Jazz saxophonist and writer Gilad Atzmon was recently banned from playing at an assembly hall in Islington, a borough of London, by order of the Islington Town Council. This came about as a result of an e-mail from one person — Martin Rankoff — saying nothing more than that if Atzmon was going to be at the venue on December 21 he would give a ticket that was given to him to someone else. Rankoff wrote, “Mr Atzmon’s news and beliefs I personally find repulsive and do not wish to be in the same place as him, let alone listen to his music.” Rankoff included links to ADL and Israeli news outlets accusing Atzmon of antisemitism. Incredibly, on the basis of this letter alone, the Islington Council went way out of its way and contacted the show’s promoter to get Atzmon banned — something Rankoff didn’t even ask for.
Imagine the situation in reverse: Gilad Atzmon writes a letter to the Council saying he is uncomfortable with Martin Rankoff appearing in the audience at Islington assembly hall. He refers to Mr. Rankoff’s pro-Israel Twitter page where Rankoff calls Jeremy Corbyn “A F***ing Antisemite and Racist” and where Corbyn is pictured on a bike with a comment suggesting Corbyn should be rammed by a car. Atzmon says that he doesn’t feel safe with Rankoff in the audience. He finds Mr. Rankoff’s support for Israel repulsive because Israel was founded on genocide against the people of Palestine. As proof he provides links to news reports on the slaughter of unarmed protestors in Gaza since March 30, 2018, and a story on the Deir Yassin massacre of 1948.
This imaginary second complaint would have been scorned as an abridgement of Rankoff’s rights. Indeed, since the Islington Council has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, in which criticism of Israel is deemed antisemitic, the Council would probably feel obliged to forward the letter to the authorities as evidence of hate speech.
The Council provided a statement on the banning in which it says: “under the Equality Act 2010, the Council must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to foster good relations between different races and religions within the borough. The Council took account of the fact that Mr Atzmon’s presence at the Hall, and knowledge of his presence among residents of the borough, might harm such relationships, as well as the Council’s duty to tackle prejudice and promote understanding within the borough.”
This begs the question — in what way would either the “presence” of Gilad Atzmon or “knowledge of his presence among residents” harm the relationship between different races and religions in the borough? Atzmon was to appear at the venue as a saxophone player in a jazz group. It’s hard to imagine a more severe inversion of the concept of discrimination. On the basis of the feelings of one complainant, the right of a musician to work or even be present in Islington is taken away.
What lies behind this is a familiar tactic. Zionists have no argument to counter critics of Israel, so they try to shut them up by attacking their character and robbing them of their livelihood. Now AIPAC and other lobbies are working to make it illegal to criticize Israel, as we see in the recent case of a Texas speech therapist whose yearly contract was denied because she refused to sign a pledge not to support a boycott of Israel. One might ask, what does a teaching position in Pflugerville, Texas have to do with one’s opinions about a country seven thousand miles away? And why does that country have the right to compel anyone in the US to sign a loyalty oath?
If the BDS movement doesn’t do it, zealotry and fanatacism will be the undoing of the Zionist project. People don’t like being told what they are allowed to think and say. When our words and thoughts are policed, it makes us question all the more. What were once decent leftist positions against racism and discrimination have been twisted into a new kind of totalitarianism, one in which it is racist to question the racist, and discriminatory to question discrimination; one in which we are told to think something doesn’t exist when we can see with our own eyes that it does. The self-righteous members of the Islington Town Council have set a very dangerous precedent, and have been used as fools on top of it.
* * *
More facts have come to light in the case of Gilad Atzmon and his banning by the Islington Town Council from performing at a jazz concert on December 21, 2018. The original scenario was that one e-mail from one person calling Atzmon an antisemite somehow persuaded the Islington council to take the drastic step of removing Atzmon from a town-owned venue. Many who heard the story felt this was a rash decision which would surely be reversed when the facts were brought to light. But the Council voted to uphold its decision and Atzmon was indeed not allowed to play.
Now it appears that the single complainant – Martin Rankoff – was not just an anonymous fan of Israel but the UK director of Likud-Herut. Herut (or ‘freedom’) was Israel’s founding nationalist party from 1948 until it later merged with Likud. It is a militant and extreme Zionist organization whose roots go in a straight line from Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin up to Benjamin Netanyahu today. Jabotinsky and Begin helped form the Irgun terrorists in 1937. Irgun committed notorious massacres in Palestine leading up to and during the Nakba (or ‘catastrophe’) of 1947-1948. These include the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946, killing 91 people, and the massacre at Deir Yassin in 1948 in which 254 unarmed Palestinian villagers were brutally murdered as an incentive for other Palestinians to leave. On its web site Likud-Herut UK lists Jabotinsky and Begin as “visionaries”. Likud-Herut is a member of the World Zionist Organization and the Zionist Federation of the UK who believe in “the inalienable right of all Jews to live and settle in all parts of the Land of Israel.”
In a letter to the New York Times in 1948 Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, and others compared Herut to the Nazis and Fascists who had just been defeated in World War II. Referring to this letter, Ramzy Baroud recently wrote, “the ‘Nazi and Fascist’ mentality that defined Herut in 1948 now defines the most powerful ruling class in Israel. Israel’s leaders speak openly of genocide and murder, yet they celebrate and promote Israel as if an icon of civilization, democracy and human rights.”
The history of Herut and Likud tells us a great deal about who the people are who complained about Atzmon to Islington Town Council. When Atzmon moved to appeal his being banned, formidable opponents again appeared in the form of the Simkins Law firm, one of the most expensive law practices in Britain, with not one but two partners at Simkins being put on the case. These are Gideon Benaim and Tom Iverson. Benaim recently became well known in Britain for winning an invasion of privacy suit against the BBC on behalf of pop singer Cliff Richard, who said he spent ￡3.4m ($4.3 million) on the case. Clearly, representation by Simkins doesn’t come cheap. Also listed in Benaim’s resumé is his client, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, which likely has no problem with Simkins’ fees either. The Sands casino is owned by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who, as it happens, is a primary sponsor of the Likud Party in Israel, led by Benjamin Netanyahu. Adelson owns the newspaper Israel Hayom, a mouthpiece for Netanyahu and Likud.
It now appears that Atzmon’s banning was not the result of a casual complaint; it was an intentional attack on a well-respected supporter of Palestinian human rights by the Likud organization, directly represented by Martin Rankoff. The attack was followed up by the hiring of a lawyer who has worked for Likud godfather Sheldon Adelson. The connection to these powerful forces may explain why IslingtonTown Council leader Richard Watts, without any delay or attempt at negotiation, took the step of going straight to a decision to hire an expensive law firm. This is while Islington is facing serious austerity and shortage of funds in its own operating budget. Islington has a population of about 206,000 people. This very month, 43 of those people were counted in one survey as homeless and sleeping on the streets.
Regarding the financial problems of his borough and others around London, Richard Watts, told The Independent in October 2018 :
“As a result less money is being spent on the other services that keep our communities running such as libraries, local roads, early intervention and local welfare support,” he added.
“unprecedented” funding pressures and demand for adult and children’s social care and homelessness services was “pushing councils to the limit”.
Yet, to Watts and his fellow councilors in Islington, backing partisans for a foreign country – Israel — took precedence over the pressing needs of the people whom they are supposed to represent. Either Watts was inexcusably careless with scarce town funds or a deal was made and he knew that he could depend on Likud-Herut to back him. Or, like politicians all across Europe and the US facing the power of the Israel lobby, he knew he couldn’t afford to say no.
According to Simkin’s web site, Gideon Benaim “has extensive expertise in the areas of defamation, privacy, harassment and copyright.” Perhaps it is not a coincidence that immediately after Islington brought in Simkins, identical statements from an unnamed Labour spokesman describing Atzmon as “a vile antisemite” appeared in both the BBC and The Guardian. Perhaps a lawyer experienced in defending people against defamation would also know how to perpetrate it. Perhaps this was Benaim’s opening move. Character assassination is a common tactic in cases that have a weak legal foundation, such as this one, as it goes a long way to convicting the accused before their case ever reaches a courtroom.
The involvement of Likud-Herut in the attack on Gilad Atzmon, and Islington’s official backing of that attack, constitutes a monumental scandal. This wasn’t just a stupid mistake; it was a hit. It is an affront to reason that an an arch-racist organization like Likud, who from the beginning have stood for the removal of the people of Palestine from their own land by means of terror, murder, and forced expulsion, could possibly claim they they were defamed by someone pointing out these very crimes. There is a case of defamation here for sure – the defamation of Gilad Atzmon. For Zionists, defamation is nothing more than a tool to destroy opponents who can’t be dealt with by other means. We are long since tired of truth tellers being accused of antisemitism. We’re tired of national and local resources being used to prop up the criminal state of Israel. Coercion by advocates for Israel is at the center of this issue in Islington, as it is in many other towns and many other countries. For the sake of Palestine and our own sovereignty, it has to be called out and stopped.