Talking About Athens And Jerusalem In Athens

Gilad Atzmon

On the eve of the Gaza Flotilla Mission. A talk given in Kyttaro Athens 19.5.10
There is often a noticeable discrepancy between what one claims to be and what one actually is.

Hegel taught us that our self-perception is a fragile and evolving amalgam of the way we like to see ourselves  and the way we are mirrored by others.

I, for instance, tend to regard myself as a Jazz saxophonist.  My self-image is inherently dependent on the willingness of others to listen to me and to buy my music. My vision of myself as a writer is again subject to other people’s reactions to my thoughts and ideas. It seems that man is not exactly an island. We live amongst others and are shaped by a process of mirroring.

In terms of Jewish history, we can detect a real dilemma here concerning this mirroring.  As much as Jews tend to regard themselves (traditionally) as a chosen people, they have been largely confused by other people’s dismissal of their ‘greatness’.

Zionism intended to amend this dilemma. It promised to reinvent the Jew as a proud authentic, ethical, universal, productive, organic, humble and civilised human being.

If Athens stands for universalism and inclusive ideologies and Jerusalem stands for tribal and exclusive thinking, Zionism was a promise to introduce Athens to the Jerusalemite. The Zionist Jew was supposed to eventually look into the mirror with pride. Zionism may have been, at one stage, a genuine attempt to bring this about. However, it was doomed to fail.

It was set into a conflict with the indigenous Palestinian population. It was inspired by Biblical planderous ideology. It was unethical to the bone. Zionism is, practically speaking, a repetition of a Biblical sin.

As much as the Israelis insisted on presenting themselves as moral beings celebrating their national revival project, millions of uprooted Palestinians were there to remind us all that the  notion of an ethical ‘new Zionist Jew’ was mere spin.

As much as we can recall seeing white phosphorous pouring over UN shelters, as much as we witnessed babies being slaughtered, as much as we continue to witness Gaza transformed into the biggest jail in the history of humanity, the Israelis also see it all by themselves. But far more concerning for them is the fact that they see themselves being watched by the rest of us.

They see themselves mirrored as modern day evil by our gaze.

Lacan teaches us that ‘unconsciousness is the discourse of the other’. Unconsciousness is the fear of becoming the subject of a public discourse. From a Lacanian perspective, the fear of impotence should be realised as the threat of being established as ‘sexually malfunctioning’ instead of just failing in bed.

Similarly, the Israeli collective unconsciousness can be grasped as the fear of being perceived as a collective murderous society rather than the obvious concern about being involved in the murderous act itself.

This fear has matured along the years into a unique form of Israeli collective neurosis. In fact, when Zionists blame you for being an anti Semite, they basically express a deep unease with the fact that you have managed to see through them.

As things stand, the discrepancy between ‘what the Israeli claims to be’ and ‘what the Israeli happens to be for real’ has already grown into an unbridgeable abyss.

Consequently, the gap between Athens and Jerusalem is more noticeable than ever.

Since 1948, the Israelis and Zionist insisted on portraying Israel as nation amongst nations. However, after the 2006 Lebanon campaign and the 2009 Gaza massacre, such an effort is in vain. The deceptive attempt to portray the Jewish state as an ordinary society is doomed to fail.

The current, hawkish Israeli government is fully aware of all this. They know about the unbridgeable gap between Athens and Jerusalem. They are familiar with the unavoidable neurosis, but they also know how to resolve it. As we can see, Israel has given up on Athens.

Israeli foreign minister Avigdoer Liebermann does realise that for Israel to survive as the ‘Jews only state’, the demographic threat posed by Palestinians must be resolved once and for all.

Israel is preparing itself for a second Nakba. For those who do not realise, the ethnic cleansing currently taking place in Jerusalem is part of this sinister program. Israel also insists on maintaining its status as the region’s only nuclear power. It is willing to take the risk of an attack on Iran.

As we have known for more than a while, Israel is the biggest threat to world peace. Israel also realises that it won’t be able to fulfil its missions with American support. Israel is willing to, at least momentarily, run into conflict with the entire West. In political terms, Israel’s behaviour is totally unpredictable.

The history of Western civilisation can be realised as a continuous battle between Athens and Jerusalem. Between the universal and the tribal. Between the ethical and the plunderer.

Our assets known as humanism are all associated with Athens. Interestingly enough, the Jews who contributed to humanism, such as Jesus, Spinoza and Marx  and many others, were people who opened their hearts to the Athenian philosophy. Jesus, Spinoza and  Marx broke away from Jerusalem.

To stand up against Israel is to fight against the invasion of Jerusalem. To stand up against Israel is to fight for the revival of Athens. Bearing all this in mind, it is not that surprising to find the Greek people at the forefront of the Palestinian solidarity movement. 

Accordingly, the coming Gaza Flotilla Mission is not just a humanitarian mission. It is actually there to remind us of what humanism is all about. It is there to remind us of what Athens stands for.


Gilad Atzmon was born in Israel in 1963 and had his musical training at the Rubin Academy of Music, Jerusalem (Composition and Jazz). As a multi-instrumentalist he plays Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Baritone Saxes, Clarinet and Flutes. His album Exile was the BBC jazz album of the year in 2003. He has been described by John Lewis on the Guardian as the “hardest-gigging man in British jazz". His albums, of which he has recorded nine to date, often explore political themes and the music of the Middle East.

Until 1994 he was a producer-arranger for various Israeli Dance & Rock Projects, performing in Europe and the USA playing ethnic music as well as R&R and Jazz.

Coming to the UK in 1994, Atzmon recovered an interest in playing the music of the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Europe that had been in the back of his mind for years. In 2000 he founded the Orient House Ensemble in London and started re-defining his own roots in the light of his emerging political awareness. Since then the Orient House Ensemble has toured all over the world. The Ensemble includes Eddie Hick on Drums, Yaron Stavi on Bass and Frank Harrison on piano & electronics.

Also, being a prolific writer, Atzmon's essays are widely published. His novels 'Guide to the perplexed' and 'My One And Only Love' have been translated into 24 languages.




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