AN OPEN LETTER TO GILAD ATZMON RE HIS "WHERE TO NOW, PALESTINE?"
February 3, 2006
[The following is an email exchange between Elias Davidsson and Gilad Atzmon, in chronological order from top to bottom. The editors of New Democracy believe that Davidsson's points are true and important.]
From: Elias Davidsson
To: Henry Lowy ; John Spritzler ; Mazin Qumsiyeh ; Jeff Blankfort
Cc: Gilad Atzmon
Sent: Saturday, January 28, 2006 5:44 PM
Subject: Re: Where to now, Palestine? Gilad Atzmon
Open letter to Gil'ad Atzmon
In an article entitled Where to now, Palestine? Some reflections posted on http://peacepalestine.blogspot.com/2006/01/gilad-atzmon-where-to-now-palestine.html
(Jan. 26, 2006) Gilad Atzmon, a former Israeli jazz musician living in London, takes a dismissive view of liberals and leftists who criticize Hamas for its islamic ideology. I believe that this article deserves a serious response. I have chosen one paragraph of his article to comment upon. My comments follow his text.
*‘‘One Democratic and Secular Palestine’’ - may be a dated concept and
had better be dropped right away.
The overwhelmingly repeated leftist call for ‘‘one democratic and secular Palestine’’, has apparently very little to do with the Palestinian reality. Apparently, the majority of the Palestinian people in Palestine prefer to live in an Islamic state rather than in a secular and democratic one, with democracy not meaning ‘‘voice of the people’’, but rather a limited and restricted Western definition of it. It is now evident that the call for a secular Palestinian state was there to serve the interests of some left-wing Zionist schools a la Yossi Beilin who outrageously denounced the Hamas just days before the election. Surprisingly enough, this very call against the Hamas and in favour of a democratic secular state is rather popular amongst different factions of Jewish Anti-Zionist and Palestinian solidarity groups. Let’’s all face it; the Palestinian people have chosen to live in a Muslim state rather than in a secular one. If we are as democratic as we claim to be, it is down to us to respect and welcome the Palestinian people’’s choice. I would suggest that to support Palestine is to support the Palestinian people and their right of return regardless of their political, theological or cultural choices.
(a) The call for "one democratic and secular Palestine" is a minority view both among leftists and liberals. Most support "separation" along ethnic/religious lines, as preached by the Zionists and Hamas.
(b) While it is true that this call does not have much relevance for the day-to-day reality in Palestine, it is the only available long-term vision that accomodates justice and human rights for all those who live and want to live in Palestine/Israel. It has therefore very much to do with Palestinian reality.
(c) There is no evidence for the claim that the majority of the Palestinian people "prefer to live in an Islamic state rather than in a secular and democratic one". Such a question has never been asked of the people, let alone broadly discussed. And for such a question to be responded to intelligently, people first need to know what these terms actually mean in the context of the debate. Does an Islamic state mean the imposition of Shari'a rules which discriminate against women and outlaw both conversion of Muslims to other religions and mixed-marriages? Does a secular-democratic state mean the imposition of atheism on all people?
(d) Gilad does not explain what he means by the "limited and restricted Western definition" of democracy. Does he mean the power of corporations ? Does he mean the equality of all people under the law, without racial and religious discrimination ? Does he mean the right of association and free expression ? It is rather cheap to set up a straw man by disparaging Western democracy, as if other forms of "democracy", such as the "popular democracies" of former East Europe or the alleged Ghaddafi democracy are somehow a better model? In any case, Gilad Atzmon has chosen to live in a Western democracy, where his writings are tolerated and he enjoys his full human rights, including those of becoming Muslim, Buddhist or Christian, or remaining a free-thinker.
(e) The claim that the call for a "secular Palestinian state was there to serve the interests of some left Zionist schools" raises questions. For the first, one may ask what actual "interests" are served in this context? Is this call set forth by capitalists who look for gain? A glance at the members of the International Association for One Democratic State in Palestine/Israel shows that a good majority of them are not Jews, but Palestinian Arabs. It might be interesting to know that is their "interest" in this concept? As much as I am aware, there is not a single Zionist "school" which advocates the concept of a "secular Palestinian state" (in the meaning of one state for all inhabitants). Unless, of course, Gilad is trying to mislead his readers by conflating the concept of a unitary secular-democratic State (for all its inhabitants) and the call by Zionists to the Palestinians under occupation to increase democracy in their own ranks.
(f) By claiming - without any base - that the "Palestinian people" as a whole (including all those who have neither voted, who live in exile, and those who voted Hamas for other reasons than Islam) "have chosen to live in a Muslim state rather than in a secular one," Gilad Atzmon in fact gives legitimacy to the argument of Zionists that most Israels have chosen to live in a "Jewish" country. Gil'ad would have us accept that the "Palestinians" (which include a substantial number of Christians) should be allowed to designate their country as Islamic, thus overriding the wishes of their Christian minority while negating such a right to the Jews in Israel. His argument is based on the fact that the "Jews" expelled Palestinians and that these have the right of returning. Now, suppose that most Palestinian refugees will not avail themselves of the right of returning to Israel. Israel will thus remain a "Jewish" State. On what base should then Palestinians be entitled to claim the right to impose Islam as state-religion on the Jewish population of Israel ?
More generally, the arguments of Gil'ad Atzmon for "respecting" a "people's choice of culture and religion", are reflected in the notorious ideology of South Asian governments who claim to protect "Asian values" and reject "universal human rights" principles, such as the right of other nations to comment on the treatment of a country's citizens by its government. Similarly Islamic governments, such as the government of Saudi Arabia, reject the applicability of universal principles of human rights, as the emanation of Western thinking. Cultural exceptionalism is now in vogue, particularly as the Bush administration is turning its back on the principles of universal human rights, by claiming that national legislation trumps universal standards. The rejection by the Bush administration of universal jurisdiction for the most odious crimes, such as genocide, its rejection of universal standards on torture and inhuman treatment, and its rejection of universally binding habeas corpus rules, indicate the way for other governments who have long indulged in such conduct and relish to have such conduct legitimized by the USA. By rejecting, implicitly, universal concepts of human rights as "western" or outdated, Gilad Atzmon, joins the most reactionary trends in today's world: The governments of the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia and their ilk.
As I consider Gilad Atzmon an intellectual - and I believe that he also does
so himself - I appeal to his sense of responsibility. If Gilad Atzmon believes
that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the various international
human rights treaties are to be torn into pieces, as mere Western artifacts, I
challenge him to say so publicly, in order to clarify to his readers where he
stands on this particular subject, or at least designate those principles which
he believes should be abolished or amended. This applies, particularly, to those
principles which clash with Shari'a law, to which he does not appear to object.
I hope that Gil'ad Atzmon will treat seriously this challenge.
--From: "Gilad Atzmon" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "Elias Davidsson" <email@example.com>
Cc: "Henry Lowi" ; "mazin Qumsiyeh" ; "John Spritzler" ; "Israel Shamir Shamir" ; "Kristoffer Larsson" "Jeffrey Blankfort" "silvia cattori" ; "togethernet" ; "Maria Poumier"
Sent: Monday, January 30, 2006 1:07 PM
Subject: Re: [tnet] a kind of an answer
> Dear friends, I never participate in those closed circulation emails
> Anyhow, I really hope that this is the very last one on the very
> On 30 Jan 2006, at 14:56, Elias Davidsson wrote:
> > "I read Gilad Atzmon's letter below. There is no point in engaging in
> > a debate with a person who is both disrespectful to his critiques and
> > rejects universal values of human rights, such as the right to legal
> > remedies, the right not to be tortured, the right to life, the right
> > to food and shelter, the right to work, the right to free expression,
> > the right to organize, the right of movement, the right to choose
> > one's own spouse, etc. I wish Gilad Atzmon a good continuation as a
> > musician and express the hope that he will one day rediscover the need
> > for global solidarity, based on shared values."
> Gilad: Today at 14:56 Mr. Davidsson wrote to all of us: "There is no
> point in engaging in a debate with a person who is both disrespectful
> to his critiques and rejects universal values of human rights".
> Davidsson then presented a list of so called 'rights' that have
> nothing to do with me and have even less to do with universal values
> (how for instance you can verify that the the "right to choose one's
> own spouse" is universal may be it is just legitimate or sensible).
> Anyhow, by the time 14:56 made it to 14:57 I was pretty sure that I am
> not going to hear from Mr. Davidsson ever again. For a few minutes I
> felt like a real liberated Hebrew Speaking Palestinian. In the end
> of the day, i do not enjoy ridiculing the old man. I tend as well to
> believe that Elias's heart is in the right place, the man is just
> slightly deluded and miss-informed. Surely, this isn't a crime.
> Anyhow, my rejoice was short living. At 15:05 in spite of his earlier
> promise, Mr Davidsson visited my email box again, this time he didn't
> share his thoughts with all of you. Clearly the man has a hint of
> dignity within him. He decided to annoy me privately. Seemingly, he
> decided to re-engage in a debate with a man that is indeed disgraceful
> towards some of his most idiotic critiques.
> I will address Elias last email, just because it throws some light on
> Elias's thinking manners. I would then ask the elder man to stand for
> his word and not to engage with me anymore, unless the man decides to
> support the Palestinian people and their cause blindly and regardless
> of any abstract or and alleged universal obstacle, i ve really
> nothing to do neither with him nor with his ilk.
> On 30 Jan 2006, at 15:05, Elias Davidsson wrote:
> > Elias says: "You ask me for a bibliographic reference on my protest
> > against Sheikh Yassine assassination and other assassinations of Hamas
> > leaders.
> > I have no such references".
> G: I know that you don't have, as I wrote your empathic qualities are
> obviously kept solely to your kind.
> > Elias says: My position on the assassination of Sheikh Yassin was and
> > remains very clear:
> G: Too late, I am afraid that you have missed the train.
> > Elias says: It is morally outrageous and it was a blatant violation
> > of the right to life of that person.
> G: Still too late.
> > Elias says: My opposition to assassination (extra-judicial killing)
> > is based on human rights principles and apply to any person,
> > regardless of his identity.
> G: so may I ask, why didn't you stand up at the time?>
> > Elias says: The fact that I did not publicly protest against Sheikh
> > Yassin's assassination is simply that nobody asked me to endorse a
> > petition nor had I the slighest idea to whom I should protest.
> G: ha, I see, you needed a petition, what a shame, but hang on a
> minute, somehow, when it came to me, you didn't need a petition, you
> simply composed an open letter. How come you failed to do just that
> when the entire leadership of the Palestinian people was murdered.
> You see Elias. The Pls people have moved forwards, they don't wait for
> your petitions anymore. keep your phoney activism to yourself. Just
> listen to yourself and try to judge how pathetic it may sound.
> > Elias: Had I been presented with a petition, I would have certainly
> > signed it.
> G: Forget about it Elias, Long live Palestine, Resistance is the way
> forwards rather than paper work (petitions)
> Dear friends
> I really have nothing to say about it all anymore
I read Gilad Atzmon's letter below. There is no point in engaging in a debate
with a person who is both disrespectful to his critiques and rejects universal
values of human rights, such as the right to legal remedies, the right not to be
tortured, the right to life, the right to food and shelter, the right to work,
the right to free expression, the right to organize, the right of movement, the
right to choose one's own spouse, etc. I wish Gilad Atzmon a good continuation
as a musician and express the hope that he will one day rediscover the need for
global solidarity, based on shared values.
P.S. Gilad Atzmon is right: I am badly educated and admit not to have read Martin Heidegger, the German philosopher. I also confess to indulge in old-fashioned "humanism", which is not very much in vogue these days. At the age of 65 it is, however, difficult to become cynical and perceive the world as comprised of an Axis of Evil and an Axis of Good. Humanism, as a world-view which considers every person's dignity as sacred, is nevertheless here to stay. All those pretending to represent God on earth, in order to seek power, will never defeat the humanist spirit.
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