I would like to comment on the Israel Shamir debate, having myself been "a friend of the Palestinians" for over a decade now. If you're reading this and don't have a clue who I am, please skip to point 9 at the end of this note and come back here when you're done.
I wish in this note to draw some lines somewhere in what oddly seems to have been confusing for many in the pro-Palestinian community.
1) PRIVATE EFFORT:
It is absolutely clear to me that Ali Abunimah and Hussein Ibish made all efforts to approach Israel Shamir in private, before going public.
Ibish recounted to me what happened during his 3-hour-long meeting with Shamir, during which he made every effort to deal with these issues with Shamir directly.
It is clear from the language, the tone, and the transparency of Ibish's thought process, that what he told me was a genuine account of what went on, and the subsequent Ibish/Abunimah letter was another genuine attempt to bring this matter to the attention of the community because Shamir had not treated the concerns seriously.
2) RESPECT OF THE BOUNDARIES OF DEBATE:
It is also absolutely clear that the Ibish/Abunimah letter dealt solely with, and remained within the boundaries of what Shamir had published and what Shamir was reported as having said publicly.
It can *never* be wrong to disagree with the content of public statements or to ask someone to explain their reaction or non-reaction to public statements made about them, which was all that was done.
In the response from Shamir, those boundaries were not adhered to by him. If Shamir wishes to increase the scope of the debate, that seems fine to me. There is much more to the story.
3) PREVAILING RESPONSE FROM THE COMMUNITY:
It is also absolutely clear that the prevailing reaction to the Ibish/Abunimah letter from pro-Palestinian activists has been to systematically excuse and explain away each of the various issues that were brought up.
In many cases, while claiming to deride "the McCarthite tactics of the Jewish Lobby" purportedly employed by Abunimah and Ibish, many seem to have accepted Shamir's response that contained exactly that kind of unsubstantiated accusations. Some even repeated these accusations themselves.
Over the last few days, Abunimah's e-mail account has been deluged with what can only be described as "hate mail" from many in the pro-Palestinian community, mostly Palestinians.
Hate mail is nothing new to any of us, but in this case, it is all backwards.
How easy we forget that both of these activists have a very long and public track record in thoughtful, constructive work on behalf of the Palestinians, based on a clear and transparent set of universal moral principles. Thanks to them, many people have been educated who would not have otherwise been.
Ali's archive of several years' letters to the media, for example, -- found on his website at http://abunimah.org -- demonstrate a very fair-minded and constructive approach to one of the most frustrating aspects of our work.
I do not believe any 'dark motives' spurred their letter as suggested by some. Neither Abunimah nor Ibish have a history of leveling accusations at members of the pro-Palestinian community with whom they disagree or find objectionable.
And looking at the continually accumulating and unanswered questions many of us have about Shamir, I strongly believe they acted in the best interests of the community.
That people have been so quick to dismiss both them and their concerns is shameful and that so many have stayed silent while Abunimah and Ibish have been demeaned by undiscerning members of our community (while claiming to be acting in to stop someone being demeaned) is also shameful. Their record is not in question.
Clearly solid activist records built up over years and years of hard work have a half-life of mere minutes in this Internet age.
4) DEFENDED BY WHO?
It is worth noting that, in Shamir's response to their letter, one of the people Shamir called in his defence was Christopher Bollyn of The SPOTLIGHT, who informs us that "Christ killers" was a perfectly acceptable characterisation of Jews.
We had just misunderstood it, that was all, because we're just not "steeped" in Christianity like he is.
Speaking as someone who has been steeped, boiled, and occasionally roasted in Christianity for over a decade now, it strikes me as incredible that any purported Christian could be unaware of the historical implications and inappropriateness of using the term "Christ killers" to describe Jews.
I fully expect that next Bollyn will be assuring us that "sand niggers" is a perfectly acceptable term to use to describe Arabs. Would we accept that?
Needless to say, if you go to http://www.spotlight.org, home of the Liberty Lobby [sic], "the voice of the American Majority", we are only one click away (see "TBR Suppressed History" in the right column) from common garden variety Holocaust denial:
"...a plethora of documentary evidence, long suppressed, shows that [concentration camp Jewish] prisoners were relatively well-treated, compensated for their hard work and allowed to purchase luxuries to which even the German public did not have ready access. This is not the image of abject deprivation that the Holocaust lobby would like you to entertain."
(from "Concentration Camp Money," by Jennifer White, The Barnes Review).
Browsing through the various sections of the rest of the Liberty Lobby's website, there is much along the same line, including articles calling for an end to "the flow of immigrants", lurid tales of the secret cabal that are ushering in the new UN/NATO-led One World Government, and about the press conspiracy to cover all of this up.
At best, Shamir displays extremely poor judgement in trying to deflect what he characterised as the "silly" charge of anti-Semitism in turning to these people to defend him.
These people are not our friends.
5) OTHER FAR RIGHT EXTREMIST LINKS:
It is also worth noting the following e-mail exchange on the website of yet another far right organisation strongly associated in the average mind with Holocaust denial and racism.
In the exchange, we see Shamir trying to sell apparently stolen Nazi memorabilia to David Irving, who is arguably the most famous Holocaust denier of our times: http://www.fpp.co.uk/online/98/09/Shamir020998.html
Ironically, even the odious Irving ultimately refuses to deal with Shamir.
Elsewhere on the Internet -- in an interview with Stanley Heller archived at http://www.TheStruggle.org/interview.html -- we see Shamir describe another Holocaust denier, Roger Garaudy, as "a great man."
6) THE PRIVATE MEETING - SHAMIR TO IBISH:
Shamir presents himself as a left wing Jew, but often sounds quite different.
Indeed, Ibish relates from his meeting with Shamir that Shamir absolutely dismissed the notion that Arab Americans could ever aid the cause of Palestinian liberation, and would never be able to match the power and influence of the pro-Israel lobby and are totally wasting their time by even trying.
Ibish reports that Shamir said Arab Americans do not understand the "way in which this [Jewish] community has been operating for over 1,000 years, maybe 2,000 years" and that Arab Americans are helpless before them.
Ibish also reports that Shamir suggested that the only thing that would assist the cause of Palestinian liberation is the denigration and marginalization of the American Jewish community, and would not deny that this was the main purpose of his articles.
Needless to say, both this analysis of the supposed problem and solution is intellectually and morally bankrupt.
7) NO DENIAL OF ANTI-SEMITISM
It is worth noting that Shamir's response to the Abunimah/Ibish letter contains no actual denial of anti-Semitism.
"Any irrational aversion to Jews should be certainly eradicated and condemned," is the closest he got.
Not "I am not anti-Semitic" or any formulation so simple.
Of all the things that Shamir may be guilty of, one of them very clearly is not any weakness in his capacity to use language, which has been the main appeal he seems to have had.
Are we therefore supposed to deduce from his precise formulation above that there is a "rational aversion to Jews" that *is* acceptable?
It occured to me at this point in the saga that one explanation for all this might be that Shamir might not be strictly Jewish in all the senses of the word, although he did emphasise the phrase "as a Jew" several times in his response to the original letter when his words were under attack.
Let's look at it:
i) A clear pattern of an increasing anti-Semitic repertoire in Shamir's writings and more overt anti-Semitism in his private conversations with people who are not Jewish, who he perceives as allies.
ii) Shamir has both documented and admitted links with the extreme-right, Holocaust denial community -- from 1998 to the present day -- that would seem to fundamentally contradict (at least on the surface) his portrayal of himself as left-wing.
iii) An Easter message, but no Passover message?
Has anyone considered, in light of the above and in light of Shamir's Russian background -- which is not disputed -- that he is one of the x-many thousands of Russian immigrants to Israel who may be ethnically Jewish, but in actuality are culturally Christians?
According to Ha'aretz of 27 October 1998, 27 percent of Russian immigrants to
Israel are not Jewish. It went on to say that 50.1 percent of the Russians who arrived in Israel between January and October 1998 were not considered halachically Jewish and only 7.8 percent had Jewish grandparents.
Indeed, in a restaurant dinner following one of Shamir's recent public meetings at Columbia University, he answered a question as to whether he considered himself as a Christian or a Jew, with the answer "both."
Now I'll be the first to say that this is no crime but I'll also say that it clears up two points of confusion.
Firstly, it explains a lot about this whole saga: how we could end up in a strange situation where a Jew appears to be anti-Semitic; why Shamir sent out an Easter but not a Passover message; and, of course, his readiness to associate himself with those motivated by anti-Jewish feeling.
Secondly, it renders him about as representative of any major strata of Jewish opinion in Israel -- which is the core reason we have fawned over him so -- as Joseph Farah is representative of Arab Americans in the United States.
8) WHY THIS WAS AND REMAINS IMPORTANT TO DEAL WITH:
In light of the widespread and uncritical acceptance of Israel Shamir by many in the pro-Palestinian activist scene -- which if anything has a tendency to extinguish the burning lights in our midst through infighting, as has been witnessed on some levels this last week -- is it not right to demand that Shamir furnish -- at the very least -- a full CV and references before hosting him at symposiums and other public meetings with some of the leading lights of our movement?
These appearances are our affirmation of both people and their messages, and are signals to the outside world that these people hold views that we respect and share.
It seems to me that this has arisen out of far too much desperation in the community for validification of the universal justice of the Palestinian cause outside of the Palestinian community. And this is especially true when the person who appears to be a dissenter is from the Israeli camp.
This is insulting to the genuine friends of Palestinians from Israel: the Allegra Pachecos, the Lea Tsemels, and the Andre Rosenthals who struggle in the Israel legal system on behalf of Palestinian rights; or the Gila Svirskys, the Uri Avnerys, the Uri Davis', the Roni Ben-Efrats, and the Mikado Warshawskis who struggle among the Israeli public and in front of Israeli bulldozers on behalf of Palestinian rights; or the Amira Hass' and the Gideon Levys who struggle in the Israeli media on behalf of Palestinian rights....
When someone unknown and untested appears in our midst, we need to be patient and thoughtful. Seeing as quoting the Bible seems to be all the rage these days, we should be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.
We have stayed clear of people with such associations effectively enough in the past. Why the sudden change of tack?
For the majority of Westerners, who remain our primary target audience these days in activist work outside the country, any linking of any of our most effective commentators and spokespersons -- or ourselves -- with people bearing a message like that which Shamir has increasingly borne and appears affiliated with, is a step that we will pay for dearly in the future.
Watching the obvious delight at Shamir's appearance on the scene, divorced from any critical analysis of his writing has made me uncomfortable. Watching otherwise thoughtful activists make excuses for him even though he has not addressed the charges in any satisfactory way has made me more uncomfortable.
This acceptance of any old message from any apparent supporters of the Palestinians denigrates the real solidarity from those of us who are not Palestinian, yet have stood with the Palestinians for decades.
Are the principles that we have stood by in the midst of opprobrium from our own communities really that valueless to the pro-Palestinian community?
Is it therefore only the *quantity* of our support that matters, or does the *quality* of our message play any part in acceptance?
Let me assure you that for our primary target audience -- the Western public -- it matters a great deal.
As we listen to you, can you please listen to us?
We do not stand with the Palestinians on the basis of any ethnic connection with the conflict, but rather on the universal principles of a belief in humanity and human rights and the desire to see no person or people subjected to oppression or discrimination. Integrity is our best weapon.
Associating ourselves with any elements that preach racism and intolerance undermines that stance, and undermines the Palestinian cause.
If the rejection of these concepts and the refusal to critique people's messages on the basis of these concepts becomes the norm among us, then I'm afraid that the community will lose many of its supporters. It cannot afford to.
To stay silent is to give consent. This is true for us as historical witnesses of the Palestinian tragedy -- something which few will have issue with -- but it is also true for us when our organisations, our publications, and our community begins to preach by its acceptance, any repertoire of discrimination that is normally preached by those against whose repression we struggle.
Our enemy's enemy is not our friend. Our friends are our friends.
9) Those of you know me, most likely do so from my time at Birzeit University, where I worked from 1994-1998, launching and building the university's website found at http://www.birzeit.edu/, or for "A Personal Diary of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict", found at http://nigelparry.com/diary/.
Prior to that I first travelled to the West Bank and Gaza in 1989 on a Friends of Birzeit University (FoBZU) study tour. Again in 1993, while working for FoBZU, I organised and lead a similar tour.
Since leaving the West Bank in mid-1998, I have been involved with the activist scene in the US, mostly helping organisations build their Internet capacity as well as on personal and collective projects, most recently The Electronic Intifada, found at http://electronicIntifada.net/.
My short CV can be found at http://nigelparry.com/diary/author.html.
My Web design CV can be found at http://nigelparry.com/web/.
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See how easy it is to put these CV things together? Whatever is ultimately decided about Shamir, make sure you get one of these from him as a first step.
The Ibish/Abunimah letter was a call for us to think critically about what we let in our front doors. It would be delinquent of me to finish in any other way than underlining their important message.