Oren Ben Dor Roots for Gilad Atzmon

Oren Ben Dor is – as you might have guessed from his name – an Israeli. He teaches jurisprudence and legal philosophy at the University of Southampton.

There are a certain number of Israeli academics in Britain, who have strongly aligned themselves with one or other variation of “One State Solution” position. However, I think that Oren Ben Dor is the first of those academics to – as far as I can tell – adopt at least some aspects of the “IsraelShamir”/Gilad Atzmon “Jewish Power” analysis.

Here is an article in the extremist theoretical journal, Counterpunch, entitled The Silencing of Gilad Atzmon.

The great academic lawyer, Professor Peter Birks, was fond of saying that if you couldn’t explain your ideas to people who knew nothing about them, you probably didn’t understand them yourself. That’s certainly one possibility. Another is that a person who deliberately expresses themselves in the most obscure fashion possible, is a bit of a fraud, who has little to say, and is essentially just mumbling into their beard.

Even allowing for the fact that Ben Dor is not a native English speaker, battling with his dense style is not a particularly enjoyable experience. Take this for example:

Dwelling together in the unsaid is what makes intellectuals’ innermost togetherness but it does not mean that all those who respond to the unsaid can be assimilated into one another so as to form some kind of a “group”.

Or this:

As such, an intellectual pursuit is not only about sharpening and clarifying but about being able to hear the unsaid, thus making a connection and near actuality in a way that may shock and surprise in its strangeness. Being an intellectual is first and foremost to hold the mirror, or rather losing oneself in the mirror.

Is Ben Dor stoned?

You can get away with this sort of obscurantism and pseudiness in legal academia. The Bar and the law firms tend to cream off an awful lot of lawyers who would make good academics. In particular, the field of jurisprudence, which Professor Neil MacCormick described well as “paddling in the shadows of philosophy”, provides a comfortable home for those with weak ideas, and the ability to disguise the fact that they have little to say.

Nevertheless, Ben Dor does have a point. And that point is that we should all rally round Gilad Atzmon:

As such, an intellectual pursuit is not only about sharpening and clarifying but about being able to hear the unsaid, thus making a connection and near actuality in a way that may shock and surprise in its strangeness. Being an intellectual is first and foremost to hold the mirror, or rather losing oneself in the mirror.

All those who try to smother Gilad’s endeavours, to distort his voice through vulgar associations and conventional clichés, and to utilise uncritically accepted conventional havens for thoughtlessness, do not really do justice to the intellectual game as far as Palestine is concerned. I believe this message to be the essence of this petition.

To put this is some kind of context.

1. Gilad Atzmon is, indeed, being sued by Tony Greenstein, for defamation. My natural inclination is, therefore, to defend Gilad Atzmon. That is not because it is Greenstein doing the suing: in truth, I wish they both could lose. It is just that I disapprove of anybody who uses this country’s archaic and unfair defamation law, except in the most extreme of cases.

Nevertheless, it is worth noting that one of the aspects of Greenstein’s defamation claim, is based on Atzmon’s alleged flouting the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. To break the law on spent convictions, as part of Atzmon’s vendetta against Greenstein is pretty poor form, and doesn’t deserve defending, on free speech grounds or at all.

2. The “silencing” of Gilad Atzmon is a fiction. Atzmon is toured around by the Socialist Workers’ Party. He has a website. He writes articles which are widely disseminated. The only time he stops talking is when he is playing his sax. Even if he is successfully sued by Greenstein, he will still be about run his “Jewish Power” thesis: at least, unless he is prosecuted for incitement to racial hatred or excluded from the country by the Home Secretary.

What Ben Dor means by “silencing” is that Atzmon is being criticised. There really is a difference between criticism and censorship, you know.

3. The reason that Atzmon is “criticised” is that he is a promoter of “Israel Shamir”: a neo-Nazi. Atzmon’s own positions on such subjects as the rationality of burning down synagogues, and the accuracy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are pretty well known, that is why he is held in such low esteem: except, of course, by neo-Nazis.

As far as I can make out, Ben Dor has now adopted at least some aspects of the Shamir/Atzmon thesis. Here’s one passage:

Zionism may not merely be a cause of colonial injustice in Palestine in the sense of being a misguided response to anti-Jewish racism understood as “anti-semitism”. Zionism can be conceived as a symptom the non-empathetic manifestations of which are historically and existentially continuing certain facets of Jewish being and thinking. It is very important to ask whether the originary aggression of victim mentality as well as the choseness-begotten separateness existentially links the Zionist and the Jewish question. This link may well pervade the mentality of Israelis whether orthodox or not.

Atzmon’s main contention is that the problem is not Zionism. The problem, rather, “Jewishness”. To Atzmon, any jewish cultural identity – with the possibly exception of the Talibanesque Haredi sect, Neturei Karta – is supremacist and inevitably leads to the oppression of non-jews. This is what has got Atzmon into so much trouble with the anti-racist anti-Zionist far Left

Shamir and Atzmon think that “supremacism” is a particular feature of Jewish identity in particular. Therefore, Atzmon devotes most of his energy to attacking groups like Jews Against Zionism and Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

I think that, basically, Ben Dor is travelling along the same lines. Have a read of his piece, and tell me what you think.

There’s one other aspect of this article that I’d like to highlight. The second half of Ben Dor’s article is a passionate, although rather incoherent, defence of the importance of free speech to “intellectuals”:

The essence of an intellectual is free speech and therefore some reflections on free speech are in order here.For an intellectual, free speech is not a matter of choice, but a way of being, or responding, of being response-able and therefore responsible. To authentically speak rather than to be spoken by, to be active rather than passive, is to respond in speech to self-concealing actuality.

Er, right.

It goes without saying that this shabby hypocrite is also one of the most enthusiastic advocates of the boycott of Israeli academics.