I, Bigot

I came. I saw. I walked out on Gilad Atzmon’s performance.

You might wonder what I was doing there in the first place. After all, this profoundly disturbed, horrifically anti-Semitic jazz musician, who performed late Sunday night at Brooklyn’s ShapeShifter Lab, is not, as I wrote in a recent blog post for the Times of Israel, someone I would want to share a room with. I attended the concert, however, for a couple of important reasons. The first: I wanted to see what evil looks like up close. The second: I wanted to see if Atzmon would go against the arrangement the venue’s co-owner, Matthew Garrison, made to ensure Atzmon wouldn’t express his absurdly offensive political views onstage.

Well, I got the chance to do exactly that. And it was quite a worthwhile pursuit indeed.

Before the show started, I had a wonderful, insightful conversation with Garrison outside the venue. He informed me that he looked at some of Atzmon’s inflammatory hate speech online and called them “bad.” He agreed to opt for other acts over Atzmon in the future at his space. He couldn’t cancel last night’s show — it was curated by a record label/booking agency — but he could ensure that this performer wasn’t scheduled at ShapeShifter Lab again. I told him how much I appreciated his efforts. It was a good talk.

Garrison had asked the local police precinct for assistance during the evening to see that there wouldn’t be any conceivable disturbances. Security came in the form of a tall, gregarious, scarf-clad individual, who discussed with me the issues surrounding diplomacy today and why people couldn’t just talk about their problems over coffee. Meanwhile, Garrison took steps to prevent any harassment directed at me by Atzmon from taking place, venturing back inside to talk to the rep.

Things didn’t quite go as planned, though.

There weren’t many people at the concert…perhaps 16 or so individuals (including some of the musicians) sitting in the white folding chairs spread out across the long room, which was separated by curtains from ShapeShifter Lab’s bar area. I sat in the back. When Atzmon arrived, he chatted with a few people in front, then appeared to notice me. “Is that our friend?” he asked a couple of times. After that, he walked around the chairs to approach me, hand outstretched.

“Is this my stalker?” he inquired with a smile.

Hardly. I had, in the past, reported a number of his posts on Facebook to the site, resulting in FB periodically removing some of his content owing to their bigoted nature and slapping him with bans from commenting. He may have been under the mistaken impression that I attended a recent performance of his at St. Peter’s Church on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, as I’d previously conversed with Ike Sturm, the institution’s director of music for the jazz ministry, about his unwanted presence there. But no matter. Here he was, trying to shake my hand, this bizarre, deranged bigot who associates with Holocaust deniers online and posts all manner of prejudiced invective on FB, Twitter and his own website. Immediately, I gathered my coat and stated that I wanted nothing to do with him — and that he wasn’t to communicate with me, per the decision arranged by Garrison. I informed Garrison’s partner, Fortuna Sung, about this bit of nonsense, then returned to my seat when Atzmon went away. This is him in a nutshell. Not a person you’d want to reach out to.

Still, his oddball behavior was enough to raise questions about what kind of person he actually is. I saw it as he hovered by the stage. He seemed nervous, cracking unfunny jokes that received the “crickets” treatment from the audience, and when he finally got up to perform, he looked at the ground frequently, only coming to life when he began to play his instrument.

I didn’t stay to hear him. When he started, I put on my coat and left. At the bar, I met Garrison, who shook hands with me warmly and told me he appreciated my handling of the situation. He appeared to be frustrated that Atzmon went against his mandate not to confront me. But Garrison is an individual whose heart is in the right place. He doesn’t support Atzmon’s ideologies. And he certainly didn’t know about them before the musician was scheduled to perform.

Happily, it’s obvious that Atzmon’s “supporters” aren’t numerous or motivated enough to brave the chilly weather and attend a gig of his in Brooklyn late Sunday night. I, however was. I saw what evil looks like up close yesterday — what hate looks like, what wasting time on invective aimed at an entire population looks like, what a pathetic, demented bigot looks like — and I walked out on it. I walked out on evil. I walked out on stupidity. I walked out on prejudice.

It feels good. And now, I don’t have to go back ever again.

About the Author
Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor living in New York City. He has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek and has interviewed innumerable people—including two Auschwitz survivors whose story may be heard at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website. His views and opinions are his own.
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