Saturday, August 17, 2002

After the eighties, came the nineties.
After the nineties came the… what? The zeroes? The nothings? The one-to-tens? The pre-teens?

What did they call the beginning of the last century, the twentieth? If I'm not mistaken it was “the turn of the century”, wasn’t it? Heavy. Meaningful. Not fun. Actually, quite suitable for the times we’re living in.

Benny Morris was not telling the truth???
Sylvana Foa writes a Letter From Gaza in the latest Village Voice. It’s all about the Palestinian suffering in Gaza. It tells about two American women who married Palestinian men (one of them, although widowed, decided to stay on because she works with deaf children) and what their life is like these days. But this column has a surprising twist. Foa very subtly weaves in an historic fact that colors the plight of the Palestinian refugees a little differently.

” In 1948, 106,000 people, heeding the call of Arab leaders like Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Said, fled to Gaza as invading Arab armies entered the new state of Israel.

“We will smash the country with our guns and obliterate every place the Jews seek shelter,” Said promised. “The Arabs should conduct their wives and children to safe areas until the fighting has died down.”

Most of those 1948 refugees expected to be back in their homes within a week. They are still waiting. Their numbers have swollen to 800,000. More than half live in the eight camps that UNRWA, the UN agency charged with caring for Palestinian refugees, runs in Gaza”.

Notice if you will, the Nuri Said quotation. I wonder where she got it. I also wonder why Benny Morris never found it when he was meticulously searching all the Arab Media of 1948 for his research. He claimed he could find no trace of calls made by Arabs for Arabs living in Palestine to leave their homes, while their Arab brethren got rid of the Jews.(I never read his book but I clearly remember hearing him say this in a TV interview).

But this, of course wouldn’t be the first glimmer of disproof of Morris’ work. Efraim Karsh wrote ”Fabricating Israeli History: The `New Historians'” about this issue. Here is an excerpt of Haaretz’ review of the book by the late Yoram Bronowski (whose daily television review I miss very much).

"Karsh proves over and over that the leading new historians - Benny Morris and Avi Shlaim, in particular... are not historians at all. At best, they are propagandists. And not only that: Karsh brings heaps of evidence, after a careful examination of the documents, that these historians, and especially Morris and Shlaim, are conniving forgers who falsify the facts and will stoop to anything. He shows that the volumes they have published, such as 'The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949', and 'Collusion Across the Jordan' (Shlaim's book in English about a plot allegedly hatched during a meeting between Golda Meir and King Abdullah of Jordan, whose purpose was to keep a Palestinian state from being established after implementation of the UN partition plan) are crude and malicious fakes...
The impact of Norman Cohn's 'Warrant for Genocide', which exposes the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion' forgery, is dwarfed in comparison to Karsh's book, which rips the veneer off certain respectable-looking scholars... Not only are they empty vessels, Karsh shows in this astonishing book, but they are something much worse: vessels overflowing with deadly dynamite".

The Israeli Noam Chomsky? (I don’t think so!)
Bish and I had a romantic evening yesterday watching the riveting 1970 documentary ”Elvis: That's the Way It Is”, and reading James’ farewell column together. James is off on holiday for a fortnight. It shouldn’t be allowed.

But who is this Israel Shamir he links to?, where the article is published says he’s an Israeli journalist based in Jaffa. I have a few questions, with regard to his article: Does saying that the Brits and the Yankees bombed the Germans and the French, for offending Jews, count as Holocaust denial? Is there a law against Holocaust denial in Israel? Is a Jewish anti-Semite an oxymoron? What’s going on here? I smell a rat.

According to Israel Shamir’s website he is a leading Russian-Israeli intellectual, writer, translator and journalist. He claims to have worked for Haaretz but sadly “was sacked for publishing an article calling to the return the Palestinian refugees and the rebuilding of their ruined villages.” He is apparently a prolific writer and has published many books. The bio doesn’t state in which language, but it can’t be in Hebrew or in English because a search in a major online Israeli Bookstore was fruitless, as was a search in Maybe in Russian. It says he’s translated many Hebrew books into Russian.

“His most popular work, the Pine and the Olive, the story of Palestine/Israel, was published in 1988. Its cover carried a painting by the Ramallah painter, Nabil Anani”. I can’t see how this could have been very popular. If it was in Russian, well, the Russian community in Israel is mostly extremely right wing, if in English or in Hebrew, why can’t I find anything about it?

And why have neither Bish nor I ever heard of this person. We are both relatively well read, and have been diligently reading Haaretz for about fifteen years. I have many friends who are peace activists (and not the radicals who think peace activism entails being human shields for Arafat and other murderers, but real ones, who try to educate for coexistence and tolerance, and getting to know each other, and listening to each other’s grievances). But still not a word about this Israel Shamir person.

So, when in doubt Google!

Nigel Parry, of all people (not to be suspected of being anything but seriously pro-Palestinian), leads a group of pro-Palestinian activists who started wondering about Israel Shamir in 2001. Parry has a whole page of his website given over to this issue, which he calls The Israel Shamir Case”.

He says: “In late 2000/early 2001, in the period following the beginning of the second Palestinian Intifada, articles began appearing on the Internet by a previously unknown Israeli-Russian writer called "Israel Shamir". With a powerful command of the English language, compelling anecdotes, dramatic metaphors, and a spirited opposition to the Israel's military occupation, Shamir was rapidly and warmly accepted into the pro-Palestinian activist scene, and by Spring 2001 had embarked on a speaking tour of the United States, speaking at many public events alongside leading lights of the Palestinian scene.

As his articles kept coming, however, an increasing amount of the tone and content was observed by more than a few to fall into what could -- if this hadn't been an Israeli Jew writing it -- best be described as a classic anti-Semitic repertoire. Shamir's identity as a Jew initially enabled people to excuse this, until the whole mess began to unravel as more and more questions were asked. Eventually, these questions began to be answered, and the issue errupted into a controversy”

He also links to some of the stuff written about this issue, including an e-mail by Ali Abunimah and Hussein Ibish, that I saw in a few sites when searching about this Shamir person, it’s headed “Serious concerns about Israel Shamir”. There is also a link to an e-mail by Parry himself called The enemy of our enemy is not our friend.

I suddenly remembered seeing a letter by Israel Shamir in the Spectator a few months ago, in response to this article by Melanie Phillips.

23rd Febuary 2002
“From Mr Israel Shamir

Sir: As an Israeli writer living in Jaffa, I witness the other side of Jewish-Christian relations carefully omitted by Miss Phillips. While the Hebrew Bible is respected in Europe, in Israel the New Testament is burned. While in Europe synagogues are lovingly restored and protected, in the Jewish state, churches are violated, ruined, shot at. While in order to avoid a hint of anti-Semitism, European society was thoroughly de-Christianised, in Jewish communities there is a strong triumphalist tendency. Recently, a mediaeval anti-Christian pamphlet Toledoth Yeshu was reprinted again in Israel, with the introduction stating, ‘The Jewish people always deeply disdained Christian faith, considered Christian dogma as a collection of incongruous foolishness and Christian morals as hypocritical lies.’

It is not a fringe lunacy: a great new hotel in Eilat was given the infamous name of King Herod, while the road leading to it was unambiguously called Zeevi Promenade, after the assassinated Israeli racist and self-avowed enemy of Christianity. Posters on the walls present pictures of Christian preachers, and call for their physical elimination. The immigrants of Jewish origin are deported if their belief in Christ is found out.

In the Holy Land, Christianity is very much on the defensive. The Palestinian Christian community shrinks daily in the iron grip of General Sharon. The believers cannot reach their shrines. Even President Arafat was not allowed to attend the Christmas Mass.

Miss Phillips, regrettably, does not mind generalisations and victimisation per se, as long as it is Muslims and Christians who are stereotyped and blamed: ‘Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, the director of the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity, has been addressing Christian groups up and down the country on the implications of 11 September. When he suggests that there was a problem with aspects of Islam, he provokes uproar.’ Well, if he suggested there is a problem with aspects of Judaism, would she quote him with such empathy?

We Jews must take care of the beam in our eye before addressing the mote in our neighbour’s.

Israel Shamir
Jaffa, Israel”

This weird letter provoked two reactions:

2nd March 2002

From J Peleg

Sir: Israel Shamir from Jaffa states that the New Testament is burnt in Israel (Letters, 23 February). This reads as though it is a regular occurrence in Israel. If I understand Mr Shamir correctly, he is referring to a single incident of New Testaments being distributed to young pupils in a Jewish religious school by Christian missionaries. The books were burnt by outraged school officials. The incident was widely publicised and criticised.

Although I live about 15 minutes away from Mr Shamir, I have not heard of the anti-Christian pamphlet he mentions, as I suppose most Jewish Israelis haven’t. It has probably been distributed only in certain ultra-religious communities. Nor have I ever seen posters depicting Christian preachers and calling for their physical elimination. Maybe Mr Shamir could direct me to these posters, so that I could see for myself.


J Peleg

16th March 2002
Christians in Israel

From Mr Bret Stephens

Sir: What an astonishing piece of writing you have published in the form of a letter (23 February) from Israel Shamir, Israel’s very own Noam Chomsky.

In Mr Shamir’s telling, Israel is a country in which Christians suffer routine and vicious persecution at the hands of Jews. For this, he cites as evidence the recent burning of a Hebrew-language version of the New Testament, the reissue of a mediaeval anti-Christian Jewish tract, the naming of a beach resort after King Herod, and so on.

All this is true enough: Israel has its share of kooks, quacks, bigots and other politically incorrect folk. Yet the plural of anecdote is not data; to draw the conclusions Mr Shamir does from these incidents is akin to suggesting that the US is a country where every homosexual lives in mortal peril because one gay man was murdered two years back in the Wyoming hinterland.

What Mr Shamir fails to mention is that during the past five years there have been no more than five violent anti-Christian incidents, all carried out by fringe elements within the ultra-Orthodox community. Mr Shamir also neglects the phenomenal popularity of Israel as a tourist destination among Christians. Last year, almost twice as many Christians as Jews visited Israel —not the statistic one would expect if Israel were the Middle East’s version of, say, Sudan.

The fact is that, by and large, Israel treats its 138,000-strong Christian minority tolerantly and equitably. No restrictions on freedom of worship are placed on the 30 or so Christian denominations represented here; Christian worship services are advertised in the Israeli press; US televangelist Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcast Network is piped in via satellite. True, as a small minority, Christians have little political clout in an ultra-political country, and those Israeli Christians who are also Arab have suffered discrimination on account of their ethnic identity. But this only puts Israel on a par with most other Western countries in its treatment of ethnic and religious minorities.

Contrast that with the status of Christians who live in Palestinian areas. Missionary activity is unheard of. There have been anti-Christian riots in Nazareth and quite recently in Ramallah. And the increasingly anti-secularist, pro-Islamic tone of Palestinian politics only makes matters more dangerous for Palestinian Christians. For Mr Shamir to suggest that ‘the iron grip of Sharon’ is what is causing Palestinian Christians to flee the Holy Land ignores the little elephant in the room known as Islamic Jihad.

To judge by the piece of puffery that is his website (, Mr Shamir has made a fine career for himself as Israel’s most vitriolic critic this side of Baghdad. That Israel tolerates him is evidence enough of the country’s liberal credentials.

Bret Stephens
Jerusalem, Israel
Mr Stephens will be editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post from 1 April.”

So, there we have it. We’ve solved the weird and mysterious case of the elusive Israel Shamir. The verdict: A kook.


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