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And all that Jazz

 By Merryn Johnson

“I’m very happy to face serious opposition: If I would say what I say and talk about Jewish political power without facing serious, relentless opposition, it would mean that I am talking nonsense... and apparently I’m not.” Gilad Atzmon

Gilad Atzmon certainly does face serious opposition, but he also revels in it. “Struggle is fun,” he says. Gilad is a world famous jazz musician, but also a writer and political activist, to the point that as a whole he is a political artist. It is this artistic platform for political debate which attracted director Golriz Kolahi and producer David Alamouti to follow him in the making of Gilad & All That Jazz, screened at the Frontline Club on October 15. 

This film looks back at Gilad’s childhood in Israel, when he was an enthusiastic Zionist, and follows his artistic development and political transformation, his self-imposed exile and his increasingly controversial and vocal stance on Jewish political identity.

The film captures the very large personality of Gilad – his humour, passion and energy – from his shocked realisation that Charlie Parker was black to his self-disgust at perceiving Nazi traits in his own Israeli army uniform.

The film also gives voice to his critics. Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, a campaigner for Palestinian rights, Tony Greenstein, a founding member of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and journalist David Aaronovitch all point to an anti-Semitism in Gilad which he obscures by talking about ‘Jewishness’, as opposed to ‘Jews’ and ‘Judaism’.

The audience were not without their criticism either.

A member of the audience said: “As a Palestinian, I’m flattered for your comment that you won’t go to Palestine until it is Palestine, but it gives me the feeling that you are running away from a problem. Why don’t you go there as a courageous voice to fight? It’s your battle.”

“I have a devastating answer for you, my friend, as you may know different Jewish lobbies invest to silence me and this is why I decided that rather than talking to Jews about Jewishness, just to talk about Jewishness to the world....my duty is to talk to you guys.”

Another member of the audience asked:

“You take issue with Jewish supremacy and ‘chosenness’, does that apply to white supremacy, Islamic supremacy, black supremacy?”

“Of course...Jews didn’t invent supremacy; they are just politically very good at exploiting this discourse,” he replied.

But Gilad wryly sees himself in good company:

“The most important humanists known to us in the West were Jews: Christ, Spinoza, Marx, but what is the problem with them? They were all self-haters! They all drifted away, like me, and they were all crucified, like me!”

Gilad’s enthusiasm for debate and argument and challenge is paramount, and it is this gusto, combined with his exceptional musical ability, that the film delivers.

“Both of us, never really even to this day, agree with a lot of these ideas, but one thing that makes us happy is: where else would you go to have these sorts of debates? With Jews and Palestinians in a room to really talk about issues that you don’t hear them in the newspapers, we don’t see them on the TV, and that’s what the film does.” David Alamouti