Steve Rubie has owned and run the 606 Club since 1976.
Further to the article in the Jewish News, for those who are reading this I appreciate you taking the time to understand my viewpoint regarding the current Gilad Atzmon situation that they highlighted and why I have reached the conclusions that I have.
I would firstly start by saying, as I have already communicated to Jewish News (JN) on several occasions now, that I'm not looking to be an apologist for Gilad Atzmon in any way, he can look out for himself, that's not my job or frankly concern. I'm more concerned about the liberal tradition within my own community of tolerance and reasonableness of which I am proud.
I was brought up with the adage from my parents of "I don't necessarily agree with what you say (in Galad's case I probably don't agree with about 70% of it), but I will fight for the right for you to say it". This, to me, is the foundation of Jewish liberal thought and is the basis of my stance in this case, particularly in a world which seems to more and more be dominated by fake news, post truth and "alternative facts".
And these are the facts and this is the situation as I see it:
I have known Glad in excess of 15 years and over that time have discussed various issues with him for what I imagine would be in excess of 100 hours. So I like to think I have a reasonable grasp of his views and ideas.
And based on my many conversations I feel pretty confident in saying that Gilad is not anti-semitic. Vehemently anti-Zionist certainly, but that, I would suggest, is a different thing.
He has been accused of being anti Jewish but I would draw your attention to a letter he sent to the Guardian which ended "...any form of anti-Jewish activity [in Israel] may be seen as political retaliation. This does not make it right." Note the final sentence "This does not make it right". So not exactly anti Jewish nor, critically, does he support the use of violence.
And then we come to the accusations of anti-semitism. I think it’s important to dig down in particular to what he has written. And the crux of it is, and he has again expressed this to me just recently as a result of the current situation, that he sees the Jewish community as split in to three sections: “1. Those who follow Judaism 2. Those who regard themselves as human beings that happen to be of Jewish origin 3. Those who put their Jewish-ness over and above all of their other traits”. Somewhat arbitrary in my opinion, but nevertheless crucial to understanding Gilad’s thinking.
His self-avowed left wing view is that those who fall in to category 3, what he likes to call the Zionist “Neocons” (neo-conservatives) or “bad Jews” (my attempt at clarification, not his), are responsible for maintaining a regime he vehemently disapproves of in Israel and the US (a particularly fanciful notion to my mind) and so have contributed to some of the major issues we are confronted with now. Critically, though, he considers those in category 2 (the “good” Jews) to be the all important Liberal Jews and of which I think he sees himself as leader and in the list he sent recently included me (who knew!), his wife and family, the Jewish musicians he works with etc. So the “struggle” in his mind is and should be led by those Jews who fall in to his (somewhat arbitrary) Group 2 against those in the equally arbitrary Group 3. Essentially he’s looking for one section of the Community to take on the other, not based on any ethnicity but on Political ideology.
At this point I think it’s worth saying I’m not making this up. It really, really, is his stance, with which I’m very familiar and which, as I say, he reiterated to me again just a couple of days ago.
Unfortunately, however, those he has attacked in his self styled Group 3 he has often referred to as “Jews”, and when I reprimanded him for this he replied that “if people read his writings they would understand what he meant”. Which of course they haven’t and they don’t. This in turn has led to a group of people seeing themselves seriously berated and assuming that, being Jewish, the reason for the attack is their religion. This in turn has given rise to the accusation that he is “anti semitic”, when from Gilad’s fairly strident left wing position it’s actually all about their politics, not their ethnicity.
I understand that this is a somewhat convoluted and muddled approach to the Community, but it does explain why Gilad is so keen for approbation from Liberal Jews such as myself, who he sees as being part of his Group 2 and an important part of his political struggle. And I would certainly be prepared to admit that I have serious misgivings about the former administration in Israel which I would argue strongly does not make me anti semitic. I’m a Jew, I’m entitled to criticise how my fellow Jews behave. Similarly, in a mature democracy, Gilad is entitled to his strident views as long as they stay on the right side of decency, which means to my mind not inciting hate or violence (which I genuinely think he doesn’t do).
I appreciate that this looks like some sort of “apology” for Gilad’s behaviour but I have known him a long time and I can assure you that it really does reflect his position. As I say I’m certainly not here to defend him, that’s up to Gilad and none of my business, but the idea that he is anti semitic when he puts so much stake in the support of Jews from his Group 2 clearly gives the lie to that. Unfortunately, however, once Social Media gets hold of a bone it is, as we are now witnessing, very hard to get it to let go.
And then there is his supposed "denial" of the Holocaust. I have actually spoken with him at some length about this recently, discovering to my surprise that his mother's family and my father's came from the same place in Poland! He was absolutely clear in that conversation that, along naturally with his mother, he felt a sense of loss and anguish about what occurred and was particularly clear that he in no way questioned the essential facts around the holocaust nor did he question it's veracity or the impact that it had.
His objection, and I have to say in this case one I share, is that the Holocaust should never be introduced in to political discourse in order, particularly in the case of the Israeli hard right, to justify highly questionable actions. I lost every member of my father's extended European family to the holocaust, something which for my generation is still very real, and I object vehemently to anyone using that painful loss as an excuse for any kind of political behaviour or attitude. As I say Gilad also lost most of his mother's family at around the same time and so to suggest he is somehow "denying" this is simply untrue. He also extends his argument to encompass the concept of free speech, which by his argument should mean that denying the holocaust (something he has no sympathy for) should not be criminalised, as it is in places like Israel and Germany, but dealt with by attacking the issue through rigorous intellectual debate. Personally I think that's naive and we have had several lively debates on the matter.
Unfortunately, however, he has chosen to defend this, in my opinion not unreasonable, position by referring to those who he disapproves of as practicing the “Holocaust Religion” (a term, incidentally, he did not coin). I personally find this offensive and would prefer he did not use such inflammatory language around such an important issue, but that, again in my opinion, is a matter of taste not substance.
I would also highlight what I feel is one critical aspect of all this. Which is that, despite his statements to the contrary (again said to make a point rather than a reality), Gilad is an Israeli Jew and a former member of the Israeli armed forces. This to my mind is really important. I believe that in much the same way a black comedian can use the "n"word and be lauded but if I were to use it I would, quite rightly, be open to the accusation of racism, so Gilad, as a member of my community can raise issues that he sees as problematic within that community without necessarily being hounded for them. As much as some of his writings and utterances are, in my opinion, intellectually questionable I am at the same time aware that his basic motivations are anger and frustration (fuelled I would suspect by his experiences as an Israeli soldier) at what he sees as a serious problem in what is, ultimately, his own community.
Having said all this (and I appreciate that my response has been long but it is, as I'm sure you can tell, something I've thought long and hard about), we are a music venue first and foremost. We are here to promote the best in UK music and Gilad falls in that category. Ultimately whatever Gilad says and does away from this situation is something over which I have no control, and I don’t see it as my place to interfere in what musicians chose to do or say away from the bandstand as long as I feel it is within the parameters of decency and fairness that we expect from everyone who walks through our doors. Having said that, I am constantly keeping an eye on Gilad's behaviour and if he does reach a point where I feel he's crossed a line I would certainly respond to that.
Anyway, I hope that helps explain my position with regard to Gilad Atzmon!