|Israel Shamir: Masters of Discourse (2008)|
25/12/8 This latest collection of essays by the controversial Israeli writer will not disappoint both admirers and antagonists of this iconoclastic anti-Zionist, most definitely the greatest thorn in Israel's very own backyard. Shamir has known controversy most of his life, notably when he was forced to leave the Soviet Union for demonstrating defiantly against the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. He came to Israel, served as a paratrooper in the Israeli army, before settling down to a career as journalist (Haaretz, BBC), translator (James Joyce, the Caballah), and increasingly a one-man Internet David to Israel's Goliath. He has never looked back, despite the difficulty of publishing his unapologetic critiques of not just Zionism and Israel, but of Judaism, Jews and Jewry.
Al-Ahram Weekly reported earlier this year on Shamir's problems publishing in Europe, where his book Flowers of Galilee, documenting the fate of Palestinians forced to flee their ancient lands by the arrival of the likes of Shamir, was seized and burned in France and Spain and his publishers bankrupted. He sadly points out the irony of France persecuting an Israeli Jew (albeit a convert to Christian Orthodoxy) for his writings. He relates in "For Whom the Bell Tolls" how he was brought to the police station in Jaffa and asked to answer the complaint of the French Jewish organization LICRA. "Did you write about Jewish supremacy and world dominion?" a policeman asked. "So what if I did?" he replied. "Every second Rabbi has expressed this view." "Yes, but they see it in a positive light!" said the policeman.
Shamir tackles head on what it means to be Jewish ("Jewish identity, as it has evolved in the West today, could be a real barrier to encountering the depths of Judaism"), Judaism (a "dangerous and troublesome ideology"), about outsize Jewish control of Western media to such an extent that there is a wider range of dialogue on all issues in Israel itself than in the West. He identifies with Karl Marx, whom he refers to as a Christian, another convert from this "troublesome ideology", quoting several times Marx's caustic words, "Judaism is a sordid form of Christianity, while Christianity is sublime Judaism." If only the left hadn't airbrushed out of the discourse Marx's cogent critique of Judaism, he laments.
He is sharpest in his dissection of things both Jewish and Russian, reflecting his heritage. His credentials are solid. Like Norman Finkelstein (but more to the point, like virtually all Russians), his relatives suffered and died in the war against fascism. He bravely — now he says foolhardily — protested in Red Square in 1968. He faithfully served as an occupier of Palestine in the aftermath of the 1967 war and tried to be a good liberal Israeli. But what he saw as a soldier planted the seeds of rebellion anew, changing his worldview so much that he rejected Judaism altogether, and now sees the collapse of the Soviet Union as a great tragedy, leaving the door open to world domination by a largely Jewish-run United States, provoking wars around the world in pursuit of total control of the world's resources and people's minds.
What sounds far-fetched at first glance is argued convincingly in his writings, not least this fine collection. While Noam Chomsky puts you to sleep after five pages, Shamir has you chuckling, aghast, absorbed. He turns such pompous terms as the Holocaust on their heads with dialectical agility. He was attacked by the French thought police for arguing that the very term Holocaust is proof that its promoters are racial supremacists, exactly like Hitler himself. Christ suffered for us and came back to life. The Holocaust believers believe that the Jewish people suffered and came back by creating the Jewish state.
He notes that museums devoted to the Jewish Holocaust have sprouted up across the West. And that the North American native peoples and the non-Jews who suffered under the Nazis are not deserving of the same reverence, that their suffering is somehow less tragic. We must deny the concept of the Holocaust even if the most fantastic inventions of Wiesel were abolutely true. The technical discussions of how many Jews died, and how they died, are perfectly legitimate but superfluous — in the same way the argument as to whether a whale could swallow Jonah is superfluous to an atheist. (452)
When maligned because his articles are posted on far-right sites, or for using sources that the Anti-Defamation League labels anti-Semitic, he counters "every idea stands or falls on its own merits," and though a socialist, he has more in common with "paleo-conservatives" than many liberal leftists who support the concept of a Jewish state and fritter away their energies decrying what he insists is a non-existent anti-Semitism. What is more important in seeking out your political allies is: are you part of the US-Israeli establishment out for world domination, or are you against it?
His deconstruction of the anti-Semitic term is especially stimulating.
He explains that the idea of Jews as racially inferior was a short-lived concept born in the late 19th century, which burned itself out under the Nazis. Anti-Jewish prejudice is an understandable phenomenon throughout history, since today's Judaism is a descendant of rabbinic Judaism, which developed as a reaction to Christianity in the 4th-6th centuries, and is the basis of this "dangerous and troublesome ideology" that has culminated in the financial ruin of America and the desolation of Palestine. This is not racism, but justified resentment of a privileged caste and, now, of Israeli injustices which are not being addressed by our governments. As for hatred, it is such a mother-in-law word: "Son, I know you hate me and want me dead!" "No, mama, but I want us to control our lives ourselves."
Is there a Jewish world conspiracy? The concept is not needed in order to understand Jewish influence. As a rule, Jews seek to make things better for Jews — but it is not a "conspiracy". There are many Jews in the world media; they have differing views, but they usually agree on certain things; for instance, they try to spike news items which are unfavourable to Jews. The majority of Jews are sympathetic to the US, dislike Christianity, prefer muticulturalism, support Israel -- this is not a "conspiracy", but just their preference. (19) This even-handed, dispassionate approach to such volatile subjects is refreshing.
Shamir has civilized debates with many leading, more establishment theorists, in particular Noam Chomsky, who he sees as an important critic of US imperialism, but mistaken in believing that "the dog wags the tail", i.e., the US uses Israel as its pawn in conducting Middle East policy. As Shamir argues in the essay "Kugel Eaters" in Masters of Discourse, it is neither one or the other, but rather the US Zionist financial and economic elite that control both the dog and the tail. They make sure Israel gets its $3 billion a year (and much more on the side) and conducts its unending wars, as a symbol, a unifying force for American and European Jews, their raison-d'etre, to keep them and their shabas goy allies true to "the faith". In effect, both the US and Israel are pawns on their worldwide chess board.
He refers to the little known Mega Group of the 50 richest and most powerful Jews in the US and Canada, founded in 1991 by Wexler and Charles Bronfman as an informal but all-powerful policy-making group to add greater clout to the Israeli lobby. Indeed, the Megabucks crowd, represented at the Bronfman gathering, influence us [Israelis] more than they influence the US. Our politicians are just as weak and corrupt as America's, but they are easier to swing and cheaper to buy. Consider that California bingo-parlour owner Moskovitz could push our ex-prime minister Netanyahu to open the tunnel near the Mosques, causing major bloodshed. That is why, in Israel, we have a parody of democracy instead of a democracy. (531)
He makes a sharp critique of Israeli peace activist Uri Avneri, who was upset when the Zionist fanatic Avigdor Liberman demanded Avneri's citizenship be revoked. Shamir paints a picture of the Israeli Ashkenzi elite who look down on Oriental and Russian Jews like Liberman for coming to Israel after everything was in place and then criticizing pious peaceniks like Avneri. Shamir points out that Avneri himself was born in Germany, and that — yes — everything was "in place", i.e., Avneri's pals had murdered and deported thousands upon thousands of Palestinians, and their fringe peaceniks were whining about a two-state solution, demanding "Peace Now!". That is, now that they had their stolen Palestinian homes, they wanted peace and a two-state solution before the roof caves in on the whole sordid enterprise. And that 35 per cent of the IDF just happen to be Russian immigrants, protecting the ill-gotten gains of the earlier immigrants.
Shamir dares Avneri to embrace Liberman's proposal, to join the 50 per cent of Israelis who have no citizenship, to proudly become a Palestinian and refuse the blue Israeli passport as an illegal document. His solution to the Middle East conflict is simple:
There are many arresting views which make you stop to think. Perhaps the suicide bombings are even encouraged by Israel? They are an excellent way to kill off potential guerrilla fighters while killing relatively few Israelis, none of whom are political leaders. They justify even more rapid theft of Palestinian lands in revenge, and are fodder for the Western media.
And this supposed truism that Jews are natural allies of the left. This is only from the period of the French revolution till 1948, a necessary alliance of convenience to secure a strong hold on political and economic power during a period of change. Before that and afterward (and even during that period), Jews have alligned themselves with ruling despots as their personal financiers. Where did all the progressive Jews go?
There is much wit to keep you going. Jews believe in equality for Jews around the world, but Jewish supremacy in Palestine. Avneri's preference for the Zionist dystopia is like the man who marries an ugly women, for "beauty passeth". His "Animal Farm revisited" documents how Stinky, the head pig, sells out the inefficient animal-run farm (the Soviet Union) to a slick farmer bearing Marlboro cigarettes and nylons, and the "excess" animals are promptly carted off to the slaughter house. One particularly apt sound byte for readers in Egypt, the land of soap operas: The cult of Zionism is an old and toothless beast, a political experiment that has been reduced to a poorly-scripted and staged soap opera for the entertainment of a distant American Jewish audience. (533) If only.
Despite these strong views, Shamir is never strident. You will be unlikely to agree with all of his colourful essays, but you will not be bored. There are many fascinating historical detours, revealing his protean intellect and scholarship, and many anecdotes, revealing his warmth and undying optimism about the human condition. You even come away with a grudging respect for the exasperating hodge-podge of people who cling to their "dangerous and troublesome ideology".
His self-confidence is well earned and cuts through the tangles of ideology and prejudice. Nor is he afraid to admit his mistakes. Only a fool refuses to change as the world changes and his understanding of it deepens. His online shamireaders group is without a doubt the most stimulating source of ideas for anyone concerned about the Middle East and East-West relations in general. Masters of Discourse republishes many articles and interchanges that have appeared there, and is inspired by the Internet era — note the publisher www.israelshamir.net — uncensored by the "the masters of discourse".