Mourning Shamir: The Moral Dilemma

The death of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir confronts Israel’s supporters with a moral dilemma, whether to continue down Shamir’s path of violence begun in the dark days after World War II, or reject a future as the permanent occupiers of the Palestinian people, writes Marc H. Ellis.

By Marc H. Ellis

How shall Jews mourn the death of Yitzhak Shamir? Born of a generation scarred by the Holocaust, a pioneer of the state of Israel, as well as the state’s longest serving prime minister, Shamir expanded the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and cruelly suppressed the Palestinian intifada of the late 1980s. How should such a person be remembered in the broader arc of Jewish history?

Our decision on how to mourn Shamir depends on which side of the Jewish empire divide we find ourselves on. In terms of Jewish empire, Shamir should be mourned. He should also be lauded. Rising from the ashes of the Holocaust, his operating motif was “by any means necessary.” As a leader in Jewish terrorist cells that formed the basis for the state of Israel, Shamir then used state violence in his role as prime minister.

Wanted Poster of the Palestine Police Force offering rewards for the capture of Stern Gang terrorists: 1. Jaacov Levstein (Eliav), 2. Yitzhak Yezernitzky (Shamir), 3. Natan Friedman-Yelin

Shamir had few if any qualms about using violence to achieve Israel’s goals at least as he saw them. Indeed, though sometimes differing in tactics or, better, explaining those tactics which were essentially similar in content, few of Israel’s pioneers had qualms about what Jews did to Palestinians. That would come later, much later.

Many of the founders of the state have died. Others will follow soon. What are Jews to make of their efforts in building a Jewish state? Is it for us to judge them? Do we have enough historical distance to make these judgments? After the Holocaust, what can Jews say about Jewish empowerment? After what Israel has done to Palestinians, what is the price of our silence?

Jewish dissent regarding the state of Israel is longstanding. Today we have reached a crossroads. If our judgments about Israel’s policies are negative, perhaps they should they remain within the framework of the necessity of a Jewish state. We can parse policy decisions as to whether they are good for Israel.

Or has the time come to question the very existence of Israel since as it turns out, the imperatives of a state are the same for Israel as for any other state? Israel’s state “imperative” reality is one that Jews have long denied. With the death of Shamir, a broader critique of Jewish leadership in the post-Holocaust/Israel era is necessary. Where it will take us is unknown.

Shamir’s policies, as well as the policies of other of Israel’s prime ministers – and indeed those of Jewish leadership in America who have functioned as enablers of these polices – raise the issue of Jewish history and destiny to a new, unprecedented level. We have reached the point of no return. The choice is before us.

Are we to be permanent conquerors of another people? Or we are to begin again, searching for an interdependent empowerment with Palestinians and with other communities around the globe?

If an interdependent empowerment is our goal, we need to seriously ask ourselves whether that goal can be reached with a Jewish state or if such a state permanently impedes that possibility. Today Israel and Jews in general are further away from an interdependent empowerment than at any time in the post-Holocaust era. Moreover, without a deep and material Jewish solidarity with a Palestinian future there is little chance for a collective or even individual ethical life as Jews.

Yitzhak Shamir should be remembered for impeding a Jewish ethical future. The first Palestinian intifada, which Shamir ordered crushed, may have represented the last chance for reaching across the Israel/Palestinian divide. Or was it the very formation of the state of Israel which Shamir helped birth?

The abyss of Jewish ethical life has arrived. It is us. Mourning Shamir must face this abyss squarely. As well, we must connect Israel’s dots. Does Israel have the desire or the ability to cross back over the Jewish empire divide?

Mourning Shamir. Mourning what Jewish life has become. Hope for a future beyond being oppressed and oppressing others. The time is now. Is it too late?

Marc H. Ellis is Distinguished Visiting Professor, University for Peace, Costa Rica.

10 comments for “Mourning Shamir: The Moral Dilemma

  1. Morton Kurzweil
    July 10, 2012 at 11:22

    History did not begin with the decline of Western influence in the Middle East or the anti-Semitic delusions of Christian politics. History did not begin with the idea of a new Islamic resurgence filling the vacuum. Millennia of peaceful economic, scientific, and theological cooperation have created the great civilizations of Cordoba, Damascus, Cairo and Babylon. Each has fallen to the corrupt politics of false Islamic extremist sects.
    This is the leadership that disunites the Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Jews, and a thousand different peoples who made the empire of Cyrus a melting pot of peace and prosperity.
    The insane claims of political anarchists have been taken seriously by the peoples who are ignorant of their own rights.
    The answer is distrust in all political hypocrisy and a demand by all the people for the governments that unite all in a common desire for peace and security with mutual respect and the understanding that we are parasites on the only world that sustains us. We must work together as humans or perish humans.

  2. ruby22
    July 7, 2012 at 09:57

    There is no ethical dilemma concerning the death of the lionized terrorist Shamir.

    The honoring of zionist Israeli terrorists is a well established habit in the entity. We see this from the treatment from Menachem Begin to the preparations to honor treasonous spy Jonathan Pollard are being planned simultaneously along with pressuring the US government for early release.

    The absolute taboo of a critique on the holocaust event arouses great suspicion in my mind. What are these racist, truth deniers, so fearful of? If 90% of the holocaust was a propaganda tactic that definitely deserves serious study.

    The absence of any Gentile victims in the zionist holocaust narrative is a lie by omission.

    Where are the memorials for Roms, who were ruthlessly targeted? Where are the memorials for the vulnerable; the disabled, mentally ill, the homosexuals, the many Christian voices of dissent, POWs, Black African/Americans?

    These other people suffered and are ignored. The truth is out there, we must question everything the empire and the entity have told us.

    July 4, 2012 at 14:19

    As editor of, I prefer not to get involved in managing the comments. However, if someone engages in abusive rhetoric or inundates the comment section with long diatribes — and if it’s brought to my attention — I will delete such comments. But, please, I urge people who submit comments to avoid bigoted or personal attacks. We try to keep our articles focused on facts and I would appreciate if commenters would do the same. Thank you.

    Robert Parry

  4. rosemerry
    July 4, 2012 at 01:57

    Poor Ed Frias! Get a life, read and watch the MSM and leave the reasonable commenters to find something interesting and on the point in a site like this.

    • July 4, 2012 at 11:44

      After 11 Responses (mine is the 12th) to Marc Ellis’ article, Ed Frias single-handedly has almost doubled the word count of the article itself and occupied about 90% of the Response space. Robert Parry obviously has a a very light editorial touch. For the sake of openness, I agree that even opinionated drones, such as Ed Frias, should have access, as distressful as that may be to most visitors to this site. I hope Mr. Frias is a contributor to keep this platform going.

  5. Eddie
    July 3, 2012 at 23:09

    And you Mr Frias are simply the right-wing version of Rehmat – – – with the same sordid Google credentials as he, unwaveringly and extremely supporting EVERYTHING that YOUR side says and believing virtually ALL rumors in their favor and nothing against them. Your pathetic attempts to change the subject from valid criticism of Israel is typical hasbarat stuff, where critics are ONLY terrorists, dupes, or self-hating Jews.

  6. dahoit
    July 3, 2012 at 13:44

    A evil and nasty little practitioner of apartheid and assassination dies,and is called a Zionist Abe Lincoln.
    What a world of BS as truth.
    Scarred by the holocaust?He should have been scarred and pilloried by Jews for life for toadying to Hitler against the British during ww2,but not!And doesn’t that info shed a light unwanted on Hitler himself,as it counteracts the prevailing narrative of him?

  7. Hillary
    July 3, 2012 at 10:35

    Within the Holocaust Industry are well-organized fanatical departments determined to eliminate any form of denial or even discussion at all costs.

    How is it that today people are putt in prison for such beliefs ?

    Openly debating the facts or research is forbidden by law and has resulted
    in prison sentences so much so that the definition of a Holocaust denier has become anyone who has studied the Holocaust.

    • dahoit
      July 3, 2012 at 13:56

      The only people who fear the light of day are liars and thieves.
      And those with nothing to hide would not make discussions illegal.
      But our modern gatekeepers are terrified of our awakening from the zionaire media collusion of the Zionist American destruction complex.

  8. F. G. Sanford
    July 2, 2012 at 19:25

    Individuals may forget. History won’t. That defines the legacy at hand.

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