SERIOUS CONCERNS ABOUT ISRAEL SHAMIR
From Ali Abunimah & Hussein Ibish (acting solely in his private capacity)
In recent months, many people have been reading the writings of Israel Shamir, who describes himself as a Russian-Israeli journalist. Many have been impressed by these writings, and Shamir has been embraced in many places in the US on his current speaking tour. From early on, some of Shamir's writings struck us as straying beyond criticism of Israel and Zionism, and crossing into the territory of implicit anti-Semitism. We have discussed this with many people privately, but now feel compelled to raise some of these objections publicly. While there are many passages in Shamir's rhetoric that cause serious concern, it is sufficient to cite these three:
1) Yesterday we received an "Easter Message" from Shamir in which he repeats the most odious characterizations of Jews as "Christ killers," the staple of classic European Christian anti-Semitism. In the message, which originates from Shamir's own email address, he writes:
"Jesus taught, love your neighbour as yourself, even if he is a traditional enemy of Jews, a Samaritan. That is why he was hated by the Jewish supremacists of his time. He said: you can not worship God and Mammon, the god of greed, you have to choose. That is why he was hated by supply-side economists and bankers of his day. They sentenced him to death and the Empire obliged and carried out the execution, in order to keep peace with these all-important forces. Our fathers did not dare to speak against their leaders. The spirit of domination scored a victory, but the spirit of brotherhood did not vanish."
Shamir continues: "The Jewish supremacy forces and the greed worshippers united again to crucify Christ. The US, this New Rome, again gives hand and agrees to become the executioner. Now it is our turn to decide."
Palestinians, Shamir argues, are today's Christ, and history has given the Jews a "second chance" i.e. a chance to redeem their earlier crucifixion of Jesus by not crucifying the Palestinians. "If we keep our mouth shut," Shamir writes, "we deserve to be called 'Christ killers.' If we stop it, we shall change history. The scarlet as blood sins of past will become white as snow. [sic]"
We cannot agree that Jews "deserve" to be called "Christ killers," or that this kind of rhetoric has anything whatever to offer of value to the movement for Palestinian liberation and human rights. All this sort of rhetoric does, no matter who it comes from, is paint the Palestinian movement as one which includes, requires, or embraces a discourse which vilifies, or threatens to vilify, Jews as "Christ killers." What could be more counterproductive to building the community of conscience, the powerful moral stance, which is and must be the goal of those of us in the United States who support Palestinian rights, than the introduction of this kind of rhetoric into our conversation? How could we do more to discredit ourselves than by allowing such ideas to proliferate in behalf of a movement that has no need whatever to stoop to vilifying others to justify itself?
2) Shamir recently gave a speech at Tufts University. He is quoted as saying at that speech: "Palestinians are perfect mammals; their life is deeply rooted in the ground...Israeli people represent a virus form of a human being because they can live anywhere." ("Israel at fault for Middle East violence, Jewish journalist says," The Tufts Daily, April 10, 2001) The quote appears to be verified and accurate.
This is, if anything, even worse than the "Christ killers" language drawn from traditional European Christian anti-Semitism. The "Jew-as-parasite" analysis recalls the even more vicious political and racial, rather than folkloric and religious, anti-Semitism which emerged during the 19th century in Europe and culminated in the Nazi genocide of World War II. This description of Jews as 'parasites' or "viruses" cast them as immutably alien to all societies in which they lived, and contrasted the 'international Jew' with the supposedly 'authentic' volkish people, who have deep connections to the land of the nation and who are the creators of social and economic value. The 'inauthentic' Jews were always 'foreigners' and "viruses" because, as Shamir puts it, "they can live anywhere," and are not rooted to the land as the non-Jewish population supposedly is. They are cast as parasites and diseases that feed off of the productivity and creativity of the authentic people, without ever contributing anything themselves.
It is disturbing to see the Palestinian people cast as the 'honest volkish people' of what is, in effect, racist rhetoric about why Jews are a fundamentally different and dangerous type of human being. Palestinians are not "perfect mammals," they are human beings like everyone else. No better, and no worse. Israeli Jews are not "a virus form of a human being," they are a human form of a human being, whose government and state is engaged in a brutal oppression and dispossession of another group of human beings. Our battle is for human rights and human dignity, and against racism, colonialism and oppression. It should be obvious to everyone that this statement by Shamir crosses all lines of decency, and could not be better designed to damage, denigrate and bring into disrepute the movement for Palestinian human rights.
3) On March 30, the Jerusalem Post published an op/ed that reported: "Two weeks ago, Russian-language journalist Israel Shamir told a largely Jewish audience: 'Jews only exist to drip the blood of Palestinian children into their matzas.'" ("The Jewish student - a minnow among sharks," March 30, 2001)
If this is an accurate quote, it is another example of the repetition of the worst kind of anti-Semitism. Shamir has privately denied saying this, but does not appear to have taken any action to correct the record publicly or to be in any way upset about the attribution. Obviously, we have no trouble believing that the Jerusalem Post might have mischaracterized someone's words. However, if the report is not accurate, one has to ask why Shamir has allowed such a gross misquotation to stand unchallenged. If he is indeed working in the interests of Palestinian liberation, surely he has an obligation not to let such a mischaracterization go uncorrected. Moreover, given the "Christ-killers" and "Jews-as-viruses" statements, the Jerusalem Post quote seems increasingly less out of character.
Many people have welcomed the contributions of Israel Shamir in good faith, but we feel they may not be paying close enough attention to what he is saying. Perhaps this is because many of us welcome criticism of Israel from someone who appears to be an "insider," that our hunger for validation from Jewish Israelis sometimes allows us to proceed without the requisite skepticism or overlook excesses we otherwise would not tolerate. Perhaps some are ready to overlook statements that appeal to anti-Semitic sentiments because the person making them identifies himself as a Jew. But the identity of the speaker makes such statements no less odious and harmful. We do not have any need for some of what Israel Shamir is introducing into the discourse on behalf of Palestinian rights, which increasingly includes elements of traditional European anti-Semitic rhetoric. Such sentiments will harm, not help, the cause. We urge all our friends in the movement for Palestinian rights to seriously consider the long-term effects this rhetoric will have on the cause, and act accordingly.
Ali Abunimah (http://www.abunimah.org)
Hussein Ibish (acting solely in his private capacity)
April 16, 2001