by Robert Unz, The Unz Review:
Around 35 years ago, I was sitting in my college dorm-room closely reading the New York Times as I did each and every morning when I noticed an astonishing article about the controversial new Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Shamir.
Back in those long-gone days, the Gray Lady was strictly a black-and-white print publication, lacking the large color photographs of rap stars and long stories about dieting techniques that fill so much of today’s news coverage, and it also seemed to have a far harder edge in its Middle East reporting. A year or so earlier, Shamir’s predecessor Menacham Begin had allowed his Defense Minister Ariel Sharon to talk him into invading Lebanon and besieging Beirut, and the subsequent massacre of Palestinian women and children in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps had outraged the world and angered America’s government. This eventually led to Begin’s resignation, with Shamir, his Foreign Minister, taking his place.
Prior to his surprising 1977 election victory, Begin had spent decades in the political wilderness as an unacceptable right-winger, and Shamir had an even more extreme background, with the American mainstream media freely reporting his long involvement in all sorts of high-profile assassinations and terrorist attacks during the 1940s, painting him as a very bad man indeed.
Given Shamir’s notorious activities, few revelations would have shocked me, but this one did. Apparently, during the late 1930s, Shamir and his small Zionist faction had become great admirers of the Italian Fascists and German Nazis, and after World War II broke out, they had made repeated attempts to contact Mussolini and the German leadership in 1940 and 1941, hoping to enlist in the Axis Powers as their Palestine affiliate, and undertake a campaign of attacks and espionage against the local British forces, then share in the political booty after Hitler’s inevitable triumph.
Now the Times clearly viewed Shamir in a very negative light, but it seemed extremely unlikely to me that they would have published such a remarkable story without being absolutely sure of their facts. Among other things, there were long excerpts from the official letters sent to Mussolini ferociously denouncing the “decadent” democratic systems of Britain and France that he was opposing, and assuring Il Duce that such ridiculous political notions would have no future place in the totalitarian Jewish client state they hoped to establish under his auspices in Palestine.
As it happens, both Germany and Italy were preoccupied with larger geopolitical issues at the time, and given the small size of Shamir’s Zionist faction, not much seems to have ever come of those efforts. But the idea of the sitting Prime Minister of the Jewish State having spent his early wartime years as an unrequited Nazi ally was certainly something that sticks in one’s mind, not quite conforming to the traditional narrative of that era which I had always accepted.
Most remarkably, the revelation of Shamir’s pro-Axis past seems to have had only a relatively minor impact upon his political standing within Israeli society. I would think that any American political figure found to have supported a military alliance with Nazi Germany during the Second World War would have had a very difficult time surviving the resulting political scandal, and the same would surely be true for politicians in Britain, France, or most other western nations. But although there was certainly some embarrassment in the Israeli press, especially after the shocking story reached the international headlines, apparently most Israelis took the whole matter in stride, and Shamir stayed in office for another year, then later served a second, much longer term as Prime Minister during 1986-1992. The Jews of Israel apparently regarded Nazi Germany quite differently than did most Americans, let alone most American Jews.
Around that same time, a second intriguing example of this quite different Israeli perspective towards the Nazis also came to my attention. In 1983, Amoz Oz, often described as Israel’s greatest novelist, had published In the Land of Israel to glowing reviews. This book was a collection of lengthy interviews with various representative figures in Israeli society, both moderate and extreme, as well as some coverage of the Palestinians who also lived among them.
Of these ideological profiles, one of the shortest but most widely discussed was that of an especially hard-line political figure, unnamed but almost universally believed to be Ariel Sharon, a conclusion certainly supported by the personal details and physical description provided. Near the very beginning, that figure mentioned that people of his ideological ilk had recently been denounced as “Judeo-Nazis” by a prominent liberal Israeli academic, but rather than reject that label, he fully welcomed it. So the subject generally became known in public discussions as the “Judeo-Nazi.”
That he described himself in such terms was hardly an exaggeration, since he rather gleefully advocated the slaughter of millions of Israel’s enemies, and the vast expansion of Israeli territory by conquest of neighboring lands and expulsion of their populations, along with the free use of nuclear weapons if they or anyone else too strongly resisted such efforts. In his bold opinion, the Israelis and Jews in general were just too soft and meek, and needed to regain their place in the world by once again becoming a conquering people, probably hated but definitely feared. To him, the large recent massacre of Palestinian women and children at Sabra and Shatila was of no consequence whatsoever, and the most unfortunate aspect of the incident was that the killers had been Israel’s Christian Phalangist allies rather than Israeli soldiers themselves.
Now rhetorical excess is quite common among politicians and a shroud of pledged anonymity will obviously loosen many tongues. But can anyone imagine an American or other Western public figure talking in such terms, let alone someone who moves in higher political circles? These days, Donald Trump sometimes Tweets out a crude misspelled insult at 2am, and the American media is aghast in horror. But given that his administration leaks like a sieve, if he routinely boasted to his confidants about possibly slaughtering millions, we surely would have heard about it. For that matter, there seems not the slightest evidence that the original German Nazis ever spoke in such ways privately, let alone while a journalist was carefully taking notes. But the “Judeo-Nazis” of Israel are another story.