A response to recent efforts to cast me as a racist

I do not usually write in response to nonsensical online allegations by bigots. If I did I would have little time for anything else.

However, I thought it was important to do so in this case.

The allegation

Over recent weeks, MJ Rosenberg, a well-known pro-Israel commentator, published six blog posts smearing me as “anti-Semitic.” His posts are not my concern here but are mentioned as context.

On 13 October, Gilad Atzmon made this post on Facebook:

M.J. Rosenberg is wrong this time; Ali Abunimah is not an antisemite, he is just dishonest/stupid. Abunimah calls Israelis Zionists because he needs the so called Jewish ‘anti’ Zionists to support his operation. The last time i communicated with Ali Abunimah he wrote to me, ‘Just refer to Zionism instead of Jewish identity and everything would be fine’. He basically asked me to lie.. I obviously refused…

Atzmon has even paid to promote this message on Facebook as a “sponsored” post. But the words that Atzmon attributes to me in his Facebook post are fabricated. I never wrote those words.

However, Avi Mayer, the social media director of Israel’s Jewish Agency, among others, has been gleefully disseminating Atzmon’s Facebook posting embellishing it with the allegation that I “coached” Atzmon on how to “hide his anti-Semitism.”

Some examples of Mayer’s tweets:

Today, Atzmon repeated his allegations in a rambling blog post which includes a small snippet of a brief exchange of Facebook messages I had with him in 2010, where I wrote:

What you describe as ‘Jewish’ might perhaps be more accurately described as ‘Zionist,’ - and then we might find grounds for a lot of agreement.

Atzmon claims that this is “a juicy bit of information Abunimah would probably prefer to keep hidden from the public eye.”

Far from it. Atzmon did not publish our entire correspondence because that would undermine his nonsensical claims. So I will do so.

The facts

In November 2010, I was invited to speak at a conference in Stuttgart, Germany on the one-state solution.

Atzmon apparently invited himself to this conference and somehow parlayed his way onto the stage to give what was called a “greeting.

Atzmon was not an invited speaker and never appeared on the published conference program or the list of speakers (Videos of the conference were made and published by an independent organization, publicsolidarity.de).

At that point, I had not paid much attention to his work.

When he spoke, I (and many others at the conference) found Atzmon’s comments disturbing because he appeared to be blaming Jews as Jews for the conflict in Palestine, rather than the settler-colonial practice and political ideology of Zionism.

The first thing I did the next day, when it was my turn to speak, was to object publicly to Atzmon’s statements. My comments are in this video:

Two days after the conference, Atzmon contacted me via Facebook and we had a brief, polite exchange of private messages, but one in which I reiterated the objections I made in Stuttgart. Atzmon initiated the exchange. I responded to him once. He followed up with two more messages.

It is, as far as I recall, the only occasion I have ever written to Atzmon.

Although the exchange was cordial, I never did meet with Atzmon, and never again responded to any of the numerous private messages he has sent me, including in the last few weeks, pleading with me to revise my views of him.

The “Ilan” Atzmon refers to in his messages is Ilan Pappe, who was an invited speaker at the Stuttgart conference.

Here is the entire transcript of the exchange.

(Note: these messages appear in the chronological order in which they were sent. They are taken from the stored archive of a Facebook account I no longer use. A bug in the Facebook archive makes it appear as if the first message was sent on 1 December 2010. It was however sent before the other messages).

From: Gilad Atzmon
December 1, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Dear Ali,

I realised today that you were upset by my short talk in Stuttgart.

It is important for me to mention that I referred to Jewish identity and Jewish Ideology rather than to Jewish people. In my entire career I have never referred to Jewish people, Jewish ethnicity or race!!!

However, since Israel presents itself as ‘the Jewish state’, we must be entitled to elaborate on Jewish identity, Jewish ideology and Jewish politics.

I understand your concerns, I know exactly where you come from and I also appreciate your immense contribution to the discourse. However, as an artist and a writer i am somehow compelled to share my truth with others. I am sure that your realise that it is Jewish ideology and culture that stops Israelis from jumping on the OS [one state] wagon. Even the Jewish left stops short of doing so.

I somehow pretty sure that you know it yourself.

With great respect

From: Ali Abunimah
November 30, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Dear Gilad, I appreciate your note. However I did not hear it quite like that and I am not sure that others did and my fear is that what you said can lead not to enlightenment, but to encouraging discrimination of deepening prejudices. I doubt that is your intent, but it is what could be the result. What you describe as “Jewish” might perhaps be more accurately described as “Zionist,” - and then we might find grounds for a lot of agreement - but that is a longer discussion perhaps we’ll have a chance to have in person another time. Of course you have the right to speak your mind, and you always do!

From: Gilad Atzmon
November 30, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Dear Ali thanks so much for taking the time… i will be very short. In my I writing differentiate between Jews (the people), Judaism (the religion) and Jewishness (the ideology). I ve never ever spoken about Jews (the people), I hardly speak about Judaism but restrict myself to a certain interpretation of it , yet, i am very critical of Jewish ideology, politics and identity.

In Germany, i spoke about Jewish Ideology and culture. Didn’t say a word about Jews, Jewish people, Jewish ethnicity or Jewish race. I just do not do it.

It is unfortunately a fact that Universalism and reconciliation are foreign to Jewish ideology for Jewish Ideology is tribal and defined by negation.

I do not agree that Jewishness (ideology) is ‘Zionism’. Zionism is indeed one manifestation of ‘Jewishness’. I won’t exhaust you with it, I am about to publish a book about it.

However, as you know, Zionism is not a living discourse in Israel. Zionism is a diaspora discourse. Both Ilan myself and a few other millions were not educated as Zionists ( Jews awaiting transformation) but as Sabras (the ‘success fruits’ of Zionism). We were the post revolutionary entities. Hence the attack on ‘Zionism’ can hardly touch Israelis (and in fact it doesn’t).

I believe that this understanding is crucial for the success of our project. I believe that we must understand what we are up against.

I was very excited to hear both you and Ilan. You are both incredible in what you are doing. However, I understand now that you probably do not approve my approach tactically.

You may be right about it, but as you know, i operate totally alone. I am not part of any movement. I am totally independent. I perform every night, I make each of my concerts into a rally for Palestine and the right of return. I take full responsibility for everything I say. And i also pay the price when there is a price to pay :)

I hope to meet once, not before too long, and elaborate on these issues. I believe that they are crucial

Peace and tx for your attention

From: Gilad Atzmon
December 1, 2010 at 9:18 pm

do not have any plans to bother you with it… however, here is a new article by Uri Avneri… it elaborates on the issue you raised yesterday ..Jewish identity/ zionism..you may want to check the last 3 para’..

Peace G


The conclusion

Firstly, the transcript shows that the quote Atzmon first attributed to me on Facebook is fabricated. I never wrote those words.

Secondly, the claim that I “coached” Atzmon on how to “hide his anti-Semitism” is a pure fabrication by the Jewish Agency’s Avi Mayer.

Thirdly, the actual words I wrote that Atzmon selectively quotes in his blog were a response to his statement: “I am sure that your realise that it is Jewish ideology and culture that stops Israelis from jumping on the OS [one state] wagon. Even the Jewish left stops short of doing so.”

It is in direct response to his assertion that I wrote: “What you describe as ‘Jewish’ might perhaps be more accurately described as “Zionist,” - and then we might find grounds for a lot of agreement.”

That’s a position I obviously stand by: it is Zionism, not Judaism or Jewishness, that is incompatible with the possibility of a single, democratic unified state.

While I gave Atzmon the benefit of the doubt at the time when I said it might not be his intent to foster prejudice, closer attention to his work convinced me that, indeed, his goal is to do precisely that.

That is why I was pleased to sign, along with many other people I respect, the March 2012 statement on the racism and anti-Semitism in Atzmon’s work.

By fabricating words to attribute to me and selectively quoting my words, Atzmon hopes to implicate me in his racism.

By latching on to his baseless allegations, anti-Palestinian propagandists hope to smear me as “anti-Semitic.” They hope to claim that my well-known, crystal clear public stance against all forms of racism, including Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and Zionism, shared by many colleagues in this movement, is contradicted in private.

But as the the full exchange of messages shows, I repeated in private what I said to the Stuttgart audience in public: that Atzmon’s targeting of Jews fosters prejudice.

This was consistent with the public stance I took as far back as 2001 regarding Israel Shamir, emphasizing the importance of making no space for racism in the Palestinian rights movement. It is a position I will always defend.

For the record: It has been claimed – apparently because my name appears first in an alphabetical list – that I was the initiator of the March 2012 statement regarding Atzmon’s work.

Although I would have been proud to claim that credit, unfortunately I cannot. Nonetheless, when asked to sign, I did so without hesitation.