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(DV) Atzmon: Jewish Secular Fundamentalism







Jewish Secular Fundamentalism
by Gilad Atzmon
February 7, 2006

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Two weeks after the landslide victory of the Hamas most commentators got a lesson they weren’t prepared for: that they had to accept the fact that Palestine, or what at least falls under the banner of the Palestinian Authority, is indeed the one and only democracy in the Middle East. Unlike its neighbour’s nucleophilic single race democracy, where voting laws are far from global, extending them to all citizens of the State, Palestine welcomed all its inhabitants to participate in the polls regardless of any racial, ethnic or religious considerations. Indeed, some commentators were quick to suggest that the Hamas would rapidly bow to Western pressure. Ostensibly, not only didn’t that happen, but so far, the Hamas is proving to be as brave and resilient as the Palestinian people expected it to be.

Just a few days ago, in an interview for the Washington Times Mahmoud Zahar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank, insisted that the militant Islamic movement can manage without Western aid: “The Western nations can take their aid and get lost,” and firmly continued: “Israel is not a legitimate entity, and no amount of pressure can force us to recognize its right to exist.”


Obviously, Zahar isn’t alone, Khaled Meshaal, the exiled head of the political wing repeated a very similar line of thought in the Palestinian newspaper al-Hayat al-Jadida:


“We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Zionist state that was established on our land.... Our message to the United States and Europe is: The attempts you are exerting to make us abandon our principles and struggle will be wasted and will not achieve any results.”


I may admit that those brave Palestinians leave me nowhere short of clear admiration. Those leaders who survived the infamous Israeli extrajudicial murder attempts have never caved in. In spite of all odds, they stood up for their people and their people followed them. It is rather clear that the Palestinian people (in Palestine at least), voted resistance. They ousted the Fatah, whom they now regard as corrupted -- and some even say collaborators -- and crowned instead an Islamic option.


The Jewish Left is Not Convinced


While most commentators on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict do restrict themselves to political and ideological criticism and analysis, a bunch of commentators take it one step further. They see themselves as the saviors of the Palestinians and cosmic representative of universal values. Rather than just enlightening us with some revolutionary visionary outlook, they insist upon suggesting an operative agenda. Resolutely, they insist upon telling the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular what is good for them.


In an article published a few days ago in Dissident Voice, Shraga Elam, an Israeli journalist who lives in Zurich and presents himself as a supporter of the Palestinian cause, makes a clear call to the Hamas to dissolve the Palestinian Authority was announced.


“Facing an impossible situation,” stresses Elam, “Hamas can still correct its mistake of participating in the election by dissolving the Palestinian Authority (PA) and ending the farce introduced by the Oslo Accord.”


This is no doubt a courageous statement by an Israeli who pretends to express his love for the Palestinians. Considering the sweeping victory of the Hamas, there is no other choice but to admit that the Hamas represents the Palestinian spirit at least at the current stage. And it is that very spirit that elected the Hamas to govern the PA. Yet to call Hamas’s participation a “mistake” is to undermine the choice, the will and the spirit of the Palestinian people. I would admit that it is rather strange to hear such a demand from a ‘solidarity’ campaigner.


But Elam offers what seems to be a sound argument. The formation of the PA, he says, “freed Israel from its responsibilities as an occupying power and given a free hand to destroy the Palestinian infrastructures instead of constructing and maintaining them.” 


On the face of it, the above has the shape of a sound argument, but in fact it is far from being one. It simply presents a retrospective view as a logical consequence. Needless to say that back in 1994, neither the Israelis nor the Palestinian could have predicted that the PA would become an extension of Israeli colonial apparatus. Within the last ten years Israel as well as the world went through some radical political changes. The victory of the Hamas is nothing but a direct reaction to these changes. The victory of the Hamas is a clear sign made by the Palestinian people that the PA should look after the interests of the Palestinian people rather than after the safety of the Israeli inhabitants of Shderot. The Palestinians crowned the Hamas because they insist upon assigning the PA a new role.


Seemingly, Elam’s outrageous chutzpah or rather arrogance knows no limit: “Dissolving the PA, he says, “must be accompanied by a serious search for new methods of effective non-violent struggle against the occupation, and deepening cooperation with the Israeli peace movements.”


Obviously Elam must be politically blind. The Palestinian people, those very people he is supposed to support, have crowned a political party that doesn’t recognize the state of Israel and the right of the Jewish state to exist. The Palestinian people had chosen a political option that doesn’t refrain from armed struggle. Let’s face it. Obviously Elam fails to see that for the Palestinian people, the Palestinian cause is slightly deeper than mere occupation. From the Hamas point of view, the Jewish state is located exactly were Palestine is supposed to be.


But Elam doesn’t stop just there; the man has a clear operative agenda. “This is the time to create ANC-like common movements that will address issues like racism or oppression. Like the people of South Africa, it has to be realized that a separatist nationalism means catastrophe and therefore has to be abandoned.” 


Racism, I ask myself, what racism? What oppression? Is the Hamas really a racist movement? Is Islam racist or oppressive? As I said in an earlier piece, too many leftists find it easier to identify with Donald Rumsfeld than with an Islamic cleric. Being a secular Jew, Elam probably mistakes Islam to be very similar to Jewishness. Someone should explain to Mr. Elam that unlike a Judaism that can be realized as a universalist humanist approach, Jewishness is indeed a racist worldview. Islam, anyhow, isn’t racist at all. Mr. Elam can convert to Islam rather immediately in a nearby mosque.


Being totally detached from the current political events in the region, Elam argues that, “The vision of one secular and democratic state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea is the only viable and desirable alternative to the existing state of apartheid and to further terrible escalation.” Indeed he may be right, but I must remind the Israeli Exiled secular left Jew in Zurich that a priori the idea of secular state was voted out by the Palestinian people. This is the case at least momentarily. A secular state isn’t necessarily an option and, as a matter of fact, newly elected Parliamentarian and Hamas leader Mahmoud Ramahi has announced that it will call upon the Palestinian people to express their preferences for their future State in a referendum, and that the vote itself was not for the establishment of the State, but its prelude. Hitherto, I am left wondering, if Elam is indeed so enthusiastic about a democratic solution, how come he fails miserably to accept the clear-cut election result that took place in the one and only democracy in the Middle East just two weeks ago?


The Talmudic Left


Apparently Elam is not alone. Not only is he not alone, he follows an extensive Jewish secularist tradition. Not that long ago I learned that within the Jewish Palestinian solidarity groups, hatred towards Islam, and even Orthodox Judaism is rather common. Seemingly, a common and vocal tendency of the Jewish left is a radical atheist approach that proudly manifests zero tolerance towards any religion and spiritual tenets. Not that I am a religious man, but I must admit that I found it hard to grasp how come those who insist on presenting themselves as the carriers of universal humanist values can have such little respect for other people’s beliefs.


It took me a while before I realized that Jewish Marxism and the Jewish left are themselves radical forms of fundamental religious belief. Indeed these worldviews are the direct continuation of Rabbinical Judaism.  They have managed to maintain the main elements. They are exclusive, they have their racially orientated cyber congregation cells (JPUK, Alef List, JAZ), they have their great Cohens, they have their monolithic unified God standing in the core of every possible realisation (Marx, Trotsky, Freud, Levinas, etc.), and they have many Talmudic rabbinical persecutors who are totally engaged in bending reality into the given Secular Torah precepts. The Talmudic Marxists are there to tell us right and wrong, Kosher and Taref.


A Marxist Rabbi as well as a bright Hebraic Prophet


I would take us a few years back and suggest scrutinizing a text written by a classic Marxist Talmudic Melumad (scholar). Yet, his archaic writing may throw some light on the issue of Jewish left secular fundamentalism and its unilateral approach towards our human landscape.


I am referring here to the legendary founder member of Matzpen Prof. Moshe Machover, and to a text the man published in 2002 ("Regarding the United Democratic Palestine and Freedom of Religion").


“In 1962,” says Machover,  “I was one of the founders of Matzpen, (the Socialist Organization in Israel), which upheld a consistent internationalist (and therefore anti-Zionist) position, and organized both Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian-Arab members for common struggle.


I have not changed my basic views and political commitments since that time.”


This is indeed a brave statement, but let us see what are those solid precepts that have never been revised, changed or updated.


Palestinians, like the other Arab peoples, are constituent parts of the Arab nation. In the heyday of leftist Arab nationalism (following the Egyptian revolution led by Gamal ‘Abd al-Naser, and other left-nationalist revolutions) it was made very clear that the Arab nation faces the historic task of national unification -- a task that the nations of Europe have fulfilled by now, but which remains as yet unresolved in our part of the world.


In fact, Machover isn’t that wrong, Arab unification is more than welcome but then rather than pan-nationalism it is Islam that unites the Arab populations. Surely Machover might not be too happy about that. Anyhow, it is pretty conceivable to guess what led Machover to adopt the notion of Pan-Arabism back in 1962 but the fact that he maintained such a vision in 2002, when the idea of the cultural clash between the West and Islam has entered into discourse is rather perplexing not to say alarming.


Moreover, not only does Machover know how to solve the problems for the Arabs, he has a clear plan to start to schlep them around and re-distribute their natural resources. “Besides, a unification of the Arab East (say in a federal form) is absolutely vital for solving the economic problems of the region, because of the very uneven distribution of population and natural resources between the various Arab countries, whose borders were for the most part created by western imperialist powers, for their own purposes.”


Not that I suspect that Machover is a Zionist but his argument reminds me of the common Zionist suggestion to the Palestinian subjects, ‘Why do you have to be in Palestine? You have so many rich Arab states to go to.’


Anyhow, the following is probably exactly the key mistake that stops Machover, Elam and other Jewish fundamentalist atheists from realizing the cultural depth of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:


“In the modern world, inaugurated by the French Revolution, religion is considered to be not the affair of the state, but a private matter for each individual -- who must of course be allowed to follow any religion s/he likes, or no religion at all.”


Mistakenly, Machover tends to think that Arabs are French and that Islam, Judaism and Christianity are merely spiritual coats with similar cultural and spiritual functions. Obviously he is wrong. While within Christianity there is clear differentiation between religious code and a civil one (something to do with the evolvement of Christianity within the late Roman empire), within Judaism and Islam such a dichotomy isn’t available. In those two faiths, religious law applies to civil matters. Machover and Elam, being dissident Israelis should know that the conflict between the Israeli civil state and the Halacha law is irresolvable. Islam for that matter is no different from Judaism. An Islamic state would be very different from any post-French Revolution European model. Not to see that is obviously a severe form of political blindness. 


Considering the fact that Machover published his paper less than four years ago, the following statement presents a clear religious tendency to impose a readymade principle over reality rather than adopting a judgmental critical outlook.


[T]he ‘secular democratic’ formula evaded the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not basically a religious one. Religious fanaticism (on the Israeli Jewish side) certainly adds another twist to Zionist oppression; and Islamic fanaticism complicates matters on the Palestinian side (especially in view of the fact that many Palestinians are not Muslims). But the conflict is basically not religious but national.”


I wonder, is it really a national conflict? Moshe Machover grew up in the Jewish State, being an educated man, he must know that the decision to erect the Jewish National Home in Palestine rather than Uganda was the outcome of the Biblical Aspiration. Machover, thus, must know that Zionism transforms the Bible from a spiritual text into a land registry. This fact alone turns Zionism into a form of Jewish evangelism. In other words, Zionism is a Jewish religious movement, it is based on a very strict interpretation of the Bible. Machover knows all that, and yet he insists that the conflict is national. Anyhow, failing to see just that in 2002 may explain why the legendary Machover’s relevance does not extend far beyond the choir of other Jewish Marxists, but in fact, Elam isn’t better off. Being a Palestinian supporter, he managed to become blind to the Palestinian spirit and choice. Both Machover and Elam are very attentive to their inner voice, the voice of ‘reason’. Seemingly, their atheist Jewish fundamentalist ‘reasoning’ is in itself a form of detachment from reality.


The following paragraph is where Machover is going through a metaphysical change. He stops being an ordinary Marxist Melumad, instead he becomes a Hebraic Biblical Prophet. Like Papa Marx and to a certain extent like Bush and Blair, he draws his entire agenda for the future of the world, I assume that one must read it to believe it:


Since in any case a democratic solution to the Palestinian problem cannot be achieved without a progressive transformation of the entire region, and since in any case the Palestinian Arab people would surely want to take part in the prospective unification of the Arab nation, a united (federal) Arab East would provide a context for the solution of all the inter-connected national problems. Within such a larger context, the Israeli Jews (along with other minority nations of the region, the Kurds and the South Sudanese) can be granted generous national rights, without this constituting a threat to the Palestinian Arabs or to anyone else.


It may be said that such a scenario cannot realistically be achieved in the near future. It is perhaps a matter for the very long term. I must admit that this is true. But my point is that the scenario of “United Democratic Palestine” is not more realistic in the short term, as in any case it also would require a profound transformation of the whole region.


Let us therefore think in true internationalist progressive and truly visionary terms.


Yet this was published by Machover in 2002, according to the Talmudic scholar who never has revised his “1962 insight,” one billion Arabs were about to unite into a single nation that would allow the Jewish minority live in peace in Palestine. I wonder if he has reflected upon the fact that his prophesy for the Arab world is not that different from the infamous plans of the neo-cons of Washington for a Greater Middle East. Both visions are entangled with positioning western ideology that may adapt nicely to European and North American realities but not necessarily to the Middle Eastern world. And, in addition, imposing a set of values on others is far from acting in a humanistic way.


The Prophets


Apparently, the Jewish left secular fundamentalists have very little problem suggesting to the world what to do, as it seems, within the Alef list and other Jewish left networks some joined Elam’s call to topple the PA. Sue Blackwell, a Palestinian Solidarity campaigner as well as a devoted modern day Nazi Hunter mentioned just two days ago the wonderful secular Jewish option in Al-Ahram Weekly: “Amongst Jews, there is a long and honourable alternative current to Zionism: namely, socialism…. The socialist ideology of Marx, Trotsky and Luxemburg, of Abraham Leon and Marek Edelman, is an inclusive one, urging unity with non-Jews against the common enemy instead of either going meekly to one's death or running away to Israel.” Indeed there are many Socialist Jews but seemingly their common enemy isn’t the Bourgeoisie anymore. Following Elam, Machover and Greenstein the enemy is Islam and religion in general. Somehow, Sue forgot to mention just that in Al-Ahram, she must know why.


But it goes further, rather occasionally, the argument presented by those wonderful socialists is taking a literary shape of Biblical prophecy. No doubt, some of those Jewish secular fundamentalists do follow the great tradition of the Hebraic prophet. We have just read Machover spreading out an historical determinist vision for the people of Arabia. Indeed talking about the future with such confidence is a unique quality reserved for the chosen socialists but not only.


Last week at the Holocaust memorial ceremony, Dan Gillerman, the Israeli ambassador to the UN gave a statement in front of the General assembly. Within that speech in which he spread threats to Iran and the entire near east, he served the UN members with a clear prophecy “And I warn to you there will forever be an Israel so this horror will never be witnessed again.”


Indeed, the idea that Israel will be there forever is nothing but horror. But somehow this message left me perplexed. I wondered what made Gillerman so certain. How did he know? Is he a prophet? Somehow, he sounds at least as certain as Machover, though both hold completely different agendas for the region. As far as I could see, the Hamas, who just won a landslide victory, is pretty determined to turn Israel into history. Iran is far from being enthusiastic about the Jewish state. I allow myself to assume that most Arabs in the region and beyond aren't exactly Zionist supporters. In short, not that I think that it is that easy to wipe out a nuclear regional super power backed by almighty America, but as we happen to know, nothing really lasts forever. Surely, Gillerman knows that European Jews had been spitted out by their host nations just over a half century ago, and this was in spite of their prosperous life and influence. Considering the complexity of Jewish history, I find myself wondering how can Gillerman and Machover be so certain about the future to come? How can Elam be so convinced that he knows how to sort out Palestinian problems? I wonder where the origin of this lies.


Following Gershon Sholem I tend to believe that the answer to such a question may lie on the Hebraic perception of the bond between the Jewish people and God. Once a Jew regards himself as a chosen being, God and world affairs become an internal Jewish affair. Indeed, for the secular fundamentalist Jew, God is a variable general concept that can accommodate any earthy figure from Marx to Spinoza through Levinas and Freud. When that happens, one may tend to express aspirations applying a concrete and factual language. This linguistic form is rather common in Israel. In the newly born Hebraic culture the demarcation line between myth and reality is nothing but vague. Following Herzl, it is merely the conviction’ that turns a “fable into reality.” In other words, it is all in one’s mind. It is all about self-determination. This may help us to grasp the Zionist messianic zeal when coming to redeem the land of Zion regardless of the grave moral consequences. But it helps as well to realize Elam’s zero tolerance towards the legitimate choice of the Palestinian people. It helps us to grasp Machover’s total dismissal of the obvious fact that Arabs are Muslims at large. As much as Ambassador Gillerman is certain that Israel is an eternal entity, while turning a blind eye to the gradual Arabic resistance, Machover is totally convinced that the Arabs are on the verge of becoming a secularised single nation in spite of the fact that in reality, they are actually becoming a pan-Islamic block. Seemingly, Gillerman, Machover and Elam are very good at listening to their inner voice. I would suggest that in order to block the stream of reality it isn’t inner voice they are listening to but rather some severe form of inner noise. Somehow they have managed to turn a blind eye to the sheer reality of the indigenous Palestinians. They turn a blind eye to the reality of Islam. They are totally engaged in bending reality into their own atheist religious beliefs. In fact Bush, Blair and the neo-conservatives are doing the same, they decide what reality is going to be for the Arab people. Unlike Machover and Elam, they have the power to impose their will. At least that is what they believe in.


Indeed the Zionists turned an outrageous fable into a reality. Undeniably their strategies were successful for more than a while. Indeed, the Jewish Marxists were very influential for a while. But seemingly, cracks started to show. The world is slowly but surely acknowledging the scale of the continuous sin against the Palestinian people. Working class politics lost its charm as well, people around the world have managed to grasp that the crime against the Palestinian people is slightly broader than mere colonial conflict or a mere “material dispute.” I would allow myself to say that the Zionist manipulation lost its charm. But Jewish Marxism never had any charm. It was very effective in the 1960-70s when Palestinians were short of the capacity to draw enough attention. But now, things are different. The Palestinians have enough eloquent speakers, they have generated the right spirit of resistance. It is our duty now to follow them, and criminal to undermine them or their structures. Politely I would ask the Jewish secular fundamentalist to clear the stage and to let the Palestinians run their affairs autonomously.


Gilad Atzmon is an internationally acclaimed jazz musician whose CD Exile was selected by the BBC in 2003 as Album of the Year. He was born in Israel and served in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), and is now living in self-exile in the UK. Visit his web site at: www.gilad.co.uk. He can be reached at: gilad@gilad.co.uk.