The New Pro-Palestinian Jews — Beyond Tikkun and Atzmon

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The original draft of this essay was a fraction of the length and covered only my argument against Michael Lerner and left-wing Jews who seem to have confused the Jewish anti-Occupation movement with a progressive Jewish self- interest group. The main theme inspiring the essay, both in its original draft and its current expanded version, is that the primary political allegiance of Jewish opponents of Israeli settler-colonialism is or ought to be to the Palestinians–” not to other Jews, and certainly not to the state of Israel. (This argument is the implicit premise of my recent book, Radicals, Rabbis and Peacemakers: Conversations with Jewish Critics of Israel..[1]) Our purpose as pro-Palestinian Jews is to support the Palestinians’ anti-colonialist movement for justice and liberation. (I do not mean to imply that we have no right to be critical of the Palestinian movement, insofar as it engages in actions that are not conducive to the creation of a humane non-racist society in the Middle East.) Any success the Palestinian liberation movement achieves acts to advance the general effort to counter the ruling elites’ agenda of fostering an apocalyptic “clash of civilizations” as a pretext for expanding imperial control of the earth’s resources.

Although anti-Zionist Jewish organizations have so far made little effort to define themselves in relation to the larger movement dominated in the US by Tikkun and other Zionist opponents of Israeli policies towards the Palestinians, the former have all taken positions critical of Israeli policies pre-dating the 1967 Occupation. Thus Jews Against the Occupation affirms as one of its points of unity the internationally recognized right of return of the 1948 Palestinian refugees. By putting together a book on Jewish critics of Zionism as I did and by critiquing Lerner and critics of Israedl like the JVP scholar mentioned below, I was attempting to contribute to defining the identity of the emerging Jewish anti-Zionist movement and asserting its independence of older and larger pro-Zionist organizations which refuse to criticize Israel’s pre-1967 policies. (This task is complicated by the fact that some people who are anti-Zionist–” meaning they are opposed to political Zionism, as defined below –” prefer to avoid the term “Zionism” altogether.)

After writing the first part of this essay months ago I realized that my endeavor was unfinished, and that questions still remain about the collective identity of anti-Zionist Jews. Left-Zionists and a smaller group of Marxists have predominated in the anti-Occupation movement for so long that it is necessary to establish our identity both as Jews and as anti-Zionists. Although my book was composed as an affirmation of the Jewishness of anti-Zionism (although a couple of my interlocutors did not define themselves as Jewish) over and against the Jewish establishment which claims we are self-hating Jews, I had not yet contended with the critics on the left who argue that the political identification of oneself as Jewish necessarily binds one to a self-definition and praxis which is quintessentially Zionist. The most prominent spokespersons for this group of anti-Zionists are Gilad Atzmon, Paul Eisen and Israel Shamir.

Atzmon who has considerable influence in Europe, and whose adherents include a growing number of Marxists as well as the American activist and writer Jeff Blankfort, argues that persons who oppose Zionism in the name of their Jewish identity are either disingenuous or unwittingly serving the Zionist cause. Like many Jews I find his argument offensive. The anti-Zionist faction of the Jewish anti-Occupation movement is young and it has not assertively contested the challenges to its integrity and identity launched by Atzmon and others in the name of humanism, Marxism or working class internationalism. Thus it lacks a solid basis for its own praxis. My project is consonant with and complements that of the prolific Jewish theologian Marc Ellis who has not however answered those on the left who are critical of his perspective. Atzmon’s argument functions as a foil which has provided me with an opportunity to elaborate a theoretical legitimation for the Jewish anti-Zionist tendency in the anti-Occupation movement. I believe this tendency requires a theoretical foundation in order to maintain its momentum and growth. If Atzmon’s perspective was adopted and the fledgling Jewish anti-Zionists were to repudiate their Jewish identity, as he would like, the anti-Occupation movement would be disastrously weakened, and its future prospects would be eclipsed.

While I am critical of Atzmon, I think his work is based upon a kernel of truth: Even genuine Jewish anti-Zionists (for whom I have great respect) have been so involved in proving they are truly Jewish that they have done too little to reach out to non-Jews. More importantly, although their opposition to Zionism provides a political basis for an alliance with diaspora representatives of the Palestinians, they have not extended themselves enough to develop this relationship. Thus the next major step they must take –” I believe– if they are to yet escape the threat of political impotence is to establish a joint organization with Palestinians, Arabs and Muslim to agitate for non-Zionist and non-theocratic forms of government in Israel –” and in the mid-east region in general. (This obviously runs counter to the imperial ersatz agenda of “democratizing” the Mideast.)

Jewish Critics of Israel and Zionism

After the invasion of Jenin, while the Left in America debated whether the Israeli Army had committed a "massacre" or just an ordinary war crime, I decided that I wanted to protest against the crimes committed by the "Jewish state." Thus I prepared to begin work on a book of interviews with anti-Zionists and non-Zionist Jews, Radicals, Rabbis and Peacemakers:Conversations with Jewish Critics of Israel (Common Courage Press, 2005). The most well known American Jewish critic of the 1967 Israeli occupation is Michael Lerner, editor of the left-wing magazine Tikkun– I was not impressed by Lerner’s effort to separate the decades long occupation, dispossession and persecution of the Palestinian people from the mythic and ostensibly innocent era of Israel’s origins and youth, thus legitimating the Zionist project. I decided to put together a book that would serve as an introduction to the anti-Zionist faction of the Jewish anti-occupation movement, much as Lerner’s book Healing Israel/Palestine [2] made the argument for the Zionist wing of the anti-Occupation movement.

In 2002 I also joined Jews Against the Occupation (JATO), a NY group that supported the Palestinian right of return as guaranteed by UN Resolution 194 –”that is, the right of all Palestinian refugees to return to the land they fled or were expelled from in 1947/8.. My first two interviews were with the prominent leftist scholar Norman Finkelstein, whose most recent book, Beyond Chutpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, [3] is a deconstruction of Alan Dershowitz’s book The Case for Israel, and Ora Wise, a young spokeswoman for JATO whose father was a Conservative rabbi. After I found a publisher I resumed work on the book.

Jewish Gatekeepers of the Anti-Occupation Movement

One phone call I made in 2004 lingers in my mind because my exchange with the Jewish scholar to whom I spoke symbolizes for me the problem with the Jewish left in the US today. He is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), and a non-Zionist scholar. I told him of my plan for my book and asked if he would agree to an interview. He raised his voice and stated: "You are dividing Jews. What is your political rationale for doing this book?" His tone put me on the defensive. I mentioned that he sounded angry. He did not modulate his voice but repeated "I am merely asking you what is your political rationale for dividing Jews. Why are you writing this? Tell me what do you hope to accomplish politically! Otherwise how could I agree to an interview. " There were a number of thoughts that were clamoring in the forefront of my mind but I decided not to express them because the tone of his voice was forbidding, not genuinely inquisitive.

I could not predict the political effects of my book–”how can one ever do that with any degree of certainty? I wanted to make the anti-Zionist argument (against current Israeli policies) known to a larger public because it is the strongest, most cogent, and the most moral argument for opposing the Israeli occupation–” and thus for becoming active in the pro-Palestinian movement. Whether it would succeed in mobilizing opposition to Israel–”of that I had no way of knowing. But it was an argument that deserved to be heard. How could there be any adverse effects from telling the truth? The Zionist argument that Israel’s cause was noble and was corrupted in 1967 was a falsehood. Why should my book accommodate those – whose advocacy was based on illusions? Why should I not tell the unvarnished truth, as ugly as it was?

Had I made such a statement on the phone I suppose the JVP scholar would have repeated: "You are not taking responsibility for the effects of presenting only one side of the argument against the occupation and you are placing a divide in the middle of the Jewish left." But I had a response to that also: "I do not care. It is irrelevant to me that many left-wing Zionists will feel attacked. I believe that one of the virtues of the anti-Zionist argument is that it will appeal to many Palestinians and many Arabs and Moslems who believe quite rightly that the Zionist argument is disingenuous. It is Palestinians and Moslems who are the victims here, and I care more about making an alliance with them on the basis of an acknowledgment of the wrong-doing committed in our name, the name of Jews, than I do about presenting a united front of Jewish leftists to the world." This went through my mind in the few minutes I was on the phone, and I could imagine his voice crescendoing to a vociferous rage. Thus I beat a polite retreat and managed to terminate the conversation.

But I think both of the responses I did not make would have met with the agreement of the persons I interviewed for the book. When I asked JATOite Ora Wise in 2003 (printed in my book) what kind of solution she supported to end the oppression of Palestinians, she responded, "I will follow the lead of my fellow Palestinian activists and intellectuals and the Palestinians living under occupation. I know right now… [that] so many Palestinians living under occupation ..just need to get the boot of the Israeli military off their neck — that they’re simply calling for an end to the Occupation. And so I will follow the lead of Palestinians and their communities….[H]owever, I believe that a two-state solution will never lead to true justice or equality." This is the essence of JATO’s approach. Some in JATO believe a two state solution is the most practical. Others are committed to one secular state for all. And there are other positions, as well. JATO does not hold an organizational position on this issue. Although virtually all of us believe that a Jewish state cannot be fully equitable we uphold the right of Palestinians to determine their own future. It is the Palestinians who were the victims of Israeli colonialism. It is thus the Palestinians to whom we owe our primary political allegiance, not other Jews. JATO upholds the Palestinians’ right of return as affirmed by international law. The question– what will other Jews say?– is irrelevant for Ora, and for all the persons I interviewed.. The yardstick for the rectitude of Ora’s public statement and advocacy concerning a peace settlement is not what do other American Jews think, but what kind of settlement do Palestinians want-–”within the parameters of the recognition of human rights for all parties.

As progressive Jews our concern should be entering into an alliance with Palestinians, not with reaching an agreement within Jewish ranks (first) of what Palestinians should be offered, or what face Jews should present to the world.. More than any other group on the left Michael Lerner and Tikkun promulgate this latter approach. One has the impression that Lerner is talking in Tikkun only –or primarily– to other Jews. Since from Lerner’s perspective Jews had the right to set up a state in Palestine in the first place, there can be no question of expressing remorse for the dispossession of Palestinians in 1948. Self-respecting Palestinian and Arabs are not interested in an alliance with Lerner–” since he defends the "original sins" by which Israel came into existence. Tikkun represents an interest group for progressive Jews, and it thus sets the standards for most non-Jewish progressives of what is acceptable criticism of Israel. (Although Tikkun does publish writers with more radical perspectives than Lerner’s.) The fly in the ointment is that Jews do not need yet another interest group. We need groups that demonstrate to the world that Jews too can place the exigencies of justice over that of bargaining for our "interests" –”however progressively defined.

Lerner’s Apologetics for Israel: Burying the Jewish Dissent to Political Zionism

The problem lies within Zionism. Jacqueline Rose, author of the recent book The Question of Zion, [4] would agree. However she confuses matter by referring to those Jews in the 1930s and 40s who opposed a Jewish state as "Zionists". They were indeed called Zionists at the time, but to call them Zionist now is misleading. Rabbi Judah Magnes,the renowned Jewish philosopher Martin Buber,the binationalist "Zionist" labor organization Hashomer HaTzair, did not support a Jewish state. Today anyone who opposes a Jewish state is considered anti-Zionist. Bi-nationalists were called Zionists before Israel was founded because they were adherents of cultural Zionism–”the idea that a Jewish homeland in Palestine would become a center for Jewish culture and fructify Judaism and Jewish culture among diaspora Jews. This vision has been destroyed by the militarism, racism and consumerism of Israeli society. The only Zionists today are political Zionists and–”in Israel– religious Zionists. But political Zionism resulted in the ethnic cleansing of over 3 quarters of a million Palestinians in 1947-8. And all of the people interviewed for my book believed that the expulsion of Palestinians and the consequent refusal of Israel to re-patriate them was a moral evil. (Israel reneged on its agreement to let the refugees return as mandated by UN General Assemby Resolution 194– which Israel originally accepted as a condition for its admission to the UN.)

The persecution of Palestinians by Israel today and historically is rooted in the theory of political Zionism which posited that the land of Palestine belonged to the Jews, and that every Jew was a member of a race and a nation (constituted by Abraham in the Bible) which had a right to “return” and create a Jewish state in Palestine. "The Bible is our Mandate," Ben-Gurion, ironically an atheist, stated. The political Zionists had no moral qualms about ethnically-cleansing the land of Arabs, and thus they had no motive to reach an accord with the Palestinians. After the Arab revolt of 1929 Hans Kohn wrote that the Zionist settlers "have not even once made a serious attempt at seeking through negotiations the consent of the indigenous peoples." [5]

In 1937 Ben-Gurion wrote to his adolescent son:: "We must expel the Arabs and take their places…and…if we have to use force–not to dispossess the Arabs…but to guarantee our own right to settle in those places–then we have force at our disposal." [6] At the same time–”1937–” that Ben-Gurion was writing this privately, publicly he denied any intention of creating a Jewish state because he believed, he said "the Palestinians have the right not to be at the mercy of the Jews." [7] Rabbi Judah Magnes genuinely believed in bi-nationalism, as did Buber and others. As Magnes put it "The slogan Jewish state is equivalent to a declaration of war by the Jews on the Arabs." Thus the bi-nationalist "Zionists" advocated negotiations with the indigenous Arabs for a binational state. The reason the negotiations never occurred, I believe, as Magnes believed, is because Ben-Gurion sabotaged these possibilities. The bi-nationalists believed that the indigenous people of Palestine had equal or greater rights to Palestine and that it was morally incumbent upon the Zionists to negotiate, to reach an accord with the Palestinians. In 1946 Magnes wrote in The New York Times that the political Zionists, notwithstanding Ben-Gurion public statements to the contrary, "want a Jewish state, dominated by Jews." [8]. In the beginning of 1948 Ben-Gurion told an audience of Zionists that the war would in effect allow the Jews to steal the Palestinians’ land, "The war will give us the land… The concept of "ours" and "not ours" are peace concepts only, and in war they lose their whole meaning." [9]

Aharon Cohen [10] agreed that negotiations did not take place because Ben-Gurion did not want to compromise with the indigenous Arabs–”the Palestinians.. When the Palestinian Arab Adil Jabr and the Zionist binationalist Haim Kalvarisky drew up a program for bi-nationalism in 1940-1 which they wanted to present to Arab leaders for discussion, Kalvarisky first tried to secure the approval of Ben-Gurion at the end of July 1941. Ben-Gurion got angry and called it "an abomination." A few weeks later, Sharett, Ben-Gurion’s right-hand man and future Prime Minister of Israel, wrote that the draft was not acceptable unless it was revised to include a Jewish state. Cohen concluded that the "bottleneck" to negotiations with Arabs was Ben-Gurion’s refusal to accept a bi-national Palestine based on political parity. Of course this was not known at the time because Ben-Gurion publicly favored binationalism until the early 1940s. The obstacle was not–”I quote Cohen who was a participant at the time–” "the oft heard complaint that there is no one to talk to in the Arab camp." [11]. ( This alibi is a stark reminder that history repeats itself.)

Jacqueline Rose is correct:. "For a brief moment Zionism [she includes here the bi-nationalists] had the chance of molding a nation that would not be an expanded ego, but something else." [12]. That is, it could have been a nation based on the kind of genuine cooperation between Jews and Arabs that was advocated by Buber, Magnes.Hannah Aredt, Albert Einstein and others. (See my interview with Chomsky in Radicals, Rabbis and Peacemakers.) Lerner implicitly denies this possibility and ignores the initial internal dissent that attended the victory of political Zionism.

Michael Lerner faults the Palestinians for not accepting the UN 1947 partition plan–”about which they were not even consulted– but he fails to mention that Israel did not accept it entirely either: It did not accept its provisions for an independent Palestinian state. Furthermore in his book Lerner ignores the efforts made by binationalists for years to get the Yishuv leadership to sit down and talk with the indigenous Arabs, and glibly and pompously dismisses Buber, Magnes and the binationalists with the comment, "Most Jews felt these idealists were out of touch with reality…"(p.52)–”as if he was rendering history’s verdict. For Lerner, the Palestinian leadership were equally responsible for the Zionists’ ethnic cleansing of 3/4 of a million Palestinian refugees, and the recent exposure by scholars of the Zionist leadership’s long-harbored design to expel the Palestinians from Israel [13] is not acknowledged by Lerner as a validation of Palestinians’ openly expressed fears and resistance to the Zionists.

That the Zionist leaders may not have genuinely represented the interests of Israelis is not even considered by Lerner. In Lerner’s mind the conflict is between "the Jews" and the Palestinians. It is this vestigial notion that governs the gatekeepers of the movement today. Thus Lerner depicts the Zionist leadership as the legitimate representative of the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, despite the fact that no one elected them to such a position, despite the fact that the historical record shows that throughout WW11 they consistently subordinated the goal of rescuing European Jewry to that of creating a Jewish state (see Boas Evron, [14], and the works of Lenni Brenner [15])–” even though at many points, these goals were in conflict. In addition only 42% of Jewish DP refugees actually chose to settle in the Zionist State in spite of claims to the contrary (see p. 223 of In the Shadow of the Holocaust by Yosef Grodzinsky [15b]).

Michael Lerner provides his own specious answer to the question of what the Palestinians could have been done to prevent the Zionists from expelling them from their country–which they were determined to do to make room for the ingathering of hundreds of thousands of Jews who Zionists expected (unrealistically) would all move to Israel with the support of American and Soviet imperialism. The Palestinians should have turned to "the Jewish people" (Lerner obscures the fact that the decisions were not made by "the Jewish people" but by the Zionist leaders–”and that furthermore most of the Jews who escaped to Israel would have emigrated to the US had the Zionists not prevented them from being given a choice) with a "simple plea.":" Give us an opportunity to prove we can live as loyal citizens and a minority within a Jewish state and that we can show you that we can do so and acknowledge the validity of your having created such a state" (Lerner in Healing Israel/Palestine, p.69). (!)

Despite the fact that Israel had not accepted the United Nations provision for a Palestinian state, despite the fact that Ben-Gurion was welcoming a war as an opportunity to steal the land owned by the Palestinians (Lerner knew this) and to ethnically cleanse the large minority of Palestinian who inhabited the land that was the basis for the new Jewish state that the UN created by fiat (by “recommendation”), Lerner assures readers that if the Palestinians had meekly submitted to the theft of their own land, "it would have certainly changed the politics of Israel" (p[69). He does not add " to the Palestinians’ further detriment." Presumably he means this passivity would have prevented Palestinians’ expropriation from the new Israel–”from the country– although obviously not from their own homes and land. But there is no reason to believe that contention, considering the massacre of the villagers of Deir Yassin (to pick one of many examples) who had made a peace agreement with their Israeli neighbors–much to the indifference of the Irgun (the Israeli terrorist group that played a major role in the 1947-8 war) and the Israeli Army, the Haganah.. Regardless, thus do colonizers preach sanctimoniously to their victims, reassuring them that if only they submissively accept the yoke of colonialism everything will be best for all concerned.

This view–that Palestinians share responsibility for their expropriation– is common on the Jewish left. Perhaps this is why the Jewish Left has failed to establish fraternal relationships with the "enemy," why little effort is made by larger Jewish anti-Occupation groups to ally with our Arab/Moslem brothers and sisters. To put it another way, why does the largest Jewish left-wing magazine publish very few articles by Palestinians?? Why do certain Jews insist that because my book is anti-Zionist it undermines the Jewish left? And why is it that my book is being ignored by large left-wing publications, most of which have a significant editorial representation by Jews– despite the fact that it is the only recent anti-Zionist book intended to be intellectually accessible to persons unfamiliar with these issues and that the book was endorsed not only by leading scholars like Tanya Reinhart and Naseer Aruri, but by Rev. Daniel Berrigan who called it "a ray of light amid the darkness that lays claim to our world, from Tel Aviv to Washington"? In fact the only groups or individuals who responded to me and said they would review my book are 2 Moslems (one an editor of a magazine), one Palestinian Christian (Mazin Qumsiyeh, author of Sharing the Land of Canaan) and 1 anti-Zionist Jewish conservative Allan Brownfeld. The left-liberals prefer to ignore my book and it is obvious now that they are also ignoring Norman Finkelstein’s brilliant scholarly deconstruction and refutation of Alan Dershowitz’s book The Case for Israel.

Most importantly should not the priority of the Jewish Left be to resume the dialogue with Arabs begun by binationalists duruing the 1930s–which Magnes and Buber stated in the 1930s and 40s was a precondition for a moral Jewish polity in Palestine? And if, as the binationalists argued, unilaterally establishing a Jewish state was wrong in 1948, if establishing any kind of Jewish polity without first negotiating with the indigenous Arabs was wrong in the 1940s–” and was declared as such by significant voices within the movement defined then as Zionism– by what act of moral gymnastics can this deed, the establishment of Israel by military conquest, be declared justifiable today in hindsight? And what can justify many left-wing Jews’ insistence on giving priority to creating a united front of Jewish critics of Israeli policies, rather than to reaching out without calculation to our Palestinian comrades to support them in their battle against Israeli colonialism and state-terrorism?

The Non-Jewish Humanist: Deconstructing Gilad Atzmon

It is my conviction, as I wrote above, that because the Palestinians were the victims of Israeli colonialism–”supported by Diaspora Jews–” it is “the Palestinian to whom we [Jews of conscience] owe our primary political allegiance, not other Jews.” But Israeli settler- colonialism was not caused by a distinctively Jewish trait, and thus Jews of conscience are under no moral obligation to repudiate all sense of identification with Jewishness in the name of a generic humanism, as Gilad Atzmon contends (see his article, “The Third Category and the Palestinian Solidarity Movement”at www.gilad.co.uk) Atzmon exempts religious Jews from his argument, as he believes Judaism (he seems to mean Orthodox Judaism) as a religion is “harmless.” Both Atzmon and his friend former Jew Paul Eisen assert that non-Orthodox Jews– or even secular Jews- who oppose Zionism as Jews or as members of Jewish organizations,, are part of a “clannish brotherhood” (Atzmon) of crypto- Zionists. In contrast to this position -which is popular among Marxists in the Palestinian solidarity movement in England– I hold that opposing Zionism as Jews is an essential element in the development of a vital anti-Occupation movement.

Atzmon, an Israeli of Jewish origin, contends that any identification with Jewishness–”as opposed to Judaism as a religion — is itself a form of Zionism. He writes that “acting politically under a Jewish banner is the very definition of Zionism.” Atzmon’s argument that Jewish organizations’ opposition to Zionism is disingenuous or self deceptive is based on his conviction that there are three (only 3) discrete categories of Jews. First, there are religious Jews–”by which he seems to mean Orthodox Jews. Atzmon has no quarrel with these Jews as long as they are not Zionists. Second, there are those Jews who regard their Jewishness as incidental to their identity–”that is they are human beings who “happen to be of Jewish origin.” If these Jews oppose Zionism they will do so from a position of generic humanism, and they will shun Jewish political organizations. Finally there are “third category Jews”: “Jews who put their Jewishness over and above all their other traits.” Atzmon argues that Jews who act under a Jewish banner care nothing about any of the causes to which they pay lip service –” they are crypto- Zionists dedicated to the aggrandizement of Jewish power: “[A]ll Jewish left activity is in practice not more than a form of left Zionism.” But worse than this– since Zionism can never be left-wing (i.e. justice oriented)— such activity, Atzmon argues, is merely nominally left-wing. These “Jewish left clubs are operating as the body shield of the third category identity.” The real purpose of all Jewish anti-Occupation groups, regardless of their ideology or political stance, is thus “guarding 3rd category Jewish interests that have very little to do with the Palestinians and their daily misery.”

Thus Zionism can even take the form of nominal opposition to a Jewish state. In fact Zionism is not even about Israel. “Israel is just a colony, a territorial asset seized by third category Jews. In fact there is no center to the Zionist endeavor”(in “The Third Category and the Palestinian Solidarity Movement”). Paul Eisen, another prominent Jewish critic of Zionism, (who, unlike Atzmon, is a holocaust revisionist) has views similar to Atzmon’s. Eisen has written reverentially of Ernest Zundel, a German holocaust denier or revisionist who has authored a book about “the Hitler we loved and why.” Eisen, aptly describes the position he and Atzmon seem to share: “As soon as Jews get together, except when they get together to pray, they start defending and promoting Jewish interests” (Personal communication, 2005).

Eisen’s views are obviously racist –he posits a “Jewish spirit” which can be “damaging and corrosive to any society” (“The Holocaust Wars ” at www.israelshamir.net/ friends/Contributor13.htm ). Yet Atzmon who denies he is anti-Jewish seems to be making a similar assertion: When Jews get together for political purposes they inevitably promote Jewish interests. (2nd category Jews do not congregate together as Jews for political purposes. While some first category anti-Zionists Jews obviously do so, Atzmon seems to focus only on the political action of “3rd category Jews.”) Unlike Eisen, Atzmon however opposes all racialist explanations based on allegedly biological traits or collective dispositions. Thus he indignantly rebuffs the charges of racism or anti-Semitism that his arguments have provoked. While Atzmon’s conclusions are not based on biological racism and while there is reason to doubt that his motives are anti-Semitic per se, some of his conclusions are similar to those of anti-Semites. His unnuanced and reductionist generalizations subsumes all Jews into 3 categories, and he attacks the good faith and moral integrity of all non-Orthodox Jews who do not adopt his own position of generic humanism. Atzmon argues that all self-identified Jews except for religious Jews –” i.e.Orthodox Jews–” are Zionists. He thus “commit[s] an anti-Semitic reduction of Jewishness”–”to use Judith Butler’s phrase.[16] I would qualify this however: Since Atzmon does not posit a racial hierarchy, we cannot know whether his reductionism is anti-Semitic. He might, for example, be inclined to make similar pejorative evaluations of non-Jews who do not share his own perspective.

I agree with Atzmon’s contention that many Jews are “third category Jews.” In fact I would aver that by and large the American Jewish establishment is comprised of these kinds of Jews. Furthermore if we limit the range of Atzmon’s generalization and reformulate them with greater subtlety, they help to elucidate the dynamics of American Jewish ethnocentrism. My primary objection is to his insistence that all cultural Jews or all non-Orthodox “Jews” (that is all who define themselves as Jewish in some way) are third category Jews–”all are part of a “clannish brotherhood.”

His argument that even the most vigorous critics of Zionism are really part of a “third category brotherhood” (ibid) is less than compelling. In another recent article (“Zionism and Other Marginal Thoughts,” www.gilad.co.uk.) Atzmon cites the Zionist leader and first President of Israel, Chaim Weizmann: “According to Weizmann, first you are a Jew and then an American.. Weizmann called for Jews to celebrate their sameness; he aimed to remove or even eliminate differences between them. Being Jewish is an essential characteristic; all other qualities are contingent. Thus it would seem that even the ‘good Jews’, those who protest against Israeli atrocities while shouting ‘not in my name’, fall into Weizmann’s trap. First they are Jews and only then are they humanists. In practice, without understanding it, they adopt Weizmann’s anti-assimilationist strategy. In other words, they prove that the clan is more important than any other category…. Weizmann’s strategy is sophisticated and hard to tackle. Having fallen into the trap, one cannot leave the clan behind; one can never endorse a universal language. As bizarre as it may sound, even when one denounces one’s own clan one is destined to approve the clannish marginal philosophy.” This is sheer nonsense. Those of us Jews who protest Israeli atrocities that are committed in our name are not embracing a clannish marginal philosophy. We are affirming with the same force of conviction as Atzmon does that all persons possess equal worth, regardless of their race, gender, creed or cultural identity.

Atzmon elaborates on this point in “Not in My Name” (June 13, 2004 www.gilad.co.uk) “By declaring ‘not in my name’, one affirms the totality of that which one tries to oppose. In fact, what one says is: ‘Though X [Zionism, Blair’s government, Bush’s America, etc.] is entitled to act on my behalf, I myself demand to be left out.’ This logic is universal; it isn’t particular to Zionism. When a British citizen shouts ‘not in my name’ he or she essentially approves the liability of the rest of the British population for Blair’s crimes in Iraq. ‘Not in my name’ is a naïve demand not to share responsibility. It is a search for an escape.” This is one possible logical interpretation of the demand – but I have never yet met a single person in the United States (I do not live in Britain) who interprets the slogan this way. Anyone who reads the literature of the groups opposing the war in Iraq or Israeli policies (or anyone with common sense) knows that the slogan means precisely that the American or British government is not entitled to claim the support respectively of British or US citizens–”or, in the case of the Israel government, of international Jewry. It implies: My own opposition is evidence of this fact. Frequently at mass protests, groups will chant “Not in our name.” (It should be noted that in the US “Not in our name” is a far more prevalent anti-Zionist than “Not in my name.”–”and it is stronger as it implies collective opposition. I do not know whether the use of the collective pronoun is eschewed by Britain protesters or if Atzmon neglects to mention it.) This means that Israel is not entitled to claim it represents us. The apparent legitimacy of Israel’s policies is based partially on a claim of representation that our public dissent exposes as bogus. (Atzmon is right in so far that it does imply that those who do not protest against the policies enacted in their name bear some moral liability for them–but that is a different issue.)

In the case of Israel its claim of legitimacy seems to have a transcendental reference: Israel ostensibly acts in the interest of “the Jewish people”–”as if the latter were a metaphysical entity organically bonded with Israel. As if Israel gnostically discerns and acts to further the interest of international Jewry. Of course this claim –” implied or explicit – was indeed at the root of Zionist philosophy. Ben-Gurion wrote: “Between [the Jewish state and the Jewish people] there exists a natural bond, necessary and welcome, a historic nexus. That one should exist without the other is fantastic…” [17] Thus Atzmon could not be further from the truth when he writes in “Not in My Name”: “To demand that Jews disapprove of Zionism in the name of their Jewish identity is to accept the Zionist philosophy.” To the contrary the slogan ” Not in our name” challenges the root premise of Zionist philosophy: It contests the link between the State and the Jewish identity premised by Zionism, it helps to dispel the illusion of a ” natural bond”–”-a bond that most Jews have accepted as fact to a greater or lesser degree since the time Israel was originally established as “the Jewish state.”

The problem is that many who dissent from Israel in the name of Jewish identity are not prepared to challenge the original usurpation, the establishment of Israel in our name, the ethnic “purification” of Palestine in our name, the preservation of the apartheid State in our name.. Thus Lerner and his supporters in Tikkun will not make ethical demands (e.g. the internationally recognized right of return for Palestinian refugees) that conflict with the goal of preserving a Jewish state. That is what makes them Zionists, not the fact that they invoke the Jewish tradition. Not the fact that they demand “Not in our name”–” rather the fact that they stop short of taking the demand to its limit. If Jews are a group whose integrity and spiritual well-being depends upon adherence to universal norms of justice–”as we maintain– then it was certainly not in our interest to ethnically cleanse Palestine and set up an apartheid state. This was not the “mission to the nations” with which Isaiah charged us.

Atzmon’s timing is awful: He wants to dismiss as crypto-Zionists those of us who refuse to surrender our claim to be Jewish, when Israel uses Jewishness itself – with all its connotations of high ethical standards and abysmal martyrdom – in order to bestow a halo of sanctity upon actions that are unethical. Anti-Zionist Jews identify with the history of Jewish suffering and in the name of our ancestors we dare to declare the universal rights of all human beings. Of course we shout out: “No, not in our name.” Would Atzmon have us stifle our moral indignation, withhold our accusations of hypocrisy when the Jewish state invokes Jewish suffering– the Nazi holocaust– to attempt to legitimize its own crimes against humanity, against the Palestinians?

On what grounds can Atzmon assert with such glib arrogance that our indignation as Jews and as human beings is a mere manifestation of ethnocentrism, as opposed to his superior non-Jewish humanism? Indeed when we say “Not in our name” we are claiming our right to weigh in as Jews, to speak as representatives of the Jewish martyrs, to appropriate the memory of the sufferings of our ancestors and forebears–” not like Zionists in order to serve the power of the tribe, the state, but rather to remind comfortable and the powerful Jews that our history as Jews is a calling to fight for the liberation of all human beings. As Norman Finkelstein, a “devout atheist” (personal communication) whose mother and father were survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto and (respectively) of the Auschwitz and Maidanek concentration camp, put it: “denouncing Israel when it merits denunciation signifies remaining faithful to the memory of Jewish suffering.”[18] By refusing to concede our rights (to the Jewish State) as the heirs of the martyred we are not “approving” but exposing the illegitimacy of any “clannish marginal philosophy” used to justify oppression

There is no conflict between affirming Jewishness and asserting the ontological equality of all persons. Atzmon again creates a spurious opposition between a generic humanist and a Jewish humanist or a Christian humanist or an African American humanist–”he denies the possibility of a genuine religious/ethnic pluralism based on affirmation of humanist values. What is onerous, pace Atzmon, for Palestinians and all humanity, is not the identification of Jews with Jewishness but the identification of Jews and Jewishness with Jewish State power. Atzmon may be correct that Jews who uncritically support Israel do so because they are ethnocentric– because they are third category Jews who place their Jewishness above all other aspects of their identity. But this is not necessarily the case. Israel may even be supported by 2nd category Jews–”as it has been frequently supported by non-Jews. It may very well be that they naively view State power as benevolent –” perhaps as Marc Ellis has argued they are enthralled by the “innocence and redemption” narrative about Israel [19]. Atzmon’s equation of Zionism with Jewishness is reflective of his philosophical confusion. His refusal to acknowledge that Jewish humanistic pluralism is compatible with genuine anti-Zionism is evidence of a more general failure to grasp that the relationship between the particular and the universal can be and ought to be dialectical–”-it is not necessarily one of subordination or antagonism, or of mutual exclusion.

Atzmon declares war on the particular in the name of the universal. He insists that the concrete is merely an obstacle to the realization of universal values. He criticizes Weizmann for not accepting differences within world Jewry but Atzmon himself will not accept differences between ethnic groups –” between Jews and others. He attempts to substitute uniformity for a unity based on diversity –” to substitute generic humanism for pluralistic humanism.. He posits a false antithesis between pluralism and humanism. But was the humanism of Jesus any less potent because it was grounded in the concrete realities of the life of a Mediterranean Jew? Because Jesus identified with Jewishness? Or would Atzmon claim speciously that Jesus was different because he was a “religious Jew”? Was Isaiah (the “second Isaiah”) who opposed nationalism any less of a universalist because he saw himself as a Jew and believed in the Jewish mission to be a light unto the nations? Isaiah said “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light unto the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah, 42:6-7). Is that the vision of a 3nd category Jew who places the clan over his humanity? Was Martin Luther King’s humanism superficial because he identified with the African-American people, because he spoke in the idiom.of black Americans? Contrary to Atzmon, one does not need to endorse a universal language –” figuratively or literally– to affirm universal values. One can do it in any language, any dialect. One does not need to annihilate one’s concrete particularity in order to affirm the universal rights of all human beings.

There are many Jews who do not fall into any of Atzmon’s 3 categories. Has it not occurred to Atzmon that one could feel that Jewishness or Judaism is integral to one’s identity without placing her Jewishness above her humanity? Or in more positive terms, most self-identified Jews (at least in the diaspora) place their humanity, their commitment to universal values above their Jewishness. And certainly some –” perhaps many– feel their Judaism or Jewishness is co-extensive with their humanity–”that in order to fulfill themselves as Jews they must be ethical human beings, they must treat all persons as their equals. Let me call those who take this position: 4th category Jews–”I have identified two types within this category. Are we to conclude then that according to Atzmon, all people who define themselves as 4th category Jews are engaging in self-delusion, that they are really third category Jews? How would he know this? Were Isaiah and Jeremiah 3rd category Jews? Was Jesus? What about Rabbi Elmer Berger, a Reform Jew, who founded the anti-Zionist organization, the American Council for Judaism? (Atzmon probably would have to argue that although Berger believed he was Jewish only in a religious sense, he was a crypto- Zionist because he marched under a Jewish banner.) What about the binationalists Jews mentioned above? What about the largely secular Jews in organizations like Jews Against the Occupation ( JATO) –” the ones who join the International Solidarity Movement (one third of whom are Jewish) and risk their lives living with Palestinian families? Do these Jews constitute–”to use Atzmon’s phrase– “the body shield of third category identity?” According to Atzmon, they do–”since they belong to a Jewish political group.

But of course one need not be a political activist to be a 4th category Jew. Atzmon is an Israeli who lives in England and as an American I can not help but wonder if an unfamiliarity with American culture has contributed to his jaundiced views of cultural Jews. Living here in New York, as I do, his conclusions seem to a product of cultural myopia. Atzmon can argue as he does in his article “Zionism and Other Marginal Thoughts,” that there is no such thing as an authentic identity. But his dubious ontological conclusions and his implication that any person who identifies with Jewishness is a Jewish supremacist seem abstracted from the realities of social life. Is not Jewishness integral, rather than incidental, to the identity of Woody Allen–”as least as perceived by Allen and his fans? To Philip Roth? To Noam Chomsky? Was it not integral to the identity of Lenny Bruce? They are clearly neither religious Jews nor second category Jews. But they are not third category Jews either. Would one say that any of them placed his Jewishness over and above all his other traits? Clearly Woody Allen’s identity as a film auteur is as integral to his being as his Jewishness. But the two are not in conflict. His specifically culturally Jewish traits cannot be separated from his accomplishments as a film maker or a human being. His distinctively New York Jewish sensibility, his Jewish topoi, tropes, preoccupations, quirks, cultural traits are all elements in his cinematic dramas. In Atzmon’s schemata, third category Jews put their Jewishness above all other traits, including their very humanity. Since he eschews the existence of 4th category Jews, for Atzmon any identification with cultural Jewishness leads to its domination over all other traits. Why does Atzmon make this ludicrous assumption?

I argued above that Michael Lerner’s commitment to justice was compromised by his emotional attachment to the nation state. Yet I would not describe even Lerner (or Jews with his approach) as a third category Jew–” however compromised he is as an apologist for Zionism. His universalist tendencies are corrupted by his Zionism, but at the same time his Zionist inclinations are constrained by his sense of universal justice. I would say he lies on the continuum between 3rd and 4th category Jews This is another problem with Atzmon’s analysis–” it is all or nothing, one is a secular humanist like Atzmon or one is a Zionist, even if one identifies oneself as an anti-Zionist. There is no continuum, no degrees; thus as an activist Atzmon is myopic–”he remains insensible to the prevalent Jewish denial of or ambivalence about (exemplified by Lerner, as I argued above) the Israeli ethnocide. But it is those persons (comprised of Jews and non-Jews) who resist acknowledging (even to themselves) the realities of Israeli oppression – rather than the hard-core racist Jews who defend it – who are most susceptible to education by anti-Zionist activists. (Lerner, as a leader, is of course an exception.)

Thus the problem is not only that organized Jewry is dominated by 3rd category Jews. It is that the third category exists as a tendency even within Jews who are critics of Jewish power. Atzmon’s schema is too simplistic, although he puts his finger on the problem. Thus the JVP scholar I mentioned above is an outspoken critic of Zionism. It would be unfair to say that he places his Jewishness above his humanity. But for various reasons–”and against the admonitions of the Jewish prophets– he egregiously posits Jewish self-interest as a value in itself; for him it exists in tension with and sometimes trumphs his commitment to universal justice. The Jewish establishment is the prime manifestation of a pervasive problem-–”the influence of ethnocentrism within the diaspora Jewish community. This is not to say that self identified Jews always place their Jewishness above their humanity. It is rather that far too often their identification with Jewishness or Jewish power taints their universalism, leads them to misinterpret reality, undermines their ability and willingness to grasp the human costs of Jewish power, blinds them to the existence of the victims of Jewish power. But not necessarily so….

The Jewish Prophetic and the Primacy of Palestinian Solidarity

Marc Ellis is a religious Jew, but not in any conventional sense— he is certainly not Orthodox. In fact his interpretation of Judaism is unusual, if not unique. But whether he belongs to an organization or not he acts and speaks politically under a Jewish banner–”that is he speaks as a Jew. So presumably to Atzmon he is a Zionist. But contrary to Atzmon, Ellis does not place his Jewishness over his humanity, over his solidarity with the Palestinians. He is a clear example of a 4th category Jew, of the second type. He writes: “Could it be that in this era of empowerment, the only way to fulfill the covenant is to remember the victims of Jewish power, that is, to include the Palestinian people as part of Jewish history and destiny? Since they are already part of our biography, is it incumbent on Jews to embrace the Palestinian people as intimate to the covenant itself?” [20] And, "[T]he covenant remains today in a struggle for life in the heart of every Jew, religious and non-religious alike. It is murdered or given life as the other, the Palestinian, is banished or embraced by the Jewish community" [21] (Emphasis added).

For Ellis the only way to fulfill one’s Jewishness, or more precisely to be an authentic Jew, is to support the Palestinians. Of course Atzmon would disagree. He states in “Not in My Name” (June 13, 2004 www.gilad.co.uk) that Jews and Zionists are complementary categories,” but Atzmon fails to differentiate between the transcendental essence of divine revelation and its comprehension and empirical expression, its inevitable distortion, by fallible human beings (see Frithjof Schuon, The Transcendent Unity of Religions, [22]) To embrace a cultural or religious tradition is to accept responsibility for its purification, its development. For Ellis even the secular Jew who supports the Palestinians is unwittingly keeping faith with the Jewish covenant–”unlike the Jewish apologist for Israel. The Jew who defends Israel is not practicing “the prophetic faith,” (as Buber called it)– she is worshiping the State, not the God of Abraham, the God of Isaiah and Jesus, the God who proclaimed that Zion will be redeemed by justice.

This is why Ellis claims that the moral integrity of the secular Jew, as well as the religious Jew, depends upon her support for the Palestinians. Because the oppression of the Other by Zionism in the name of the Jewish tradition with the support of the American Jewish establishment and the acquiescence or participation of most American Jews is the defining fact about Judaism today. The “Jewish State” has hijacked the collective spirit of diaspora Jewry, religious and secular, and enlists its energies in service of its goal of building an empire–”with no concern for its human victims.. Every Jew–”that is every person who sees himself as a Jew–” is implicated in this process. As Ellis puts it “The founding, building, defending and expanding of Israel have been a collective effort of the Jewish people. Most Jews take a collective pride in Israel; there is also a collective culpability.” [23]

I believe that Henry Siegman who is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, former head of the American Jewish Congress for 16 years, and a refugee (as a child) from the Germans in World War II was right on target when he told The New York Times (Siegman, June 13, 2002) that American Jewish organizations have confused Judaism with “uncritical support” for Israel, and that “social justice,” “the prophetic passion for truth and justice” used to be central to Jewish faith, but that now the ideology of the Jewish state has become a “surrogate religion,” a substitute for Judaism. In other words Siegman agrees with Ellis that the sacralization of the State is the most common form of idolatry for modern American Jews. Ellis goes a step further and states that the repudiation of idolatry is the sine qua non for recovering the integrity of Judaism and is itself an expression of the Jewish faith in its highest form-–” a way of glorifying God’s name, as the Orthodox would say.

The secular Jew who supports the Palestinians is making a religious or spiritual statement–”insofar as any religion is an effort to serve God by actualizing transcendent ideals. What does God require of man? Micah asked, and answered: “To do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.” This is how the Biblical prophets defined Judaism. The righteous Jew is in accord with God–”even if he does not recognize God. Ellis notes that the remnant of Jews who oppose the policies of Israel “though seemingly modern and without ties to the religious tradition of Judaism, is paradoxically embodying the most ancient of Jewish traditions, the refusal of idolatry.” [24] The “devout religious” Jew who serves in the Israeli Army (as did the son of Rabbi Michael Lerner) is desecrating the Jewish faith. He is like the German concentration camp guard who read Plato at night and gave his philosophical assent to lofty ideals. Those Jews who strongly identify with Judaism or Jewish culture must make the dispossession of Palestinians their central concern. To marginalize this issue is to trivialize what it means to be a Jew.

Thus Ellis criticizes Jews like “renewal Jews” like Rabbi Lerner and Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Judith Plaskow for failing to see that the Palestinian issue is central to Jewish life.: “It is almost as if the argument for peace with the Palestinians, once made, becomes one among other issues for Jews… The new Jewish mysticism and politics of meaning tend to make peripheral the injustice that continues….New meanings are ascribed to the Sabbath ritual and the moon is reincorporated into the Jewish calender…Even peace marches in Jerusalem…attest to the wholeness of Jewish renewal..As it turns out, it is perfectly possible to celebrate one’s Jewishness while another people is displaced and living in segregated and ‘autonomous’ areas” (Ellis, Marc, 2002, Practicing Exile: The Religious Odyssey of an American Jew, [25]). Or as Amos said, “Take away from me the noise of your songs; To the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice well up as waters, And righteousness as a mighty stream” (5:23-4).

“To demand that Jews disapprove of Zionism in the name of their Jewish identity is to accept the Zionist philosophy. To resist Zionism as a secular Jew involves an acceptance of basic Zionist terminology, that is to say, a surrendering to Jewish racist and nationalist philosophy,” Atzmon states in “Not in My Name” (June 13, 2004 www.gilad.co.uk). But Atzmon’s assertion is belied by the empirical data:. Numerous surveys have shown that even American Jews who are pro-Israel do not accept the Zionist theory that Israel is their true homeland. They do not believe they are in exile. As Alan Brownfeld director of American Council of Judaism put it, “This has always been a minority view, both historically and among Jews at the present time.” Diaspora Jews have never “surrendered” to the Zionist premise that their Jewishness constitutes their national identity –” although ruefully most accept the legitimacy of the Zionist State, and most believe (as mentioned above) that Israel has some kind of a natural bond with Jews. But contrary to Atzmon, American Jews, and certainly anti-Occupation Jews – see themselves as American by nationality. No one to my knowledge has ever mistaken Jews Against the Occupation for a group of Jews who believe Israel is their true home.

Is “Jew” then a designation of race? In the US people often fill out forms, ranging from government forms to forms for dating services. I have never seen Jew listed under “race.” (Most Jews will mark Caucasian.) It is always listed under religion–”despite the fact that clearly many “Jews” are not religious at all. Obviously Atzmon has incorrectly identified the rules that govern the language-games people play. Even if anti-Occupation Jews thought Jews constituted a race (none I met do) they would not necessarily support a Zionist state–” i.e. surrender to the Jewish nationalist philosophy. After all, none accept the idea of an all white state (let alone the idea of a state where whites have special privileges), although many think Caucasian is a race.. In fact many anti-Occupation Jews were active in the 1980s in the anti-apartheid movement. I think it is only recently that anthropologists have discredited the idea of race altogether.

Nor is any there reason to accept, as Atzmon may mean, that Jewish nationalism is logically if not empirically implied by the affirmation that one is a secular Jew, or that a person of Jewish origin remains a “Jew” regardless of her religious beliefs. (The Neturei Karta, who Atzmon accepts as genuine anti-Zionists, believe the latter.) All that is logically implied is that Jews constitute a class/order of some sort. But what do atheist Jews mean when they describe themselves as Jewish? They mean too many different things to be able to discuss here. But I presume they all mean that “Jew” refers to aspects of their cultural, spiritual (even if they reject that term) and ethnic identity. Perhaps it is aspect of their identity they sense most strongly when protesting against the actions of Israel. To use a trivial but simple analogy (for the sake of parsimony), I received my undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin–”which was a foci of the student activism at the time. Although I have not maintained any affiliation with the University I can imagine circumstances in which I might want to identify myself as an alumni, circumstances in which I might join with others to proclaim “Not in our name.” I might add that though I speak out against Zionism as a Jew, I was raised in secular home, was not bar-mitzvahed and am not today an “observant” Jew (although I am a monotheist).. My point is that Atzmon’s conclusions are biased and reductionistic –” they are not based on an effort on his part to understand what being Jewish might mean for an activist in an anti-Zionist organization.

Atzmon and the Battle Against Pluralist Humanism

Atzmon’s reasoning in “Zionism and Other Marginal Thoughts,” is provocative, insightful and completely muddled. In fact is surprising that a thinker of his depth could be so incoherent. Atzmon tells that us that “unmediated self-awareness” is impossible to attain. There is no inner self that is independent of the external world. What philosopher within the last century (besides Husserl who Atzmon mentions) would contest this? No one I can think of. (No, actually there are still a few Eastern philosophers and yogis who regard the world itself as an illusion. Thus only the universal Self is real–”all else is a collective hallucination.) It is the next step in his argument that is more controversial. Because the self is formed through interaction with the world, through “identifications” with external cultural products, there is no authentic self, “Looking into oneself can never reveal an authentic identity.” Authenticity through unmediated self-awareness is (“almost”) impossible to achieve. (Atzmon never explains why he adds the word “almost,” belying his previous use of the term “never,” although he alludes to the possibility of a pre-conceptual awareness.) Atzmon asserts: “[T]he more one searches for one’s authentic self the more one is engaged in a process of identification that will eventually lead to complete alienation,” to a state of “estrangement. ” But estrangement from what? Alienation from what? Atzmon does not say. It cannot be from the (authentic) self, because we are assured that no such entity exists.

But contrary to Atzmon, logic does not force us to accept the idea that an authentic self cannot emerge from a dialectical interaction with one’s culture. Many theorists from Marx to the later Sartre to Adler to Piaget to Carl Jung would argue (each with different emphases) that such a process is indeed the basis for the creation of a genuine self. Optimally, cultural ideals and norms are not received by a passive self but incorporated and transformed by the creative self. In the former case the self is indeed stunted –” in essence fictitious. But Atzmon makes no distinction between persons who unthinkingly internalize destructive cultural norms (he constantly invokes the racist Israeli settler) and those mature individuals who have a transformative impact upon their societies. Thus from Atzmon’s perspective, even the great heroes of history–”Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Edward Said, Israel Shahak, Abraham Heschel, to select some modern examples. –” would have to be seen as inauthentic selves, victims of the process of identification.

What seems to arouse Atzmon’s distrust is the idea of a differentiated culturally defined self. He insists that such a person is ipso facto a racist, a separatist, she has no ethical sense, no realization of universalism. The Zionist racist and the feminist of the separatist type are for Atzmon perfect examples of the results of surrendering to “the process of identification.” This “surrender leads to an absence of empathic and moral sense.” In “Zionism and Other Marginal Thoughts” the man-hating feminist Andrea Dworkin joins the sabra who ethnically cleans the Palestinians on Friday and attends a Peace Now demonstration the next day–”as exemplars of victims of the process of identification..

Thus presumably–”although Atzmon never explicates this alternative– only the self which remains aloof from social identifications (if not elective affinities) is able to realize her unity with other persons. Only the minimally differentiated self is able to perceive the common humanity she shares with Others–”those with different cultural backgrounds, with different religious creeds. But the minimally differentiated self is an individualistic ideal–”no, more precisely a solipsistic and fictitious ideal: a self divested of communal identity and historical roots.

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