Here we go again. "Flashpoints," Dennis Bernstein's longstanding show on Berkeley's "progressive" KPFA Radio on Feb. 27 featured an interview with fellow lefty icon Rabbi Michael Lerner and professional anti-Semitic propagandist (and saxophonist) Gilad Atzmon. Listen to it (it is approvingly posted to several supposedly "progressive" websites, and some outright wacky ones), and you will of course find that it is the typical marshmallow-soft interview of the kind that plagues "alternative" media, with Bernstein not throwing the vile Atzmon a single hardball. Ostensibly, it was a "debate" between Lerner and Atzmon—as if the latter's hateful racism were just another legitimate POV. Amazingly, this seems not to be Lerner's first encounter with Atzmon—a YouTube video from last May shows them happily schmoozing each other at a social gathering, presumably in the Bay Area.
What the hell are Bernstein and Lerner doing by embracing an open Jew-hater with a website full of Holocaust revisionism, claims that Hitler's anti-Semitism was "in direct response to the declaration of war on Germany by the worldwide Jewish leadership," and shameless defenses of age-old anti-Semitic tropes? Has the "left" hit bottom yet? Has it completely abandoned progressive values?
There are a few lonely voices of dissent left on the left. Monthly Review Zine runs an open letter decrying the "Anti-Humanist Rhetoric of Gilad Atzmon," and his reactionary notion of an inherently corrupt "Jewish ideology." The aggressively anti-Zionist blog Jews sans Frontieres has called out Atzmon as a "classical anti-Semite" in refreshingly forthright terms. Hearteningly, the Angry Arab blog also states clearly: "[T]his is somebody that we should reject from the pro-Palestinian advocacy movement." Thank you, comrades. (Of course we at New Jewish Resistance have repeatedly called out Atzmon, and protested his growing embrace by "anti-Zionists.")
On the other hand, the perennially annoying Philip Weiss of the modestly named blog MondoWeiss runs a screed protesting that "the Israel lobby in the San Francisco Bay Area has once again attempted to censor discussion of Zionism and the Palestine issue"—meaning that the local ADL chapter put pressure on the city of Oakland to "force a public event featuring the controversial Gilad Atzmon out of a city-run arts center." Now, whatever the real problems with the ADL are, and whatever the merits of the free-speech issue here, you'd think MondoWeiss would have just a little opprobrium for Bernstein hitching his reputation to an overt Jew-hater. But no, not a trace of it. Atzmon is identified only as a "a world-renowned saxophonist, an outspoken critic of the lobby and all forms of Zionism, and most recently author of a book on Jewish identity politics called The Wandering Who?"
It seems that we have to say it yet again: Ritual squawking that "anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism" is just that—an empty ritual bereft of meaning—if we don't call out real anti-Semitism. Use of the "anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism" mantra to excuse this ugliness is no better than the Zionists' bogus use of the charge of anti-Semitism to silence critics of Israel. In fact, it is exactly the same propaganda device.
The most ironic thing is that by embracing a real anti-Semite, Bernstein and Weiss and (alarmingly) Lerner are, if unwittingly, playing into the Zionist propaganda tactic, making it easier to portray all opposition to Israel's crimes as Jew-hatred. They may think they are helping the Palestinian cause. They couldn't be more wrong.