A number of readers are of course quite curious as to what finally happened when professional anti-Semite Gilad Atzmon came to Berkeley to perform a concert at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists.
Members of the BFUU had expressed a great deal of consternation in the days leading up to the event itself. They alternated between trying to distance themselves from the event on the one hand, while on the other hand denying that Atzmon was a hateful creature who should not be invited by any group of civilized citizens. Certainly they did not welcome the publicity and they did not welcome the several dozen activists who held a public vigil outside the church that evening.
A BFUU member handed me a "statement for public inquiry". It makes for interesting reading.
"The BFUU-SJC [note: Social Justice Committee of the BFUU] agreed to be a cosponsor but was unaware at the time of Mr Atzmon's controversial reputation in some quarters." This I can easily believe. I can only hope that in the future BFUU will do some basic research before agreeing to bring in other hatemongers that groups such as ISM and Bay Area Women in Black might wish to promote. I can suggest a few easy ways to do that-- Google, Yahoo Search, and Ixquick are all very user-friendly!
"At this point in time we are prepared to publicly state that we have read some quotes by Mr Atzmon that have earned him severe condemnation and that we find these quotes to be extreme." Extreme. OK, that's a start, although you can almost see the clenched teeth through which even this minimally negative statement is forced. Not entirely certain if that's a disclaimer or not; after all, "extreme" isn't always a negative connotation. There's an entire group of entertainment events called "Extreme Sports" and even a local pizza chain called Extreme Pizza. Maybe the members of the SJC took Atzmon there after his appearance.
Then they get to the gist of it: "At the same time we have also begun studying some of Mr Atzmon's writings and have listened to analysts expert in the field who say that even though he has made very controversial statements he does not deserve to be shut out of public debate." This is the argument which hate speakers and Holocaust deniers from David Duke to David Irving to Mahmoud Ahmedinejad fall back on. Does the BFUU also feel that David Duke should be a part of public debate on race relations in this country?
So in the end, the BFUU SJC refused, in its meeting the day prior to the event, to even take the tepid step of quietly withdrawing its sponsorship of this event, and the BFUU decided to defend Atzmon despite his "controversial statements".
The protest itself was interesting in the reaction that it engendered from those at the BFUU event (apparently about an equal number to the demonstrators themselves). Many of those in attendance took numerous photographs of the demonstrators in a silly attempt at intimidation. One notorious local hater appeared with his Hamas flag, while another who has written approvingly of the man who recently murdered 4 Oakland police officers and has also publicly written anti-Semitic hate screeds even worse than Atzmon's came out to share in the bonhomie. It's not surprising that Atzmon would draw these types of troglodytes.
The aftermath of this event is yet to be written. The BFUU, of course, has hurt feelings that anyone would consider inviting a hate speaker to be in opposition to their own "covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person." There is an attempt being made by some genuinely well-meaning individuals to initiate a dialogue between those who made this event possible and those of us who protested against it. I'm somewhat skeptical of the chances for that effort to succeed; after all, those who openly support the genocidal aims of Hamas don't see anything wrong with bringing that agenda directly into our community. As I said to one BFUU member holding a sign that claimed that BFUU stood for the dignity of every person: Which part of "burning down a synagogue... would be a rational act" supports that lofty position?