Gilad Atzmon (Hebrew: גלעד עצמון, born June 9, 1963) is a jazz musician, author and anti-Zionist activist who was born in Israel and currently lives in London.
"Anti-Semite is an empty signifier, no one actually can be an Anti-Semite and this includes me of course. In short, you are either a racist - which I am not - or have an ideological disagreement with Zionism... which I have."He was born a secular Israeli Jew in Tel Aviv, and trained at the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem. His service in the Israeli military convinced him Israel had become a militarized state controlled by religious extremists. In 1994, Atzmon emigrated from Israel to London, where he studied philosophy. Atzmon is an anti-Zionist who critiques Jewish identity issues and supports the Palestinian Right of Return as well as the establishment of a single state in Israel/Palestine. He is a signatory to the "Palestinians are the Priority Petition" which states “full and unconditional support of the Palestinian people is a condition sine qua non for activists to adopt.
Last weekend the American National Security Adviser, General James Jones, spoke at the 25-year anniversary gala of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy*. Mindful that the crowd consisted of many Jews, General Jones believed would be an appropriate, friendly gesture to launch his speech with a Jewish Joke. He was obviously wrong.
Jones failed to realise that as much as Jews love to tell jokes about themselves, they are pretty circumspect when others have a good time at their expense. It didn’t take long for the head of the notorious Anti-Defamation League, Abe Foxman, to deliver a clear message to General Jones: if you want to join our comedy club you better be a Jew.
The following is the transcript of General Jones in his attempt to deliver a kosher joke:
"A Taliban militant gets lost and is wandering around the desert looking for water. He finally arrives at a store run by a Jew and asks for water.
The Jewish vendor tells him he doesn't have any water but can gladly sell him a tie. The Taliban begins to curse and yell at the Jewish storeowner. The Jew, unmoved, offers the rude militant an idea: Beyond the hill, there is a restaurant; they can sell you water. The Taliban keeps cursing and finally leaves toward the hill. An hour later he's back at the tie store. He walks in and tells the merchant: "Your brother tells me I need a tie to get into the restaurant."
As it happens, General Jones is a devoted supporter of Israel. By telling the above joke Jones aimed to please his Zionist audience with what he regarded as an amusing juxtaposition of Jewish ‘shrewdness’ together with savage Taliban ‘naivety’. Moreover he tried to convey a message of an American-Jewish bond premised on the notion that the Taliban warrior is not just America’s enemy; but is also an enemy of the Jew.
Israeli Ynetnews reported today that, though the joke was well received by the participants, some Jewish community leaders pounced on the remark: “ADL says joke in which Jewish merchant swindles thirsty Taliban fighter inappropriate and stereotypical”.
Clearly Abe Foxman and some other Jewish ethnic leaders were not impressed. Seemingly they didn’t approve of the ‘Jewish swindler’ stereotype. Interestingly enough, in the joke the Jewish vendor doesn’t cheat, there is no fraud. In the joke the Jewish merchant doesn’t try to obtain anything by means of deception. In the joke a merchant may trick a Taliban fighter to buy a tie but there is no swindle.
However, as much as there is no ‘Jewish swindling’ in the joke as the ADL suggested, there is plenty of it in American mainstream news. Tragically enough we recently met far too many Jewish fraudsters, swindlers and organ traffickers whether it was Madoff, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers or many. Those who follow the news from Israel learn daily about the institutional corruption and swindling scandals in the Jewish state.
Seemingly, Foxman and other Jewish leaders demanded General Jones apologize for something that they see in themselves, rather than something the General himself suggested or said.
However, a deeper reading of Jones’ joke reveals the embarrassing fact that it is not the ‘swindling’ attempt that reflects so badly on the Jewish tie vendor. It is actually the lack of human compassion. In the joke the tie vendor would not give water to a thirsty man who lost his way in the desert. In the joke, greed eclipses humanity. As much as this idea depicts a pretty harsh stereotypical reading of Jewish identity, such an interpretation is reasonable and even legitimate considering the crimes against humanity performed by the Jewish state in the name of the Jewish people. The starvation of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza is one example of such a lack of humanist consciousness. Again. I wouldn’t think that this is what General Jones had in his mind when telling the joke. However, it is more than likely that once the Zionist crowd stopped chuckling, they grasped the similarity between themselves and the Jewish vendor.
A further critical reading of Jones’ joke would also bring to light a sharp criticism of Jewish tribal brotherhood in the context of Western politics. In the joke two Jewish brothers look after each other regardless of any human or universal concern. In the joke, two Jewish merchants collaborate in the torture and exploitation of a thirsty man in the middle of the desert. It is a blatant tale of tribal nepotism. Again, considering the extensive and relentless work done by Jewish lobbies to support their brothers in Israel and bearing in mind the endless Neocon attempt to drag us all into wars, Jones’ joke should be taken as more than a whiff of witty criticism.
Abe Foxman has managed to terrorise General Jones into submission. He may have succeeded in diverting the attention from the moral of Jones’s joke into just another meaningless debate about anti Semitism. However this joke, like almost any other Jewish joke, is a glimpse into Jewish identity and Jewish politics. Moreover, Abe Foxman’s reaction provides us with a spectacular insight into Jewish political morbidity.
Needless to say that Jones was quick to apologize. He also said that the Joke distracted from the larger message he carried that day, “that the United States' commitment to Israel's security is sacrosanct."
The General’s submissive response leaves me wondering about America’s commitment to itself. Clearly by rushing to appease AIPAC and ADL, General Jones ended up in a similar position to his fictional Taliban fighter who was begging two Jewish brothers for a sip of water.
* The Washington Institute- an independent think tank widely seen as being pro-Israel, was founded by Jewish donors who are now on the institute's board.
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