His Jewish Problem
Israel Shamir is a slippery Holocaust-doubter whose anti-Semitic, anti-Israel views are—in the age of WikiLeaks—finding a new audience. Part 1 of 2.
Outside my window in Moscow everything is frozen, the thick ice-coated ground, the wind whining through alleys between the gray apartment buildings that stick out from 5-foot bases of hard snow, the orange dump trucks full of snow chugging along the street. Seven floors down, men in blue and orange overalls and black snowcaps are smashing the 3-inch-thick layers of ice coating the sidewalks with wooden-handled-and-metal-ended ice picks. Then there’s me, waiting in my thermals for the supposed Russian representative of WikiLeaks, a man who says his name is Israel Shamir, but who is also known as Jöran Jermas, and Adam Ermash, and who spends his time between Sweden, Israel, and Russia.
I have spent too much time in the paranoid corners where Shamir’s articles appear, on websites that claim the Jews planned the attacks of Sept. 11, Jews convinced the George W. Bush Administration to go to war in the Middle East, Jews have nuclear weapons not to just destroy Lebanon and Iraq and Syria, but Europe, too. Shamir says he was born in Novosibirsk, Siberia, in 1947 to Jewish parents but in 2004 was baptized into the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem. While he claims to be a Palestinian activist, a believer in the “One State Solution,” his work reads more like right-wing anti-Semitic propaganda. He writes and speaks about the existence of “Jewish Media Lords” who have hijacked newspapers and TV to brainwash Americans into carrying out “Judaic goals,” which include the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As he writes in one of his books, Cabbala of Power, “The Jewish ‘plan’ is no secret; there is no need to re-read The Protocols or to ask Jews what they want.” In addition to having accused Israel of all manner of crimes, he has also been labeled a Holocaust-denier by both Israelis and Palestinians.
Shamir and I first corresponded via email four months ago. After he canceled a planned interview in February, we began talking on the phone every week, but he still refused to schedule an interview. The most he would promise me is that if I come to Moscow and called him, he might meet me, but then again he might not. “Things are getting very complicated,” he explained. “All I might have is an hour.”
The day before I left New York for Moscow, I bumped into Norman Finkelstein, a scholar and Holocaust-doubter who was denied tenure at DePaul University because of his published work, The Holocaust Industry, which claims the factual account of mass-extermination has been exploited so Jews can “gain immunity to criticism.” I had emailed Finkelstein early in February, after Shamir told me they were friends. Finkelstein wrote back, “I want nothing to do with this article. [Shamir] is a maniac.” So, when on another day on Gravesend Neck Road in Brooklyn outside of a closed-down Russian Apteka, I saw a tall man with gray thin hair wearing a brown corduroy blazer with a Palestinian flag pin on his lapel, I recognized him as Finkelstein and approached. As two young boys ran past us wearing kippas, he elaborated on his email: “He’s sleazy—Shamir said we were friends because he’s sleazy, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” he stated while his nose ran in the February wind. “He has invented his entire personal history. Nothing he says about himself is true. And you won’t get this article published anywhere.”
One night before my trip, I realized that I started to believe this dark character who crawled out from the perverse nooks of the Internet to save my goy soul from the people he called “Jewish Media Lords.” I was sitting up on my couch at 4 a.m. reading a Shamir article about IDF soldiers who steal Palestinian organs and sell them on the black market. Then I read an article that called Jews “Christ-Killers” and another that said “a Jewish media lord—and one of the nastiest: Arthur Sulzberger Jr.” owns the New York Times. Hardly convincing, but then why was I starting to doubt the Times? I realized I had better get some sleep.
When the sun came up that first morning in Moscow, I called Shamir and told him I was in town. He told me that it’s “too hard to tell” if he would be able to meet. He suggested that if I called him at 2 p.m., he might have a better idea. If we met it would be at the Dom Zhurnalista, the Journalist’s House, off Arbatskaya metro station. While I waited and smoked, I re-read Shamir’s Cabbala of Power. Jews as a group, he argues, don’t know what they want, but at the very least they want war. Shamir quotes the Bible to explain, “‘The locusts have no king, yet they attack in formation …’ (Proverbs 30:27) and devastate whole countries as if by plan.” In Masters of Discourse Shamir writes, “There are no important media outlets in the US that are not owned or controlled by Jews.”
I was drifting in the silver smoke sitting near Red Square. I was there to meet a marginal weirdo and a notorious Holocaust-doubter. But I was also meeting a man who has real power in the newest form of journalism. Julian Assange, the founder of the whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks, had given Shamir access to cables and made him the organization’s representative in Moscow. Is Shamir crazy, or not? The question seemed important.
On March 1, 2011, the New York Times published an article about a report about a phone conversation that was never recorded. According to this article, Julian Assange told the British magazine the Private Eye that there is a Jewish conspiracy against WikiLeaks led by British journalists, including editors of the Guardian. The report, written by the publication’s editor, Ian Hislop, was based on a phone conversation Hislop had with Assange on Feb. 16, 2011. During the conversation, Hislop claimed that Assange stated the Jewish conspiracy to smear WikiLeaks was spearheaded by the Guardian’s editor, Alan Rusbridger, investigations editor David Leigh, and by Index on Censorship’s John Kampfner. Although Rusbridger is not a Jew, Assange stressed that he is “sort of Jewish,” because he and David Leigh, a Jew, are brothers-in-law. But what really bothered Assange was a different article by the same publication titled, “Man in the Eye: Israel Shamir,” which claims Shamir is a Holocaust denier. Assange said that the article was “crap”—one more example of the Jewish conspiracy against WikiLeaks.
At 2 p.m., I called Shamir. He said he would meet me in one hour. I pulled it together, drank one more cup of coffee, and jumped on the subway. I was close.
I first became curious about Shamir when the original reports came out in December in Russian and Swedish newspapers, and then in Reason and on the blog of New York Magazine, which claimed that he was the Russian “content aggregator” for WikiLeaks, as well as a “Holocaust denier.” I became more curious when I read an excerpt of the aformentioned Private Eye article about Shamir’s alleged anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying beliefs and his direct relationship with Assange. And I became very interested when I read WikiLeaks’ statement on its website: “Israel Shamir has never worked or volunteered for WikiLeaks, in any manner, whatsoever. He has never written for WikiLeaks or any associated organization, under any name and we have no plan that he do so. He is not an ‘agent’ of WikiLeaks.”
A spokesman for WikiLeaks, Kristinn Hrafnsson, confirmed this when I called to ask if Shamir was directly connected to the organization. “No, he is not,” said Hrafnsson. “He only worked on the Cable Gate release, like hundreds of other journalists.” Then the line went dead.
In Moscow, on my way to meet the man, I exited Arbatskaya Station and walked underneath the busy bul’var. I came out to see snow, ice, and a big black iron gate, behind which lay a courtyard and the Journalists’ House. In front of the big beige building was a set of stairs, which led down to a café. Through the window, I could see Shamir sitting at a table.
We said hello. Shook hands. “How do you like Moscow?” he asked me in fluent English, but with a Russian accent tinged with a Hebrew one, or possibly the other way around. I reached for my cigarette. He did the same. Shamir had recognizable human qualities, like a strong handshake and a fine smile. It felt nice to talk with someone, because I had been alone during my days of wandering and waiting around Moscow. Then I remembered that I was dining with a man who dedicated his life’s work to writing about why it’s wrong to be a Jew. And I knew from my reading of his work that there was something in his ice-hard anti-Semitic soul—be it anger, prejudice, or a reincarnation of an ancient darkness into modern anti-Israel sentiment—that genuinely scared me. I thought about an excerpt from Cabbala of Power: “In order to save the world from possible spiritual devastation, the Jewish state must be dismantled. … It can be done softly, without bloodshed, by creating a democratic state for all residents of Palestine, native and adoptive Palestinians. It won’t be a Jewish state, but Israeli Jews will eventually be absorbed by Palestinians, as the Jews of old were absorbed by Palestinians during the 2nd to 7th centuries.”
To me, it read like soft-core ethnic cleansing. But it was too late to analyze, as I was already studying his tan, wrinkled face and his thick, bristly mustache. Israel Shamir was a short man, neither fat nor skinny. His gray-and-black loose curls puffed around his cranium, and he sat with his elbows on the table after he fumbled to get his voice recorder to work. His hands touched, rubbed, and pressed his mustache, forehead, and temples incessantly throughout our conversation. He ordered the salad with sliced radish on top, and I ordered the borscht.
We talked about Julian Assange, of whom he said, “My acquaintance with him is so superficial. I have this very superficial view of the man.” He scratched the base of his nose above his lip. He turned his head and looked at the gray painted brick wall of the stairway out the window.
I know that when Assange was in Ellingham Hall in the Norfolk County that you went to visit him. He introduced you as “Adam.” I know you have a couple different names. Why were you introduced as Adam?
Well, Adam is my real name as well, Christian name as well. I actually use it quite often.
Yes, Adam Ermash, right?
Just Adam. Usually in many books I have it “Israel Adam Shamir.”
It was also reported that at Ellingham Hall, with Julian Assange and you were introduced as Adam, that you asked for cables about the Jews. Why did you ask for cables about the Jews and did you get any?
Oh, yeah, I have a lot of cables about the Jews. [He grins.] I have thousands of cables about the Jews.
And what do the cables say about the Jews?
Oh, it’s a very entertaining thing. I want to write about it, but I haven’t had time yet. But I think it is a very entertaining subject. A lot of cables about Jews.
Give me one example, what does a cable say?
One of them for instance that was published by me in a Russian newspaper a couple of weeks ago, there was a piece by the U.S. Ambassador in Moscow saying that Russia has no anti-Semitism.
And does Moscow have anti-Semitism?
No, surely not.
He finished his salad and put his napkin on his lap and pulled out one of the two packs of Dunhills he brought. He smoked cigarettes constantly, and he smoked with heart and vigor; he truly seemed to enjoy the act of smoking. The waiter stopped by, and Shamir ordered a cappuccino politely and nonchalantly. Our pasta did not look appetizing—noodles with chucks of tough meat in a brown oily sauce.
What is hatred?
That’s something I don’t, I’ve never experienced.
You’ve never experienced hatred?
He was silent for 10 seconds until I asked the next question.
Well, on your site you say you’re a lightening rod for smear jobs. Do you think people hate you?
Well, they have a practical meaning also. I don’t think someone smears me because somebody hates me personally all that much. That would be very odd. I mean, provided I don’t feel hatred for others, would be strange to think someone hates me all that much.
Do you think you could be provoked to hate? What if you saw a murder?
As I understand you’ve seen terrible things that murderous Jews have done. When you were in the settlements you saw the hilltop youths—
One gets annoyed, you know. One gets annoyed. Ah, one gets annoyed. But I kind of personally don’t think I have ever felt such strong, passion as hatred. Hatred is very strong passion. I don’t think I’ve ever came close to it.
When you write about the IDF as SS soldiers in Gaza?
No, that’s not out of anger. That’s not even out of very strong anger. Or any way, that’s what I try, not to write … angrily. First of all, if one writes angrily, people do not read it. [Laughs.]
It would take days for the Moscovite ice pickers to chop through his ice. But every now and then, Shamir gets tired of smiling and laughing things off.
When I was in the West Bank there was definitely hostile feelings towards the Palestinians.
Yes. [Laughs.] Yes. Very silly, very silly. My mother lives in a settlement, called Eli.
Eli? I’ve been there.
Yeah, oh, you know. And she’s very much a settler. Very ideological. Very keen on all this stuff. She can speak forever about how awful everybody else is to them. I’ve tried many times to tell her why not kind of look at it differently, why not to see that people can live together? Basically to try to live together peacefully. That would be good enough. But kind of she didn’t really like it.
It must be hard for her to read your stuff.
Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes …
What does she say about your books?
Well, she doesn’t like it. [Laughs.] She doesn’t like it.
I think about how he described the Hilltop Youth once in his book Flowers of Galilee. “They seemed like nothing you ever saw. To their shaven heads, black boxes were strapped by narrow black belts; black belts crisscrossed their bare arms. The Jews put on the phylacteries … for a morning prayer, but on these young men they looked like the amulets of a warlike tribe. They wore dark trousers and dark tee shirts; white shawls with black stripes flew behind their backs. Their rifles were pointed at us. They looked possessed by some strange demon.”
Shamir continued talking about his Jewish settler mother. “Well, that’s the way with mothers. So we don’t have to worry about it all that much. We don’t have obligations of this sort towards our mothers,” he said casually. He rested his left arm on the table and held his chin in the cup of his right hand. It was getting dark outside, but our interview was far from over.
For the second installment of this article, click here.
Will Yakowicz is a writer based in New York.
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