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Post Israel Shahak Guardian Obituary
Created by John Eipper on 05/01/05 7:27 AM - israel-shahak-guardian-obituary

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Israel Shahak Guardian Obituary (John Eipper, USA, 05/01/05 7:27 am)

Here is an excerpt from an obituary of Israel Shahak, forwarded by Christopher Jones: "Belsen survivor who attacked Israel's treatment of Palestinians" by Elfi Pallis (The Guardian, 7/6/01).? For the full text, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4216853,00.html

Israel Shahak, who has died aged 68 from complications caused by diabetes, was for 25 years a highly popular professor of organic chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. But during the same period, Shahak, an old-fashioned liberal, was also chairman of the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights. As such he was accused of being an "Israel hater", was spat at in the streets, and received constant death threats.

Shahak was the youngest child of a prosperous, cultured Polish Jewish family; when, during the wartime Nazi occupation of Poland, the family was forced into the Warsaw ghetto, his father even sought out a chess tutor for his son. But soon the family was torn apart. Shahak's older brother escaped and joined the Royal Air Force, only to be shot down; Shahak's father disappeared, and the hiding of fair-haired Israel with a poor Catholic family ended when his mother could no longer pay for his keep.

In 1943 both were deported to the Bergen Belsen concentration camp. Shahak was a starving 12-year-old when he was liberated. Soon afterwards, he emigrated to what was then British Mandate Palestine. After setbacks - he was rejected as "too weedy" when he volunteered for a kibbutz - he became a model citizen. After Israeli army service in an elite regiment, he became an assistant to Ernest Bergmann, the head of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission.

Shahak underwent two major conversions in his life. Aged 13, he scientifically examined the evidence for the existence of God and found it wanting. Then, shortly after the l967 six-day war, he concluded from observation that Israel was not yet a democracy; it was treating the newly occupied Palestinians with shocking brutality.

For the next three decades, he spent all his spare time on attempts to change this. He contributed to various small leftwing papers, but when this proved to have little impact, he decided to alert journalists, academics and human rights campaigners abroad. From his small, bare West Jerusalem flat poured forth reports with titles such as Torture in Israel, and Collective Punishment in the West Bank. Based exclusively on mainstream Israeli sources, all were painstakingly translated into English. World coverage gradually improved, but Shahak never let off, he never became blasé® Watching him read out a small news item about an Israeli farmer who had set his dogs on a group of Palestinian children was to see a man in almost physical distress.

Shahak came to believe that these human rights incidents stemmed from Israel's religious interpretation of Jewish history, which led it to ignore centuries of Arab life in the country, and to disregard non-Jewish rights. Confiscation, every schoolchild was told, was "the redemption of the land" from those who did not belong there. To Shahak, this was straightforward racism, damaging both sides. It was a minority view, but after the 1982 war, when the Israeli liberal sector grew, Shahak was able to put it forward in the reputable daily Ha'aretz. After retiring in 1991, he could also turn his ideas into books.

Jewish History, Jewish Religion (Pluto Press, 1994), studied the attitudes to non-Jews held by Israel's religious establishment. Shahak also emphasised the fate decreed for Jewish heretics: death. Shortly after the book appeared, Premier Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an Orthodox student. Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel, (Pluto Press, 1999) written with Norton Mezvisky, looked at the growing power of rightwing orthodox groups. "A fundamentalist Jewish regime, if it came to power in Israel," Shahak warned, "would treat Israeli Jews who did not accept its tenets worse than it would treat Palestinians."

Having been urged to write his autobiography, Shahak only found time to write a superb piece on his childhood under Nazism for the New York Review of Books.

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