Islington Council bans famous jazz musician accused of antisemitism from performing with The Blockheads

Gilad Atzmon was not allowed to play at the Islington Assembly Hall. Picture: Tali Atzmon

Gilad Atzmon was not allowed to play at the Islington Assembly Hall. Picture: Tali Atzmon - Credit: Archant

Islington Council has stopped a famous jazz musician accused of antisemitism from performing on the basis it “might harm” relationships with the borough’s Jewish community.

Council chiefs have stopped Gilad Atzmon, 55, from performing alongside Ian Dury’s former band the Blockheads at the Islington Assembly Hall on Friday after a ticket-holder said they’d feel unwelcome at the show owing to Gilad’s views.

The saxophonist, who is also an author, describes himself as “critical of Jewish identity politics” and he has likened the Israeli government’s “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians to the Holocaust.

The anti-fascist campaign group Hope Not Hate considers him to be “an antisemite who has promoted the work of Holocaust deniers”.

In turn, Gilad has accused the group of being “an integral part of the Zionist network, dedicated to promoting Jewish tribal politics”.

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The saxophonist also has some controversial opinions on free speech and doesn’t agree with legislating to stop Holocaust denial.

“I’m a philosopher,” Gilad told the Gazette. “And history is the act of reviewing the past and looking at it from different perspectives.

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“I argue that stopping doing that and making a chapter of history closed and not subject to review makes it a religion.”

Gilad, who was born in Israel to a Jewish family but no longer identifies as Jewish, said people should be able to air Holocaust-denying views so they can be challenged and engaged in dialogue.

“[Islington] Council adopted the role of book burners,” he said.

“I’m a musician who’s played with the Blockheads for the past 20 years; I’m the saxophonist on Pink Floyd’s latest album; and my work is admired by a huge list of academics. [...]

“If I criticise [the Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu, that is not discriminatory.

“Of course I’m very critical of Israel but I only criticise history, politics and philosophy.”

Islington Council, which owns the Assembly Hall, released a statement yesterday saying: “Under the Equality Act, the council must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to foster good relations between different races and religions within the borough.

“The council took account of the fact Mr Atzmon’s presence at the hall, and knowledge of his presence among residents, might harm such relationships, as well as the council’s duty to tackle prejudice and promote understanding.”

The original complaint was received on December 3, following which a decision was taken to prevent Gilad from performing.

Islington then revisited the decision after he made a complaint and threatened legal action. But on December 13 the council came to the same conclusion.

Gilad appealed the verdict on Monday but Islington stood firm.

The band is due to perform with another saxophonist from its roster of performers.

More than 1,200 people have so far signed a petition calling on Islington to reverse its decision.

This year Islington Council signed up to the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism.

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