[Editor’s note: I have taken the liberty of re-publishing an article by David Aaronovitch from 2005. There may be minor typos, if so they are my fault. It deserves to be read and re-read.]
I remember reading it at the time and thinking: surely no one can ignore this warning of collusion with antisemitism?
Yet the SWP did.
They actively colluded with and promoted an antisemite, Gilad Atzmon. They fended off any criticism, any questions or any reservations for some five years.
Collaboration with a racist was not an idle mistake by the SWP. It was a result of their political orientation, how the SWP see the world and in particular how they relate to Jews. It is a lesson which they still have not learnt.
(The material is the copyright of David Aaronovitch/The Times newspaper)
“June 28, 2005
How did the far Left manage to slip into bed with the Jew-hating Right?
WHEN I WAS YOUNG, smug centrists used to tell me that the extremes of Right and Left would, extended far enough, meet somewhere round the back. And I never quite believed it. But here’s a story that seems to suggest that it really can happen. Indulge me . . .
First a recapitulation. The Respect Party of George Galloway famously turned in the best performance by a far-Left party since the Communists won two seats in 1945. Respect itself is mostly though not entirely a front for the semi-Trotskyist organisation called the Socialist Workers’ Party, or SWP. SWP members made up just under half of Respect’s candidates, SWP activists form the party’s main cadre and it is the SWP that drives the strategy, tactics and political platform of Respect.
When I was at college, the local SWP used to drive around in minibuses looking for members of the far Right to beat up. In those days the party had an uncompromising attitude towards those it decided were racists and fascists, throwing politicians such as Sir Keith Joseph into an adjacent sub-category and trying to get them banned from making speeches.
Next week the SWP begins the annual festival at which members, supporters and friends are spoken at and sung to on topics revolutionary and progressive. Marxism 2005 features grizzled Trots from the 1970s, Tony Benn, George Galloway, a poet or two and, for the third year running, billed at No 13 on the speaker’s list, a chap called Gilad Atzmon.
And that’s where the trouble starts. Atzmon is a well-known jazz-musician, an Israeli-born Jew and as the SWP has previously described him also a deliverer of fearless tirades against Zionism. But the tirades have got him into trouble with more than just the Jewish community. A Palestinian musician told me a couple of years ago that she would no longer work with Atzmon because, in her opinion, he was an anti-Semite. He had, somewhere, crossed the line.
In 2003, for instance, Atzmon, who makes many speeches and runs a very substantial website, said this about the idea of a global Jewish plot: We must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously.
Why? Because American Jewry makes any debate on whether the Protocols of the Elders of Zionitic forgery are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews do try to control the world, by proxy. So far they are doing pretty well for themselves at least.
So, he’s a silly boy advancing slightly dangerous arguments (or fearless tirades). And we might take no notice. It’s just that Atzmon does get about a bit gigs, meetings, university debates, and yet one of his heroes is an author and activist, Israel Shamir.
According to Atzmon, Shamir is a very civil and peaceful man and probably is the sharpest critical voice of Jewish power’ and Zionist ideology.
I first came across Shamir after I’d made a programme for Channel 4 on anti-Semitism in Islamic countries. In it I’d pointed out how the blood libel, the slanderous accusation that Jews killed gentiles for the blood, had travelled from medieval Europe to the Middle East. But was it slander? Shamir, who claims to be a Russian Jew from Jaffa, wrote a long article in response arguing that the Jews probably were guilty of kidnapping Christian children and drinking their blood. I was more than amazed.
Shamir both buys the world plot and has some very strange allies. For as long, he wrote, as Richard Perle sits in the Pentagon, Elie Wiesel brandishes his Nobel Prize, Mort Zuckerman owns the USA Today, Gusinsky bosses over Russian TV, Soros commands multi-billions of funds and Dershowitz teaches at Harvard, we need the voices of (David) Duke, (Justin) Raimondo, (Pat) Buchanan, (Horst) Mahler, (Nick) Griffin and of other anti-bourgeois nationalists. For those who don’t know, Mahler is ex-Baader Meinhof turned neo-Nazi, David Duke is a former leader of Ku Klux Klan and Nick Griffin is our very own Welshpool Duce.
And despite warnings about his true identity as a Swedish fascist, Shamir sits on the 16-person board of advisers of the international pro-Palestinian campaign organisation, Deir Yassin Remembered (DYR), named after a Palestinian village destroyed and ethnically cleansed in 1948 by the Zionist terror groups, Irgun and the Stern gang. DYR organises events that many of the great and good of the pro-Palestinian movement attend.
As it happens the Jewish UK Director of DYR, Paul Eisen, is a fan of Shamir’s, describing him as a man who has no trouble whatsoever in calling a Jew a Jew . . .
And Eisen is of Atzmon and Shamir’s mind concerning Jewish power. Last year he expressed the view that Jewish influence in America was not over its muscle and sinew but over its blood and its brain . . . Lists abound (though you have to go to some pretty unpopular websites to find them) of Jews, prominent in financial and cultural life.
It seems to have been on one of these unpopular websites that Eisen made a fatal connection. He discovered the site of one Ernst Zundel.
Zundel, wrote Eisen, is a gentle, good-humoured man . . . Zundel understands people and . . . he understands history. Zundel, a German-born Canadian, is not just a modern saint, but also the distributor of the booklet, Did Six Million Really Die? And a co-publisher of the rather heroically titled, The Hitler We Loved and Why.
In an article published last December Eisen explained what he’d learnt from kindly Ernst. No one is able to show us, at Auschwitz or anywhere else, argued Eisen, even one of these chemical slaughterhouses. No one is capable of describing to us their exact appearance or workings. Neither a trace nor a hint of their existence is to be found . . . Nor would it be the first time that Jews have accepted and propagated stories, true, false or a mixture of both, of their suffering.
It was Eisen on the Holocaust that sent the balloon up for Atzmon at Marxism 2005. Because Atzmon firstly circulated Eisen’s Holocaust-denying article, then told critics defiantly that, my take on the subject is slightly different than Paul’s one. For me, Atzmon continued, cretinously, the Holocaust like any other historical narrative is a dynamic process of realisation and interpretation.
Not a few left-wing Jews who style themselves anti-Zionist have been horrified by the Atzmon-Eisen-Shamir business. And a couple of weeks ago they began to exert pressure on the SWP to disinvite the over-fearless tirader. But the SWP it of smash racism has refused. The party issued a statement. It was, it admitted, a bit worried about Atzmon, because: We think that some of the formulations on his website might encourage his readers to feel that he is blurring the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. But, it nevertheless concluded: We do not believe that Gilad should be banned’ from performing or speaking. No Platform’ is a principle that the Left has always reserved for fascists and organised racists.
There are a couple of questions left begging there. Are the readers, in the SWP’s usually magisterial and definite opinion, right to feel that the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is being blurred, or not? And is Atzmon being exempted from banishment because he is merely a disorganised racist?
Or is it that an influential section of the far Left has, in this instance and on this issue, completely and disgracefully lost its political and moral compass?
Update 1: Socialist Worker from 2004, applauding Atzmon: Gilad Atzmon: ‘Zionism is my enemy’. Funny, but the SWP never got around to covering his open racism.
Update 2: In 2007, the SWP were praising Atzmon and his friend, Martin Smith. 2007 also saw letters from leading members, Hannah Dee and Viv Smith, then Lindsey German dismissing any disapproval of Gilad Atzmon or his racism.
Update 3: David Hirsh tackled the issues in 2006, all of which flew of the SWP’s collective head: Openly embracing prejudice.
Update 4: As a public record, a copy of the Jewish Socialists’ Group 2006 letter to the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which seems to have vanished from their site is below.
“Fighting for Palestinian rights and against antisemitism
The Jewish Socialists’ Group has written an open letter to Scottish Palestine Solidarity , condemning their invitation to Gilad Atzmon to speak and perform in Edinburgh on 22nd November. This open letter has been welcomed and supported by many longstanding campaigners for Palestinian rights, who recognise that this struggle is compromised by anyone who blurs the distinction between attacking the political ideology of Zionism and making attacks on Jews of the world. The JSG believes that antisemitism is the common enemy of Jews, Palestinians and all progressives.
Open letter to Scottish Palestine Solidarity
Dear Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign,
The terrible situation of the Palestinians today,
especially in Gaza, demands the broadest possible
unity by those who wish to challenge oppression,
racism and human rights abuses. Those who disrupt that
unity, or make pro-Palestinian activity vulnerable to
charges of antisemitism cannot be friends of the
Against this background, the Jewish Socialists’ Group
strongly oppose Scottish PSC’s invitation to Gilad
Atzmon to speak and perform on November 22 at an event
called “Zionist control”. Apart from the SWP, which
has inexplicably invited Atzmon to its annual Marxism
events, and to a book launch at its Bookmarks shop
(which was picketed by “Jews Against Zionism and other
anti-racists), Atzmon is shunned by other progressive,
pro-Palestinian organisations. They completely reject
his statements – regurgitating world Jewish conspiracy
theories and diminishing the crimes of Nazism – which
have been widely denounced as antisemitic.
Atzmon’s outbursts have been a gift to Zionist
journalists, providing them with an opportunity to
discredit and smear those who support Palestinian
rights and justice for the Palestinian people.
If you are not familiar with the views of the person
you have invited, here are some examples from his
article “On antisemitism” December 2003 on his own
website (www.gilad.co.uk) and reprinted in
“We must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish
people are trying to control the world very
seriously…American Jewry makes any debate on whether
the ‘Protocols of the elders of Zion’ are an authentic
document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews
do try to control the world, by proxy.”
“Israel’s behaviour throws some light on the
persecution of Jews throughout history.”
In 2005 Atzmon approvingly distributed Paul Eisen’s
essay “Holocaust Wars” which the Socialist Unity
website described as “a full-blooded exposition of
Holocaust denial material and a tribute to notorious
neo-Nazi Ernst Zundel.” Atzmon said he had only
“slight differences” with Eisen’s article.
In 2006 he wrote an article called “Beyond comparison”
for Al-Jazeerah (August 12) about Israel and Nazism:
“Nazis were indeed proper expansionists, they were
trying to take towns and land intact…unlike the Nazis
who had respect for other national movements including
Zionism, Israel has zero respect for anyone including
its next door neighbours. The Israeli behavior should
be realised as the ultimate vulgar biblical barbarism
on the verge of cannibalism.
“While Nazism was a nationalist expansionist movement
with extensive yet limited ambitions, the Jewish State
and its Zionist lobbies are trying to revive the
spirit of a global crusade in the name of a bizarre
“It is about time to … say it all loudly… We have to
admit that Israel is the ultimate evil rather than
Since the early 1980s the Jewish Socialists’ Group has
worked closely with Palestinian organisations and
solidarity campaigns and more recently with Jews for
Justice for Palestinians, Just Peace UK and European
Jews for a Just Peace in the struggle against
occupation and for equality and self-determination for
Palestinians. We have challenged Jewish communal
“leaders” when they denounce opponents of Israel as
antisemitic and Jewish opponents of Zionism as
At the same time we remain vigilant about antisemitism
and other forms of racism. We agree entirely with the
Britain’s former PLO representative, Afif Safieh, who
frequently told pro-Palestinian demonstrations and
meetings that antisemitism was an enemy of the
Palestinians as well as the Jews.
As Jewish socialists and outspoken opponents of
Zionism, racism and fascism, we cannot understand how
it benefits the Palestinian struggle to invite and
promote an individual who speaks as Atzmon does,
regardless of his origins. The Palestine Solidarity
Campaign has long had a clause in its aims to oppose
antisemitism and all forms of racism. We cannot
understand why SPSC seem intent on exposing the
pro-Palestinian movement to charges of antisemitism.
We appeal to Scottish PSC to rescind the invitation
and we appeal to Palestinian organisations and
solidarity organisations to make their views on this
known to Scottish PSC.
Jewish Socialists’ Group”
Update 5: Even as recent as 2010 Pluto Press were using Gilad Atzmon as a reviewer, Gilad Atzmon reviews Ramzy Baroud’s new book.