By Clara S. and Gilad Atzmon — gilad.co.uk Jan 26, 2018
Clara: You know, when I saw the pictures of the kids killed in Gaza while playing on the beach in 2014, I was shocked again. But I was told to accept that these people had brought their fate upon themselves using their kids as human shields. Hadn’t I heard that before? Didn’t the Nazis say the Jews deserved to die because they had brought so much evil upon the world?
And you have just told me, that the Holocaust survivors were treated kind of the same by their fellow-citizens.
So here’s my next question: When I read your book I couldn’t help to think,
“Does Gilad really want to say that the Jews were responsible themselves for what had happened to them”?
In chapter 21 you write: “65 years after the liberation of Ausschwitz we should be able to ask – why? Why were the Jews hated? Why did European people stand up against their neighbours”? (The Wandering Who?)
Isn’t that just like telling a victim of rape that she should have dressed more properly or stayed at home altogether? That is outrageous!
Gilad: ‘Don’t blame the victim’ is a popular, however problematic, proclamation. It begs for attention. We must ask some crucial questions who and what is a victim? What forms victimhood? What are the circumstances in which a crime is taking place? As you may imagine, I actually gave a lot of thought to these questions. The ethical judgment here is far from being a universal algorithm. On the contrary, it is the particularity of the judgment that aspires at a universal maxim instead.
Let’s for instance examine the case of young woman X who was raped in the park in the middle of the night. She was subject to sexual assault something she didn’t consent to. The case of a rape is established. X was a victim. However, we also learn that X made a conscious decision to cross the park half naked, in the middle of the night, knowing that this given park is known for its bad reputation as far as sex predatory activity is concerned. Will you agree that while X is a victim of a rape, she, to a certain extent, brought it on herself? She took an unreasonable risk. And what would you say about X if you learned that she has been raped in the same spot on a regular basis five times a week for the last two decades? X is still a victim, those who rape her are still criminals, yet would you be interested to examine X’s mental making?
The case of Jews, Jewry and Jewish history is actually different altogether. To start with, we are dealing with an ethnic group (as opposed to an individual). Furthermore, I myself do not deal with people; Moshe, Yossef or Yaakov. I deal instead with ideology, culture and politics. The answer to the questions ‘Why were the Jews hated? Or why did European people stand up against their neighbours?’ led me to a study of the culture, the ideology and the politics that form Jewish identity. I ask ‘what is it in Jewish culture, ID politics and ideology that evokes animosity in so many different places and different times in history’?
I do believe, and this is fundamental to my work, that Jews like all other people are born innocent. I argue that some elements in Jewish culture, such as tribal chosenness, have made things complicated for many Jews all along Jewish history.
Clara: Wait a moment: of course this victim isn’t acting very sensibly. But still, I hold to it that I want to live in surroundings where my safety is secured and I do not have to expect that kind of “activity”, no matter how eccentric I may be …
Gilad: This is somehow more fundamental than just being eccentric.
I believe that since Jewish history is a chain of disasters, we must understand once and for all ‘what is it in Jewish culture, politics and ideology that puts Jews, the people, at risk’. By the way, I didn’t invent this question. It is this question exactly that initiated the Zionist movement. It was thinkers like Bernard Lazare who elaborated on the Jewish question in an attempt to grasp, once and for all ‘why the Jews?’ The difference between early Zionists (Herzl, Lazare, Borochov, Nordau etc.) and myself is that early Zionists believed that Jews could be morphed collectively into something else. I am not sure that this is the case. I am not convinced that there is a collective solution to the Jewish question. I believe that some break out as individuals. I hope that I, myself, have managed.
Clara: It’s also what communists tend to believe in, that they can forge a new and better kind of human being. I used to think that way, too. Today I have some doubts about how realistic that idea is.
But back to the question of ‘blaming the victim’ once more:It is a well-established fact that victims of abuse tend to seek the reason for what has happened to them in themselves. The guilt they feel is a way of finding a meaning in the egregious things they had to suffer, of trying to control the uncontrollable. Aren’t you doing exactly the same?
Gilad: I certainly do. I believe that considering Jewish history being a chain of disasters, Jews must examine themselves by means of self reflection instead of accusing the Goyim. As you know, I am a follower of the Austrian philosopher Otto Weininger who revealed to us that in art self realization is realization of the world. The more I look into myself, the better I understand the world around me.
Clara: Well, I’m not sure. Many victims blame themselves for things they are 100% not guilty of. That is not a healthy way to cope with traumatic experiences.
Gilad: Who decides? How do we figure out the exact percentage of our accountability? Should we care about such percentage? I actually believe that understanding reality in categorical terms is way more helpful. Examining, for instance, the case of X may reveal that being a rape victim satisfies X’s needs. I guess that you can extend this analogy as you wish.
Clara: If it were that way, we would indeed have to think about X’s frame of mind. But for us who do not draw satisfaction from being a victim it maybe all comes down to the question of responsibility. To take responsibility for the things I can change and to accept that there are a lot of things I cannot. It’s hard enough for an individual to find out which is which. Can a group go through such a process? Having started and lost two world wars the Germans as a collective have been blamed and blaming themselves for all the bad things which happened to them as a result. Now some people have started questioning whether the shock and awe tactics of bombing Dresden and other cities really was necessary to win the war (not to forget the atomic bombs which destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki). My mother, for example, lost everything she had during the bombing of Leipzig, luckily no one in the family was killed. But this is seen by others as an attempt of justifying the atrocities committed by my people.
However, if an individual like yourself claims to take responsibility for a whole group, the other members might not be amused. No wonder that some of your fellow Jews call you a well-poisoner.
Gilad: I do not think that those people are my ‘fellow Jews’ for I haven’t been a Jew for many years and they aren’t exactly my fellows. Rather than blaming Jews I ask Jews to look into their culture, ideology and politics and ask themselves why? Why pogroms, the Holocaust, anti-Semitism? Zionism promised to transform the Jews, to make them loved, it failed miserably, why? If Jews are struggling to come with an answer, as I mention before, early Zionism is a good start. I, once again recommend the work of Lazare, Borochov, Ehad Ha’am and even Herzl. Responsibility, if you wish, starts with self reflection.
Clara: So how would you describe yourself if not as a Jew?
Gilad: To start with I avoid any form of political identification … I am a jazz artist, I am a writer, I am British, I am an ex Jew and ex Israeli, I follow the message of Christ but do not follow any organized religion.
If they want to burn it, you want to read it …
Being in Time – A Post Political Manifesto,
Amazon.co.uk , Amazon.com and here (gilad.co.uk).