Israel Shahak

From Academic Kids

Israel Shahak (1933–2001) was a Professor of Chemistry at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and an outspoken critic of the Israeli government and of Israeli society in general.



Born on April 28, 1933 in Warsaw, Poland, Shahak survived the Belsen concentration camp and emigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine in 1945, shortly before the establishment of the State of Israel. A critic of Zionism and a supporter of a Palestinian state, he wrote many books that are influential among some anti-Zionists and which argue that Israeli law and society contains entrenched attitudes of Jewish Supremacism.

Shahak served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) after graduating from high school. After completing service with the IDF, he attended Hebrew University where he received his doctorate in chemistry. In 1961, he left Israel for the United States to study as a postdoctoral student at Stanford University. He returned two years later to become a teacher and researcher in chemistry at Hebrew University, where he remained until his retirement in 1990. He published many scientific papers, mostly on organic fluorine compounds.

On July 2 2001, he died in Israel at the age of 68 due to complications from diabetes.

Politics and works

Shahak reports having been radicalized first by the Suez War and his feeling of betrayal by David Ben-Gurion's push to occupy the Sinai Peninsula, then continuing through his time in the United States. Following the Six-Day War of 1967, Shahak joined the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights; he was elected president of the League in 1970.

He began publishing translations of the Hebrew press into English, alongside his own commentaries, arguing that Western activists needed better knowledge about conditions in Israel, and that the English-language editions of Hebrew newspapers were being intentionally distorted for Western audiences. This practice, along with writing letters to the editor, remained staples of his work for decades.

He became a well-known activist in international circles, co-authoring papers and giving joint speaking engagements with American activist Noam Chomsky, and winning plaudits from Christopher Hitchens.

In 1994, he wrote Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years, in which he argued that traditional Orthodox Judaism was a chauvinistic religion, and that this chauvinism had been carried over into many aspects of contemporary Israeli society, particularly in what he perceived as institutionalized racism and human rights abuses against Palestinians. He went on to write Open Secrets: Israel's Nuclear and Foreign Policies published in 1997, and Jewish Fundamentalism In Israel published in 1999, with Norton Mezvinsky. In it they state "We realize that by criticizing Jewish fundamentalism we are criticizing a part of the past that we love. We wish that members of every human grouping would criticize their own past, even before criticizing others." Template:Wikiquote Despite the fact that Shahak was a victim of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, and although professing a strong opposition to racismTemplate:Ref, some of his writings and books can be found (in violation of his copyright) on websites widely considered anti-SemiticTemplate:Ref, such as Radio Islam and "Bible Believers." In the preface to the later editions of Jewish History, Jewish Religion Norton Mezvinsky, Shahak's co-author on Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel, has said that anti-Semites and anti-Semitic groups "utilize unduly Shahak’s criticisms in trying to justify their hatred of Jews. They have continued to do this either by citing and/or using out-of-context some of Shahak's points. They allege that what Shahak wrote confirms their generalizations about the ‘evil nature’ of Jews." Mezvinsky also claims that anti-Semites have done the same thing with statements made by many other individuals.


His books and articles have been controversial. His critics have accused him of fabricating incidents, "blaming the victim", distorting the normative meaning of Jewish texts, and misrepresenting Jewish belief and law. [1] ( [2] ( The Anti-Defamation League has listed Shahak as one of four authors of polemics in its paper The Talmud in Anti-Semitic Polemics. [3] (


  1. Template:Note For example, he writes in Jewish History: "Modern racism (of which antisemitism is part) although caused by specific social conditions, becomes, when it gains strength, a force that in my opinion can only be described as demonic."
  2. Template:Note The E.U. Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (, Anti-Defamation League, Stephen Roth Institute (, American Jewish Committee, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, have described these websites as anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi hate sites that engage in Holocaust Denial. [4] ( [5] ( [6] ( [7] ( For further discussion, see Radio Islam.

Further reading

  • Oded Yinon (translated by Israel Shahak) Zionist Plan for the Middle East, Association of Arab-American University Graduates, Inc., June, 1982, paperback ISBN 0937694568
  • Israel Shahak and Noam Chomsky, Israel's Global Role: Weapons for Repression (Studies in Geophysical Optics and Remote Sensing), Association of Arab-American University Graduates, Inc., April 1982, paperback, ISBN 0937694517
  • Israel Shahak, Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years, Stylus Publishing, LLC, December, 1994, trade paperback, ISBN 0745308198
  • Israel Shahak, Open Secrets: Israeli Foreign and Nuclear Policies, Stylus Publishing, December, 1997, hardcover, 193 pages, ISBN 0745311520
  • Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvinsky, Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel (Pluto Middle Eastern Series), Pluto Press (UK), October, 1999, hardcover, 176 pages, ISBN 0745312810; trade paperback, Pluto Press, (UK), October, 1999, ISBN 0745312764; 2nd edition with new introduction by Norton Mezvinsky, trade paperback July, 2004, 224 pages, ISBN 0745320902
  • Israel Shahak, Israel's Global Role : Weapons for Repression (Special Reports, No. 4), Association of Arab-American University Graduates, 1982, paperback

External links


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