A controversial saxophonist stalked by accusations of antisemitism has cancelled a concert at an iconic jazz club in a bid to protect the Chelsea venue’s “reputation.”
The 606 Club, which was set up over 40 years ago, will no longer host Gilad Atzmon on 1 February amid concerns from activists about the musician’s views.
“The 606 Club is a place where people come together to appreciate and enjoy wonderful music, performed by some of the finest musicians around the world,” a spokesperson for the club said on Friday.
The spokesperson added: “In order to protect the reputation of the 606, Gilad Atzmon has decided to stand down from his performance this Saturday,” revealing it would liaise with Jewish bodies, as it investigates allegations of antisemitism against the musician it said were “so far unfounded.”
The club’s Jewish owner Steve Rubie, who said he doesn’t agree with “about 80 percent” of Atzmon’s views, said he was considering reaching out to the Board of Deputies and the Community Security Trust – and the Campaign Against Antisemitism, which revealed plans on Thursday to picket the venue over the decision to provide Atzmon “with a platform.”
In a statement published on his website on Friday, entitled “Zionist Terror in London”, the musician claimed the club and Rubie had been “subjected to a constant barrage of pressure and threats for hosting my concert.”
“The UK Jewish press avidly repeated the lies about me. Ludicrous accusations were made,” he wrote. “If I were a Hitler supporter who urged burning synagogues, certainly these campaigners would have used Britain’s strict hate speech laws to have me spend some time behind bars.”
Atzmon also said he would lodge a complaint against Campaign Against Antisemitism to the Charity Commission, which regulates it.
In a later statement to Jewish News, he added that he had “cancelled the gig to defend the art community in Britain” from the Campaign Against Antisemitism, which he described as a “menace.”
An event listing published on the club’s website, which has since been taken down, had described Atzmon as a “wonderful sax and clarinet player with a powerful sound and unique approach” but noted his “well documented views on the Middle East that may provoke and challenge the listener.”
The venue’s owner said on Tuesday Atzmon had “sailed way too close to the wind sometimes” but defended him from charges of racism. “Having just spoken to Gilad he insisted he’s not racist and went to great pains to say that he does not have an issue with Jews, of which he is obviously one, the religion or the culture,” he wrote in an email.
“His argument is specifically with what he calls the ‘political arm of Zionism.’ And to be fair, in all the many years I have known him I have never, ever, heard Gilad make any generalised criticism of ‘Jews’ as a whole,” he added.
Atzmon has repeatedly criticised what he described as the “Holocaust religion” and appeared to question the purpose of Shoah denial legislation. The Anti-Defamation League has described him as an “outspoken promoter of classic antisemitic conspiracy theories” who “has engaged in Holocaust diminution.”
A 2010 entry on Atzmon’s website reads: ” We should also ask for what purpose do the holocaust denial laws serve? What is the holocaust religion there to conceal? As long as we fail to ask questions, we will be subjected to Zionists and their Neocons agents’ plots. We will continue killing in the name of Jewish suffering.”
But Atzmon, who was banned from performing at the Islington Assembly Hall in 2018 by the local authority, denies the accusations, charging his critics of being part of a smear campaign against him. “Not once in my life did I criticise Jews as people, race or ethnicity,” he told Jewish News on Tuesday.
“I am critical of some aspects of Jewish identity politics. My books and articles on the topic are published in dozens of languages,” he said. “Needless to mention that my concert in the 606 and in many other music venues around the world are musical events rather than political gatherings and if this is not enough, half of the members of the ensemble are actually jewish.”
Denying claims of historical revisionism, he said: “Chapters in the past that can’t be discussed freely, or being revised or rewritten often deteriorate into dogmas and religions. I actually insist that the Holocaust should be treated like all other genocides and be translated into a universal message against all forms of operation and racist abuse.”