Tell the truth about Yitzhak Shamir

July 23, 2012

Stanley Heller, host of the Internet television show The Struggle and chair of the Middle East Crisis Committee, examines the too-generous obituary for former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir written by liberal writer Uri Avnery--and documents the truth about Shamir.

I READ and reread a piece about the death of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir by Uri Avnery and was more unsatisfied each time I looked it over.

Avnery is the venerable leader of Israeli group Gush Shalom, the Peace Bloc. Yes, Avnery calls Shamir a "terrorist," but in the article, there's a kind of grudging respect for the man. In the last lines of the piece, he compares Shamir to two more recent prime ministers, Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu, in this way:

Shamir, the dead honest fanatic, has many followers. Olmert, the living corrupt pragmatist, has very few. Netanyahu, their current successor, has the vices of both and the virtues of neither.

What virtues? Shamir was a leader of a Second World War pro-Nazi gang. Decade later, his cruelties brought on the first Intifada. Olmert savaged Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008. Virtues?

SOME BACKGROUND. In 1938, as a teenager, Uri Avnery joined the Zionist military group in Palestine called the Irgun. So did Shamir, who was eight years older. The Irgun launched terrorist attacks on the British and on Arab Palestinians, but when the Second World War started, the Irgun suspended its violent actions on the British.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir
Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir

Uri Avnery left the Irgun in 1942 and moved to the left. After Israel was established, he became a magazine editor, led Zionist peace parties and served several terms in the Knesset. In 1982, he was the first Israeli politician to meet with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat.

Yitzhak Shamir's stay in the Irgun was even shorter, but he moved even further right. In 1940, the Irgun split, and a faction left to start a group that called itself "Fighters for the Freedom of Israel," or Lehi, according to its Hebrew initials. The Lehi broke off because it was opposed to stopping military action against the British.

The reader may be dumbfounded by my calling Shamir part of a pro-Nazi gang, but it's literally true. Lehi was fascist in form and practice, admired Nazi Germany right into 1942, and attempted to make a military alliance with Adolph Hitler.

Lehi was commonly referred to by Palestinian Jews as "the Stern Gang" after its top leader Avraham Stern. Lenni Brenner has written extensively about its attempt to link with the Nazis. Documents found after the Second World War showed that in January and again in December of 1941, the group sent representatives to meet with Nazi officials to establish a military alliance. The Nazis weren't interested.

Now, the full dimensions of the Holocaust were not known in 1941, but the atrocities had certainly begun. After all, on "Kristallnacht" back in 1938, the Nazis murdered a hundred German Jews and put 30,000 in concentration camps. How in blazes could a Jewish group in 1941 want to ally with Nazi Germany?

Avnery explains things this way: "Stern was a logical person. The aim was to set up a Jewish state in all of Palestine. The enemy was the British empire. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Therefore, we must cooperate with the Nazis." Avnery writes that in 1940, he himself was "tempted," but in the end, he rejected Stern's "atrocious logic."

As Stern explained it at the time, there were "persecutors" and there were "enemies." The Nazis, he said, were "persecutors," just like many others through the ages. Worse, though, were the "enemies" who ruled over the land that belonged to the Jews, the British. So according to this mad logic, the British were worse than the Nazis.

BUT THERE was more to it. I rely on a 1992 article about Shamir and Lehi by the esteemed human rights advocate, the late Israel Shahak. He himself quotes from a book about the Lehi written by an Israeli named Dr. Yosef Heller (no relation), written in Hebrew in 1988.

Heller explains that Avraham Stern admired the Nazi and Italian fascists. In 1940, Mussolini's air force bombed Tel Aviv, killing 100 people and injuring hundreds more. No doubt most Palestinians, Jews and Arabs alike, were horrified. Stern had a different reaction. According to the Heller book, the attack "impressed him deeply," and Stern became convinced that Italy would be victorious.

Stern "expressly stated his wish to be like Quisling, already known then as the ruler of Norway on Hitler's behalf. He wanted to perform the same role in the 'kingdom of Israel' allied with the Nazis." And the borders of this kingdom? From the Nile to the Euphrates!

Stern was serious about creating a monarchy. He detested democracy. According to Yosef Heller, Stern wrote, "Democracy as a goal in itself is something we should have nothing to do with." In conformity with this notion, Lehi under Stern's inspiration praised the Nazis extravagantly for locking the Polish Jews into the ghettos, contrasting this favorably with the conditions of Jewish life in Poland before the Nazi invasion.

The Stern Gang killed a growing number of Jewish and British colonial police. The British caught up with Avraham Stern in Tel Aviv in February 1942 and, according to a witness, tied him up and murdered him. Shamir and others were arrested, but later escaped.

No more was said about linking up with Hitler, but Lehi continued to fight against the British during the war. In 1944, they assassinated Lord Moyne, the highest British official in the Middle East. One of the killers was Eliyahu Bet-Zuri, who was later hanged. In 2011, the London Telegraph newspaper reported that MI5 files included a report saying that in 1944, Bet-Zuri suggested the group assassinate Winston Churchill.

Obviously, they never did that, but they killed. They killed Arabs, they killed the UN's first mediator (and Second World War rescuer of Jews) Count Folke Bernadotte, and they took part in the infamous Deir Yassin massacre. And they killed Jews--many Jews. In fact, most of their 42 assassinations were of Jews--some for supposedly collaborating, some for trying to leaving Lehi.

There was one special killing. Yitzhak Shamir killed his boss. The man's name was Eliyahu Giladi. Uri Avnery says Giladi was killed for "excessive zeal"--for drawing up plans for all kinds of killing of Zionist leaders, including David Ben-Gurion.

Israel Shahak has a different explanation. He bases it on an article by a Haaretz expert on intelligence affairs Yossi Melman ("Who was the first to draw?" September 27, 1991).

First, it has to be understood that in the 1940s, the Lehi was financing itself by robberies, thousands of robberies. They robbed British banks and Zionist banks, and then casually selected Jewish apartments and robbed the tenants. Shahak writes, "To all appearances, the assassination of Eliyahu Giladi stemmed from a personal conflict with Shamir over who would have the authority to approve the robberies." Giladi was lured to a Tel Aviv beach and shot. Lehi collectively admitted responsibility, but to this day has not revealed where the body was buried.

So how can Avnery talk about Shamir's "honesty"? He stole and killed for his gang of madmen. So he didn't live high on the hog himself. Does that make him an honest man?

So twisted is Zionist thinking that Avraham Stern is memorialized as a hero in Israel. In 1978, an Israeli postage stamp was issued in his honor. In 1986, Shamir opened a new West Bank settlement called Yair. "Yair" was the underground name Avraham Stern gave to himself--it means "Illuminator."

IN HIS piece, Avnery praises Shamir for, during his time as prime minister, not attacking Iraq when Saddam Hussein shot missiles at Israel and forcing a million Russian Jews who were leaving Russia to come to Israel instead of their first choice, the U.S. (That was good? Wouldn't the world have been better off if they came to Brooklyn?) He doesn't talk at all about Shamir's policies towards Palestinians in his two stints as prime minister.

1986 was the first year of Shamir's second term as Israeli prime minister. He continued the Israeli government practices of seizing land, building settlements, detention without charges, blowing up houses to punish families for acts of violence and routinely torturing Palestinians in prisons. The catchphrase of the day was that this was the policy of the "iron fist."

Finally, in December 1987, there was a popular explosion. An Israeli truck killed a number of Palestinians in Gaza, and angry demonstrations took place. It was the beginning of the popular uprising called the Intifada. Tens of thousands of people took part. There were massive demonstrations, strikes, boycotts, tax strikes and violence, primarily rock throwing, slingshots and Molotov cocktails.

Shamir's response was endless violence. He didn't use police to control demonstrations. He sent the army, which used its sharpshooters to pick off supposed leaders. In the first year and a half, 60 people were killed by tear gas. Curfews went on for days and weeks. People were shot for looking out of their windows.

Shamir's defense minister Yitzhak Rabin said his policy to put down the Intifada was "force, might, beatings." Palestinians alleged that captured youths would have their hands or arms broken so they couldn't throw stones--and lo and behold, a journalist caught one such beating on film. All schools were closed for years. Teacher who taught reading and writing to children in their homes were arrested.

It went on for six years, and Yitzhak Shamir was at the helm for four and a half of those years. Over a thousand Palestinians were killed. President George Bush Sr. forced Shamir to go to Madrid for negotiations, but as he himself later admitted, all he did was drag things out.

Shamir's party lost votes heavily in the 1992 election, and Yitzhak Rabin took over as prime minister.

Shamir's parting shot? In May 1992, a Palestinian from Gaza murdered a 15-year-old girl in a city near Tel Aviv. Israeli Jews started five days of rioting which only ended when the murdered girl's father asked it to end. The rioters beat any Arab they could find. Shamir words to the nation? He egged the rioters on. On the third day, he made this statement: "Any terrorist who comes to kill must know that he is a marked man, and will not come out alive...Terrorists should be killed at the time that they are attacking their victims, and anyone who kills them should know that no evil will befall him."

There is no reason to pretty up Shamir's image. Thug, terrorist, fanatic, pro-Nazi, oppressor--this is what needs to be remembered about Yitzhak Shamir.

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