued a statement of perfidious and glorious nonsense: “Abortion has something to do with [armed Basque nationalist and separatist organization] ETA but not too much.” Well, Atzmon’s argument can be paraphrased with the same sarcasm a Facebook user disparaged the minister’s nonsense: “This sentence has something to do with the possession of a brain, but almost nothing.”

It has nothing to do with ethics and morality, for which just one barely decent neuron suffices.

originally published in English on: http://www.tlaxcala-int.org/article.asp?reference=9652

Read “In Bed With Bibi by Gilad Atzmon

Editor’s note: I founded Tlaxcala, where this article was published, together with several activist friends 8 years ago. At the time, there was a very simple idea circulating among us: that we could share “anti-imperialist” writing published all around the world in the hopes of uniting everyone around the idea that “the people not only had the right, but the duty to fight for their rights and combat all forms of oppression and dominance”. Our contribution was not to dictate, but to interpret and merely to offer solidarity and support to the struggles other people were fighting. The world was a little bit simpler 8 years ago. You could talk about Revolution, because there wasn’t a revolution going on that was costing your country blood and sending you and your family into torture chambers and exile at the monumental levels that are now evident to even a lazy observer. The people of the Levant were oppressed by imperialism and the domination of Western Interests, impoverished by imperial-driven wars and greed, but in spite of Israel’s wars against Palestine and Lebanon, the idea of genocide happening in the Levant was not realistic, the idea of an entire population being targeted for extermination so that a leader could stay in power was just not contemplated (and anyway, a decent human would never justify that kind of action in any way, shape or form), and every anti-imperialist knew who the enemy was and offered their best arms to fight them, whether they be intellectual, economic or military.

But things changed. Revolutions from below erupted in the Arab world with a rapidity and force that meant that they could only be crushed by the military boot of those very powers that were being told to step down or face a revolution. Assad, like other tyrants, uses the idea that he is an opposor of Zionism as a protective body shield, but it is a lie that does not stand up to scrutiny, given that not only has he killed over 200,000 Syrians and turned 9 million  of them into homeless refugees, but he’s not spared the lives of over 2000 Palestinians and made sure that their refugee camps bowed to him or were crushed. If the revolution did not catch fire and win the support of freedom lovers around the world, it would transform and be destined into becoming lingering revolts and insurgent struggles defined by battles and changing fronts that carried fragmentation of the territory and population with them.

It always happens that some of the worst counter-revolutionaries are those who had once been part of the revolution, even sitting comfortably in the West…..  Tlaxcala, (which I and another 34 people abandoned after a change of course that did not serve the voice of the people or the revolutionary struggle as was our intention) has become a primary voice for the reactionary and counter-revolutionary “left”. It is rare to find an article that is not an Israeli/European/American voice telling Syrians and Libyans and Egyptians and Palestinians what is good for them and how they should be thinking, and defining their enemy as if they were not capable of doing so themselves! Orientalist Career “activists” take the place of men and women on the ground, revolutionaries not only in front of a computer screen, but in their daily lives.

The complexities of a revolution from below that is not Marxist but which also contains original revolutionary content particular to the regional traditions and culture, has been absolutely LOST on those who even paid it lip service during the Palestinian intifada. The inability to identify with the struggle because of an ingrained idea of superiority that is nearly impossible to break in the West/Left, still stuck in the idea of evil empires and incapable of defining foreign intervention if it is not USAmerican/Nato/UK intervention. The total inability to “read” the revolution has been supported also by a plethora of extremely low quality writing based on faulty assumptions and zero analaysis, of which the Gilad Atzmon piece being critiqued is a prime example.

I stumbled upon this excellent piece by an old friend Santiago, translated by an old friend Manuel and critiquing an old friend Gilad. Thank you Santiago for not abandoning ethics, morals and also… the revolution…  in this astute and intelligent article.

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Comments
  1. Jay Knott says:

    Analyzing the situation in Syria, Atzmon and his critics all start from the assumptions of the left. Atzmon criticizes the “self-appointed elitist standpoint” of Western leftist critics of the Syrian regime. Santiago’s piece is more traditional leftist, claiming to defend “the Syrian people” (as always, this phrase means “SOME of the Syrian people”). But Rizzo is more politically correct and postmodern – she excoriates the “Orientalist” “Israeli/European/American voice telling Syrians and Libyans and Egyptians and Palestinians what is good for them” . This means that if an Israeli, European or American says something, and an Arab says the same thing, the first could be wrong, and the second right. It’s not what you say, it’s who you are, where you were born, and the color of your skin. The left in America is saturated with this nonsense. It’s a shame to see it in Italy too.

  2. editor says:

    uhm, I have nothing against an Israeli, American or European saying their piece on the Levant. But when persons from those places dominate the discourse and is totally out of synch with the point of view of those of the Levant fighting for their freedom, having to hear them say by a westerner that their struggle is a proxy war, or that they have so little agency that they never would get on the streets or fight at all if not “pushed to do it by dark western forces”, i find it more than tasteless, it is utter orientalism. This is how the Syria issue ignores the voice and experiences of Syrians and lets it be defined by those who have not the slightest clue as to what is happening or what it means. It has nothing to do with skin colour, but with experience. I think you could stretch your mind a bit to get that point through, n’est pas?

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