FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Most Successful Terrorist of the 20th Century?

by URI AVNERY

Two former Prime Ministers of Israel are in the news these days. They represent two of the many faces of Israel.

They also raise a universal question: which is preferable – an honest fanatic or a corrupt pragmatist?

Yitzhak Shamir died two weeks ago and was buried in the cemetery of the “Great of the Nation” in Jerusalem. He was 97 years old and had been vegetating for years in a state of dementia. Most Israelis did not know that he was still alive.

When I described him on TV as “the most successful terrorist of the 20th century”, the interviewer raised his eyebrows. But it was an accurate description.

Shamir was not a great thinker. In his teens he joined the right-wing Zionist youth organization of Vladimir Jabotinsky in Poland, and since then he did not change his world-view one iota. In this respect he was absolutely immovable. He wanted a Jewish state in all of the historical country. Period. No nonsense about Arabs and such.

We both joined the Irgun underground at the same time. I was too young to take part in actual terrorist actions, he, eight years my senior, carried them out. At the time, the Irgun killed scores of Arab men, women and children in attacks on Arab markets, in retaliation for Arab attacks on Jewish civilians. We defied the policy of “self-restraint” ordered by the Zionist leadership.

In the summer of 1940 the Irgun split. One of the commanders, Avraham Stern, founded the organization known to the British as the “Stern Gang”. (Eventually it was called LEHI, acronym for Fighters for the Freedom of Israel.)

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. He sent several emissaries to contact the Germans. Some were intercepted by the British, the others were ignored by the Nazis.

I could not accept this atrocious logic and did not join, though the temptation was there. Shamir did.

He was caught and imprisoned (unlike Stern himself, who was caught and shot on the spot). Within a short time, virtually all the members of the organization were killed or arrested. The group ceased to exist – until Shamir and a colleague,  Eliahu Giladi, broke out. The two acted together and brought LEHI to life again. One day Shamir had Giladi tried and shot.

Giladi was not accused of treason, but, on the contrary – of excessive zeal. He made plans for revolutionary actions, such as killing David Ben-Gurion and the entire Zionist leadership. Shamir decided that his adventurous nature endangered the organization and that he must be removed. Afterwards Shamir named his daughter Gilada.

Many years later I asked him which historical personality he admired most. He answered without hesitation: Lenin. I understood that he admired him because Lenin ruthlessly followed the maxim “the end justifies the means”.

Shamir was one of LEHI’s three leaders. He was responsible for operations and organization, meticulously building a deliberately small group of selected individuals, executing incredibly daring actions. He himself planned every single operation in the greatest detail. The most famous was the assassination of Lord Moyne, the senior British functionary in the Middle East, in Cairo.)

He was arrested again when the British shut down Tel Aviv and conducted a house-to-house search. Shamir was well disguised but could not hide his most obvious characteristic: he was very small, almost a dwarf, with a big, strong head. The soldiers were instructed to arrest every man below a certain height.

This time he was sent to a detention camp in Africa, from which he duly escaped. He reached French Djibouti, was brought by a French warship to Paris where he stayed until Israel came into being.

LEHI never amounted to more than a few hundred members. But it played a major role in driving the British out of this country.

In Israel, Shamir disappeared from view. For years he worked for the Mossad. It was rumored that his speciality was sending letter bombs. When he resurfaced, he joined the party of his erstwhile competitor, Menachem Begin. He was appointed Knesset chairman.

Once I decided to stage a small demonstration in the Knesset. I wore under my jacket a t-shirt saying “Peace is better than a Greater Israel”. During the plenary session I took the jacket off. After some minutes of shock, an usher asked me politely to see the chairman in his office. Shamir received me with a big smile and said: “Uri, where would we be if every member did something like that? Now that you have made your point, would you please put your jacket on again?” Which I did, of course.

When Begin made peace with Egypt and even I voted for him, Shamir abstained. After Lebanon War I, when Begin resigned saying “I can’t go on any more”, Shamir took his place.

As prime minister, his most outstanding achievement was to do nothing, except building settlements – quietly and unobtrusively. Under American pressure, he attended the Madrid peace conference, determined not to budge an inch. As he remarked later, he was quite ready to negotiate with the Arabs for any length of time.

He did not dream of making peace, which would have drawn frontiers and barred the way to Greater Israel. His ideology was summed up by his most famous dictum, alluding to the old adage that the Arabs want to throw the Jews into the sea: “The Arabs are the same Arabs and the sea is the same sea.” Another famous statement: “It is permissible to lie for the fatherland.”

Remarkably, this man, who joined the Irgun (like me) in protest against “self-restraint”, exercised self-restraint par excellence when Saddam Hussein rained missiles on Israel during the Gulf War. Shamir was content to let the Americans do the job.

His other great achievement was preventing Jews from reaching the US. When the Soviet leadership allowed Jews to emigrate, almost all of them proceeded straight to the US. Shamir persuaded the White House to shut the gates, and thus compelled more than a million Russian Jews to come to Israel (where they now swell the ranks of the extreme right.)

For a short time he was the mentor of the young Binyamin Netanyahu, but then he came to detest him. After Netanyahu made a small tactical concession to the Arabs, he called him “Angel of Destruction”. One may assume that he was also disgusted by Netanyahu’s penchant for luxury. When not lying for the fatherland, Shamir was straight as a ramrod, living in utmost modesty. There never was – or could be – even the slightest hint of corruption.

Which leads us straight to Ehud Olmert.

Once upon a time there was a Minister of Education, Zalman Aran, who was known for his dry humor. A party functionary once came up to him and said: “Ziama, you can congratulate me. I have been acquitted!”

“Strange,” Aran replied, “I have never been acquitted!”

Olmert has been acquitted many times. During his entire career, he has danced from one acquittal to the next.

This week it happened again. After a long trial, in which he was accused on five different counts of corruption, he was acquitted of four. One concerned his habit of letting himself be invited by several charity organizations to lecture in the US, and letting all of them pay separately for the same first class ticket (using the surplus for his family’s private outings.) Another count: reporting to the State Comptroller that his collection of expensive pens was worth a tenth of its real value.

The district court decided to acquit him on all counts for lack of proof, except one: that as Minister of Industry he had favored the clients of his close friend, who obliged him by keeping a large amount of cash stashed away in his safe.

Olmert celebrated his partial acquittal as a great victory. The media – the same media which celebrated his indictment when it all started – are taking part in the celebration. He is still awaiting the outcome of an even bigger trial. The accusation, this time: taking bribes for the building of a huge multi-billion architectural monster in the center of Jerusalem when he was mayor of the city. Everybody expects that he will be acquitted, as usual.

Among the outcries against the Attorney General in the media was the accusation that he, a mere civil servant, had toppled an incumbent Prime Minister on trumped-up charges. Worse, that he had done so just when Olmert was about to make peace with the Palestinians.

Nonsense. In his years in the Prime Minister’s office, during which he initiated two dirty wars (Lebanon War II and Operation “Cast Lead”), he had plenty of time to make peace. He did Indeed produce a peace plan – but only on the eve of his expected political demise. With peacemakers like this, who needs warmongers?

However, Olmert is already hinting that after his next acquittal he will return to political life.

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.

URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 28, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Slandering Populism: a Chilling Media Habit
Andrew Levine
Why I Fear and Loathe Trump Even More Now Than On Election Day
Jeffrey St. Clair
Mountain of Tears: the Vanishing Glaciers of the Pacific Northwest
Philippe Marlière
The Neoliberal or the Fascist? What Should French Progressives Do?
Conn Hallinan
America’s New Nuclear Missile Endangers the World
Peter Linebaugh
Omnia Sunt Communia: May Day 2017
Vijay Prashad
Reckless in the White House
Brian Cloughley
Who Benefits From Prolonged Warfare?
Kathy Kelly
The Shame of Killing Innocent People
Ron Jacobs
Hate Speech as Free Speech: How Does That Work, Exactly?
Andre Vltchek
Middle Eastern Surgeon Speaks About “Ecology of War”
Matt Rubenstein
Which Witch Hunt? Liberal Disanalogies
Sami Awad - Yoav Litvin - Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
Never Give Up: Nonviolent Civilian Resistance, Healing and Active Hope in the Holyland
Pete Dolack
Tribunal Finds Monsanto an Abuser of Human Rights and Environment
Christopher Ketcham
The Coyote Hunt
Mike Whitney
Putin’s New World Order
Ramzy Baroud
Palestinian, Jewish Voices Must Jointly Challenge Israel’s Past
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 100 Days of Rage and Rapacity
Harvey Wasserman
Marine Le Pen Is a Fascist—Not a ‘Right-Wing Populist,’ Which Is a Contradiction in Terms
William Hawes
World War Whatever
John Stanton
War With North Korea: No Joke
Jim Goodman
NAFTA Needs to be Replaced, Not Renegotiated
Murray Dobbin
What is the Antidote to Trumpism?
Louis Proyect
Left Power in an Age of Capitalist Decay
Medea Benjamin
Women Beware: Saudi Arabia Charged with Shaping Global Standards for Women’s Equality
Rev. William Alberts
Selling Spiritual Care
Peter Lee
Invasion of the Pretty People, Kamala Harris Edition
Cal Winslow
A Special Obscenity: “Guernica” Today
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey’s Kurdish Agenda
Guillermo R. Gil
The Senator Visits Río Piedras
Jeff Mackler
Mumia Abu-Jamal Fights for a New Trial and Freedom 
Cesar Chelala
The Responsibility of Rich Countries in Yemen’s Crisis
Leslie Watson Malachi
Women’s Health is on the Chopping Block, Again
Basav Sen
The Coal Industry is a Job Killer
Judith Bello
Rojava, a Popular Imperial Project
Robert Koehler
A Public Plan for Peace
Sam Pizzigati
The Insider Who Blew the Whistle on Corporate Greed
Nyla Ali Khan
There Has to be a Way Out of the Labyrinth
Michael J. Sainato
Trump Scales Back Antiquities Act, Which Helped to Create National Parks
Stu Harrison
Under Duterte, Filipino Youth Struggle for Real Change
Martin Billheimer
Balm for Goat’s Milk
Stephen Martin
Spooky Cookies and Algorithmic Steps Dystopian
Michael Doliner
Thank You Note
Charles R. Larson
Review: Gregor Hens’ “Nicotine”
David Yearsley
Handel’s Executioner
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail