The Return of the Native

Guess who’s back in my hometown … and more anti-Semitic than ever?

Yep: Gilad Atzmon, the notoriously bigoted jazz musician who recently played at St. Peter’s Church on Lexington Avenue and whose opinions on Facebook and Twitter have led the sites to remove — all too often — material he has posted owing to their hateful nature…an activity that, in the case of FB, also has resulted in bans from commenting. He’s slated to perform on December 11 at ShapeShifter Lab, a Brooklyn venue not too far from my sister-in-law’s brownstone. That’s a little too close to family for comfort, in my opinion, given Atzmon’s dangerously prejudiced viewpoints. But that’s not even the worst of it.

The worst of it is that management of ShapeShifter Lab doesn’t seem to care.

I called the space some days ago to notify its operators of Atzmon’s anti-Semitic rants on social media, which denigrate members of the Jewish faith to such an extent that his followers, who are more vocal than legion, have taken up his invective-woven mantle in admiration of their mentor while spewing some of the most disturbing vitriol directed at a single population that you will ever see on the Internet. After explaining my reason for contacting the spot, I was told by the unidentified individual I was conversing with that she was going to let her partner know about Atzmon.

Obviously, this person didn’t give a crap.

Money talks and bigotry walks, right? Well, I’m wondering if that’s the case here. It certainly wasn’t with St. Peter’s Church: Some time after I left a message pertaining to the peculiarity of Atzmon’s gig at the institution, I was called back by Ike Sturm, director of music for the jazz ministry at St. Peter’s. He was horrified to hear about Atzmon and told me that the performance wasn’t run by him…as well as that he would look into bringing this up with staff to ensure it wouldn’t happen again. Sturm basically stressed that this went against everything that the church stands for, and I believe him — given its strong commitment to interfaith programming, diverse membership and message of tolerance. Sturm did the right thing. I respect him greatly for it.

I don’t respect whoever’s letting Atzmon play at the ShapeShifter Lab.

I’ve argued in the past that art should be regarded separately from the artist — that I won’t stop listening to the operatic masterpieces of, say, Richard Wagner, because of his dreadfully offensive beliefs. Yet there’s something different going on here in the case of Atzmon. By providing him with a platform to showcase his music, he is being rewarded, in a sense, for his harmful public opinions…and yes, they are harmful, like all hate speech. They incite people to want to hurt others. They can spur his advocates, God forbid, to action. And what kind that may be is quite disturbing to think about. Many of his Holocaust-denying adherents are unhinged. Most are angry, alienated, unhappy with their lives. They blame others for the ills of the world, their own unimportance. They need to take out their frustration on folks who are different from them.

Give a guy like Atzmon a stage, and you get, in return, a song and dance routine that’s very scary indeed.

The fact that this is happening in New York City, in Brooklyn — only a short walk away from where my Jewish sister-in-law and her Jewish family live and just a subway ride off from my apartment building in Washington Heights, where I reside and where a number of Orthodox Jews reside and where you can hear joyful singing on the street during the Jewish holidays and where people place mezuzot beside their doors and where a nearby church chimes in beautifully with its bells on a regular basis and where neighbors help each other in need regardless of their faith or race or appearance or gender or orientation or ability — really bothers me. This is the Big Apple. It’s where I grew up. It’s my house. It’s my life.

Anti-Semitism has no place in it, now or ever.

So…what can one do in this situation? I’ve already expressed my dismay over the phone, and that fell by the wayside. But perhaps others can do so, too…and perhaps more feedback from music lovers all over Gotham — as well as readers of this blog — conveying their condemnation of Atzmon’s behavior and belief system to ShapeShifter Lab could help the venue’s management see how poor December 11’s performance choice is, especially considering the other options set for that day, which include “Charlie Brown Christmas Live 2016.”

Yeah, uh … Atzmon, in that light, is not a good fit.

If you’d like to contact ShapeShifter Lab to protest its inclusion of Atzmon in its musical programming, you can call the spot at (646) 820-9452. You can also email the place at I’ve done my part already … in my beloved hometown.

If this were your hometown, wouldn’t you do the same?

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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