Gilad Atzmon is an outstandingly charming man. He is often described by music critics as one of the finest contemporary jazz saxophonists. But Atzmon is more than just a musician: for those who follow events in the Middle East, he is considered to be one of the most credible voices amongst Israeli opponents. In the last decade he has relentlessly exposed and denounced barbarian Israeli policies. Just before his departure on a European Spring Tour, “ The Tide Has Changed “, with his band the Orient House Ensemble , he spoke to Silvia Cattori.
Silvia Cattori : As a jazz musician, what brought you to use your pen as a weapon against the country where you were born and against your people?
Gilad Atzmon : For many years my music and writings were not integrated at all. I became a musician when I was seventeen and I took it up as a profession when I was twenty four. Though I was not involved with, or interested in politics when I lived in Israel, I was very much against Israel’s imperial wars. I identified somehow with the left, but later, when I started to grasp what the Israeli left was all about, I could not find myself in agreement with anything it claimed to believe in, and that is when I realised the crime that was taking place in Palestine.
For me the Oslo Accord was the end of it because I realised that Israel was not aiming towards reconciliation, or even integration in the region, and that it completely dismissed the Palestinian cause. I understood then that I had to leave Israel. It wasn’t even a political decision — I just didn’t want to be part of the Israeli crime anymore. In 1994 I moved to the UK and I studied philosophy.
In 2001, at the time of the second Intifada, I began to understand that Israel was the ultimate aggressor and was also the biggest threat to world peace. I realised the extent of the involvement and the role of world Jewry as I analysed the relationships between Israel and the Jewish State, between Israel and the Jewish people around the world, and between Jews and Jewishness.
I then realised that the Jewish “ left ” was not very different at all from the Israeli “ left ”. I should make it clear here that I differentiate between “ Left ideology ”— a concept that is inspired by universal ethics and a genuine vision of equality – and the “ Jewish Left ”, a tendency or grouping that is there solely to maintain tribal interests that have very little, if anything, to do with universalism, tolerance and equality.
Silvia Cattori : Would you argue that there is a discrepancy between Jews and left?
Gilad Atzmon : Not at all. I should explain here that I never talk about Jews as a people. I differentiate between Jews (the people) Judaism (the religion) and Jewishness (the culture). In my work, I am only elaborating on the third category, i.e. Jewishness. Also it should be understood that I differentiate between the tribal “ Jewish Left ”, and Leftists who simply happen to be Jewish. Indeed, I would be the first to admit that there are many great leftists and humanists who happen to be of Jewish origin. However those Jews who operate under a “ Jewish banner ” seem to me to be Zionist fig leafs: they are solely there to convey an image of “ Jewish pluralism ”. In fact, when I grasped the full role of the “ Jewish left ” I realised that I may end up fighting alone against the strongest power around.