This Saturday saw George Galloway MP and his wife Gayatri interview Israeli saxophonist Gilad Atzmon on their Russia Today TV show, ‘Sputnik’. The significance of Galloway hosting Atzmon, a man whose views regarding Israel, Zionism and Jewish identity are so extreme that he is shunned by most of the anti-Israel movement in this country, should not be underestimated.
Atzmon has previously argued that “American Jewry makes any debate on whether the ‘Protocols of the elder of Zion’ are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews do try to control the world, by proxy.” More recently, he has written that “Jewishness means supremacy and chauvinism and chosenness” and that “the Holocaust narrative, in its current form, doesn’t make any historical sense“. The Socialist Workers Party and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign both refuse to work with Atzmon as they consider his views to be antisemitic.
Galloway, though, appears to have moved in the opposite direction. He has previously been at pains to distinguish between Zionism and Jewishness. A decade ago he told American conspiracy talk show host Alex Jones, “Well, this is the thing about Zionism. It has nothing to do with Jewishness. Some of the biggest Zionists in the world are not Jews. Anybody who thinks George Bush likes Jews has never been to his golf club.” He has also previously rejected conspiracy theories about Jewish or Zionist lobbies controlling American foreign policy. Therefore his endorsement of Atzmon suggests an important and worrying development in Galloway’s public attitude towards Jewishness.
The full interview is a little over 13 minutes long and can be watched here or below. Galloway, incongruously wearing the blazer of a Royal Navy Lieutenant, praised, agreed and laughed with Atzmon throughout. He seems to be charmed by Atzmon, despite previously insisting that “I don’t debate with Israelis”. He began by complimenting Atzmon as “politically fascinating” and artistically “a genius”, noting that he plays on the new Pink Floyd album The Endless River. Galloway then says he was “enthralled” by Atzmon’s book The Wandering Who? (described by CST as “probably the most antisemitic book published in this country in recent years.”) In a discomforting image, Galloway explains that he read a chapter of Atzmon’s book to his new wife every night after they were married, so that “we went to bed thinking of you“.
It is not clear which parts of this book left Galloway “enthralled“. Perhaps it was the chapter title “Swindler’s List“, clearly a cheap joke at the expense of Holocaust victims; or the claim that “The Holocaust religion is probably as old as the Jews themselves“; or the suggestion that in the future, “some may be bold enough to argue that ‘Hitler might have been right after all.’”
To accept or endorse Atzmon’s writings is to endorse a wholesale, full-frontal assault on Jewish identity. This is the line that Galloway appears to cross in this interview. Atzmon is very clear that his target is not Zionism. He tells Galloway:
I really think that we are, we have been misled for quite a long time in our understanding of Zionism, Israel, the work of the lobby and so on and so on and so on. For quite a while I argued that if Israel defines itself as a Jewish state and decorates its airplanes and tanks with Jewish symbols, the first thing that we have to do is to try to understand what is Jewishness? What are the relationships between Judaism, Jewishness, the Jew, what are the relationships between these three and Zionism, these are fundamentals. Now for quite a while, because of the domination of a lot of good Jews, let’s say, within the Left, we were prevented from going there, we were only allowed to talk about Zionism, or colonialism…. We are using a lot of terminology that is very misleading. I realised a long time ago that it is the Jewish identity politics that drive the Jewish state.
Atzmon is not scared to point out the practical consequences of demonising Jewishness and Jewish identity in this way. He calls for the British Police and intelligence agencies to “step up their surveillance and espionage” within Jewish communities.
Galloway concurs with almost everything Atzmon says during their interview. Even when Atzmon mentions “the predominance of Jews within the Bolshevik Revolution” (on Russia Today, of all places!) Galloway, the man who described the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the biggest catastrophe of my life“, does not demur.
The only moment of disagreement is when Galloway describes Atzmon as Jewish. Atzmon immediately looks uncomfortable: “I’m not a Jew any more”, he protests. Galloway insists, saying “I’m not sure you can resign it”. Galloway does seem to have a ‘blood and soil’ notion of nationhood. Later in the interview, when explaining that the man who was recently convicted of assaulting him in a London street plans to live in Israel after serving his prison sentence, Galloway says “he has no genetic connection to the land of Palestine at all” (his assailant had converted to Judaism prior to the assault).
The interview ends with Galloway promising that “we are going to have to continue this another time because we’ve run over.” This means, sadly, that they did not have time to discuss Atzmon’s recently-declared admiration for American neo-Nazi David Duke. But then if Atzmon is considered a suitable guest for Galloway to schmooze, perhaps David Duke will make an appearance himself in a future episode.