|Volume I||1992||Number 1|
YITZHAK SHAMIR, THEN AND NOW
Dr. Shahak, Holocaust survivor and retired professor of chemistry at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is Chairman of the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights.
et me begin by pointing out two salient features of Israeli politics, one known for about a year's time to all serious commentators, and the other revealed only very recently. The first is that Yitzhak Shamir wields power over Likud, his government coalition and the whole of Israel with an iron fist, even if sometimes clad in a velvet glove. This sometimes conveys a false impression of his "passivity." At the same time Shamir's popularity among Likud's rank and file is growing, even in the ranks of other parties of his coalition, including the religious ones. He is not hated by his opponents so virulently as Menachem Begin was, even though his policies are in every respect more hawkish than Begin's were.
The second salient feature of Israeli politics is Shamir's self-confidence. He entered the confrontation with U.S. President George Bush without even trying to disguise his certainty that he would emerge from the contest triumphant. This is something which no previous Israeli prime minister ever attempted. In 1956, when Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion confronted President Eisenhower's opposition [to the Sinai invasion], he retreated within 24 hours, even though he had France and Britain on his side. Shamir's policies are supported by not one foreign state. His only ally abroad is a coalition of American domestic interests led by the Jewish lobby. Yet nothing in his behavior points to the fact that he may contemplate a compromise. On the contrary, he keeps aggravating the confrontation with Bush, to all appearances deliberately. After his own ministers, Ariel Sharon and Rechavam Ze'evi, scolded Bush in the crudest of terms, the latter going as far as twice accusing Bush of anti-Semitism, neither Shamir nor any "senior official" uttered a word to dissociate himself from such statements, even though the failure to do so might have looked like Shamir's agreement with them (which it might well have been). Worse, the statements might have appeared to be coordinated by him because he considered them politically convenient.
Shamir's use of the iron fist is already common knowledge in Israel. A good description of how it looks in practice is provided by the Knesset correspondent of Al Hamishmar, Motti Bassok ("Everything happens as he says," September 17, 1991). The description opens by an observation that "although Israel is a democracy, the state is in actuality governed like a dictatorship." Insofar as foreign affairs are concerned, "the U.S. and other states realized already long ago that the only address for doing business [with Israel] was the Prime Minister's Office." In that office "Shamir surrounded himself with a special team in charge of American affairs. . . . All members of this team served for long periods of time in the Israeli Embassy in Washington. . . . All of them are reputed to be extreme but rational hawks." The term "rational" in this context means that, unlike the Gush Emunim or other religious zealots, they do not rely on a direct intervention of God but are capable of designing expedient methods toward the same goals. According to Bassok, Shamir is not interested (within the limits of the possible, of course) in any sector of administration other than the military and foreign affairs (i.e., including the settlements and the situation in the territories in general). He is not even interested in the budget. "The Israeli economy does not interest him. . . . In contrast to Begin, he is totally insensitive to the conditions of the poor." It suffices for him if some members of his team keep an eye on the Treasury.
A few of Shamir's political pronouncements are worth quoting. On one occasion he said: "It is clear as the sun at noontime that the whole Land of Israel belongs to us" (interview in Hadashot, September 17, 1991). According to Bassok, "Shamir treated Bush's speech as a personal insult," to which he reacted by declaring that "we shall never sell our rights for money" (Haaretz, September 15, 1991). On still another occasion he said that "Israel will keep settling the Jews up to where the horizon extends" (Haaretz, September 25, 1991). And so on. Such declarations and the deeds in their wake aroused the apprehensions and even the wrath of some leaders of American Jewish organizations. Still, the Conference of the Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations can be presumed to keep faithfully supporting Shamir's policies under any circumstances. The American Jewish leaders doubting the wisdom of Shamir's policies would speak up in public only if their names were withheld. The single exception has been Abe R. Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, who in an article signed with his own name ("It makes no sense to feed the Israeli leaders with illusions," Yediot Ahronot, October 1, 1991) warned the Israelis that Shamir's team might be mistaken in their assessments of American politics. But Foxman's warning was immediately followed by an attack on Bush which was both virulent and devious. It was a retaliation for leaking to the American press a report of the U.S. Export-Import Bank which doubted Israel's ability to repay the loans for which the U.S. guarantees were requested. In retaliation for this leak, the Jerusalem Post reported on October 4, 1991, ("Israel furious over critical U.S. credit report") that an Israeli "senior official," (possibly Shamir himself) said: "Bush told the anti-semites to give kikes a kick." The presumed intention of the Jerusalem Post report was to incite the American Jews against Bush. But Shamir's influence on American Jews must be reserved for a separate article.
Given such facts, it is only natural that while the more credulous Israelis at least for the time being tend to follow Shamir blindly, the critically minded search for an explanation of Shamir's current behavior in his past. The most formative years of his life (he confirms this himself) were those he spent in the Jewish underground in Palestine, especially in the LEHI organization (the Stern Gang), where he rose from a junior member to the rank of one of its three top commanders. His loyalty to the ideological principles of LEHI can be observed to this very day. He continues to attend the yearly ceremonial assemblies of its veterans. This is why the ideological principles of LEHI deserve to be retrieved from historical memory. But not only the ideological principles. Their actions must also be reexamined, such as their ideologically motivated offer of an alliance to Nazi Germany, or Shamir's assassination of his friend Eliyahu Gil'adi, owing to which he rapidly rose in LEHI's ranks. Gil'adi's assassination is currently much discussed in the Hebrew press, on the basis of both long known and newly discovered sources.
The LEHI people developed in the Revisionist segment of the Zionist movement, which was founded by Ze'ev Jabotinsky in the 1920s. As soon as they split from Revisionism, they began to devise a distinct ideology, formulated most fully by its first commander, Avraham Stern, known under the nom-de-guerre of Yair. Yair was killed by the British in 1942, but his memory continues to be worshipped by the veterans of LEHI, including Shamir. His cult surpasses the normally practiced forms of veneration of the dead in Jewish society, except for those in the Hassidic sects. A quite voluminous literature, still published with the aim of propagating this cult, has apparently failed to recruit converts, with the exception of some offspring of the veterans. Various yearly celebrations and other forms of Yair worship testify to the intensity of conviction of LEHI survivors. Not one of them, including those who subsequently moved far to the left, found it advisable to utter a word of criticism of Yair or of his ideology, even when their later beliefs were totally at odds with it.
In its details, LEHI ideology was quite elaborate. But its crucial points were conveniently summed up as "Principles of Renaissance" [of the Jewish nation], drafted by Yair for LEHI members and recruits who were commanded to learn them by heart. They were published repeatedly in various books of LEHI veterans, but their most authoritative version appears in Unknown Soldiers [Hayalim Almonim, in Hebrew, Tel Aviv, 1957]: a book edited by Yaakov Bana'i and published by the Association of LEHI Veterans, after its contents were overseen by Yitzhak Shamir. The only genuinely scholarly and scrupulously objective study of that organization's history to date is: LEHI: Ideology and Politics, 1940 -- 1949, by Yosef Heller, Zalman Shazar Jewish History Center, 1989 (in Hebrew). Behind all the Principles, two underlying assumptions can be detected. First that the Jews and the non-Jews are categories apart. And the second that biblical ideas (minus God, who is not mentioned in the Principles), are to be applied to ongoing politics.
The first underlying assumption can be immediately noticed in Principle A, "THE NATION," which reads: "The Jewish nation is unlike any other nation; [it is the] founder of monotheism; the legislator of prophetic morality; the sole bearer of universal culture; great in tradition and self-sacrifice; [great] in its will to live and its capacity for suffering, in its unique spiritual radiance and its assurance of its Redemption." It can be safely assumed that the founders of Zionism, from Herzl to Ben-Gurion and Jabotinsky, could only be horrified by a concept of Jewish uniqueness so strikingly similar to Nazi concepts of German uniqueness. (No wonder Yair sought an alliance with the Nazis in 1941.) The forefathers of Zionism were hostile toward the Arabs of Palestine, some of them even toward all the Arabs, for reasons of what they conceived of as Jewish interest. But none of them were hostile toward all the non-Jews for reasons of principle. Even more important, they were all keenly aware that Zionism borrowed the ideas originated by non-Jews, in order to apply them to the specific case of the Jews. (It borrowed both from movements with ethical contents such as liberalism or socialism and from movements devoid of such contents, such as Western colonialism and imperialism.) In contrast, the 'Principles of Renaissance" do not even mention the Arabs, but only the "aliens" who inhabit the land belonging to the Jews, and they do not try to link LEHI with any ideas of non-Jewish authorship. This is why democracy is not even mentioned there; nor for that matter, oligarchy. The aim of LEHI is defined as the establishment of "the Kingdom of Israel." Principle D, "THE MISSION" reads: "The [Jewish] nation cannot undergo a renaissance without restoration of the monarchy." Similarly, there is not even a lip-service to peace, no matter under what conditions. Principle I, "WAR," proclaims: "An eternal war shall be waged against all those who satanically stand in the way of the realization [of our] aims" (emphases mine). Principle J, "CONQUEST," postulates "the conquest of the homeland by force from aliens for perpetuity," while Principle N, "THE FATE OF THE ALIENS," reads: "The problem of the aliens will be solved through population exchanges." Even in the aftermath of the conquest and "population exchanges," and after the "total ingathering of the [Jewish] exiles in the Kingdom of Israel," as anticipated by Principle Q, takes place, war and renewed conquest remain the only prospects. Principle P, "RULE" postulates, after the expulsion of the "aliens" and the ingathering of all Jews to Land of Israel, "an aggrandizement of the Hebrew nation into a military, political, cultural and economic power of the first rank in the entire [Middle] East and on all the shores of the Mediterranean.
The biblical inspiration is most noticeable in the delineation of the boundaries of the Land of Israel. Thus, Principle B, "THE HOMELAND," says that these boundaries are "defined in a Torah [Pentateuch] verse: 'Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates, Genesis, 15:18."' In fact, the quotation is out of context, for the verse in question begins with the words "in the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying. . . . Yair carefully omitted to mention both the Lord and the covenant, and for good reason, because the Bible abounds in passages in which God threatens to expel the Jews from the land if they fail to keep the covenant, (as well as other passages in which all Jewish attempts to hold on to the land by force after breaching the covenant are condemned in advance). In the Bible, divine promise had been conditional; by presenting it as absolute, LEHI distorted its meaning. The same can be observed about Principle R (the last in the series) "THE TEMPLE," which commands "the construction of the Third Temple as a symbol in the process of Total Redemption," without bothering to explain what the "symbol" is supposed to stand for. The religious meaning of the Temple lay in worshipping God through animal sacrifices performed in conformity with His commands. Religious Jews would certainly have no use for a LEHI-style secular Temple, intended by the atheist Yair and his no less atheist disciple Shamir to remain a mere symbol. The same holds true for the concept of the "Kingdom of Israel." For religious Jews, Israel as a Jewish state should ultimately become a monarchy, because the biblical God assigned the rule over Jews to "David and his seed, forever." There are problems with it, because for centuries nobody has known who is a descendant of David and who is not. This is why the religious Jews look forward to the coming of the Messiah, who would be capable of confirming his Davidic descent by performing miracles. Significantly, LEHI Principles refrain from saying anything about the Davidic descent of a king to be enthroned in what they call the "Kingdom of Israel." For if they wanted to establish a monarchy because of its symbolic value, it must have occurred to them that it would be more expedient to establish it by ignoring the religious commandments than by following them. LEHI's inclination to exploit the sacred for profane (and quite criminal) purposes is quite in line with the old Jewish dictum, "Some Jews don't believe that God exists, but do believe that He gave the Land of Israel to them."
LEHI's invocation of the Bible for the sake of legitimizing the imperialist aspirations of the Jewish state was undoubtedly an innovation, as compared to what the Zionist movement had professed beforehand. Menachem Begin, for example, was always careful to derive Jewish territorial rights from secular and international documents such as those of the League of Nations Mandate, and so were all other major Zionist leaders. No doubt many of them were ready to grab as much land at a given time as was possible and to expel as many Arabs as they could. But their imperialist schemes were guided -- and constrained -- by strictly secular and pragmatic considerations. Yet LEHI's innovation put down roots, primarily in the circles of some religious zealots who keep popularizing the biblical borders by detailed maps. For them, pragmatic considerations amount to treason. For all his secularism, Yitzhak Shamir, as a faithful LEHI veteran, belongs to the latter genre of Zionists. His opposition to any Israeli withdrawal from any part of the territories, as well as some of his other objectives, like the now contemplated "preemptive" war with Syria, can be presumed to have more to do with his continuing loyalty to LEHI ideology than with any other considerations. The best way to understand Shamir's policies may well be by treating him as a secular Khomeinist, for whom the secular ideology of LEHI is the source of imperatives as categorical as those of Shiite Islam for Khomeini's followers.
LEHI showed its uniqueness in its very earliest political strategy, namely in its persistent search for an alliance with Nazi Germany throughout 1940 -- 41. Unlike all other Jewish groups of that time, the LEHI men respected Hitler. Later, the veterans of LEHI tried for a long time to deny that they had ever made alliance overtures to the Nazis. Unfortunately for them, documents proving the contrary were found by Israeli scholars and journalists and published long ago. The search for that alliance and its implications are best described in the above-mentioned book by Heller. He shows that the drafting of the Principles of Renaissance took place at the same time, and he argues that LEHI's pro-Nazism was by no means unrelated to the contents of this document.
Heller opens his discussion by recalling that Yair had, on ideological grounds, advocated a Jewish alliance with fascist states even before he founded his own organization in September 1940. His advocacy of that alliance was further spurred by advances of the Italian army into Egypt in September 1940 and by the Italian air raid on Tel Aviv at the same time. The raid, which resulted in over 100 dead and hundreds of wounded "impressed him deeply," turning him, as Heller notes, into a believer in Italian victory. Unlike all other Jewish groups in Palestine, Yair refused to believe that Mussolini's alliance with Hitler and his concomitant adoption of anti-Semitic policies could be of any significance for the Jews. Nor did he believe that Hitler's views on the "Jewish question" could have consequences for the fate of Jews. In order to persuade his comrades, he used two "ideological" arguments. The first was borrowed from Jabotinsky's distinction between "verbal" and "behavioral" anti-Semitism. Although used by Jabotinsky in a different context, it became a fundamental tenet of LEHI's ideology. Thus, argued Yair, Polish anti-Semitism (generalized by him as affecting every single Pole), was "behavioral" and therefore much worse than the Nazi one, which was supposed to be merely "verbal." Shamir is apparently affected by this doctrine to this very day. His virulent anti-Polish racism, as recently expressed in his notorious statement that "every Pole sucks anti-Semitism with his mother's milk," is clearly traceable to those ravings of his teacher Yair, and even reminiscent of the latter's pro-Nazi leanings.
The second argument of Yair, no less demagogic than the first, was the supposed distinction between "enemies of the Jews" and "Jew-haters." The latter, who, like
Hitler, "merely" hated the Jews, were to be regarded as a lesser evil, since according to Yair they were no more than the usual run of anti-Semites "who arise in every generation." The "enemies," by contrast, were those "who occupied the Jewish homeland" (as defined above), which meant the Arabs, the British and (on account of their rule in Syria and Lebanon) also the French: all three to be regarded as much worse than Hitler. Yair, who wanted the Jews to learn this distinction well, regarded every Jew cooperating with the British as deserving death. He 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. He would even consider this scheme as his personal contribution to the Messianic rebirth. To be sure, some former adherents were sufficiently repelled by this ideology to defect from LEHI. But Shamir remained, demonstrating his agreement with it. He can be presumed to agree with it still.
The pro-Italian leanings of Yair were consummated in some draft proposals of an alliance with Italy. Unfortunately for him, the Italian invasion of Egypt had been repulsed by the British in December 1940. This made Yair despair over the Italian alliance and pursue instead efforts to forge one with Germany. He unflinchingly believed that the Nazis would win the war. He regarded Nazi victory not only as assured but as also desirable for the Jews. Consequently, a victory of democracy over dictatorship, e.g., of Britain over Germany, would have been calamitous for the Jews: "How could we benefit from a victory of democracy? Democracy as a goal in itself is something we should have nothing to do with." In conformity with such notions, LEHI under Yair'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. As Heller clarifies, this praise was extended on the assumption that "in the Warsaw Ghetto there existed Jewish police, Jewish courts, Jewish tax collection," etc. This looked to LEHI like "a nascent Jewish state," preferable to conditions in Mandatory Palestine. This is why Yair looked forward to a Nazi conquest of Palestine. As he explained to a skeptical older right-winger, Abba Ahimeir: "We will then be able to deal with the Germans in the same manner as the Soviets dealt with them." He was apparently referring to the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, because the conversation with Ahimeir took place before the Nazi invasion of the USSR. But the pro-Nazi sympathies of Yair persisted after the invasion. It can be stated that they were well-grounded in the Principles of Renaissance written at the same time. There is no record of any LEHI veteran ever disassociating himself from this pernicious nonsense.
A concrete proposal of the alliance addressed to "Herr Hitler" followed in late December of 1940. It was facilitated by the fact that Syria and Lebanon were then still under the rule of the French Vichy regime. Consequently, there existed a Nazi diplomatic post in Beirut, while movement between Palestine and Lebanon was free. The proposal was unanimously approved by the entire LEHI command. A LEHI member, Naftali Lubenchik, was arrested for the actual delivery of the proposal to the German Consulate in Beirut. He did it disguised as a Maronite and with assistance from some Lebanese friends of LEHI. Lubenchik did meet a senior representative of the German Foreign Ministry in Beirut, Otto Werner von Hentig, who forwarded the proposal, along with his own memorandum, to Berlin. After the war, the documents were found in German archives. Hentig was alive until 1984, so various Israeli journalists and scholars had plenty of opportunities to interview him. The interviews have been published. The full text of the proposal was published in Israel in the original German and in a Hebrew translation, the latter in a collection of documents edited by Heller (In a Struggle for a State [Be'ma'avak Le'medina], Zalman Shazar Center, 1985, p. 308 ff). It has also been summarized and discussed in Hebrew-language sources too numerous to be listed. Following this publicity, LEHI veterans did finally acknowledge that they had indeed sought an alliance with the Nazis and in the end even published the proposal in their own major propaganda piece, In Purple: The Life of Yair -- Abraham Stern, by Ada Amichal-Yevin (Hadar, 1986), which contains an extravagant apology of LEHI's whole approach to the Nazis. As Heller acidly notes, however, there was a significant omission in the text as published there. To understand it, one has to know that, among its other falsehoods, the document was signed in the name of the parent organization from which LEHI had split, i.e., ETZEL. The omitted passage reads: "Given its world view, ETZEL bears the closest possible similarity to European totalitarian movements."
The principles of the alliance as proposed in LEHI's document submitted to Hentig were to be LEHI's unconditional acceptance of the Nazi "New Order" in Europe, together with "a state of the Jews to be established on nationalist and totalitarian foundations and tied to the German Reich." The state was to be established "within its historic boundaries." Yair considered it impolitic to explain to Hitler in full geographical detail exactly how those "boundaries" were envisaged. In the event the Nazis accepted the offer, "LEHI would join the war, fighting on the side of Germany, provided the latter would recognize the aims of the Israeli Liberation Movement." The "state of the Jews" would commit itself to being "allied with the German Reich." The alliance, as the document carefully explained, "would be our answer to a recent speech of the Chancellor of the German Reich, in which Mr. Hitler expressed his readiness to rely on any conceivable coalition and configuration of forces promoting isolation of Britain and thereby contributing to its ultimate defeat." Heller adds that subsequent LEHI proposals forwarded to Hentig and listed by him in his own memorandum, "without hesitation suggested a cooperation [with the Nazis] in military, political and intelligence domains within Palestine, and after suitable organizational preparations, also outside Palestine."
Unfortunately for LEHI, the Nazis did not even bother to reply to its proposals. Heller explains that, as a civil servant from pre-Nazi times, Hentig was devoid of all real influence. More decisively, however, the proposal conflicted with Hitler's ideology and deepest emotions. According to Heller, Yair looked forward impatiently for a German reply. But even though it never arrived, Yair became all the more firm in his belief that an alliance with the Nazis was indispensable. He was impressed by the victories of the German army over the British, which in March-April 1941 rescued the hard-pressed Italians; and he was also impressed by the Nazi conquest of the Balkans at the same time. He anticipated the Nazi conquest of the entire Middle East as a distinct possibility. Heller recounts how on May 10, 1941, LEHI was emboldened enough by those Nazi victories to reveal a little about its pro-Nazi leanings, previously kept in strict secrecy, through its clandestine broadcasting station. Together with the usual excoriation of the British as the real enemy, Yair demanded in this broadcast an immediate attack on the Arabs, another real enemy. An overwhelming majority of the Jewish public in Palestine responded to this broadcast with utter resentment.
As is known, the expectations of a rapid Nazi victory were soon dashed. What happened instead was the rapid British conquest of Syria and Lebanon, which entailed an escape of Nazi diplomats from Beirut. Yair held the Vichy regime in high esteem, as a model for the Jews to imitate. For him, that regime had the supreme virtues of being anti-British and anti-democratic. But after the collapse of this regime in Syria and Lebanon, he had to look farther for possible contacts. During the second half of 1941, after the invasion of the USSR and the German victories there, his appetite increased for approaching the Nazis again with an alliance proposal. As Heller believes, his renewed effort to contact the Nazis rested merely on "his desire to see Britain defeated by them." Therefore, in December 1941, he dispatched Nathan Yelin-Mor with another offer of the alliance with the Nazis. The initiative floundered, however, as Yelin-Mor was arrested by the British in Aleppo before he could reach Turkey and, via Turkey, Nazi-occupied Europe. Several days after Yelin-Mor's arrest, Yair was killed while being apprehended by British detectives. After Yair's death, the leadership of LEHI passed on to the "triumvirate" comprised of Shamir, Eldad-Sheib and the same Yelin-Mor whom Yair had dispatched to Europe.
It is reasonable to suppose that Shamir, who throughout that time was an active LEHI militant, must have approved the vicious pro-Nazism of his admired leader. Even in his present-day policymaking he relies, to all appearances, on the same or at least similar principles. In fact his policies are hardly intelligible except as applications of LEHI's original ideology. Under such an assumption, they can even appear consistent and logical. For those familiar with his past, which he himself reveres, there is no room for surprises over his present political activities.
Yet in his LEHI days, Shamir, although a true believer par excellence in Yair's ideology, was known as an organizer and a man of action rather than an ideologue. The real history of his "pragmatic" activities in LEHI can also serve as a key to understanding his present policies. The central point in this history is the assassination of his commander, Eliyahu Gil'adi. The story can only be understood in the light of LEHI's operational peculiarities, which were as different from the practices of other Jewish undergrounds of the same period as its ideology. This aspect of LEHI's history is dealt with at great length in an article by a Haaretz expert on intelligence affairs, Yossi Melman ("Who was the first to draw?" September 27, 1991). The article reviews in detail the voluminous literature written by LEHI veterans and their opponents in the late 1940s. Melman interviewed various persons then politically active, most of whom preferred to remain anonymous. But he also discovered a previously unknown source: Shamir's testimony to the "Department of Documentation of Contemporary Judaism" of the Hebrew University. The date of this document is January 1973, an interim period after the termination of his Mossad service and before his entering politics as a Knesset member. But Melman also talked to a person who took Shamir's testimony -- Tzvi Tzameret, then a young student and now a distinguished historian -- acquainting himself with the latter' s notes and recollections.
Shamir's testimony is described by Melman as "very laconic and dry, sounding as if intended to fashion the currently prevailing image of the Prime Minister as an obstinate, suspicious individual resenting to give away any information." No wonder, therefore, that the testimony, whatever its importance in other respects, contains no description of the act of assassinating Gil'adi, who is referred to in the document under his underground alias of "Saul." Yet Shamir does justify the assassination. "The execution of Saul was indispensable, after I received complaints against him from many sources, all of them considering it indispensable. The decision to execute him was made by me alone, after some wordless consultations with some comrades. After the execution I assembled some of those who were of the same mind with me." Then he lists those LEHI members with whom he talked, to conclude this section of the testimony with an obvious lie: "I know of only two executions: those of Eliyahu Gil'adi and Shmuel Levy."
The case of Shmuel Levy (whose real name was Yehuda Arieh Levy) is discussed by Dr. Yosef Heller, the author of LEHI 1940-1949, the only book on the subject I would consider objective. The book's primary concern is the ideological development of LEHI, and the Levy assassination in January 1948 was strictly ideological. After the U.N. resolution establishing the Jewish state in a part of Palestine, which LEHI vehemently opposed, Levy informed his comrades of his intention to leave LEHI in order to join "Haganah," the largest Jewish underground of the time. In his testimony Shamir says: "Shmuel Levy's was the only instance when we convened a court [to try him]." Melman comments: "In other words, Shamir thus implies that in Gil'adi's case, unlike in that of Levy, there was not even a semblance of legality and adjudication. Gil'adi was murdered on Shamir's sole responsibility, without any decision by the organization's internal court."
These assassinations need to be put in their context. LEHI murdered Arabs, British and non-Jews in general (like Count Bernadotte), but it also murdered and plundered more Jews than any other Jewish organization of modern times -- and out of the flimsiest of rationales. In addition to the Levy case, Melman recalls the case of Avraham Vilenchik, "assassinated in 1943 because he wanted to return to the IRGUN" (LEHI's parent organization, subsequently commanded by Begin). According to a SHAY (Haganah's intelligence service) report as quoted by Melman, "Gil'adi was the main performer in Vilenchik's execution." There were other cases as well, some documented. Jews suspected of "collaboration" were often assassinated on the basis of the flimsiest pretexts. Melman recalls a case of a 16-year-old boy, Michael Shenel, murdered "when he was vaguely suspected" of collaboration.
Lawbreaking was a way of life for LEHI. During several years it filled its treasury through holdups, first of British banks, then of Jewish banks and finally of casually selected individual Jews. (Only since 1946 could it rely on donations from some wealthy American and British Jews.) In fact Gil'adi had at first won Yair's favor on account of his skills as a bank robber. The above-mentioned book Unknown Soldiers, before recounting the "deterioration of Gil'adi's character," praises him "for robbing private apartments." I still recall LEHI's robberies, which continued until the spring of 1948 in Tel Aviv neighborhoods not patrolled by the Haganah. My own stepfather was so robbed along with his friends one Friday afternoon in 1947 during a card game in a private Tel Aviv apart-
ment. There were thousands of such robberies, which at the time aroused much indignation. But in 1950 Ben-Gurion found allies among LEHI veterans, and on his orders the subject became shrouded in silence, to be eventually forgotten. In any case, no Jewish underground pillaged Jews as routinely as did the LEHI.
To all appearances, the assassination of Eliyahu Gil'adi stemmed from a personal conflict with Shamir over who would have the authority to approve the robberies. According to Melman, who on this point relies also on Dr. Heller, "Gil'adi promised Shamir not to embark on any such exploit [a robbery] without first consulting with him. At the beginning Shamir trusted him." Shamir's trust may have stemmed from his long personal friendship and ideological agreement with Gil'adi. According to Melman, all LEHI survivors (except for Shamir, who just does not mention it) attest to the existence of a special affinity between the two. Both were among the first to join Yair after he founded LEHI. Both approved Yair's pro-Nazi line. However, other LEHI leaders, like Nathan Yelin-Mor (who subsequently professed leftist views but continued to be attached to LEHI principles), "warned Shamir that although Gil'adi might keep his promise, in the end he would try to free himself of Shamir's control." Such excuses can hardly be taken at their face value because, as Melman observes, "from the time of Gil'adi's murder until this very day, LEHI members have done their best to divulge next to nothing about the whole affair." According to the version they would all stick to under questioning, Gil'adi was detained and then executed collectively by them. But "all of them would stubbornly refuse to clarify when Gil'adi was detained, under what conditions, when the execution took place, who exactly carried it out, and in what manner." In other cases, including the already mentioned assassinations of other LEHI members or of Jews LEHI suspected of collaboration or of the murdered non-Jews, satisfactorily detailed versions of events have been published. In Gil'adi's case alone the conspiracy of silence is for some mysterious reasons still effective.
The voluminous LEHI literature, while it avoids clarifying the circumstances of Gil'adi's death, vilifies him mightily, in a manner resembling the Stalinist vilification of the "enemies of the people." With one single exception, LEHI members have justified his "execution," indulging in what Melman describes as Gil'adi's "demonization." A good example of such demonization, not backed by a shred of evidence, (since all personal papers of and about Gil'adi had "disappeared") is the story "that he wanted to order the female LEHI members to go into prostitution in order to thus raise funds for the organization." The single exception was Aryeh Kotzer, who after leaving politics in 1949, wrote a book of recollections under the title "Red Carpet" in which he defended Gil'adi's good name "while calling his murder a crime." Many years ago I held some talks with persons who, although hostile toward LEHI, were in a position to know the truth, however indirectly. On the basis of these talks, I am convinced that Kotzer's explanation of the murder is correct. The explanation is quoted by Melman. "It was Gil'adi's estranged mistress who succeeded in turning LEHI members against him, by telling stories which were but childish fantasies." Among the numerous versions of Gil'adi's assassination, collected by Melman from sources other than LEHI's own, only the version "circulated by SHAY" deserves some credence, in my opinion. In that version, "Gil'adi was lured to sand dunes in Rishon Le'Tzion [south of Tel Aviv] and murdered there." It seems that Melman is too awed by the office of the prime minister to say explicitly that according to that version the lurer and the murderer was Shamir. Gil'adi's family had reasons to think likewise. "A few years ago, Gil'adi's niece, Shoshana Gafner, turned to Shamir and then to other LEHI veterans with the request to be informed of the location of Gil'adi's body, so that she could rebury it in a Jewish cemetery under a tombstone. She was denied even that information. She commented that 'LEHI seems to still exist.'" Shamir's behavior confirms her assessment. As Melman says, "The only 'weakness' which could be noticed in Shamir's handling of the affair was his decision to name his daughter Gil'ada." Odd as it may sound, Melman informs us that "while LEHI members had never denied that they themselves executed Gil'adi, in the last few years they already recognize him as one of their martyrs. In Yair's house his name was added to the roll of the organization's fallen." Indeed, Gil 'adi' s name has been added to the list of LEHI martyrs, as published each year on the anniversary of Yair's death and as then solemnly recited in the presence of Shamir and other LEHI survivors. Curiously, however, "the martyr" continues to be vilified. The public has been kept in the dark about who exactly ordered the murder and for what reasons, if any. All such facts can only prove Shoshana Gafner right.
It is hard to find analogies for behavior so bizarre and grotesque. The only conclusion is that persons capable of such behavior must be capable of anything. Yet those people, far from being relegated to the fringe, have political influence. As Israel's prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir wields enormous power; through the medium of the Jewish lobby, his power extends to the United States. And the grotesque annual celebrations in which the man Shamir had murdered is venerated as a martyr can hardly avoid leaving some mark on his policy decisions.
I conclude with two observations: first, that in the enormous English-language literature on Israel and the Zionist movement it would be hard to find even a trace of information provided in this article, even though in Israel most of this information is not news. I do not know of any mainstream newspaper in the United States or Britain which would dare hint, let alone ask, about Shamir's role in the assassination of Gil'adi, for example, during one of his frequent official visits to either country. Yet in dealing with the murky biographies of some Arab leaders, even with those whose countries are allied with the West, the same newspapers are quite inquisitive. One cannot resist treating this fact as evidence of their consistent pro-Jewish and anti-Arab bias. I would attribute their double standard to the power of the "Jewish lobby" in both countries. This seems to explain why all public discussions of crimes committed by Israeli Jews tend to be at once branded as "abetting anti-Semitism" or the like, even when Jews are victims of those crimes. The same applies to discussions of Jewish racism or chauvinism or of Israeli discriminatory practices in favor of Jews. The English-language media do deal with the suffering of the Arabs under Israeli rule when it is caused by violence, but never when it is caused by racist discrimination. Yet Jewish extremism and its ideological roots as typified by the person of Yitzhak Shamir urgently need to be discussed. The failure to recognize and discuss them can have disastrous results indeed, and rather soon.
Secondly, any attempt to relate to Yitzhak Shamir's policies in rational terms as stemming from considerations of the security or welfare of Israel or the Jews can only be fallacious. (Of course, the lives of Arabs, who for him are "aliens" temporarily inhabiting the land destined for the "Kingdom of Israel" can be assumed to be of no concern to him.) The same applies to other ideological extremists in power. It is a fallacy to perceive them as motivated primarily by rational considerations. Shamir should be perceived as a true believer in the ideology under this description, to which he professes to remain faithful. He should also be perceived as an individual ready to murder his closest friends without any residual misgivings.