My longtime friend, comrade and neighbor Lorcan Otway, operator of Theatre 80 in New York’s East Village, has taken the extremely ill-considered move to open his space to notorious Jew-hater Gilad Atzmon. Local activists and “antifas” (anti-fascists) are planning to protest the April 30 appearance—and I count myself among them. Lorcan has been trying to dissuade us, and the debate has spilled from Facebook to the pages of Times of Israel.
Lorcan has repeatedly invoked “free speech” throughout this affair, and calls for “a free and open exchange of ideas.” But these are two different things. If free speech doesn’t protect even the repugnant likes of Atzmon, then by definition none of us are safe. If either the authorities or hackers tried to take down his website, I’d protest that too. But the notion that progressives should embrace “dialogue” with anti-Semites and crypto-fascists is dangerous and deluded in the extreme. This is what legitimizes and mainstreams their toxic politics.
Progressives must repudiate and oppose such voices—not provide them with a platform. If Lorcan is going to open Theatre 80 to a Jew-hater, he is in a poor position to complain about the venue getting picketed.
And those who are in any doubt as to what Atzmon is need only check out his website—full of Holocaust revisionism, claims that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was “in direct response to the declaration of war on Germany by the worldwide Jewish leadership,” and shameless defenses of age-old anti-Semitic tropes.
In his Times of Israel piece, Lorcan references me—not accurately. He writes that he offered to open Theatre 80 to me, to hold an event countering the 9-11 conspiracy theorists he has opened the space to. He writes that I “chose not to do so,” and implies that because I was offered the stage at his venue I am hypocritical for now protesting Atzmon there.
That isn’t quite right. First (a small point), while Theatre 80 has indeed opened its stage to 9-11 conspiracists, that isn’t what I sought to counter with an alternative event there. What I discussed with Lorcan was an event in support of the Syrian Revolution, to balance the Assad-shilling propaganda he has allowed at the space. And I did not “choose” not to do it. It merely hadn’t happened yet. The last I left it (in November), I told Lorcan I would get back to him when my comrades and I were ready to hold the event.
And I fail to see how this episode is relevant, unless I am being baited as an ingrate for now daring to picket Theatre 80. Sorry Lorcan—my silence is not for sale.
It is also sadly ironic that Lorcan lists the progressive causes that his family and theater have been involved in—as if this justifies platforming an open anti-Semite. A special irony is Lorcan’s invocation of his father’s defiance of red-baiting as a writer in the McCarthy era. I didn’t know Lorcan’s dad, but leftists of that era, with World War II a recent memory, would have been the last folks on Earth to approve of platforming fascistic voices.
Of course we can already hear the kneejerk retort that those of us who will be protesting are “Zionists.” Nope, sorry.
While Atzmon and his defenders hide behind “anti-Zionism” (or “criticism of Jewish culture”), he has been roundly condemned by legitimate anti-Zionists. Please read the US Palestinian Community Network statement, “A Call for the Disavowal of the Racism and Antisemitism of Gilad Atzmon.”
Jewish anti-Zionists such as myself are committed to making common cause with the Palestinians and fighting anti-Semitism in the diaspora rather than rallying around a settler state. That’s why picketing Theatre 80 is my responsibility.
But I don’t care what Atzmon thinks of me. I do care what Lorcan thinks, and hope our friendship will survive this ugliness. He must understand that I have no choice but to join the picket line outside his theater.
The bitterest irony is that by trying to dissuade me and my comrades from protesting, Lorcan is betraying the spirit of free speech.
And I want to make clear that I am not even calling for the gig’s cancellation at this point. This would just give Atzmon and his fans an opportunity to play the victim and whine about “censorship.” The gig and the protest will both go ahead. We will use his appearance as an opportunity to raise the alarm about his noxious politics and how they are being mainstreamed by (mostly) clueless progressives.