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Five Years On: Indymedia UK and Gilad Atzmon
looking back on the Indymedia/Gilad Atzmon affair
Por El indy reader
Article from UK looking back on the Indymedia UK/Gilad Atzmon affair and the damage that defending anti-Semitism did to Indymedia in the UK
Keywords:We're at roughly the five year anniversary of the conclusion of the Indymedia/Atzmon crisis. How does that series of incidents look now, now that we have a little perspective thanks to the passing time? What does it mean for Atzmon, and for Indymedia?
If you have followed it, you know that the past five years have not been kind to Atzmon's reputation as an activist, and that he is now largely relegated to the margins of the anti-zionist movement. The general mood among leading anti-zionists in the last two years has gone from quietly wishing Atzmon would go away to publicly telling him to.
The faction of anti-zionism Atzmon represents - which argues that zionism is the political expression of an inherently bad 'Jewish tribal character' and that Holocaust denial is not racist conspiracy dribble but rather bravely 'challenging the zionist narrative' - has since 2008 gone from failure to failure.
Over the last year or so it's had the PSC AGM explusion of Holocaust deniers like Francis Clark-Lowes, it's had the Omar Barghouti letter condemning Atzmon by name as a hindrance to the Palestinian cause, it's had the Zero Authors letter showing that Atzmon's rhetoric is a product of the far right rather than the left, and it's had the Palestine Place incident in which Atzmon's associate Ken O'Keefe was tossed out for promoting Holocaust denial. Hope not Hate recently listed Atzmon alongside David Irving and Ernst Zündel in their 'Who's Who in Holocaust Revisionism' list.
To Atzmon's cadre this series of setbacks is sure sign of a 'zionist' conspiracy 'infiltrating' the left.
Seen in the light of what we've learned in the last five years, then, those who were trying to disassociate Atzmon from Indymedia in 2008 were a few years ahead of the curve.
* Indymedia after Atzmon
The 2008 dispute seriously weakened the cohesion of Indymedia in the UK. Several IMCistas were publicly unhappy to have their work displayed side by side with that of someone they considered an open anti-Semite, and they were also publicly unhappy to have their legitimate displeasure dismissed as 'zionist smears'. Anyone objecting to Atzmon's anti-Semitism was similarly shut down as 'zionist' or 'hasbara'.
Worse, the fight itself was all for nought. Within days of the decision that Atzmon would not be no-platformed, but that his posts would be marked as 'disputed' - a reasonable compromise, as it no longer implicitly tainted all of Indymedia UK with Atzmon's racism - Atzmon demanded that his work be removed from Indymedia.
But the damage to Indymedia was done. A sense of network malaise was introduced - not entirely due to the Atzmon dispute, but counting the dispute as one of its precipitating factors. Eventually a split was negotiated, but in the event one faction of the split effectively seized the central network resources with a unilateral change of password. Characteristically, those who opposed this hijacking were attacked for among other things their 'zionism'.
* Atzmon's supporters
Atzmon continues to have defenders, but they are both far fewer in numbers, and as a group they are far more difficult to defend on the issue of anti-Semitism.
After the expulsion of Clark-Lowes from the PSC was confirmed by an overwhelming majority at the PSC AGM one year ago, a circle of people including Clark-Lowes, Atzmon, 'Roy Bard' of Indymedia UK, and Jonathon Blakeley of Cornwall set up 'deliberation.info,' intended as a public site for the faction the PSC had evicted. The site's editorial policy was 'no gatekeeping' - which meant, allowing obviously anti-Semitic posts, no matter how manifest their bigotry, to remain undeleted (although it was quickly noticed that other posts disappeared regularly). That anti-Semitism-is-fine-by-us policy quickly rendered the site such a Jew-hating bog that even Atzmon didn't want to be associated with it anymore.
Although Atzmon abandoned 'deliberation.info' as too anti-Semitic to be associated with, it's worth nothing that 'Roy Bard' has not. 'Bard' is serenely untroubled by being the co-creator of an anti-Semitic site.
This development is helpful, because it provides the answer that many in Indymedia were seeking five years ago. Why exactly were certain figures in UK Indymedia fighting so freakishly and frenetically in 2008 to prevent the no-platforming of someone so widely held among anti-zionists as an anti-Semite? It seemed inexplicable. Now it is clear: as his participation in 'deliberation.info' shows, we now know that 'Roy Bard's sympathies are aligned with, not against, the anti-Semites. He thinks the right thing to do with anti-Semitic propaganda is to let it spread, and would use Indymedia to do so if he could, as he did with Atzmon.
* Where do things stand now?
An analogy to the SWP Central Council is tempting, and not simply for the bizarre unreality of the CC's current 'nothing to see here, move along' response.
Those following the current 'Comrade Delta' scandal know there is effectively no possibility that the current Central Council of the SWP could be dislodged through internal processes, despite their claims to be serving at the will of the party members. Similarly, there is no way that e.g. 'Roy Bard' could be removed from the Indymedia UK collective, even given his visible and recurrent pattern of promoting anti-Jewish bigotry. Just as the SWP seeks to control the discourse absolutely by keeping it entirely within controlled channels, so is the Indymedia UK collective unwilling to participate in any attempts at accountability outside its own gate for its promotion of racism. Those outside organizations who condemned Indymedia's moral failure on anti-Semitism - 'Shift' magazine comes to mind as an example - were condemned as, wait for it, 'zionist'. (It seems a 'zionist' is anyone with whom 'Roy Bard' has a dispute on the topic of how much one should hate the Jews.)
The price to be paid for all this madness is unfortunately paid by the entire network, in the form of the steep decline in the relevance of Indymedia to the Left, in terms of diminished participation and diminished readership. Unlike the local sites, Indymedia UK is now widely seen as in the hands of a small, unaccountable pack intent foremost on maintaining their grip on the site, quashing dissent - and not overly adverse to a bit of the old Jew-bash here and there. Those IMCistas unwilling to indulge these bigoted fantasies have simply abandoned the Indymedia project altogether in search of more meaningful ways to contribute to justice in society.
Not all of the problems of Indymedia trace back directly to the Atzmon affair, naturally, but it did mark a turning point, and as we can see five years later it was a turning for the worse.
Those who believed that Indymedia should be a place of anti-racism, and that anti-Semitism has no place on the left, fought the good fight and deserve great credit for knocking their heads against the brick wall as long as they did. Under current conditions, however, it's hard to imagine the scenario in which Indymedia thrives again at a national rather than regional level.