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With Israel Shahak's
Death, A Prophetic Voice Is Stilled
A Special Report on Israel and Judaism

By Allan C. Brownfeld


The death of Israel Shahak in July [2001] has taken from us a genuinely prophetic Jewish voice, one which ardently advocated democracy and human rights, and rejected the ethno-centrism which has come to dominate both the state of Israel and much of organized Judaism—not only in Israel but in the U.S. and other Western countries as well.

This writer first met Israel Shahak on a visit to Jerusalem in 1973. We kept in contact ever since, meeting when he visited the United States. He wrote a number of very thoughtful articles for Issues, a journal which I edit.

In many ways, Shahak was a victim of history who tried to learn from his own experience and apply what he learned to others. A Holocaust survivor, he preferred to emphasize his opposition to racism and oppression in any form and in any country.

After being liberated from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945, Shahak and his mother emigrated to British Mandate Palestine. He went on to have a distinguished career as a professor of chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and was repeatedly voted as the most admired teacher by students.

Following the 1967 war, Shahak became a leading member of the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights and was elected chairman in 1970. He devoted the rest of his life to opposing Israel’s inhumane treatment inflicted upon its Arab citizens and upon Palestinians in occupied territories.

While American newspapers, both Jewish and general, completely ignored the death of Israel Shahak, a July 6 obituary in The Guardian of London by Elfi Pallis notes that, “Shortly after the 1967 six-day war, he [Shahak] 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 … 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 painst