Every year, consumers the world over unwittingly spend billions of dollars on diamonds crafted in Israel, thereby helping to fund one of the world’s most protracted and contentious conflicts. Most people are unaware that Israel is one of the world’s leading producers of cut and polished diamonds. As diamonds are normally not hallmarked, consumers cannot distinguish an Israeli diamond from one crafted in India, Belgium, South Africa or elsewhere. The global diamond industry and aligned governments, including the EU, have hoodwinked consumers into believing the diamond trade has been cleansed of diamonds that fund human rights abuses, but the facts are startlingly different.
Israel — which stands accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, genocide, the crime of apartheid, extrajudicial executions within and outside the territory it controls and persistent serious breaches of the Geneva Conventions — is the world’s leading exporter of diamonds (see Figure 1 below). Israeli companies import rough diamonds for cutting and polishing, adding significantly to their value, and export them globally via distribution hubs in Antwerp, London, Hong Kong, New York and Mumbai.
In July 2000, the global diamond industry set up the World Diamond Council (WDC). The WDC was established as a response to public outrage about the use of diamonds to fund bloody conflicts in western African countries and it includes representatives from the World Federation of Diamond Bourses and the International Diamond Manufacturers Association. The council’s ultimate mandate is “the development, implementation and oversight of a tracking system for the export and import of rough diamonds to prevent the exploitation of diamonds for illicit purposes such as war and inhumane acts.” Significantly, the WDC limits its concern about human rights violations to those funded by rough diamonds only.
In 2003, the WDC introduced a system of self-regulation called the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme to stem the flow of “conflict” or “blood diamonds.” In keeping with the limited concerns of the WDC the UN-mandated Kimberly Process adopted a very narrow definition of what constitutes a conflict or blood diamond: “rough diamonds used by rebel movements or their allies to finance conflict aimed at undermining legitimate governments.” As a result of this tight ring-fencing, the much more lucrative trade in cut and polished diamonds avoids the human rights strictures applying to rough diamonds, provided the industry uses only Kimberly Process-compliant rough diamonds. Regardless of the human rights violations and atrocities funded by revenue from the Israeli diamond industry, governments and other vested interests party to the Kimberly Process facilitate the unrestricted access of diamonds crafted in Israel to the multi-billion dollar global diamond market.
The WDC created a web site called Diamondfacts.org to promote the virtues of the industry. It lists 24 facts extolling the benefits of the diamond industry — primarily to India and countries in Africa. Some of the benefits include that an estimated 5 million people have access to appropriate healthcare globally thanks to revenues from diamonds; diamond revenues enable every child in Botswana to receive free education up to the age of 13; the revenue from diamonds is instrumental in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
While these facts are laudable the list makes no mention of other less savory facts, including the fact that revenue from the diamond industry in Israel helps fund atrocities and human rights abuses such as the killing, maiming and terrorizing of thousands of innocent men, women and children in Palestine and Lebanon — the sort of atrocities the Kimberly Process is supposed to prevent being funded by revenue from diamonds.
The list of “Diamond Facts” paints a one-sided, positive image of the industry. It implies that the greatest benefits are being felt in some of the poorest nations of the world. But Israel, one of the wealthiest nations, towers over all other countries in terms of the net benefit derived from the diamond industry. The added value to the Israeli economy from the export of diamonds was nearly $10 billion in 2008 (see Figure 2 below).
The WDC website is equally selective when it comes to providing information about which countries are most dependent on diamonds. It explains that Namibia, one of the minor diamond exporting countries in monetary terms, derives 40 percent (<$1 billion) of its annual export earnings from diamonds and that 33 percent ($3 billion) of the GDP of Botswana, another minor player, is derived from diamond exports. The WDC fails to mention that the much more lucrative, high-value end of the diamond industry is the main artery of the Israeli economy, accounting for more than 30 percent of Israel’s total manufacturing exports worth nearly $20 billion in 2008 (“Trade Performance HS: Exports of Israel” accessed 25 March 2010) (See Figures 3 and 4). By comparison, the budget for Israel’s Ministry of Defense was $16 billion in 2008.
Revenue from the diamond industry helps fund Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories, its brutal subjugation of the Palestinian people and its international network of saboteurs, spies and assassins. None of this is alluded to in the WDC’s “Diamond Facts.”
Contrary to claims by the diamond industry and jewelers that all diamonds are now conflict free, they are not. Israel’s dominant position in the industry means that diamonds crafted in Israel are interspersed globally with diamonds crafted in other countries. Consumers who purchase diamonds that are not laser-inscribed to identify where they were crafted run a significant risk of purchasing a diamond crafted in Israel, thereby helping to fund gross human rights violations. The Kimberly Process Certification Scheme strictures only apply to rough diamonds, thus allowing diamonds crafted in Israel to freely enter the market regardless of the criminal actions of the Israeli government and armed forces. The Kimberly Process is seriously flawed and is being used by the diamond industry and jewelers to pull the wool over consumers’ eyes by telling them that all diamonds are now “conflict free” without explaining the limitations and exactly what that means.
All this is hardly surprising given Israel’s dominant position in the diamond industry. Israel currently chairs the Kimberly Process. The notion of self-regulation by any industry that is intrinsically linked to the violations it purports to want to eliminate is something that neither governments nor the general public should tolerate. It is impossible for the public to have confidence in the diamond industry’s attempt to self-regulate as long as it facilitates the trade in diamonds crafted in Israel, which, if the Kimberly Process applied the same standards to all diamonds, would rightly be classified as blood diamonds and treated accordingly.
Given the failure of Western governments to hold Israel to account for numerous breaches of international law including international humanitarian law, breaches of the UN Charter, its failure to abide by more than 30 binding UN Security Council Resolutions, breaches of EU Agreements and disregard for the 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, they are unlikely to insist that the diamond industry broaden the definition of a conflict diamond to include cut and polished diamonds that fund human rights abuses.
Consumers should have the right to know where a diamond was crafted and consequently the right to choose an Israel-free diamond. These rights are not available to consumers today.
In 2005, Palestinian civil society called for an international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel similar to that which helped bring an end to the apartheid regime in South Africa. The international BDS campaign has to date focused much of its boycott activities on the most easily targeted Israeli products including fruit, vegetable, cosmetics and some plastic products. Targeting these products helps to increase public awareness of Israeli crimes and to some extent satisfies the public’s desire to register disapproval of Israel’s actions. However, these products account for only a small fraction of Israel’s total manufacturing exports. Even if the boycott of these products was totally successful it would not make a significant difference to the Israeli economy or to Israel’s ability to further its expansionist goals.
The diamond industry is a major pillar of the Israeli economy (see Figure 5 above). No other developed country is so heavily dependent on a single luxury commodity and the goodwill of individual consumers globally. Anything that threatens the carefully-nurtured image of diamonds as objects of desire, romance and purity could have serious consequences for the Israel diamond industry and the country’s ability to continue funding its illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories, the construction of illegal colonies and other associated criminal activities that render it the pariah of the modern age.
The international BDS campaign needs to focus global attention on the diamond trade that facilitates Israel’s ongoing crimes against the Palestinian people and its neighbors in the region.
Seán Clinton is the chairperson of the Limerick branch of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign and a former Boycott Officer on the National Committee of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
Self-proclaimed anti-Israeli saxophonist Gilad Atzmon and prog rock legend Robert Wyatt have joined forces to make musical magic and “political noise.”
By Yaron Frid
In 1963 a baby was born in Israel. In 1972 a man fell from the third floor (or the fourth – views are divided ) in England in the middle of the night. Both of them took off on the wings of music, and life would one day organize a surprising encounter between them.
This is a sad story with a jolting soundtrack made of the howl of a saxophone and the wail of a clarinet. It’s a story of displaced persons who have no other country, featuring war criminals, Nazi-hunters and God in a cameo role, tempered by large daubs of irony and a few crumbs of hope.
Morning. Rain. Rail strike. Soho, London. Who is the huge chuckling fellow in the Italian cafe who is polishing off a schnitzel sandwich (washed down with tea ) and welcomes me with comments like “There is no light at the end of the Israeli tunnel”? Or, “I think there is something untenable, simply untenable in the fact that the Jews, who suffered so much racial discrimination, should establish a state that is founded on race laws.” And, topping the charts, “I am dead against the existence of the Jewish state.” It’s still early in the morning, let me remind you. I-am-dead-against-the-existence-of-the-Jewish-state-and-pass-the-sweetener-please. Good morning to you, too, Gilad Atzmon.
The fact that the cafe is across from Ronnie Scott’s famous jazz club offers a subtle hint about Atzmon’s identity. He is one of the most acclaimed and in-demand jazz musicians in the world and he only enhances his glory – or totally destroys it, it depends whom you ask – when his mouth isn’t otherwise occupied with a saxophone (or a schnitzel ).
Atzmon says he is dealing not with politics, but with ethics. Maybe in his case it really isn’t just a matter of semantics. Or cosmetics. But we’re here to talk about music. And about beauty. “This beauty which simply spills out of you,” he says, “effortlessly, unconsciously, in the most wonderful moments of creativity, and when that happens you understand that you are only the carrier of the spirit, of something bigger than you, over which you have absolutely no control. I have no connection with that beauty, I just eat schnitzels. I am only the messenger. I don’t look for the beauty, the beauty finds me and through me finds its way into the world.”
And plenty of beauty finds its way into the world in “For the Ghosts Within,” the new album by Atzmon and his musical partners, which has already earned rave reviews in the British music press, with praise such as “the surprise of the year” and ecstatic descriptions of angels entering the listener’s heart. On the album Atzmon joins forces, as performer, composer, arranger and musical producer, with Ros Stephen and Robert Wyatt.
This is the great Robert Wyatt himself. Cult figure, one of the fathers and pioneers of progressive rock. The one calls the other a genius (“We have a mutual genius pact,” Atzmon chuckles ), while Wyatt says, “It’s a huge honor for me and not at all self-evident that Gilad agreed to work with me. He is an amazing musician, amazing.” But judging by the people Wyatt has worked with – Jimi Hendrix, Mike Oldfield, David Gilmour, Paul Weller, Syd Barrett, Brian Eno, Bjork (a “heavenly creature,” Wyatt sighed ) among others – it’s clear that the honor is also definitely Atzmon’s. He has performed with Paul McCartney, but the collaboration with Wyatt, 65, a unique object of admiration who cuts across tastes, generations and categories (just ask Radiohead’s Thom Yorke ), is something of a step up and a certificate of honor that further cements Atzmon’s status in the British music industry.
Wyatt is the hippie enfant terrible who became a white-bearded guru, a kind of secret national treasure, a genuine survivor who is almost unclassifiable. A drummer in Soft Machine (from which he was thrown out – to this day he maintains “there is nothing worse in life than humiliation” ) and in Matching Mole, he was reborn as a singer-songwriter after falling out of that London window during a drinking binge that lurched out of control. (Pink Floyd immediately rallied to the cause and organized a benefit concert for him. ) The fall left him in a wheelchair for life.
Few musicians have done all he has done – psychedelic, punk, post-punk, avant-garde, fusion and now “clean” jazz with his own twists.
Wyatt is married to Alfreda (Alfie ) Benge, who came to England from Poland as a childhood war refugee. She does the artwork for his album covers, once wrote a searing song about his alcoholism (he has since kicked the habit, or maybe not ) and calls him an “overgrown baby,” while he calls her “the dark side of my moon.” He records his albums, which are like nothing else and are always received as an “event,” in a studio in his home. He has a distinctive tremulous voice (a kind of trademark ), which the composer and musician Ryuichi Sakamoto called “the saddest sound in the world.” Wyatt has survived periods of bottomless, suicidal depression, and for entire decades avoided performing live. (“I think it’s stage fright,” Atzmon says. )
In an interview with the Guardian in June 2009, Wyatt selected Atzmon as the “greatest living artist” and noted that he was “born in Israel, which I prefer to call occupied Palestine.” Atzmon, for his part, says Wyatt is “a genius of the kind that Kant described so well – a genius who seemingly has no part in his own genius, who creates beauty as though ex nihilo. Everything he touches sounds new and completely different and utterly his own. He is totally transparent and through him you see the light.”
Tranquillity of the storm
Their love story began “about 10 years ago,” Atzmon says. “At some festival, a woman named Alfie came over and said her husband is a musician but is very shy and loves my music and would like to talk to me. ‘Sure, no problem,’ I said. Robert approached, said he was an amateur musician or a crappy musician, something like that, he’s very modest, and gave me his card. I had no idea it was him and I put the card in my pocket without looking. Afterward someone asked me what I’d talked about with Robert Wyatt and I said, ‘Fuck! That was Robert Wyatt? I grew up on his music!'”
They invited each other to guest on their respective albums, including Wyatt’s acclaimed “Cuckooland” (2003 ) and “For the Ghosts Within.” (The song “The Ghosts Within” contains more than a hint to Palestinians sitting under olive trees, awaiting redemption, on the banks of the River of Shame. ) The album is on the trendy Domino label – its bands include Arctic Monkeys. Wyatt takes the role of the house singer, performing thrilling covers of jazz standards such as “In a Sentimental Mood” together with new material written and arranged by Atzmon and the violinist Ros Stephen. The result is almost a family affair (Gilad’s wife, Tali, sings a marvelous solo, Bob’s wife, Alfie, wrote powerful lyrics and Ros’s partner is one of the musicians ). Tender and melancholy, the album is only part of the panoply of illusive and elusive contradictions of Atzmon, who is haunted by ghosts and demons, filled with gentleness and rage, naivete and depth, stubbornness and openness, storminess and tranquillity.
“The first time I invited him to play on an album of mine,” Wyatt recalls, “Gilad warned me that it could be trouble. I don’t think he deliberately looks for trouble, it finds him. That didn’t scare me. I have been called a ‘Stalinist’ and a ‘traitor’ and worse, simply because I didn’t agree with the British government’s foreign policy. But that’s nothing compared to the systematic character assassination being done on Gilad. He takes so many risks with his remarks, most of which are then taken out of context or presented in a twisted way so that his true intention isn’t understood correctly.
“I sometimes feel a need to protect him,” Wyatt continues, “an almost paternal instinct – after all, he’s my son’s age. The friendship with him is one of the most important and meaningful things that have happened to me in life. I truly love him. And I admire his courage. Some will call it reckless or uninhibited, but he dares to say things that no one else would. I would die of fright. He gets threats to his life, but I hope they are not serious. He doesn’t enjoy the manifestations of hatred toward him but he doesn’t care if he causes grief or anguish, because that’s his truth, and contrary to politicians or diplomats he is committed to his truth. He’s so sweet, really, he wouldn’t hurt a fly, and I like his chutzpah, I think it’s fantastic. There’s something about him from the tradition of the great Jewish comics, like Lenny Bruce, who were never afraid to make people angry.”
It would be a big mistake to assume that Atzmon’s music is marginal and negligible compared with all the other noise he manages to make nonstop as a popular and prominent pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist activist. The music is important, superb, surpassingly sublime and acknowledged as such by international awards.
“My shows are always sold out, wherever I appear in the world,” says the busiest jazz artist in Britain, almost drily. But in the same breath, who are we kidding? Even when Robert Wyatt sings “At Last I Am Free” on the new album, not to mention the Arabic rap (“People dying of thirst / People are dying of hunger / We haven’t forgotten / And we won’t forget until the day we return” ) which leaves no room for doubt, or the “Palestinian shepherd’s flute,” one of the instruments Atzmon plays on the album according to the liner notes, the noise always penetrates, if not through the door then through the window – not that Atzmon goes out of his way to expel it.
Pathetic and absurd
Gilad Atzmon was born in Tel Aviv in 1963 and grew up in Jerusalem. “It was a regular secular childhood,” he says, “with a right-wing Jabotinskyite grandfather. I wasn’t ashamed of him, no way. I understood where he was coming from. I understood where I was coming from.” Most of his military service was spent in the Air Force orchestra, after a stint as a combat medic. “In the first week of the Lebanon war in 1982 I saw a lot of wounded soldiers, but contrary to the rumors, that was not the turning point in my life. I think the big change actually started in the orchestra, when we went to Ansar, that concentration camp” – a prison built by the Israeli army in Lebanon – “and then I realized that I was in the wrong army.”
In Israel he played and was a musical producer with the singers Yardena Arazi – talk about diversity: chapter one Arazi, chapter two Wyatt – Si Himan and Yehuda Poliker, among others.
“Poliker opened my ears to Greek music and influenced me musically. My music is popular in Greece – more than his, I’d say – but Greece, like the whole world, is falling apart, so it doesn’t help me very much.”
In 1994 Atzmon planned to study abroad, in New York or Chicago, but in the end found a university in England with an interesting program combining psychoanalysis, philosophy and art history. “I didn’t have some five-year plan to leave the country or anything like that,” he recalls. “The truth is that I was worn out from everything: from the country, from music, from life. Everything wore me out. I didn’t want to play or produce anymore. I thought of starting a new career as a commercial pilot. I wanted to be like the El Al pilots, who bow to the applauding passengers after landing [he chuckles]. I liked flying planes but I wasn’t good enough at it.
“I was 30, and thought I would focus on an academic career. But then I fell in love with London, which was like a small village – it has changed completely since, and not for the better – and the local music scene gave me so much love. So I said to myself: We’ll play jazz for the jazz, we’ll live for art. We don’t need a lot of money, we have everything we need. So we’ll stay. And we stayed.”
“We” is Atzmon and his wife, Tali, a fine singer and a stage actress with a burgeoning career. They met – we promised you irony, we deliver – at the Hasidic Song Festival in Israel. “I didn’t like Israel and what was happening there but I wasn’t politically involved in any way. I also didn’t understand the Palestinian idea, the true story. Somehow things happened and I started to speak and write in all kinds of forums, and suddenly I was all over the place. I was a private person with all kinds of private opinions who suddenly became public because people wanted to hear what I had to say. I think people feel that I am telling the truth, that I am not rewriting facts for anyone, that I don’t have to lie because I am not part of any political body. I am Gilad Atzmon who represents Gilad Atzmon and that’s all. At first I was seen as a nice Jew who was badmouthing Israel, which the goyim liked. But it didn’t take me long to understand that I am not a nice Jew, because I don’t want to be a Jew, because Jewish values don’t really turn me on and all this ‘Pour out Thy wrath on the nations’ stuff doesn’t impress me.”
So you are pouring out your wrath on the Jews.
“I saw ‘Metzitzim’ a few days ago. You know where Uri Zohar is today [Zohar, the director, actor and screenwriter, is now an ultra-Orthodox rabbi and teacher], and he was the ultimate secular person, the absolute ultimate. Why are secular Israelis afraid of Uri Zohar? Because he left them alone in the dark to cope with questions like Why am I here? Why do I live on lands that are not mine, the plundered lands of another people whose owners want to return to them but cannot? Why do I send my children to kill and be killed, after I myself was a soldier, too? Why do I believe all this bullshit about ‘because it’s the land of our forefathers’ and ‘our patrimony’ if I am not even religious? What the fuck? That is something the secular Jews simply cannot cope with. They are deathly afraid of those questions. I see more truth among the settlers than among the biggest secular Jews in the country.
“The Israelis can put an end to the conflict in two fucking minutes. Netanyahu gets up tomorrow morning, returns to the Palestinians the lands that belong to them, their fields and houses, and that’s it. The refugees will come home and the Jews will also finally be liberated: They will be free in their country and will be able to be like all the nations, get on with their lives and even salvage the bad reputation they have brought on themselves in the past 2,000 years. But for Netanyahu and the Israelis to do that, they have to undergo de-Judaization and accept the fact that they are like all peoples and are not the chosen people. So, in my analysis this is not a political, sociopolitical or socioeconomic issue but something basic that has to do with Jewish identity.
“Think for a minute about the dialectics of Jewish identity, about ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Who is your neighbor? Another Jew, of course. In other words, from the moment you were chosen to be the ‘chosen people’ you lost all respect for other peoples and for the other as such.
“Take, for example, the way gays are treated in Israel. It smacks so much of ‘Look how liberal we are, we have homosexuals in Israel.’ Max Nordau [Zionist leader, 1849-1923] wrote about the emancipation of the Jews, about how the Europeans don’t really like Jews but like themselves for supposedly liking Jews. I find a lot of similarity between Jews and gays as separatist, marginal philosophies. It’s very interesting.
“There are interesting values in Judaism, and the proof is that the Palestinians’ greatest supporters are the Jews of the Torah, Neturei Karta [an ultra-Orthodox sect]. Our problem – and it took me time to understand this – lies with the secular Jews, and even more with the left-wing Jews. The idea of left-wing Jews is fundamentally sickening. Totally. It contains an absolute internal contradiction. If you are leftists it doesn’t matter whether you’re Jewish or not, so on principle when you present yourselves as leftist Jews you are accepting the idea of national socialism. Nazism. That is pathetic. That is why the Israeli left has never succeeded in doing anything for the Palestinians. The absolute absurdity is that it’s actually the right wing that is leading toward a one-state solution and a final-status agreement.”
Illogic and wonder
Atzmon played into the hands of politicians such as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who in a debate with President Shimon Peres quoted Atzmon by name, to the effect that “Israeli barbarism is greater than [regular] cruelty.” Atzmon has been accused from every possible platform of disseminating vitriol against Jews. He, though, maintains that he “hates everyone in equal measure.” He’s also been accused of self-hatred, but he is the first to admit this, and in comparison with Otto Weininger – the Austrian Jewish philosopher who converted to Christianity and of whom Hitler said, “There was one good Jew in Germany, and he killed himself” – he is even proud. “Otto and I are good friends.”
“What seriously? I am married to a Jew, I work and play in a band with Jews. I have adopted a Palestinian identity, true, but to accuse me of anti-Semitism is ridiculous. Part of my success derives from the recognition that I am ‘from there.’ I do not try to hide that or blur it or deny it. I look, speak and behave like someone from there.”
I address him in Hebrew and he replies in English with a distinctly Israeli accent, interspersed with Hebrew. He is sometimes amazed at some of the excellent Hebrew words he comes out with.
The hybrid language is intermittently amusing. Asked, for example, if he misses Israel, he replies, “I don’t miss the medina [the state], I miss the eretz [the land/country], and elaborates: “When I started missing the soil, the landscapes, the scents, I understood that what I actually miss is Palestine. Palestine is the land and Israel is the state. It took me time to realize that Israel was never my home, but only a fantasy saturated in blood and sweat.”
He speaks of “sweat” but really means “tears.” It’s a sad story, as we noted.
His children, Mai, 14, and Yan, 10, have no Jewish friends. Yan was not circumcised and bar or bat mitzvahs are out of the question. Atzmon’s computer does not have Hebrew. He says he writes, thinks and dreams in English. He will not set foot in Israel until it is again Palestine.
Doesn’t it hurt to cut yourself off like that? To burn all the bridges?
“No, but maybe it’s true what all my girlfriends before Tal said when they dumped me.”
What did they say?
“That I’m an emotional cripple.”
Is that true?
“Maybe, but I didn’t dump myself. I live at peace with myself.” He apparently reserves his emotional intelligence for his art. There are no cripples of any sort in “For the Ghosts Within.” In the music, they all fly to the highest places possible, perhaps touching the divine. Genuine talent, like passion, can’t be faked. The problem is, then, only the grating noises – that’s how they sound to many people – that the man haunted by ghosts and demons produces outside the recording studio.
Wyatt, playing the Dalai Lama, expresses amazement at “Gilad’s struggle against racism and oppression of all kinds, and in his life’s work, the search for the meaning of Jewish identity. Gilad is a traumatic but optimistic example of a widespread phenomenon of migrants who try to push aside their tribal circumstances and try to reconnect to the world and to humanity. That is what the Jews in the Diaspora have always done. Look at their contribution to world culture. Ronnie Scott was from a Jewish immigrant family from Russia, and there are also the Gershwin brothers and Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein, not to mention Jesus and Karl Marx, two nice Jews who made a bit of a mess in the world.
“Gilad’s point of departure is humanitarian, not real estate. Thanks to him I learned to be more tolerant of religion, every religion, and show it respect. Thanks to him, for example, I have no problem with the fact that Evyatar Banai, a terrific musician whom I met a few years ago, became religiously observant, just as I hope he has no problem with my political opinions. Gilad believes that religion is a spiritual affair and not a license to plunder olive groves from someone else, and that is something I can connect to.
“The problem,” Wyatt continues, “arises when religion’s illogic becomes the basis for politics. Religion is based on illogical legends: Jesus’ mother was a virgin and Father Christmas comes down the chimney bringing toys. That’s all very nice but it cannot be a serious foundation for politics that is supposed to make the real world run. It is unthinkable to take lands that are not yours only because it’s written in the Bible – meaning the Old Testament, which is based on tribal mercilessness – that God said they are yours. And what about the other peoples? What were they told? Which God distributed what land to them? And what if they read a different book? There’s no way out of it.
“People use every excuse to screw the Middle East, visit colonialist guilt feelings on the Palestinians and compare them to Nazis, which is outrageous. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the toughest knot to undo that there is, but people like Gilad are truly dreaming of a solution and fighting to realize it in their lifetime.”
You once called him “Don Quixote.” Do you think he is fighting a lost battle?
“I called him Don Quixote in humor, and he has a great sense of humor. I knew he wouldn’t take offense. Possibly his battle is lost, but the war on crime, for example, is also lost, yet I still want the police to go on fighting it. Gilad is an artist who is trying to find meaning in a chaotic and insane world. For him, as for me, politics is the most personal thing there is. He and I cannot remain silent in the face of wrongs, injustice and inequality. Not all artists feel a need to express themselves or act politically, and you can’t force anyone to do that. During the Second World War, Picasso chose to sound his voice and Matisse chose to remain silent and disappear, and both were and remain great artists who enriched the world. Gilad likes to shock and surprise in everything he does, and his very existence enriches the world.”
And that world, however broken and ruined and complicated, is the same world that stars in the song that ends “For the Ghosts Within” as well as Atzmon’s concerts: “What a Wonderful World.”
“The newscasts report only disasters and wars, and that’s natural,” Wyatt notes. “I was born at the end of the Second World War, and since then the world has not stopped fighting and falling apart before our eyes. But if we forget the existence of beauty and joy and love and all the rest, what’s the point of staying alive at all? To say that the world is only screwed up is an insult to those who go to work every day and build homes for their children and cook meals for their friends. It’s important to sing this song with full intentionality and seriousness. I can’t sing it any other way. To sing it is to remember what we’re actually doing here.”
In praise of the spark
Atzmon, who has appeared and recorded with artists such as Sinead O’Connor, Ian Dury and Robbie Williams, this month is also launching “The Tide Has Changed,” the latest album by his jazz group, the Orient House Ensemble, now celebrating its 10th anniversary. (The other members are Frank Harrison, Eddie Hick and Yaron Stavi, the son of Zissi Stavi, the legendary former editor of Yedioth Ahronoth’s literary supplement ). Among the instrumental tracks are “London Gaza” and “We Lament.” Surprised?
Atzmon has even been accused of Holocaust denial.
“That is very imprecise,” he says. “But I am fighting against all the disgusting laws and persecutions of those so-called Holocaust deniers – a categorization I don’t accept. I think the Holocaust, like any historical episode, must be open to research, to examination, to discussion and debate. I am sorry that Hitler did not live to write a summary of the events in his own words. And I am not sorry that people throw eggs at the war criminal Tony Blair, who in the Nuremberg trials of the Iraq war will be brought to trial, inshallah, along with all those who fostered and financed that benighted and unnecessary war. And at the same opportunity, it might be a good thing if the Nazi hunters hunt down [Shaul] Mofaz and [Ehud] Barak, for example, and not all kinds of 96-year-olds who are barely alive. It’s pathetic.”
Atzmon can be sharp, focused and trenchant, and at the same time nonsensical and diffuse, so much “pro” but also so much “con” – coarse and refined, raucous and subdued, pedantic and professional to an extreme, making declarations like “I never did homework. I wrote my two books in two weeks each, vomited them onto the page, and the first one began as a joke.”
The novels – “A Guide to the Perplexed” (2001; set in 2052, in the Palestinian state that has succeeded Israel ) and “My One and Only Love” (2005; about a trumpeter who chooses to play one note only and also about Nazi-hunters; spot the obsession ?) – have been translated into 27 languages. There is something childlike, if not childish, in the guide for the perplexed being someone who is himself occasionally perplexed, who radiates personal charm, frequently chuckles and acts the smart aleck and the provocateur, with a proven ability to electrify and to hypnotize an audience.
“There is a spark in Gilad, a passion and a natural joy of the kind found in children,” Robert Wyatt sums up. “His joy of creation is utterly pure. Picasso said that he tried his whole life to paint the way he painted as a child. Gilad hasn’t lost that, I think. He remains filled with curiosity and filled with life in the most positive and delightful way.”
“Let me make it perfectly clear,” says Atzmon. “There is a war of liberation of the Palestinian people and I support it unreservedly. I also have guilt feelings. I tried to communicate with Israelis and I failed, and it’s important for that to be said. I no longer know how to communicate with Israelis.”
For someone who is so cut-off, Atzmon (“I’m a voluntary exile, but also a DP and a refugee from my homeland” ) sounds quite connected. Never mind “Metzitzim”; he also heard, for example, that Poliker came out of the closet and that Miri Aloni is busking on the street (though he’d like to know whether for ideological reasons or “only for the money” ).
Why don’t you make a distinction between individuals and governments? For example, what happened with the Gaza flotilla was not “us.”
“It was you.”
It’s not me.
“It is you. Unequivocally. When you live in a democracy, every crime committed by your government is a crime committed by you.”
Even if I didn’t vote for that government?
“Absolutely. In a dictatorship the dictator takes responsibility, in a democracy all citizens bear equal responsibility.”
So what do we do? How do we fix it?
“That’s the big question.”
What do you want me to do, shoot Netanyahu?
“You said it, not me. And by the way, Netanyahu is a lot better for the Palestinians than Barak or Peres. I, too, as a British citizen, share in the crime of the Iraq war. But the British public at least expressed opposition to the war all along, whereas in Israel 94 percent of the nation supported Operation Cast Lead. On the one hand, you want to behave like a post-enlightenment state and talk to me about individualism, but on the other hand you surround yourselves with a wall and remain attached to a tribal identity. That’s a cake you can’t eat and have, too. There is a price to be paid and everyone is paying it, including me.”
But Atzmon, who has been crowned successor to Charlie Parker, doesn’t dwell on the price.
“Sometimes I ask myself what I need all these headaches for. And Tali says she married a musician and now she has a prime minister in her home.”
You might not be sad that you lost us, but I’m sad that we lost you.
“That’s all right, there’s a place in the world for sentimental people. I know I have many readers in Israel and they know how to contact me.”
I think about Gilad Atzmon the way that Arik Einstein thought about the girl he saw on her way to school in the iconic song: that to us, he is lost. Israeli public diplomacy lost someone who could have been one of its finest voices: articulate, charismatic, brilliant. The score, for now: 1-0, Palestine leading.
Mohammed Hamid was convicted in 2008 under politically-motivated circumstances. He was found guilty of “soliciting to murder” under legislation dating back to 1861, despite never actually instructing anyone to any specific act. The conviction was based upon innocuous statements allegedly made by Hamid whilst under covert surveillance which, by the accounts of those who appeared in court for the prosecution, were twisted to suit a government agenda.
As part of a documentary about Muslims in the United Kingdom, “Don’t Panic, I’m Islamic”, the BBC filmed Hamid and others playing paintball. However, the Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service felt that there must have been something sinister about Muslims paintballing and camping in the woods. Statements were given by the police, of which the strongest allegation was a testimony that “they were holding sticks exactly as I have seen people in Iraq.” That this was their strongest evidence, even after months of surveillance which included the use of undercover agents and covert recording, is a stark indication of the legitimacy of the prosecution.
It is our contention that it is no more of a crime for Muslims to go paintballing or camping than it is for the thousands of other people who go paintballing and camping every year. Yet, in these “war of terror” times, it has meant that Mohammed Hamid and others are now serving totally unjustifiable sentences for taking part in activities that are not in themselves crimes.
It is our fear that this sentence will be the first of many for Muslims in the United Kingdom — and by extension of the precedent Hamid’s case has set, for non-Muslims too — indeed anyone who does not champion the British government’s foreign policy or who have a different world view.
Hamid’s prosecution amounts to nothing but internment in another guise and is an affront to general principles of law and justice. It was a calculated, cynical attempt to justify a year long undercover operation, which revealed nothing more than that Hamid perhaps had a sense of humour that may not be to the taste of middle England, and that he was openly critical of British foreign policy.
We call on the British government to release Mohammed Hamid and overturn this serious miscarriage of justice.
Imagine for a moment you’re a general about to embark on a decisive military campaign and your intelligence service secures a copy of your opponent’s entire campaign strategy. You open it and you see his battle plans laid out before you, key forces, weaponry, lines of attack, points of weaknesses, etc. You suddenly understand just how weak his forces are and precisely how to mercilessly attack and eviscerate him. The plan makes you understand that his forces are largely based on artifice and sham. It gives you confidence that you are entirely on the right course and tells you how to stay on that course. Victory is assured, your enemy’s defeat certain.
Douglas Bloomfield and Newsweek have done pretty close to that against the Israel lobby. Specifically, they’ve exposed a secret hasbara handbook written for The Israel Project by star Republican marketer, Frank Luntz. The oddly-named Global Language Dictionary (pdf) is a veritable goldmine of arguments, strategy, tactics. At 116 pages, it’s not for the faint of heart. But anyone who wants to get inside the head of the Israel lobby must read this document.
I want to devote at least two or three posts to it so I hope you, dear reader, will bear with me. I know my enthusiasm will mark me as a real wonk, but this is the real deal and worth spending some time parsing and deconstructing.
The first thing to say is that the entire document is a pathetic piece of propaganda. While it ostensibly is addressed to TIP’s leaders and advises them how to shape a pro-Israel message when they lobby Congress, the media and other critical power brokers, the entire thing reeks of desperation and a lost cause. It goes without saying that the arguments offered are not only devoid of truth, they’re devoid of rigor or credibility. There is literally no substance to the claims offered on Israel’s behalf. It’s an empty exercise in every sense of the word. Reading this makes you realize that the entire Israel lobby edifice is a house of cards.
Perhaps I’m letting my shock at the shabbiness of the Dictionary get the better of me and overstating the case it reveals against the Lobby. After all, any political network that exists for six decades and achieves as much as this one has doesn’t topple overnight. But I’ll just have to let you be the judge.
One aspect of this I find extraordinary and entirely dubious is the choice of the Republican campaign pollster Frank Luntz to write this report. This indicates, as I’ve always maintained, that the Lobby is totally tone deaf to the political environment. We have a democratic president and two Houses of Congress under Democratic control for the first time in a few decades. Pragmatic liberalism is ascendant. Neo-conservatism and Bushian Republicanism are in retreat. And who does TIP chose to make the case for Israel? A right-wing Republican spinmeister. Remarkable. But one thing I must say is that this is a good sign for our side. If our opponents are as wooden as they appear, then they will topple themselves without needing much help from us.
The first chapter, 25 Rules for Effective Communication opens with:
The first step to winning trust and friends for Israel is showing that you care about peace for BOTH Israelis and Palestinians and, in particular, a better future for every child. Indeed, the sequence of your conversation is critical and you must start with empathy for BOTH sides first. Open your conversation with strong proven messages such as:
“Israel is committed to a better future for everyone – Israelis and Palestinians alike. Israel wants the pain and suffering to end, and is committed to working with the Palestinians toward a peaceful, diplomatic solution where both sides can have a better future. Let this be a time of hope and opportunity for both the
Israeli and the Palestinian people.”
The first thing we learn is that this passage, as with everything else printed in the handbook, is empty meaningless drivel. It’s a perfect example of political three-card monty in which there appears to be a card which isn’t there at all. It’s all a sham. There is no substance. The rhetoric here is even worse than that offered by spokespeople like Mark Regev on behalf of the Israeli government.
In the following passage, we can see that Luntz has lifted shamelessly lifted arguments from MEMRI and former Mossad officer, Itamar Marcus’ Palestine Media Watch. Others before me have demolished these tawdry arguments, but it’s instructive to read the lies and distortions that TIP instructs its representatives to parrot.
Throughout, the document drips noblesse oblige and fake concern for Palestinian children:
“As a matter of principle, we believe that it is a basic right of children to be raised without hate. We ask the Palestinian leadership to end the culture of hate in Palestinian schools, 300 of which are named for suicide bombers. Palestinian leaders should take textbooks out of classrooms that show maps of the Middle East without Israel and that glorify terrorism.”
As a matter of principle, children should not be raised to want to kill others or themselves. Yet, day after day, Palestinian leadership pushes a culture of hate that encourages even small children to become suicide bombers. Iran-backed Hamas’s public television in Gaza uses Sesame Street–type programming to
glorify suicide bombers.
As a matter of principle, no child should be abused in such a way. Palestinian children deserve better.”
As a matter of principle I believe that no child (Israeli or Palestinian) should be raised in fear that their mother, father, sister, brother, grandmother or grandfather could be killed for no other reason than they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and a frightened, trigger hungry 18 year army recruit decides to make an example of them.
As for maps, before Frank Luntz or Itamar Marcus make their specious claims about Palestinian textbooks, I’d like them to show me a single Israeli textbook that features a map of Palestine. You will certainly find Judea and Samaria. But will you find any acknowledgement of the millions of Palestinians who live in the Territories?
Further, the arguments are entirely dated. Suicide bombings were a serious phenomenon in years past. But Palestinian militants have largely abandoned this tactic, at least in part due to its unpopularity among average Palestinians. You certainly wouldn’t know this from Frank Luntz’s agitprop. It’s like he’s living in a time warp and its still the first Intifada (circa 2000).
Clearly differentiate between the Palestinian people and Hamas. There is an immediate and clear distinction between the empathy Americans feel for the Palestinians and the scorn they direct at Palestinian leadership. Hamas is a terrorist organization – Americans get that already. But if it sounds like you are attacking the Palestinian people (even though they elected Hamas) rather than their leadership, you will lose public support.
Another characteristic of the Dictionary is the dubious distinctions it draws, as in this example. There is no way to distinguish between the Palestinian people and their leadership. In effect, the passage concedes the illogic of its argument with this phrase: “even though they elected Hamas.” Of course they elected Hamas. That’s precisely the point. They had an election and chose who they wanted to represent them. So for the lobby to say they sympathize with Palestinians, but not with the leaders they chose is an empty statement.
Yet another example of noblesse oblige (and it’s entirely dubious to claim that these words “work”):
WORDS THAT WORK
We know that the Palestinians deserve leaders who will care about the well being of their people, and who do not simply take hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance from America and Europe, put them in Swiss bank accounts, and use them to support terror instead of peace. The Palestinians need books, not bombs. They want roads, not rockets.”
Clearly passages like this are designed to score debate points but are entirely devoid of accuracy. The claims of embezzlement, of course, go back to the days when Yasir Arafat ran things and tolerated rampant Fatah corruption. But Arafat has been dead for lo these many years. Someone ought to roll over and tell Tchaichovsky and Frank Luntz the news.
As for Palestinians wanting roads, they do. They’d like some of those wonderful Israeli bypass roads that run directly through former Palestinian farmland and whisk settlers from their settlement homes to their jobs inside Israel proper. The same apartheid roads which are off-limits to Palestinians.
One thing you’ve got to give Luntz, he’s not above stealing ideas from anyone, even Israeli peace activists (see italics):
MORE WORDS THAT WORK
“The obstacles on the road to a peaceful and prosperous Middle East are many. Israel recognizes that peace is made with one’s adversaries, not with one’s friends. But peace can only be made with adversaries who want to make peace with you. Terrorist organizations like Iran-backed Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad are, by definition, opposed to peaceful co-existence, and determined to prevent reconciliation. I ask you, how do you negotiate with those who want you dead?”
There is an amazing insularity in the arguments presented here, with absolutely no conception that Palestinians feel precisely the same emotions as Israelis. In other words, they too ask how and why they should negotiate with a state of Israel that would just as soon kill them as live with them in peace.
More obliviousness, with no awareness of the dark irony of this statement:
“We may disagree about politics…But there is one fundamental principle that all peoples from all parts of the globe will agree on: civilized people do not target innocent women and children for death.”
Do I hear any concern here for the “innocent women and children” of Gaza who were slaughtered in their hundreds during the Gaza war? No, of course not.
Of course, there is unintentionally comic discourse:
Don’t pretend that Israel is without mistakes or fault. It’s not true and no one believes it. Pretending Israel is free from errors does not pass the smell test. It will only make your listeners question the veracity of everything else you say.
Admit Israel make mistakes. Don’t specify them. Change the subject as quickly as possible and hope no one notices what you’ve just conceded. And then point out how much more guilty the Palestinians are than the Israelis for the conflict.
Use humility. “I know that in trying to defend its children and citizens from terrorists that Israel has accidentally hurt innocent people. I know it, and I’m sorry for it. But what can Israel do to defend itself? If America had given up land for peace – and that land had been used for launching rockets at America, what would America do?
Use fake humility. Pretend that Israel is the U.S. and that there has been no Occupation and no injustice perpetrated against Palestinians. Pretend their lands have not been stolen. Pretend they have not been turned into refugees in the hundreds of thousands. Pretend that Israel has a right to expect Palestinians to behave like Canadians or Mexicans, who have not had a border dispute with the U.S. in 150 years.
Here is more fakery in the guise of concern. And note the conflation of American Jews with Israelis as if we are them (a little identity confusion?):
WORDS THAT WORK
“Are Israelis perfect? No. Do we make mistakes? Yes. But we want a better future, and we are working towards it.
And we want Palestinians to have a better future as well. They deserve a government that will eliminate the terror not only because it will make my children safer—but also because it will make their children more prosperous. When the terror ends, Israel will no longer need to have challenging checkpoints to inspect goods and people. When the terror ends we will no longer need a security fence.”
There is virtually no terror on the West Bank, yet 500 checkpoints remain there. Why? Tell me why, Mr. Luntz.
If there is a money quote in this document that reveals that the lobby is now running scared it is this:
We’re at a time in history when Jews in general (and Israelis in particular) are no longer perceived as the persecuted people. In fact, among American and European audiences—sophisticated, educated, opinionated, non-Jewish audiences—Israelis are often seen as the occupiers and the aggressors. With that kind of baggage, it is critical that messages from the pro-Israel spokespeople not come across as supercilious or condescending.
More unintended irony:
WORDS THAT DON’T WORK
“We are prepared to allow them to build……”
If the Palestinians are to be seen as a trusted partner on the path to peace, they must not be subordinated, in perception or in practice, by the Israelis.
What is the Occupation if not “subordination” personified??
Here’s right back at ya, buddy:
WORDS THAT DO WORK
“Achieving peaceful relationships requires the leadership…of both sides. And so we ask the Palestinians … Stop using the language of incitement. Stop using the language of violence. Stop using the language of threats. You won’t achieve peace if your military leadership talks about war. You won’t achieve peace if people talk about pushing others to the sea or to the desert.”
Israel’s military and political leaders speak the language of violence, incitement and war virtually every day. No acknowledgement of that, of course, by Luntz. As for “pushing Jews into the sea,” I haven’t read a real live Palestinian resident of the Occupied Territories make such a statement in several decades. So this argument is circa 1970 or so. Nice try though, Frank.
“Israelis know what it is like to live their lives with the daily threat of terrorism.
As do Palestinians.
Remind people – again and again – that Israel wants peace. Reason One: If Americans see no hope for peace—if they only see a continuation of a 2,000-year-long episode of “Family Feud”—Americans will not want their government to spend tax dollars or their President’s clout on helping Israel.
Bingo. Here Luntz inadvertently speaks the truth. Israel wants peace in the same vague way that a 13 year old girl may want to be whoever the teen idol of the moment happens to be. Israel has no plan. No means of getting to peace. So to say that Israel wants peace is, once again, meaningless.
And the fear lurking in the hearts of the lobby is that some day Israel will be exposed and Americans will abandon it because they will come to understand that whatever Israel may claim it wants, there will never be peace under terms acceptable to Israel. That will be a day of reckoning that the lobby wants to avoid at all costs.