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Israel Shamir is reported to have a handful of names. The Guardian noted that Magnus Ljunggren, a retired professor of Russian literature at Gothenburg University, claims that Shamir has at least six names: Shamir’s birth name was Izrail Schmerler; in 1992 he became a Swedish citizen and went by Jöran Jermas; and then after he was baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem he took the name Adam Ermash.
I know one of your names is Jöran Jermas, right?
Yeah, well, I have so many names.
Where does that name come from? Because that’s on your Swedish passport, right?
Ah, eh, you know when people started to attack me I started to be worried about my freedom of movement. One wants to be able to move, so as not being stalked.
So, which is your real name?
What about Izrail Schmerler?
Well, people said that’s your birth name.
That’s something that I really can’t say anything about.
Shamir is a chameleon. As we sat in Moscow last winter, and as he told me how he loved the snow and ice and liked to ice skate in Red Square, he looked Russian. In the picture on his website, where he appears to have a little darker skin and is wearing a red-and-white keffiyeh around his neck, he looks more Palestinian. And I am sure, if he were wearing a kippah while reciting verses from the Talmud in Hebrew that day, I’d think he was Jewish. It is hard to pin down the truth, but Shamir said he was born in Siberia to Jewish parents, moved to Israel in the 1960s, fought in the ’73 war as a paratrooper, and then became a journalist, living in London and working for the BBC. After that, he lived in Japan for a while and then returned to Israel to work for Haartez.
Shamir gave a speech at Tufts University in April 2001 about Arab-Israeli relations. The Tufts student newspaper reported that Shamir said: “Israeli people represent a virus form of a human being because they can live anywhere.” Shortly after, Palestinian rights groups, and two men in particular, Ali Abunimah and Hussein Ibish, sent out a mass email warning about Shamir’s anti-Semitic views disguised as leftist pro-Palestinian activism.
You once described Jews as a virus in human form.
I never did; no, that’s an invention of Jerusalem Post. Yes, I remember when they did it. That’s absolutely a silly thing. And then they quoted it so many times; I did not say that. People accuse me of everything, you know, so I’m used to it.
This goes back to the smear jobs. Why do you think you’re a target?
Well, you know, first of all some things that I say is complicated. And it’s easy for people to make misrepresentations. Maybe because people are unhappy with what I say and they want to smear me so I will look more awful. Why not to say truth, you know? I say things just how they are, you know?
In 2001, Shamir and Norman Finkelstein spoke at Columbia University. After the speech a Jewish man came up to Shamir and asked, “Are you Jewish?” Shamir told me that he was silent. He could not answer the question because he was in a transition from Judaism to Christianity. I asked him if he is Jewish, and he said quickly and assertively, “Now I am surely not.” I asked how he could not be Jewish if his mother and father were both Jews. He said, “It is a question of choice. I believe it is a question of choice.”
Being published on David Duke’s site, and having a regular gig writing for Russia’s anti-Semitic newspaper Zavtra, one would think Shamir wouldn’t have much Jew-loving company. He leaned back, itched his mustache, and said, “I met many people who are described as anti-Semites but I didn’t meet more than one who would be in real terms hating real human beings. They could hate the concept or hate an idea, but to hate Jews on a personal level, I never came across such thing.”
In Shamir’s eyes, being an anti-Semite is a good thing. If you are never called an anti-Semite, then it means that you support warmongering, brainwashing, and the subjugation of native people, in the name of Israel.
What if someone said: “I hate Jews and I wish Hitler killed all of them.”
People say such things.
Would that be labeled anti-Semitic?
Well, you know I’ve heard it very often from Sephardic Jews in Israel. I heard it quite a few times actually. [Laughs.] “Pity you didn’t burn in Auschwitz, a pity all of you didn’t burn in Auschwitz.” I heard it many times.
Well, yeah. I don’t think that much about it.
Shamir had the poker player’s gift of never letting his guard down. He never committed to a concrete statement, no matter what the topic was. Once the questions got more controversial, he smoked contemplatively and stared out the window to the gray wall. At some point, though, he brought up Auschwitz, and I felt as though someone had just given me an ice pick. I chopped away.
That’s interesting you said “burn in Auschwitz” because your definition of Auschwitz is that it was a Red Cross internment camp. What is your definition of Auschwitz?
I’m not even interested in Auschwitz, you know? I have no interest in it. What I said there is something different. What I said there was that it was perceived as—internment camp.
By everybody. By Jews in Palestine, by Europeans, by English, by Russians, by Americans. You know when the rumors of mass annihilation came to Palestine they were strongly refuted by the Jewish authorities. It was reported by many publications that life was so awful. Things are so bad as it is and people come and bring such horrible stories … that was published in many newspapers in Israel in those times. The Jewish authorities were very strongly against this sort of rumor. And it was universally thought—yes, it was a deportation camp, nothing especially wonderful about it, nobody thought it was a resort, nobody did. People thought it was a deportation camp, quite awful place.
So, it was a concentration camp?
Yeah, but when I say concentration camp is a word that was used a long time before during the Boer War, when the English fought against the Boers in South Africa. There they built concentration camps; that’s how the word became coined.
This definition of concentration camp didn’t help Shamir’s point, for more than 26,000 women and children died in the South African camps from hard labor and starvation. Shamir stubbed his cigarette out as if tapping out an aggressive form of Morse Code, smashing the butt again and again. I put my butt in the ashtray and he stubbed it out, too, as if I hadn’t done a good enough job.
So, Auschwitz as being a place to exterminate Jews …
This idea came to existence only after the war.
So, it’s a rumor?
No, no, no. I don’t say that at all. No.
But you said, “the rumor of mass annihilation.”
I can repeat more clear. I am not all that interested in what was in reality. I am interested in perceptions. Something I am dealing with is perceptions. So, perceptions during the war was that it was quite awful deportation camp, where people were deported and kept, worked hard labor, this sort of thing. That’s how it was perceived. Only after the war, different perception came. And that was a perception of mass annihilation, and mass murder, and all that.
So, it’s not a fact that there was mass annihilation?
Shamir lost his relaxed demeanor, shifted in his seat, and contracted his shoulders. He covered half his face with his tanned, wrinkled hand and continued, trying to keep it together.
That’s, not, I did not say that at all. I didn’t even say that, I didn’t even intend to say this or other way. What I say is that there was no such perception during the war. This perception came after the war.
But so which one is true?
I am not even interested in this kind of question. That is something that is very much outside of my interest.
But can you comment about if these concentration camps were for mass murder?
Ah, I have really no knowledge about it at all. I was not interested in it because I reject the idea that it is important, you see?
The waiter arrived and placed a cappuccino in front of Shamir. He politely thanked him in Russian. Shamir added no sugar, sipped from his cup, and then quickly popped a sugar cube in his mouth. I could hear his tobacco-stained teeth crush it with quick staccato crunches.
How far along are we with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion?
Well, that the Jews have a goal of world domination.
Ah, well, well, well. That is kind of a very good and very complicated question. Basically the Protocols describe in this or another way some idea of creating impoverished world. A world where there is no spirit.
Do you think that is real? And that’s what’s happening?
Well, I do think that this process takes place. It’s the process of impoverishing the spiritual component of the world. This process surely goes on.
But are the Jews behind it?
Well, in total, I don’t think so.
So, you don’t think the Jews are behind that?
Not that much, not that much.
But a little bit?
Well, let’s say that it could fit some Jewish ideas. It could be explained by some Jewish ideas. For instance, the idea that there should be no religion, that the Gentiles should not have a religion: That is kind of an important Jewish concept. We should try to understand why people thought it is connected with Jews. That this kind of Kali Yuga process, the process of impoverishing the world. How come? Why people thought it is connected with Jews? Anyway that’s an interesting question. That’s what I say the possible explanation is that it is connected with the Jewish concept that non-Jews do not have direct access to God.
So, you write about how especially American goyim are brainwashed by Jewish media lords. Can you explain that a bit? How far are we? Do you think I am a brainwashed goy?
Well, first of all I don’t know. How would I know? That’s something I don’t know. It is very much impossible to know. There is a huge part of brainwash, for sure. That is what goes on a daily basis.
And what do they try to brainwash? What do the Mammonites—and what you say are quote-unquote the Jewish media lords—what are they trying to brainwash?
Well, they try to induce you with the feeling that Jews are very, very wonderfully special.
Are they not?
They same as everyone, or worse?
The same, absolutely same. They try to induce with concept that whatever happens to Jews has some kind of special meaning for the world.
So, what are you trying to say? That Gentiles and Jews are the same?
Well, what I say is a little more complicated than that.
It was nearing the end of our interview. My smokes were dwindling quickly, and Shamir had already started on his second red-and-silver pack of Dunhills. I asked him: “And what’s the first word that comes to mind when you hear ‘Jews.’ ” His chin was in his right hand as his eyes looked toward the bar. He was silent for nine seconds. “Not again,” he said, punctuating his curt sentence with a long laugh. “Not again? What do you mean by that?” I asked. With no hesitation he replied, “That I am very tired of hearing this word.” He laughed heartily.
On Tuesday, I sat staring out the window, watching the frozen trees and the frozen pond across the street. Every now and then large chunks of ice fell from the 12-story roof and smacked the street, or got buried in a pile of snow. This was my second-to-last day in Moscow, and I had a feeling the day before was the last time I would ever get to see my man. I called Shamir, but he didn’t pick up. I called two more times within a half hour, but no one answered. I reread certain sections of his work and tried to make sense of the man I’d been studying and the man I met. There were two different Shamirs, if not more: the anti-Semitic writer who unabashedly admits that Jews have used the Holocaust to benefit themselves and who believes that “Jewish Media Lords” have hijacked the newspapers and TV to brainwash readers into thinking that Israel is always right and Jews are the chosen people. Then there was the person I met: a gentle, polite man, who was not easily provoked and was frozen solid.
Then I received an email from Shamir. It said, “I am leaving Moscow for a stay in a monastery and will be unable to see you. I explicitly request you: Do not publish a single word without me checking the text first.” I realized that this man was afraid of what others said about him. He was discreet and controlling. He had different names for a reason. He had something to hide: a certain fear, a certain darkness, that had consumed him. Who knows what the origins of his fear are? “This time of certainty is over,” Shamir writes. He insists that Gentiles need to stand up to the elite Jews in government, the media, and anywhere else they’re hiding, or risk, he says, falling “into a New Dark Age, into a bleak anti-Utopia, and our children will not forgive us for our passivity. Or we still can pull and push, and hope for the best.” His hope is to transform his private darkness into a light that others will follow. In the meantime, he hides himself.
Two weeks later I received a Facebook message from Paul Bennett, Shamir’s editor and fellow writer on Counterpunch, a biweekly newsletter that describes what it does as “muckraking with a radical attitude.” The email started to outline how smart and misunderstood the “underdog” is and how we can learn a lot from a man with Shamir’s intelligence. But then it became a little bit threatening. “I’m sure you’re intelligent enough to understand why it would pay better to attack Shamir than to support him, but I think you may be young enough and still idealistic enough to appreciate his fine points,” wrote Bennett, a U.S. citizen, a proclaimed fan of Shamir’s, and the editor of the English versions of Shamir’s books.
Maybe he doesn’t mean it. Maybe he just wants to make a splash. But after five months following the man, I don’t think that is the case. Shamir has disguised his prejudice against Jews in the guise of a moral dilemma—to be or not to be a Jew—and by making the right decision for other humans to follow. Reading Shamir’s work is like looking at a map of Moscow’s metro. The city and its metro system are built in circles: The innermost circle is Red Square and the Kremlin, and the outermost circle is the outskirts of the city, but they are all connected. From the center, you can easily go out to the edge. Shamir leads you to believe that you, as a reader, are getting to the epicenter of morality by admitting that elite Jews in power are evil Mammonites whose main goal is to make Jerusalem the spiritual capital of the world and to enslave the Gentiles. But the more you read, the more you try to analyze, the further away from morality you actually become.
In his Facebook message, Bennett continued to explain why as “a budding journalist” it would pay not to smear “our friend.” “When we speak to him we must realize that we are one degree away from global movers and shakers like Julian Assange,” he wrote. In the early 2000s, Shamir was nothing but a marginal anti-Semite and a prolific writer. But at that time one could write him off as a lunatic, or a self-loathing-Jew, or just a weirdo. But now, with Assange’s backing, Shamir has become a legitimate source of news and facts with a legitimate platform that is hard to ignore. His ideas may be heretical, mad, coming too fast to digest, but the Age of Assange has made Shamir less eccentric, more central—a dangerous man.
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Will Yakowicz is a writer based in New York.
Will Yakowicz is a writer based in New York.