Monday, June 13, 2005
whose side are you on?
On several blogs, Jews Sans Frontiers but also Harry's Place, as well as on the internet Yahoo members' forum Just Peace UK, there is a discussion going on insisting that it is not right that the Socialist Workers' Party invited Gilad Atzmon to make a presentation for the third year running at their annual meeting, and to host him in their bookshop for a signing this Friday in London. Tony Greenstein, quoted below in an excerpt of his own correspondence with Atzmon has called for (under the name of Jews Against Zionism) a picket to be held outside the bookshop. He has also campaigned to have Atzmon taken off of the Meeting, but has been met with a refusal by the organisers.
There are a lot of people who love what Gilad Atzmon does, and with good reason. Among his indubious qualities (even his critics say he is a great musician) he is a very effective campaigner with a very important message about Palestine, Israel and the Empire. He believes in a single State paradigm for these two populations and is in favour of complete Right of Return of Palestinian refugees. He is a fervent anti-zionist, and he opposes the habit of the strong exerting their pressure upon the weak. He is a fierce advocate of open discourse and opposes the single narrative reading of history. The interview I did with him on this site a few months back is a good primer to his approach for those who are unfamiliar with the man.
There are others who hate what Gilad Atzmon does, people like Masada 2000 of course comes to mind without even checking if it's so, but also, he is seen as an opponent to be defeated and not as a serious thinker by the most vociferous members of said JPUK group. Their reasons include: that he distributed through his mailing list a document written by Paul Eisen which many of these people define as "Holocaust Denial" (the four that have expressed this opinion out of a group numbering something like 180 members), and that he is associated with people that these same individuals in JPUK consider to be anti-semitic and therefore to be distanced from the Palestinian solidarity arena.
First of all, Gilad answered to these accusations quite well himself in the epistolary debate, and I will later possibly post here salient moments of my own (and others') intervention from JPUK list discussing if this accusation is realistic or not. Secondly, Gilad is not "associated" with anyone as far as I can tell, and he writes and speaks as an independent individual. I am convinced that he is determined to maintain his individuality, especially since his view is very particular given his experiences and formation. There will of course be affinities with others, as is natural and good that there will be since mobilisation of others and discussion is always going to bring about communication and sharing of strategy and opinions. But to label the fact that he reads and communicates with others as "association" is a stretch of the imagination. It also implies that all see these exact same individuals in the same exact way and that it is necessary to "renounce" them.
Sure, everyone can have their opinions, but no one can force them on others. No one can have the 100% security that his and his opinion alone is right, just and acceptable. Dictators do that kind of thing, not "progressives". What is a progressive, anyway? I always thought it was one who advocated the diversity of humanity and respect for the dignity of others, no matter who they were.
Tony and his friends have a right to call for a picket, but that doesn't mean that it's right. I think Tony might find that out on his own this Friday. He should bear in mind what he is asking for people to picket, and people should consider whether a request like this is very progressive.
A good educator believes it is fundamental, especially in this world of a variety of people, that one should consider all persons as worthy of respect, and that we could and should disagree with their opinions, without ostracising them because we did not agree with what or who they were. One of the reasons was pragmatic, you don't want to find your own rights of thought and speech trampled over when your ideas express dissent. You have to want for yourself and for others, that right which is the right to be yourself and not be bullied into acquiescence. The right to request civil discussion and not aggressive accusations. The right to refuse ultimatums and power games.
It's a matter of just acting like grown ups, not like children who rant and make a tantrum until they get what they want (usually by shouting long, loud and hard enough). The other reason is that somewhere in there, the other person might just have something useful to say, or might be open to listening to us. All the rest is just staring into a mirror.
To maintain the discourse open, free, where all participants can act as equals and are not deligitimised is important in discussion groups. To respect our adversaries is important too. Threats and scare tactics seem to be quicker though.