Encouraging debate vs promoting hate speech : Cancelling Gilad Atzmon

As some of you will be aware, the bookshop was recently asked to be a venue for Gilad Atzmon.

Naively I agreed, not knowing much about him and not having much time to decide. Then I cancelled. Then I backtracked and reinstated the event, but I have decided, finally, to formally cancel this event. This decision was surprisingly hard to make, and I would like to explain how we came to it, and why it was important to do so.

First off, who is Gilad Atzmon?

Gilad is a world-renown, Israeli born saxophonist. He is also a would-be philosopher and political writer who has been published by the radical press Zero and by Skyscraper Publications. His writings have been endorsed by Professor John J. Mearsheimer and  Professor Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Palestine, two highly credible public intellectuals. Credible enough to make me agree to an event, despite reservations about some of Gilad’s controversial opinions – we are not in the business of censorship, quite the opposite.

Gilad Atzmon has however chosen to share a stage with holocaust deniers, and has failed to distance himself from far right individuals and groups who have used his own words to justify their antisemitism. His views have been roundly denounced by many, here are just two quotes on the subject:

With this letter, we call for the disavowal of Atzmon by fellow Palestinian organizers, as well as Palestine solidarity activists, and allies of the Palestinian people, and note the dangers of supporting Atzmon’s political work and writings and providing any platforms for their dissemination. We do so as Palestinian organizers and activists, working across continents, campaigns, and ideological positions.”Electronic Intifada

Atzmon’s statements, besides distorting the history of Jews and constituting a brazen justification for centuries of anti-Jewish behavior and beliefs, also downgrade anti-Zionism to a mere front in the broader (anti-Jewish) struggle.” – Three Way Fight activist Matthew Lyons

I believe passionately in open discourse and in the need for ideas to be discussed and challenged in an open, constructive way and that is why it was difficult for me to cancel this event. I believe debate and conversation allows individuals to build robust personal philosophies and thus equip themselves to actively engage with and repel harmful ideologies. Unless they are brought into the open, poisonous ideas fester in dark echo chambers and emerge more confident.

I am not sufficiently qualified – I have not read all that Gilad has written – to say that he is indeed antisemitic, nor given my limited reading, that he is a hate speaker.

I made the misguided decision that the bookshop could remain a venue for this event because here I thought we would be able to challenge Gilad’s views and hold him accountable for his statements and actions. The idea of no-platforming seemed counter productive at the time and I feared (still fear) that cancelling this event will further add to Gilad’s appeal as an ‘outsider’, uncomprising and unbeaten by ‘political correctness’.

It was only brought to my attention today that the event would coincide with the beginning of Shavuot and as a result many Jewish individuals who might have wanted to attend to challenge Gilad, would not be able to do so. To exclude members of the Jewish community from a controversial discussion on Jewish identity and politics instinctively felt wrong. It undermined my whole intention of having an open debate.

This bookshop of ours is a community bookshop, a space where I have come for a decade to feel safe, to feel included, even whilst I was being challenged, whilst being exposed to new ideas.

I have come to the conclusion that to host this debate with Gilad would be counter-productive, and is likely to lend credibility to a platform I in no way wish to promote or associate with either myself or the bookshop. It was never my intention to encourage or passively endorse antisemitism and I hope that all who read this will accept my sincerest apologies if my misguided attempt to publically challenge Gilad made you feel threatened, or made you feel unwelcome.

Gilad has indicated that he will be publically sharing my cancellation email, and so for the sake of transparency I will do so here too, despite the fact that it was written hurriedly and with no intent of publication.

If you would like to discuss this rather convoluted and unfortunate series of events please do email mairi@lighthousebookshop.com.

If you would like to engage with anti-fascist protest in Edinburgh, I would encourage you all to seek out Edinburgh AntiFa.

Mairi

 

 

 

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