Two days ago, Gilad Atzmon published a piece on his blog, titled “the questions that Jonathan Ofir prefers to avoid”. These were questions he sent to me when he wanted to interview me over a year ago. At that point I didn’t know much about Atzmon, only read a few quotes, and recall being warned in advance by a friend, but I had given him a chance, when he approached. Then came the questions.
Atzmon’s questions referred to my piece “To my fellow Israelis: We can stop this”. Among them:
Do you really believe that the Jews or the Israelis can “stop it now”?
Have Jews ever stopped themselves voluntarily?
Obviously, I agree with you that Israel and Zionism are engaged in horrendous crimes. But as far as I can tell, Jewish Bolsheviks were engaged in crimes of an even greater scale.
According to Yuri Slezkin, Jews were “Stalin’s willing executioners”. Neocons, a Jewish American political school have inflicted greater disasters than Israel or Zionism.
Is it possible that Zionism is just one symptom of a disastrous Jewish political continuum?
Can you imagine a peace loving Jewish political existence?
Can you point at such a body in Jewish history?
I did a bit more background check, saw a video of a talk. The point of the questions appeared to be that ‘Jewishness’ was the problem, and if I didn’t concede to it, I would probably be regarded as an ‘anti-Zionist Zionist’ or ‘Zionist gatekeeper’ as Atzmon likes to say. I saw where it was going, and I realized that I would lose any way I answered. I politely backed out. I got admonished for lack of ‘intellectual integrity’. At that point I already knew that a distance had to be kept, and that anything I did or said would likely be held against me.
But a few days ago, Michael Lesher wrote on Facebook that he was going to be doing a talk in New York on Sunday April 30 at which Atzmon would also be speaking. I thought it merited warning (and Lesher admitted to not actually knowing Atzmon), so I described my experience in the comments, and noted I hadn’t spoken about the issue publicly before.
Atzmon came on the thread:
“You Jonathan .. I also didn’t write about it publicly but i probably should.. I will just publish the questions you were not willing to answer so everyone knows what you are and who you work for.. correction .. by now everyone knows ..”.
After another person expressed support for what I write in general, Atzmon wrote:
“The tribe …. my dear,, spreading the myth of the good J (the banal AZZ’ mantra – zionism is bad but Js are good ..)..”
Then Atzmon published the piece called “the questions that Jonathan Ofir prefers to avoid,” and shared the link on the thread, writing:
“You asked for it,, now eat it”.
Now it gets even more interesting. Atzmon writes:
“You see Jonathan… out of your cyber ghetto we really do not appreciate this gatekeeping project you subscribe to… we are not afraid of any form of criticsm ,, we are not afraid of history revisionism either..we believe instead in free exchange ,,, we want more Athens and less Jerusalem..Reading Michael Lesher I get the impression that despite him being an orthodox Jew and unlike you, he also subscribes to athens ..Lesher criticism of contemporary rabbinical society is genuinely universal…anyway,, feel free to discuss the topic on my page,,,it is an open space just to make sure people of your ilk can meet the opposition”.
Notice, the use of double and triple commas. It seems very idiosyncratic for Atzmon. It’s interesting, because then comes a supporter of Atzmon who writes:
“Jonathan, I am not sure at this point of who you truly are, but i definitely notice you also admit not knowing much about Gilad Atzmon, and there is no doubt in my mind that you haven’t bothered yourself to read his book nor did you followed any of his talks proper ,,, so maybe before condemning Gilad’s message you should learn to listen,,, I believe this is an important piece to start with,,, [linking to a 2007 article by Atzmon].“
Atzmon is delighted with this comment – and even with himself:
“my god [xxx],, how did you find it… Incredible … I moved a bit since then but it is indeed strong… And it explains very well why Ofir and the JVP are disturbed by my work.. i point at the J they are desperate to conceal the J ….”
At this point, I began to feel very much like Ali Abunimah, who wrote in response to Atzmon in 2013:
“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.”
And why is this important, beyond the simple offensive ad hominem attacks that are part of Atzmon’s way and style? Because Atzmon makes his attacks against people whom he sees as subscribing to a global Jewish dominance. He believes that even attempts at Palestine solidarity such as BDS have been overtaken by ‘Jewish gatekeepers’ for Judeo-centric agendas, as it were. For Atzmon, ‘Zionism’ is just a mask for the real issue that is responsible for Palestinian suffering and much else: “Jewishness”. When Atzmon twisted Abunimah’s words, he wrote that
[Abunimah] “is just dishonest/stupid. Abunimah calls Israelis Zionists because he needs the so called Jewish ‘anti’ Zionists to support his operation.”
So for Atzmon, those ‘liberal Jews’ who may come as far as challenging and opposing Zionism, are often ‘AZZ’s’ (‘anti-Zionist Zionists’). Thus Abunimah, who opposes all forms of racism including anti-Semitism, is for Atzmon simply a “Sabbath goy” (a gentile who performs work for Jews).
In 2012, various Palestinian writers and activists including Abunimah, BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti, professor Joseph Massad and others officially disavowed the racism and anti-Semitism of Gilad Atzmon.
So what does Atzmon want with me? He seems to want to expose me as a supposed “JVP merchant”, a “dedicated Jewish gatekeeper”. Now those terms can seem puzzling for some. What is this coded language? JVP stands for Jewish Voice for Peace. Atzmon believes that the American Jewish organization, which also supports BDS, is really about ‘Jewishness’ and giving Jews good PR, as it were. He says that “Liberal Jews want to make the [Palestinian] solidarity movement a Goyrein zone” and talks about “JVP, BDS and Jewish liberal terror”.
What is this “merchant” word about? Well, if you think about Shylock, the Jewish character from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, the word is a code for the stereotype of the sleazy Jew. This is not just my unfounded association. Atzmon is fully aware of these stereotypes, as he writes:
“Shylock is the blood-thirsty merchant. With Fagin [the Jewish dealer of stolen goods in Dicken’s Oliver Twist, ed.] and Shylock in mind Israeli barbarism and organ trafficking seem to be just other events in an endless hellish continuum.”
Atzmon’s language about me is further condescending, as he regards me as a “boy”, and alters my last name to “offir”. He obviously thinks this is amusing.
So, Atzmon believes I work for JVP (which I don’t, but I support their aims, am on their Facebook group and receive their mails).
Even those who desperately try to defend Atzmon’s statements as merely critical ones, seem somewhat unconvincing when you actually take a look at statements from his book ‘The Wandering Who?’, as in:
“It took me many years to understand that the Holocaust, the core belief of the contemporary Jewish faith, was not at all an historical narrative [for] historical narratives do not need the protection of the law and political lobbies. It took me years to grasp that my great-grandmother wasn’t made into a ‘soap’ or a ‘lampshade’ as I was taught in Israel. She probably perished of exhaustion, typhus or maybe even by mass shooting… The fate of my great-grandmother was not so different from hundreds of thousands of German civilians who died in deliberate, indiscriminate bombing, just because they were Germans. Similarly, people in Hiroshima died just because they were Japanese… [As devastating as it was], at a certain moment in time, a horrible chapter was given an exceptional meta-historical status.” (pp 175, 149).
Thus – no gassings mentioned, and so many others killed. Not that big a deal in itself, as it were. This can be said to be the “soft core holocaust denial” which Deborah Lipstadt refers to, also in relation to the current US administration’s approach:
“Soft-core denial is much more insidious and squishier but when you know something is not quite right,” she told us [Washington Post]. “When you take out the identity of the victims, when those victims were specifically targeted, that is a form of rewriting history, and that’s what denial is all about.”
Given, Atzmon seems to be somewhat more educated on this one than White House Spokesperson Sean Spicer, but this only means his assertions are often harder to spot.
Atzmon writes in his attack on me:
“I recently read a disgusting private exchange between Ofir and a peace activist where Ofir used the most abusive crypto Zionist tactics and argumentation (antisemitism, holocaust denial you name it.) I have since then witnessed Ofir disseminating the usual kosher progressive mantra. I am not impressed”.
Atzmon does not provide quotes, so it’s very hard to see what he’s talking about, and in what context. Talking about anti-Semitism in itself is not contentious – neither is usage of the term Holocaust denial. Leveling those charges against an individual is something I rarely do. If I establish such aspects in a person, I usually just disengage completely. I have blocked numerous anti-Semites and Holocaust-deniers in social media. They should just be ignored and disassociated from.
I could also simply have chosen to ignore Atzmon, or disconnect, as I did a year ago. Was it a mistake to warn publicly about him, and provoke his ire? I’m not sure, but it brought his public attack against me. Would it then be wise to ignore that? I have thought about it for a few days, and reached the conclusion that it’s more than just about me. Like Ali Abunimah, I thought that it was important to do so in this case, to make a public response.
Gilad Atzmon thinks that “time is ripe for the rest of us to know what questions Jonathan Ofir would prefer to avoid.” I think more people need to know about Gilad Atzmon’s bigotry and anti-Semitism, under the guise of a ‘peace activist’.
As for Atzmon’s questions, I regularly voice my critique on both Zionism and Judaism, and I don’t need a person like Atzmon leading me up the path.
Atzmon’s questions speak volumes on their own.