It is not as if Friends School is unfamiliar with Atzmon’s anti-Semitic rants. Atzmon was previously invited to make a guest appearance in a class last year and one of his essays was distributed to the students. The essay came from his website, which is replete with anti-Semitic “insights.”
When I heard about this bizarre invitation, I wrote the following letter to the school’s Headmaster:
Your school is now legitimating anti-Semitism by inviting a self-described Jew hater, Gilad Atzmon, to participate in events at the school. This sends a powerful message to your students, and to other students around the world, that Atzmon’s views are legitimate and an appropriate subject for discussion in academic circles….If you believe these views are appropriately discussed, considered and possibly accepted by your students, then you are doing the right thing by associating your school with the man who expressed them. If not, then you are doing a terrible disservice to your students and to the values for which the Friends School purports to stand.
I cannot overemphasize how serious this matter is. Legitimating the oldest form of bigotry is a moral and academic sin. I cannot remain silent in the face of complicity with bigotry. Nor should you.
The Headmaster did not respond to my letter, but he had the director of development (the fundraiser) send me an email saying that Atzmon was invited “solely for his musical accomplishments” and that the invitation was extended by “the Meetinghouse Jazz Orchestra.”
Atzmon performed on January 13 to honor a man—Martin Luther King—who despised anti-Semitism and would have been appalled by Atzmon’s hateful words. Students cheered his performance and conversed with him.
I cannot imagine an overtly homophobic, sexist or racist musician being invited by any group in any way associated with Friends “solely for his musical accomplishments.” (I hear that David Duke, the white supremacist perennial candidate, plays a mean saxophone). Atzmon is famous (really infamous) not because he is a distinguished musician, but rather because he is a notorious anti-Semite whose blogs are featured on neo-Nazi websites all over the world. He never would have been invited but for his well publicized bigotry. Friends Seminary is well known for inviting artists whose politics and ideology are consistent with the values of the school. Indeed, the poster advertising his featured appearance at the “22nd Annual Martin Luther King Concert” at the “Meetinghouse at Friends Seminary” included a description of him as a “writer” and “political activist.” Moreover, when he was previously invited by the school to address a class, the teacher distributed one of his bigoted essays from his anti-Semitic website.
However the school may try to spin this invitation, the end result will be that Atzmon’s bigoted views will have been given the imprimatur of the Friends Seminary. Shame on Friends.
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