A Lingering What?

A Review by Paul Larudee of The Wandering Who? by Gilad Atzmon

The Wandering Who? is brutally honest in its presentation, and if the reader is equally honest in the reading, her thinking will evolve in unexpected ways.
In the late 1970s, The Origin of Consciousness in the breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, a book by Princeton psychologist Julian Jaynes, gained minor celebrity for its original but controversial views concerning the evolution of the human brain/mind relationship. To this day, I don’t know how much of the thesis I accept, but it gave me a perspective that has now become a part of how I look at my fellow human beings on a daily basis.

Gilad Atzmon’s The Wandering Who? has had something of the same effect.  It is very original in its thinking, and even iconoclastic.  Even though there are very few readers who will agree entirely with everything Atzmon has to say, the effect is to question one’s assumptions and to recognize a new perspective. 

In fact, to say that Atzmon is an iconoclast is something of an understatement; as soon as one chapter forces you to build new assumptions, the next one compels you to tear them down again. True, he provides you with new building blocks of interpretation and understanding. However, I found myself unsure of the new structure. Doubtless, many readers will have to digest these ideas and test them before they feel confident about accepting or rejecting them.

Atzmon’s basic thesis will be familiar to those who follow his writings.  Although he has long railed against Zionism, he considers it to be merely one manifestation of “Jewishness” – what Atzmon calls an ideology of chosenness – that is the root of the problem.  For him, therefore, Jewish anti-Zionism is merely another face of the same problem.

Atzmon, who was born Israeli to Jewish parents, therefore considers himself anti-Jewish, which obviously invites charges of anti-Semitic racism.  He rebuts such charges, however, by distinguishing between “anti-Jewish” (which he is) and “anti-Jew” (which he is not). A philosopher and logician by training and education, he embraces anti-racism, but objects to the Jewish way of thinking that distinguishes people who call themselves Jews from the societies in which they live. To him, this is a pernicious ideology that is a cause of misery wherever it is found, even in “anti-Zionist” circles.  (I should also point out that Atzmon does not object to Judaism as a religion per se.)

There is much more.  Not everyone will find it all worth reading, and the reader will probably have to keep a very open mind even to consider some of the connections that Atzmon makes, much less accept his arguments.  However, the exercise has its rewards in terms of exposing us to a very novel and important perspective that deserves consideration, and which can potentially be useful in understanding the events and movements that affect Jews and the societies in which they live. The Wandering Who? is brutally honest in its presentation, and if the reader is equally honest in the reading, her thinking will evolve in unexpected ways. For that, if for nothing else, we owe this work a debt of gratitude.

Paul Larudee, PhD (born April 25, 1946) is a San Francisco Bay Area human rights advocate for justice in Israel and Palestine. He works with the International Solidarity Movement and the Free Palestine Movement, and was cofounder of the Free Gaza Movement. He has a Ph.D. in linguistics from Georgetown University and spent 14 years in Arab countries as a contracted U.S. government advisor, Fulbright-Hays exchange lecturer, teacher, training administrator and graduate student. Paul has visited the Palestinian region many times since 1965, including four times with the International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian-led movement that applies nonviolent principles to resist Israeli actions. Paul was among seven ISM volunteers wounded by Israeli gunfire in April, 2002 in an attempt to help Palestinian families. In 2006, he was held in detention for two weeks while unsuccessfully appealing a decision to deny him entry to Israel. He helped organize nonviolent resistance in Lebanon during the 2006 Israeli invasion. He is one of the founders of the Free Gaza Movement, whose boats, on August 23, 2008, became the first in 41 years to enter Gaza by sea, breaking the Israeli naval blockade. He is also a founder of the Free Palestine Movement, which also seeks to challenge Israel’s blockade and denial of access to all of Palestine by sea, air and land. (Wikipedia)

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