By Gilad Atzmon
In his invaluable book ‘Heidegger And The Jews’ the French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard develops the idea that although history is usually understood to be a key to the past; in practice, history often works to conceal our collective shame deep under the carpet. Jewish history, for instance, is a dynamic tool that suppresses any attempt to grasp what is it about the Jewish people that has made the Jewish past into an endless chain of catastrophic disasters. Similarly, American history has served to divert attention from the uncomfortable fact that for almost a century, Americans have been dropping bombs on other people. But German history is no doubt unique in this respect, it is an attempt to eliminate the past altogether, as if for Germans looking back is in itself a shameful venture.
The role of the true historian according to Lyotard is not different from the work undertaken by a psychoanalyst; to unveil the concealed and to unknot the repressed. The true historian accordingly, must constantly reform, rewrite and revise. Driven by the pursuit of truth, he or she endeavors to uncover the hidden motivations that dominate our conduct, thoughts and selfrealisation. The true historian is an Athenian – a master of disclosure driven by the Greek notion of Aletheia – the search for truth. And when the truth is spoken: epiphany, a sudden realization manifests itself unchained we see ourselves for what we really are.
In the early 2000’s, when I started to form my philosophical thoughts about Jewish identity politics I came across a phenomenal insight, “Hitler was wrong in believing that Jews were people, Jews are an ideology and you don’t kill an ideology by killing people.”
It was Horst Mahler, the man who formulated the above insight, who helped me to re think who I was and where I came from. It was Mahler amongst others who planted the critical seeds in my thoughts. Horst Mahler managed, in just a single aphorism, to deconstruct both German and Jewish histories by addressing the shame directly, thereby rewriting the histories of both the ‘oppressor’ and the ‘victim.’
Healthy dynamic societies tend to treat revolutionary, controversial, anarchists and truth seekers such as Mahler with suspicious gratitude. But Germany has chosen to quarantine the ‘danger,’ it locked Horst Mahler behind bars.
Horst Mahler first became known in the 1970’s as a radical militant leftist and an original member of the notorious Red Army Fraction. He spent years in jail for his involvement with the group. But in the early 2000s, Mahler altered his political perspective; he became a ‘radical’ right wing activist. He had a lot to say about the ‘German people,’ their spirit (Deutsche Geist) and their past. By the time I came across Mahler’s work he was already a ‘prohibited intellectual zone’ in the eyes of the left and most of the people around me. At the time, Mahler’s flip from radical left to ultra nationalist right was not shocking. I had seen that such a shift is not only common; it may be intrinsic to the natural evolution of left revolutionary thinking. Like Orwell in The Lion And The Unicorn (1941), I realised that the yearning for equality, once translated into political pragmatism and populism, occasionally shifts into patriotism and national enthusiasm.
I am a postpolitical being, and have never been a member of any political movement or party. I disrespect all politicians equally and without exception. I have little interest in Mahler’s politics and naturally disagree with some of his statements and formulations, yet, I have followed from afar his intellectual, ideological and spiritual evolution with great interest. The man has clearly managed to revise his thoughts and unlike some of his past allies, he is consistent and coherent about it.
A year ago, I was notified that while in prison (for disputing the official narrative of the Holocaust) Mahler read my latest book, “The Wandering Who.” He then wrote an extensive 340 pages essay titled, “The End Of The Journey – Thoughts on Gilad Atzmon and Jewishness.” In this essay Mahler exercises his skill with Hegelian dialectic mechanisms. He seems to believe that Jews can prevent a repetition of their historical condition by developing a new and higher consciousness. As I understand his essay, Mahler has much to say about the German people and that which they must do for themselves in order to reinstate their great and unique spirit.
I must mention, at this point, that Mahler’s take on Jewish identity and Jewishness is kinder than that of most Jews and Zionists in particular. While Zionists and even the Jewish socalled ‘anti’ Zionists agree amongst themselves that Jewishness is a primary characteristic, Mahler believes that the Jewish people can transcend themselves beyond their traditional forming apparatus and reach a new enlightened consciousness.
My study of Jewish identity politics suggests otherwise and I am not alone. The Israeli historian Shlomo Sand recently reached the same conclusion. My thesis is that ‘Jewish assimilation,’ ‘Jewish ethics’ and ‘Jewish universalism’ are misleading, empty notions. There is no such a thing as ‘Jewish ethics’ or ‘Jewish universalism.’ On the contrary, Jewish culture and ideology are tribal and legalistic. If a Jewish person wants to adopt a universal precept, his only available path may be to drift away from Jewish identity politics.
Interestingly, early Zionism was a desperate ideological attempt to resolve the essential discrepancy between Jewishness and ethics. Early Zionism promised to give birth to a ‘new civilized Jew.’ Herzl, Borchov, Noradau, Kazenelson and Ben Gurion looked down on their fellow Diaspora Jews with contempt. They saw them as a bunch of corrupted ‘speculant capitalists.’ They genuinely believed that a ‘homecoming’ would save the Jewish people from Jewishness as well as Judaism. And here is an interesting historical fact: when Zionism was an ‘atheist,’ antiJewish movement inspired by proletarian spirit, it was marginal and extremely unpopular amongst the Jews. At the time, the ‘anti’ Zionist ‘socialist’ Jewish Bund that celebrated Yiddish culture
(Yiddishkyte) and Jewishness was, by far, the most popular Jewish movement in Europe. But as Zionism became more ‘Jewish’ racially supremacist, self centred, abusive and later expansionist and nationalist, it became more popular amongst Jews. By the end of WWII there was nothing left of the European Bund, and the so called ‘anti’ Zionists Bundists who had survived the war made Aliya, and settled in a few Kibuzim on plundered Palestinian land. They willingly bought into the Zionist narrative.
Unlike Horst Mahler, I do not believe that Jewish ideology i.e., Jewishness, provides a possible template for reform. Jews can believe in many contradictory things: Judaism, Atheism, Zionism, anti Zionism, Marxism, Moral Interventionism, the Free Market, etc. The Holocaust is, apparently, the most popular contemporary Jewish religion. But all Jewish ‘religions’ share a common denominator – without exception they facilitate a sense of choseness. Accordingly, the belief in Judaism or its substitutes, Atheism, Zionism, anti Zionism, Marxism, the Free Market, the Holocaust, etc. all serve to make the Jew feel uniquely special.
It is not higher consciousness but actually ordinariness that would liberate the Jew. It is all about being demoted into a conventional human being. Jesus grasped this and was severely punished. Spinoza also understood the concept and paid a price Marx could clearly see it when he wrote, On The Jewish Question, a few years before he himself became a Marxist. And I believe that in this generation, Israel Shamir, Shlomo Sand and I all express this basic realisation. We have each openly elaborated on the hollowness of Jewish identity politics; left, right and centre.
On the 18th of November, I was scheduled to meet with Horst Mahler in prison to discuss the above philosophical and historical topics. The German authorities initially approved the meeting. But a few days ahead of the scheduled encounter, I learned that the prison authorities had had a change of mind. Apparently they thought that such a meeting would “interfere with the purpose of Horst Mahler’s sentence,” at least this is what Mr. Mahler was told by the prison authorities.
I guess that ‘the purpose’ of keeping Mahler behind bars for a thought crime is to sustain the suppression and concealment of shame. But what is the shame that the German government is so keen to conceal for almost seven decades? My answer is simple. Germans are scared of ‘greatness’ or shall we say German greatness: the great symphony and the greatest philosophy. It seems the Germans much prefer to be ordinary; they leave ‘choseness’ to the Jews. They even send military aid and submarines to the Jewish State so Israel can keep its ‘regional choseness.’ Fortunately, the German people are still allowed to manufacture great cars, I guess that great cars must be kosher. I remember we loved BMWs, Audis and Mercedes in Israel.
But here is a universal problem that extends far beyond the German national border – It has now been seven boring decades without German contributions to world culture. In that time, we have not come across a single new great symphony or even a shadow of a philosophical text. For the sake of the human spirit, beauty, humanity and beyond, I beg the German leadership, “let go, move on.” Humanity is in desperate need of its Deutsche Geist.