Paul Eisen

Paul Eisen

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Israel Shamir and Deir Yassin Remembered

I was going through some old DYR stuff and I came across this.

It dates from the time that, because of my own writings and because we invited Israel Shamir to sit on our Board of Advisers, we experienced, (largely under the direction of Jeff Halper), a mass departure of Jews from the organisation.

It's quite a while ago now but I think it's a draft that was never published. 

At the bottom of the statement are two letters - also drafts and also unposted - to Bob Green. Bob was a Jewish activist who sat on the board and who, after much soul-searching, also felt he had to leave. I think my stuff on the Holocaust was one step too far for him but also, being a gay man, he found Shamir's supposed attitudes to homosexuality unacceptable.

Most of the Jews who left the Board at that time, I wouldn't have wasted a minute of my time on, but Bob was different, hence the letters


In April 2004 Deir Yassin Remembered invited Israel Shamir to join the DYR Board of Advisers. We did this after reading all of Shamir's writings and after meeting him in Israel.

Shamir advocates the right of all people, whatever their ethnicity or religion, to live together in complete equality between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Shamir has never called for any harm to be done to Jews or anyone else, nor for Jews or anyone else to be discriminated against in any way. What he has done is to oppose Judaism as an ideology and to call for the end of preferential treatment for Jews.

The crime against the Palestinian people is being committed by a Jewish state with Jewish soldiers using weapons with Jewish religious symbols, and with the full support and complicity of the overwhelming mass of organised Jews worldwide. In this, and in other contexts, there are legitimate criticisms to be made of Jews, Judaism, and Jewishness.

We do not fear anti-Semitism. At a time when Jews in Israel/Palestine, overwhelmingly backed by Jewish organisations in the west are brutally oppressing entire Christian and Muslim populations, we find it hard to get excited about graffiti daubed on some European gravestones. Does speaking the truth about Jewish identity, power and history lead to Jews being led to concentration camps and ovens? Of course it doesn't! It is hatred, fear, and the suppression of free thought and speech which lead to these things -- whether the hatred, fear and suppression is directed against Jews or by Jews.

Is Shamir a danger to the Palestinian cause? He may well be, but only insofar as the label "anti-Semite" has long served to silence all criticism of Jews, Israel, and Zionism.

Views such as Shamir's may, initially at least, be used to discredit our cause. But by the same token he may also be beneficial. In openly and unequivocally speaking of Jewish power, Shamir may be pointing us in an important and hitherto unexplored direction. It could be that our slavish insistence that Zionism and Jewishness have nothing to do with each other, and our refusal to clearly identify the power of organised Jewish groups, may be amongst the principal reasons why opposition to the Zionist project has not succeeded. Shamir kicks a much-needed hole in a door. In saying the unsayable, Shamir sets us free.

The situation facing the Palestinian people is truly terrible. Old political strategies have gotten us nowhere and we desperately need a new and widened debate. Shamir's important views are part of that discourse. Israel Shamir has a right to speak and be heard and we are honoured to have him on our board.

Dear Bob

Until now my attitude towards those who wish to leave DYR because of the presence of Shamir has been that they should go, albeit with our thanks for past services and hopes for possible future collaborations. This attitude has not been held in any spirit of anger or recrimination, but rather in the belief that it is no value to either DYR or to the individuals concerned for anyone to be doing anything with which they are uncomfortable. But although you and I have only met once, I do think of us, not only as colleagues but also as friends, so I am going say something about your posting.

Israel Shamir is an extraordinary writer and thinker and is an outstanding advocate of Palestinian rights. He is however fiercely critical of the way many Jews are behaving now and have behaved in the past. Shamir has also proposed the possibility of an entirely voluntary Jewish "tendency" or "spirit" which in its notion of "specialness" can, if overly empowered and unchecked, lead to a Jewish supremacism. Shamir has nothing against Jews as individuals. I identify as a Jew and so do you, and as far as I know, Shamir likes and is happy to work with us both

Unlike me and also probably you, but like many religious folk and also probably like many of the Palestinians with whom DYR is in solidarity, Shamir is rather conservative on social matters. He believes that it is not unreasonable for people to feel more comfortable living amongst people who look and behave rather like them. If ever a man celebrated diversity in humanity then surely it is Shamir, but he sees nothing intrinsically wonderful in multi-culturalism. He is an opponent of mass immigration, believing it to be essentially exploitative and harmful to both immigrant and host society. I don't know his views on homosexuality but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that, also like many religious folk, he cannot accept it as you or I might. Surely one may agree or disagree with any or all of this, but is it a reason to exclude?

Shamir has never, to my knowledge, been violent towards anyone, nor has he advocated violence towards anyone. He has never to my knowledge discriminated against anyone nor advocated anyone else discriminating against anyone. Nor has he ever tried to stifle anyone's right to speak or be heard, nor advocated anyone else stifling anyone 's right to speak and be heard. Shamir certainly communicates and is on good terms with many who are said to be on the far right (he also has similar links with groups said to be on the far left). But many of these are not nearly as openly racist as the average Zionist, and certainly nowhere near as vituperative and authoritarian as many so-called anti-Zionists now firmly ensconced within the solidarity movement.

I know Shamir quite well now and I've watched him carefully over quite a time. He is a gentle and good-humoured man and I have never seen him do anything mean or spiteful. He is also remarkably tolerant towards those who disagree with him and even towards some of those who have launched outrageous assaults on him and his reputation. Would that there were more like Shamir within the solidarity movement!

So I think the whole thing needs careful thinking and rethinking and the following questions need to be asked:

Why should it not be permissible, so long as one does not advocate violence or violent discrimination, to be critical of Judaism and even Jewishness as an ideology?

Why should it not be permissible, under the same strict conditions, to be against mass immigration and even the blanket and uncritical acceptance of homosexuality as a norm?

Why should Israel Shamir be unacceptable as a member of the DYR Board, whilst Jeff Halper whose resignation letter you so admired is completely acceptable? Jeff Halper is a an outstanding activist, but he is also a Zionist who has chosen to immigrate to and to live, work and bring up his family in a Jewish state. His welcome conversion to one-state, even by his own admission, results more from necessity than of conviction. Nonetheless, Jeff is every bit as acceptable a board member as is Shamir - no more, no less.

Bob, I urge you to reconsider your position and to urge Ms Tsemel and Mr Warschawski to do the same. Alongside yourself, Ms Tsemel and seventeen others, Shamir is an honoured member of the DYR Board of Advisers. Far from not wishing to be associated with any organisation which included such a man, I would find it impossible to remain in any organisation which expelled, or even excluded, him. Do respond and if you wish me to explain or elaborate on any of the above, do let me know. Best wishes Paul


Dear Bob

Your main concern seems to be is that DYR will suffer from having Shamir on its board. I disagree. DYR is nothing if it does not address the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people are, above all, suffering under Jewish power and the only guy I know successfully confronting that power is Israel Shamir. Also, don't underestimate his impact. Sure, his opponents are pretty loud but in the main these are Jews, safe and secure under the umbrella of Jewish power, so no wonder they're happy to make their case loudly, whilst those of us who feel differently have to be more circumspect. But I know without any shadow of doubt how much many, many, many non-Jews and especially Palestinians look to Shamir, and also I hope, to DYR.