Paul Eisen

Paul Eisen

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

As a Jew....….A letter to Sarah Colbourne

Dear Sarah

As you know, I resigned from the PSC about five years ago. This was not my choice. The PSC were discussing my expulsion at the time and, for family reasons, I just couldn't risk the inevitable publicity and abuse.

Since then, friends of mine and also of Palestine, Francis Clark-Lowes and Gill Kaffash have suffered similar fates and both for the same ‘crimes’ - Holocaust denial and/or anti-Semitism. You’ll also be aware of the number of similar cases where good Palestine solidarity activists have been pressured, and in some cases, hounded out of the PSC. For a list of these activities, you only have to go to the Engage website.

Personally, I can’t accept that having a certain point of view about a period of twentieth century history should carry such stigma and specifically, why it should render someone unfit to participate in Palestinian solidarity. And the same goes for a challenge to Jewish political ideology or activism. Of course I could be accused of being a bit disingenuous – after all, everyone knows the baggage that such opinions carry – but if you look at it a little dispassionately, can you not see that the baggage is itself part and parcel of Zionist power?

In all these cases the pressure on the PSC came from openly Zionist sources such as Engage, Harry’s Place and the Jewish Chronicle, and also from equally Jewish, but in this case, ‘anti-Zionist’ activists. Again, the crimes were alleged Holocaust denial and/or anti-Semitism (whatever they may mean) and in all cases, the definitions were supplied and enforced by the accusers.

Forgive the rhetoric, but who the hell are these people, and what do they stand for? Do they stand for the Palestinian people and do they have their best interests at heart? And Francis Clark-Lowes, Gill Kaffash and all the others who have been targeted; what do they stand for? Do they have the interests of the Palestinian people at heart?

And what has the PSC response been to these horrible and unfair assaults? In every case, it has been to meekly bow its head and comply with these demands. This submission has taken the form of formal statements, informal answers to questions and, in the end, expulsions. Not once has the PSC questioned the right of these abusive people to define, always in their own terms and interests, what the boundaries of the solidarity discourse may be.

And what does the future hold? I think Gill Kaffash speaks prophetically when she asks: “How long do you think it will be until the Jewish Chronicle demands the PSC unreservedly condemns Hamas? And how long before PSC complies?”

You could argue, (and I can understand the argument) that the PSC has to take the position it takes for tactical reasons and that failing to kow-tow to these Zionist demands serves only to provide weapons for those who would secure the oppression of the Palestinians. But again, the act of submission itself is increasing the power of those who oppress Palestinians. And anyway, where has your caution got you? Marc Ellis, that great ‘Jew of Conscience’ used to say “Abandon strategy!” And to some extent, I agree. Abandon strategy. Forget, “if I do this will they do that?” Forget “If we say this will they say that?” And, most of all, forget “If we do this will they call us that?” Those times are over. It’s time to resist, to defy and to speak out.

Sarah, I have some understanding of the horrible situation you and the PSC are in and I won’t presume to tell you what you should or should not do. But if I may, I’d like to offer a piece of (unsolicited) advice. It begins with a phrase I loathe and which up till now, I have studiously avoided…As a Jew,

As a Jew, I can tell you, you don’t have to bow to this kind of pressure. It’s largely (not totally) a bluff – the same kind of bluff that enabled a few thousand Brits keep down millions of Africans and Asians in the days of Empire. It’s a clear case of the Emperor’s New Clothes – call the bluff and, I promise you, the Emperor will be left standing - stark, naked.

So, Sarah, the next time the Jewish Chronicle contacts you for a reaction, why not say somewhat frostily: ‘No comment’?

Best wishes


Sarah Colbourne is General Secretary of the PSC.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Cafe Jihad

Café Jihad
November 2011

4.30 p.m.: Teacher
It’s 4.30 on a Wednesday afternoon in a jazz club in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Gilad Atzmon is taking a master-class. This, the first of three scheduled events here, will be followed by a talk at seven and a concert at eight. At midnight, after the last encore (Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” done as Armstrong might have done it he hadn’t been chasing a world-wide hit) he’ll pack up, arrive home at 2.00, sleep, get up for a meeting at 10 and then drive on for pretty much the same again in Bath. And of course, for the permanently plugged-in Atzmon, all this is punctuated with feverish internet activity, phone calls etc. Atzmon hates sleep. A waste of time, he says.

He does a lot of these classes up and down the country - this one is for twenty A-level music students. Trouble is, these kids haven’t bothered to bring their instruments and worse, they suffer from that peculiarly English kid ailment Battery Child Syndrome (BCS). Twelve years of the National Curriculum have left them pretty much incapable of doing anything much, certainly not actively or for themselves. With their un-met targets, un-reached goals and unsatisfactory performances, but still hoping that their levels will be reached, their boxes will be ticked and they’ll make it all the way to ‘Uni’ or whatever next-stage they can reach to keep them off the jobs-market. But now, they’re waiting for ‘input’. After all, without input there surely can be no output. Atzmon’s seen all this before and Yaron, the OHE bass player, has already remarked to me that it's only here, in this country, that the band encounters this particular condition. And it’s not like these young people can look to their parents for some relief - they’ve suffered the same fate – it’s to their grandparents they have to look. Irony is,  these kids are the age Atzmon was when he first heard ‘April in Paris’ and bought his first saxophone,

So he talks about consonance and dissonance, illustrating his remarks with both saxophone and voice. Of course, it’s all about balance - too much consonance and your audience falls asleep, too much dissonance and it just goes out the window. But still, from his young and, by now, wondering-what-the-hell-this-is-all-about-and-who-is-this-guy-with-the-funny-accent, audience - still there is nothing.

So he tries some community singing – no words, just sounds and rhythms - but still they will not do it. He fixes on Jasmine, a freaked-out 17 year-old. He wants her to come out to the front. But Jasmine clings to her mobile phone “Wanna pee” she pleads. He tries again, this time with Hayley. She just giggles. “Why don’t you speak?” he asks. ‘Dunno’, she says. He tries Jasmine again who flees the room. Five minutes later she’s back (She really did want to pee) and blow me if, in the end he doesn’t get the whole lot of them going and none louder and with more enthusiasm than Jasmine and Hayley.

Now, abandoning all strategy he tears up the rule-book, contravening just about every teacher-dictum ever. For any half-decent teacher weary to the bone of force-fed, over-fed, half-dead battery kids and sick at heart of meeting government targets and climbing league tables, this is refreshing stuff indeed. “If you do not now, immediately defy your teachers, your parents, the lot - all restraints on creativity, all inhibition, both without and within – you will, in your lives, produce nothing of worth." (Next day I email him to ask him what it’s all about. ‘Consciousness is the enemy of beauty’ is all he’ll say. Later I learn that he only ever had one formal teacher “He was very good teacher. I only had about four or five lessons but he was a very good teacher…… I’m still trying to work out what he was talking about.”

7.00 p.m.: Talker
Three hours later the club’s full. Some are jazz-fans come to see the ‘award-winning’ jazz musician, some are locals having a mid-week night-out and some are just plain curious to come and see the beast.

This, the other side of Atzmon’s other exercise in tonal breath-control – words. For nearly one hour he talks. Full of good intentions, he treads carefully describing his own musical, philosophical, political and spiritual journey. From the sabra child with the Irgunist Grandfather “I loved him a lot” to jazz-obsessed teenager - the blast of Charlie Parker (it was ‘April in Paris’) from his radio, the raid on the only jazz store in Jerusalem and then the revelation “Charlie Parker was black and Dizzy Gillespie was black and Sonny Rollins was black…and Ron Carter and Miles and John Coltrane…they were all black. I thought to myself ‘They’re all black. This is impossible. The Jews are the best at everything so how come they’re all black” Two days later the very first meeting with his true one-and-only-love – his saxophone. “The saxophone is really easy to play. I practised 1,2,3,4,8,12 hours a day – in four weeks I was gigging”. Then the army and the war in Lebanon: “20,000 civilians wiped out by the army of Israel”. He just makes it into the Air Force Military Band and his army problems could be over - except that the band visits the concentration camp at Ansar in southern Lebanon and, for the first time ever, he sees Palestinians who are prepared to fight back “I looked at one, he looked back at me. I looked at another, he looked back at me. They all looked at us and we knew that they knew that one day they would win”. He also sees the concrete cubes – concrete bunkers, kennels for disobedient Palestinian dogs. “Two days in one of those and you too become a devoted Zionist”. That was it. It was simple. The Palestinians were the Jews and he was the Nazi. There was no other interpretation. No doubt. No matter how long it took to leave, he was done with Israel “…‘enough is enough’. I took my saxophone and decided I was going to live somewhere else” But it was Oslo that did for him. “I knew there was no chance in a million years for the Jewish state to encompass the concept of peace.” And here he takes a moment to make that distinction between ‘peace’ and ‘shalom’. For those in Christian or Muslim environments ‘peace’ means peace and reconciliation but for Jews ‘shalom’ means security – but only for Jews. “The Oslo ‘shalom’ process was to secure for the Jews the land they had stolen.” That was it. Finished. He left Israel for ever. Only to a free Palestine would he ever return.

It was in London that he begins his experiment with Arabic music and what he sees as his lifelong struggle, the struggle to listen – “When it came to Arabic music, I was lost. I tried to play it – it was a disaster”. He tries to listen, but really listen - first to the music and then to the Arab himself. He elaborates and here, he grabs his saxophone and gives the audience a quick taste of what is to come (Even to me, it’s breathtaking in its dexterity and wildness). The westerner can play a jazz phrase in a few seconds and he thinks he can win a war in the same time, But in the Eastern world it’s not like that. It takes time, the time of the desert. For Atzmon this difference also came to define a new concept of beauty.

But how to get at it? "When I tried to reproduce this beauty, I couldn’t get at it – it was very frustrating.” Then he hits on it. He begins to use his voice. “Only when I sung it, I somehow managed to get closer to the authentic spirit.” And through this process he begins to understand and to refine his music – and also his political philosophy.

Because we must listen. Watching just will not do. Speaking will not do. Marching will not do. Leafleting will not do. Slogans will not do. We must listen - to the other, to the Palestinian. We must listen because it is then, and only then, when we have heard what the other has to say, what the other feels, only then can know the other. It is only then that, rather than tell the Palestinian what he needs – one-state, two-state, secular state, democratic state, socialist state – we should listen, listen to what he thinks he needs “What the fuck, it’s not about us, it’s about them.” then and only then we can know what the Palestinian wants for himself, only then that can we can truly be in solidarity. And, for Atzmon this is where ethics starts – and also where you can play beautiful music. The Primacy of the Ear.

But then it comes, slowly and inexorably at first, then faster and faster. It’s not just Israel and it’s not just Zionism. Jews. Jewish-ness. Identity. Secular Jewish identity. What is it? If you ask a secular Jew what he is, he will tell you he is not a Christian, he is not a Muslim, he is not a Buddhist, he is not religious, he is not this and he is not that. What is he? Is he just someone who likes chicken soup and chopped liver? No, he cannot tell you what he is - he can only tell you what he is not. And to be real, to feel truly authentic, between what he is and what he is not there must be distance - there must be conflict. So to find himself he must have conflict, he must fear and he must hate. Wars ….wars for Israel. Jewish wars. How many British dead? How many Americans? One and a half million Iraqis. Lord Levy the fundraiser, Lord Goldstone the enabler, and Aaronovitch, Cohen, Freedland,– warmongers to a man.

Jews, Judaism, Jewish-ness. Time and time again he addresses the ever-present charge of racism. He makes that critical distinction: “In my writing, I differentiate between Jews (the people), Judaism (the religion) and Jewish-ness (the ideology) and again and again he makes it clear that it is the third, and only the third, with which he is concerned.: So,“those who are searching for blood or race-related interpretations of Zionism will have to look for it in someone else’s work.

But as the words spill out, doors are kicked down, taboos fall away and, for these gentle, middle-English folk, modestly nodding in agreement, wryly noting the jokes, hearing what they always knew but never dared say, even to themselves - for them, the shackles simply slip away. The simple truth is that Gilad’s words lie just below the level of consciousness. Too conscious and they know it already, too unconscious and they just can’t hear it. Too much consonance and your audience will fall asleep, too much dissonance and it’s just out the window.

8.00 p.m.: Café Jihad
Atzmon turns his back to the audience and hunches over his saxophone. A tentative phrase, quite mellow but then grows more insistent it becomes a wail. He raises the stakes higher – more insistent. The rim-shot and the band comes in. It’s jazz.
                                                   Paul Eisen trying to write about the music of Gilad Atzmon.

I don’t know much about music and pretty much nothing about jazz. (Truth is, it goes right over my head), so to write about Gilad Atzmon in performance presents something of a problem. How to get into the music? I search around for an Atzmon album and find one: ”In Loving Memory of America” - Gilad’s love letter to an America now long gone, an America he dreamed off in his bedroom in Jerusalem. I dig it out and glance at the tracklist. There it is, track 9 “April in Paris”. Feverishly now I send off for ‘Charlie Parker with Strings’. It arrives in a day, and there it is, Track 3:’April in Paris’, the piece the young Atzmon first heard, the piece that made him skip school and head for Jerusalem’s one and only jazz store. “It was by far more organic, poetic, sentimental and yet wilder than anything I had heard before. Bird was a fierce libidinal extravaganza of wit and energy”

Surely if there’s an opening to his music, this must be it.

I start to listen. Well, it’s nice – it’s more than nice and I can imagine why people love it but I’m damned if I can see what Atzmon sees.

For me it’s all very visual. He’s a big man and lately he’s given up on the IDF-style fatigues for jackets, tee-shirts and jeans – but he’s no snappy dresser that’s for sure. And if ever there was a Khazarian then this, surely, must be it. Solid and Slavic in head and burly in body, he dominates the stage.

Him and his saxophone, that is. It’s some contraption this thing - a deep, deep gold with lots of moving parts like some kind of hand-held Spinning Jenny - a refreshing antidote to a digital, microchip age which boasts proudly of “No moving parts” And when he plays the thing, the valves and levers at the bottom open and close as if by magic It reminds me of a Monty Python cartoon or a gently-throbbing pulse in the neck. Between bursts he holds it like a Kalashnikov – and with the same devastating effect - spray everything and take no prisoners. ..

He wanders around a lot, kind of strolls off leaving the band to get on with it. And they do. Yaron Stavi on bass, Frank Harrison on keyboards and the astonishing Eddie Hick on drums. “I’m playing with the same people now for many years and it’s a great experience because you see people around you developing and you try to keep up with them. It’s a challenge.” That pride – you see it in him and in the band. I saw it that night at Stratford-Upon-Avon in the nod Atzmon gave to the young and immensely talented Eddie Hick – it said “Go on boy, now’s your time. Let’s see what you can do. Oh, and good luck!” Sometimes he dances.

Then back he comes, slings up the Kalashnikov and starts spraying.

And it does not take one minute to see that the class, the talk, the jazz, they’re all really one. “We shut our eyes and concentrate on one thing: Delivering beauty’. Beauty is truth; truth beauty. Keats would have been proud of him.

By the way, they came back, the kids that is - six or seven of them led by Jasmine and Hayley. And I wonder what must they have made of it all? The stilted lesson with its embarrassing silences. The harangue from the front – Defy all! The talk: Jews …Judaism…Jewishness…..Then the jihad of the music

But it’s at the every end of the evening that the true meaning of the day is revealed. After the last tune he starts once more to speak to the audience. Now it’s earnest, almost pleading. It’s about universalism and brotherly love. About “our Muslim brothers and sisters, our Palestinian brothers and sisters, our Christian brothers and sisters and ……’ And then it happens - for me, the surprise. It’s obviously unplanned and I wonder if he’s ever said it, or even thought it before. Because he stumbles, perhaps he can’t quite believe what he hears himself say, perhaps like the music itself, it’s only ever really made up in performance. But he says it, and all the celebrity, the humour the Israeli swagger, even the mega-talent simply falls away ‘…..and our Jewish brothers and sisters too.' I phone him next day and ask him what he meant. Again, all he’ll say is “They are our brothers and sisters and we’re responsible for them too”.

But now it really is late, time for just one more. It has to be “What a Wonderful World”  "Despite everything. Despite the Bush's and the Blairs and the camerons and the Millibands... we do believe it will be again a wonderful world. 

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

November 2011

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Camden's Grand Inquisitor

Camden’s Grand Inquisitor
November 2011

Paul Inglefield is Head of Communications of Camden Council.
Recently he wrote to Palestinian solidarity activist Gill Kaffash as follows:-

Dear Ms Kaffash,
The Council has received a complaint about your name and details being placed on our website as the contact for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign [PSC].
The complaint is we should not be promoting you as the PSC contact because it is reported you support the Holocaust denial views held by Paul Eisen in an article dated January 2008.
Clearly this is a sensitive matter because it may conflict with the Council’s equality policy so I want to give you the opportunity to comment on whether this article is correct or not before deciding what action, if any, the Council should take".

Reader may wonder what evidence Mr Inglefield has for Gill’s supposed views on some historical events. The answer is, that in a footnote in an article he wrote, Paul thanked Gill, among others, for her friendship and support.

Anyway, Gill replied to Mr Inglefield asking him to explain exactly how what is complained of might contravene Camden Council’s equality policy.

Mr Inglefield replied that

The council’s equality policy, …….sets out that we are committed to creating a socially inclusive and cohesive community within Camden. There are a number of ways which we aim to achieve this, such as by celebrating the diversity of our community and ensuring the communications we produce positively reflect and promote the diversity of our communities."

And goes on to say that

Council is concerned your reported views on the Holocaust may conflict with the aims of this policy”. And that If you hold these views it could imply the Council somehow condones them by publishing your name as the PSC contact on our website. We do not consider such views, given the offence they cause, are conducive to our aim of promoting diversity and tolerance."

However, obviously concerned that Britain’s finest traditions of fair play are upheld Mr Inglefield goes on:

“… but I wanted to have your views and clarification as to your actual position before coming to a final decision".

And finally he offers Gill a way out.

“Obviously if you can confirm to me in writing that these are not your views, and take the necessary action to remove your name from the article, then we can reinstate you as the contact for the PSC.”

Oh, and from where did Paul Inglefield receive the complaint? Why, from award-winning Zionist neo-con blog Harry’s Place of course.

Now, apart from wondering what the exact connections are between Paul Inglefield, Camden Council and Zionist lobbyists such as Harry’s Place, residents may want to know: :

• How precisely do Gill Kaffash’s views on a particular period of history have    
   any bearing on community inclusiveness and cohesion in Camden?

• Why can Gill Kaffash, Paul Eisen and anyone else for that matter not hold 
   whatever view they like on a piece of history without being subjected to   
   harassment by local government officials?

• How appropriate is it that a Council employee should take it upon himself to 
   decide who the PSC may or may not have as their contact?

• Does this mean that the well-established Zionist control of central 
   government is now seeping down to local government?

• When will all this disgraceful nonsense end?