Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Is the BBC being modest about Mr.Shamir?

AS Wikileaks founder Julian Assange waits to hear if he will be extradited to Sweden (on sex charges), from where it is feared he could face extradition to the United States( for being founder of Wikileaks), BBC Panorama has weighed into the fray with a Panorama programme suggesting Assange is not the hero some may think.

To start with the programme by John Sweeney showed us the kind of clip that makes Wikileaks admirable and worthy of support, an American Apache helicopter crew's video of themselves gunning down Iraqi civilians and a Reuters reporter on a street, shooting up a van that came as an ambulance, and laughing at their results. Like an arcade game. Seeing a man rushing away carrying a baby, one of the Americans comments that it is the person's fault for bringing the baby into a war. Yeah, the crew agree. Aw c'mon guys, let's not be so guarded, it was the goddam baby's own fault for being born in Iraq!

Moving on to more controversial matters we were told that the Guardian had been happy to publish a document referring to Afghanistan but deleting the names of Afghan informers, whereas Wikileaks left in the names, thus endangering people's lives. I'm surprised that documents contained the informers' real names.

The US authorities could not say for sure that anyone had been killed as a result of being named, but thought they might be. Assange, we were told, thought the informers ought to know the risks, which is interesting.

Many of the huge amount of documents that have come out tell us nothing except what US diplomats were thinking, which makes me wonder whether they were material that someone wanted to be leaked, so they could express undiplomatic opinions.

But US serviceman Bradley Manning, aged 23, is facing real enough charges on account of the leaks and could face 52 years in prison. Not much of the money that has been raised for Wikileaks has gone to help Manning, it seems. Meanwhile the Tea Party fanatics of the American Right would like to become a necktie party for both Manning and Julian Assange.

While celebs like Bianca Jagger, Tariq Ali and John Pilger rally to defend Assange, some of the people who have known and worked with him are less than keen on him as a boss or hero figure. The BBC programme introduced us to Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who has broken with Assange after criticising the way Wikileaks was being run and finding himself suspended. Domscheit-Berg, who has written a book about his experiences and tried to set up an alternative to the Wikileaks network, said he would never have knowingly worked in the same organisation as an "antisemite" - referring to Israel Shamir, who is Wikileaks man in Russia and former Soviet republics.

Panorama noted that Shamir had used his position with Wikileaks, champions of freedom of information, to bring succour to the hardline regime of Alexander Lukashenko, in Belarus, passing on confidential cables that could be used to show US backing for the opposition. Lukashenko has arrested 600 opposition supporters and journalists since the country's presidential election. It is said the whereabouts of many Belarus oppositionists are unknown.

We know a bit about Israel Shamir. Born in Novosibirsk, he emigrated to Israel, where he served in the army, and says he lives in Jaffa, and has converted to Orthodox Christianity. Ten years ago, while the Second Intifada was under way, and worldwide interest was growing in Israel/Palestine conflict, the name Israel Shamir began appearing on the internet. He described himself modestly as a leading Israeli writer, and posed as a dissident, anti-Zionist Israeli who wanted to assist the Palestinian cause.

Two people who had the pleasure of meeting this new friend, Ali Abunimah, who runs the Electronic Intifada website, and Hussein Ibish, of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), came away with the distinct impression that he was not just anti-Israel, but anti-Jewish, rehashing classic European antisemitism that was nothing to do with the Middle East, and in short, the sort of "friend" the Palestinians could do without.

A Palestinian who met Shamir in Sweden, where he had been living since 1984, told me the Russian-born Israeli was not only acquiring an association with Holocaust deniers but seemed to be reviving weird old ideas about the infamous blood-libel.
It was in Sweden that Shamir approached revisionist historian David Irving, offering to sell him a large collection of historical documents from the Third Reich, apparently obtained in Russia. Irving appears to have got nervous about the deal, either unsure of the documents' provenence or fearing he was being set up.

But it was anti-fascist activists in Norway and Sweden who uncovered the strange fact that Israel Shamir was also known in far-Right antisemitic circles as Joran Jermas, a name he had officially acquired in Sweden in 2001 - the same year he began appearing on the internet and in pro-Palestinian gatherings as Israel Shamir.

It was as Israel Shamir that on February 23, 2005 he graced a meeting in the House of Lords hosted by Labour peer Lord Ahmed, who said he had not realised the nature of the speaker's views. For Stephen Pollard, taking Lord Ahmed to task in the Times, Shamir's 'real' identity and antisemitism could have been easily-ascertained before hand, though oddly it was six weeks after Shamir's performance that Pollard's comment appeared. (Lord Ahmed's Unwelcome Guest, Times April 7, 2005

One journal that has employed Jermas/Shamir is the Russian magazine Zavtra, noted for its antisemitism and conspiracy theories. It was the editor Alexander Prokhanov, who invited former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke to Russia to promote his new book, 'Jewish Supremacism', and his National Association for the Advancement of White People. Duke was also among those luminaries who attended the Holocaust denial conference in Tehran. Shamir for his part did not make it to Iran, though he was invited to address a far-Right outfit in the 'States. But apparently they thought the fee and expenses he wanted were over the top. (I am told that when the people who invited Shamir to that House of Lords event had second thoughts he threatened to sue, claiming cancellation would affect sales of his book).

The supposedly "left-wing" US journal Counterpunch , edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St.Clair, seems to value Shamir/Jermas' highly literary contributions more than any worries over his right-wing associations, which makes me think that some of these so-called lefts have lost their way. (I don't know what Cockburn pere, Claud, would have said, he may have been prepared to lie for the Stalinists, but it was anti-fascism that motivated him).

Still, allowing for the fact that this was only a half-hour Panorama programme, there was one small fact that might have been mentioned concerning the strange but colourful career of Joran Jermas, alias Israel Shamir. In 1975 he joined the BBC Russian service, moving to London the following year. (Among the friends he claims in Britain is Martin Webster, former leader of the National Front). I am not sure how long he stayed with the Corporation, but he joined at a time when anyone working for them was vetted by MI5, and the Russian service subsidised by MI6.

Meanwhile, back on the air, the Beeb's intrepid reporters shouted their questions to Julian Assange, who appeared at a loss for words, knowing they probably already have the answers. In Sweden, where things have not been the same since Prime Minister Olaf Palme paid the price in more ways than one for maintaining neutrality and harbouring runaway Americans, people point to the amount of US media surveillance now as showing how little sanctuary Assange can expect.

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