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April 17, 2001
L'affaire Shamir

By Ahmed Amr.


In a recent provocative and well-reasoned article, Ali Abunimah and Hussein Ibish challenged Israel Shamir for using terms of reference associated with classical anti-Semites (see article: Serious Concerns about Israel Shamir). At NileMedia, we have published articles by all three of these writers; Ali, Israel and Hussein. So, we feel duty-bound to enter the fray. There is no mystery as to why we are a natural platform for both Abunimah and Ibish. They have earned a well-deserved name as vocal champions of Arab-American civil rights and as defenders of the Palestinian cause. They are also community leaders who have made great efforts to let our government hear the voice of Arab-Americans.

Now, Israel Shamir is a Russian-Israeli with a unique perspective. We publish his work because we find it powerful, in your face, irreverent, mischievous, challenging and full of substance. I still get a kick out of reading "The rape of Dulcinea" and how it knocked the stuff out of a hypocrite like Elie Wiesel. He has written eloquently about the criminal war record of Sharon and Begin. He leaves the reader no doubt about where he stands. He is mad as hell about Jewish silence and complicity, in Israel and in America. Shamir wants to get a rise out of other Jews. Having taken on that thankless task, he is not particular about how he goes about the business of provoking his community out of its collective indifference to the plight of the Palestinian. This man is not reserved with his words. Indeed, he is a Russian-Israeli flame-thrower who makes no claims to being politically correct.

I have never been to Israel, but I have encountered many Israelis. Even American Jews are quick to admit that they are not the politest people. Part of being a Sabra is pushing your way to the front of the line. There is such a thing as an Israeli national character. The people of Israel recently elected a racist serial mass murderer to the office of Prime Minister and, according to recent polls, three out of four approve of Sharon's initiatives to intensify the violent tactics of his occupation army. The average Israeli is a racist; a product of a culture that disdains the native people of Palestine. The average American Jew is a bigot and not just towards Arabs. Casting aside their masquerades as liberals, the leadership of this influential community applauds every act of violence inflicted against the Palestinians by the State of Israel.

Consider that The New York Times, the town square of American Jewish intellectuals, is a brazen apologist for every Israeli assault against Palestinian rights. In such a viciously racist political environment, Israel Shamir's voice is very normal and authentic. Part of the allure of his work is that he has broken the code of silence about the racism that is an integral part of daily Israeli discourse. And Arab-Americans should, likewise, not shy away from calling American Jews and their powerful political organizations for their overt campaigns in support of Israeli aggression. An essential ingredient of these campaign is the demonization of Palestinians and Arabs, including Americans of Arab heritage. We should not sit around and pretend that American Jewish intellectuals, writing in the service of La Causa Zionista, ever take into consideration that their racist propaganda affects each and every one of their Arab-American countrymen. To ignore such a glaring reality would be like African-Americans dealing with racism without pointing a finger at European-Americans. To the American Jewish leadership: J'accuse every day of the week. These racist apologists are fully aware of the consequences of giving support and comfort a deranged and violent Ariel Sharon. The "journalists" at the New York Times have no moral reservations about acting as the Propaganda ministry of the Israeli government.

Ali Abunimah and Hussein Ibish's reservations about Israel Shamir stem from a deep reservoir of decency that is very typical of urbane Arab-American intellectuals. They are certainly correct in challenging the wisdom of some of Shamir's outrageous language. There are many ways to light a fire under the complacent and complicit ass of the powerful American-Jewish community without using the spurious and inflammatory charge of being "Christ Killers". Not to mention, that Easter is bad timing.

I applaud both Ali and Hussein, for their sensitivity, their intellectual honesty, their consideration and their well thought criticism of Israel Shamir. We are fortunate, as a community, to have such outstanding sober leaders in our ranks. In a week when a Chief Israeli Rabbi, the leader of the Shas party that sits in the coalition government, called for the liquidation of the Arab people, it is certainly noble of our community's leaders to voice serious concerns about Israel Shamir's choice of language. Shamir is the Abie Hoffman of the Israeli left. He means to be out of line. He flips the birdy to the Israeli war establishment and their American advocates every chance he gets, in much the same fashion as Vietnam era anti-War demonstrators.

If anyone seriously thinks that Israel Shamir is in any way an anti-Semite, they are deeply mistaken. His writings evoke a deeply rooted pride in the traditions and values of his people, the Eastern European Jews. It enrages him that Jews would take on the historically uncharacteristic role of dispossessing and repressing another people. His family, like many other European Jews, suffered their unfathomable losses in the Holocaust. The difference between him and other Israelis, is he chooses to spare the Palestinians from his rage about the Nazis.

On a personal note, and as a matter of intellectual honesty, I need to bring to the attention of our readers the fact that I have edited some of Israel Shamir's articles. I find his work compelling and strident and certainly thought provoking. He paints a very clear picture of what Israelis are doing to the Palestinians, a picture too often and too deliberately obscured by other Israelis. Like Ali AbuNimah and Hussein Ibish, I have expressed reservations about how he sometimes chooses to deliver his very blunt message to his community. But, he assures me, that in the Israeli language of the 'entre-nous", flipping the birdy is a common form of discourse. Last year, the very same Israeli Rabbi who called for the liquidation of Arabs, also expressed the disgusting view that the victims of the Holocaust deserved what happened to them because they were reincarnated sinners. He is still the big cheese in the Shas party, the third largest political party in Israel.

There is another point that Israel Shamir often makes, most recently in an article titled "The Third Dove". It is worth taking into account. If you accuse him of being an Anti-Semite, he shrugs, as if to say, what anti-Semitism?

Now, I need to chime in. Is it a problem being a Jew in the world today, anywhere, any time of day? Consider that over eighty percent of Jews live in America and Israel. Is being a Jew a plus or a minus in America? If ever a country has honored a religious and ethnic minority to the point of hypersensitivity, it is America. If you ought to be in pictures, it does not hurt to be a Jew. If you want to be a paper-back writer, editor or a comedian, it is a distinct advantage to be a Jew. In many ways you have and edge, not just over other Americans, but over other European-Americans. If you are a Jewish lawyer or doctor, people do not shy away from doing business with you. On Wall Street, if you are Jewish, you are not an unfamiliar or unwelcome face. In the highest ranks of government; Jews hold prominent chairs.

Do we still have problems with bigotry and racism in America? Every day of the year. So, it is not like the propensity to be a racist and a bigot has miraculously disappeared from our shores. It is still there, in the ugliest and rawest form. Except, it is no longer a problem for the Jews; they are fully integrated into the dominant European-American family. Indeed, within that family, to make amends for previous neglect, they are treated as a favored child.

Now, if you are African-American, Native-American, Hispanic, Asian, a refugee from Bosnia or Croatia, an individual of Middle Eastern heritage, you will have stories to tell. Twenty-first century tales of what it means to be a victim of bigotry and racism.

If it is so difficult to be a Jew in America, if anti-Semitism is a serious problem, how did we end up with eleven Jewish Senator and no African-American or Hispanic Senators? It is no more difficult to be Jewish than to be Italian. For most Americans, it just means you favor bagels over Pizza.

Which brings us to real problems; like the problem of being an Arab-American. The boys in the mass media, an industry where Jews have a dominant presence, never miss an opportunity to defame our heritage. Even though we are of the Abrahamic traditions, Christians and Moslems, we are portrayed as the most alien of aliens. You want to experience racial profiling by Federal law enforcement? Last year, I had a very nasty personal encounter with a civil servant working for the Border Patrol. Suffice it to say it ruined what had been an otherwise marvelous day in Vancouver, British Columbia.

If there is anti-Semitism today it is "soft anti-Semitism". By "soft", I mean the kind of anti-Semitism that says "don't criticize the Jews or the Israelis, you know what they went through in the Holocaust". American Jews can stand a little criticism, especially when they rally around any war criminal Israel elects for a Prime Minister. It is inexcusable behavior and they should be challenged on it. Especially, if they are all too willing to criticize a European Haider or Waldheim. If as Americans we can openly discourse about "Hitler's pope", we can certainly discuss why an influential ethnic group has an abnormal attachment to a Foreign State governed by a racist coalition under the leadership of an ax murderer like Ariel Sharon.

On the question of the Palestinian Uprising, Arab-Americans have been shunned by our own government. Here we are, the American community most likely to feel the anguish of the Palestinians and yet our government is not interested in what we have to say. Our involvement is always marginalized, because they have ears for only one ethnic group, the American-Jewish lobby.

We have strange political taboos in America. One cannot speak up for the cause of Palestinian freedom. If you point out that Israel is a foreign occupation army violating international law, it does not seem to matter. The East Timor struggle for independence succeeded because the Indonesians caved into American pressure. American Jewish groups lobby very actively to get American subsidies to allow Israel to suppress the Palestinian uprising.

At some point, these inter-communal issues between ethnic Arabs and ethnic Jews will need to be addressed. There is hardly an Arab-American, today, who does not feel a grievance against the American Jewish Establishment. There were many of us that had hoped to find fellow travelers among American Jewish liberals. I have come to strongly believe that liberal American Jews are a statistical aberration, something from the thirties and the sixties. They all back Sharon, now. If Shamir wants to flip them a birdy, that is something they need to deal with "amongst themselves".

In the meantime, Shamir should give serious consideration to Ali and Hussein. He needs to be allowed a forum to defend himself. It would help if he would also consider not flipping so many birdies.