2011-02-03 The Case of Israel Shamir

A volley of blog posts over the last two months has brought to the attention of the public a connection between Wikileaks and Israel Shamir. The connection was the source of much controversy. Among the charges against Shamir brought by the blogosphere are that of "notorious antisemitism," "holocaust denial," "Neo-Nazism," collaboration with dictatorships in the former Soviet area and the falsification of unreleased Wikileaks cables for nefarious ends.

Assuming the truth of these numerous allegations, bloggers have (rather shrilly) assumed that responsibility for all of these alleged misdeeds devolves upon Wikileaks, because of the nature of their relationship. That relationship itself has been shrouded in uncertainty. Shamir has been variously called a "Wikileaks employee," a "Wikileaks activist," "Wikileaks' spokesperson and conduit in Russia," "Wikileaks affiliate" and "Wikileaks accredited journalist." For substantiation of these characterizations of the relationship, bloggers have looked to the offhand remarks of newspaper articles in machine-translated Russian and Swedish.

These allegations have seen marginal takeup in the mainstream press. Israel Shamir has himself gotten involved in the controversy. In a sequence of articles on CounterPunch, and his personal website, he has defended himself against these allegations, distanced himself from Wikileaks, and mounted a counterattack on the mainstream press, alleging that the controversy is part of a smear campaign against Wikileaks by its commercial competitors. He has made reference to a forthcoming episode of BBC's Panorama, which appears likely to subject Shamir's relationship with Wikileaks to the closest scrutiny it has yet seen in the mainstream press, and which, claims Shamir, is unlikely to do so in a balanced way.

In anticipation of this programme, it will be useful to survey the controversy in detail here beforehand. Doing so, on the balance of evidence currently available to us, reveals that there is a fair amount of gossip and wishful thinking involved here, and that the mainstream media have not displayed investigatory diligence, preferring instead comfortable piety and the promise of yet more scandalous copy.

Shamir, however, is found to be an untrustworthy narrator, boisterous, combative, of some questionable political sympathies, and given to a pernicious form of conspiracy theoretics. Despite his protestation, Shamir's work is indicative of a sort of 'antisemitism,' although by no means does he fall comfortably into the Neo-Nazi mold into which he has been put by the blogosphere. His relationship with Wikileaks is, at best, irresponsibly exaggerated, but does bear scrutiny. Hysterical guilt-by-association arguments by various bloggers are, we find, best treated with pragmatic skepticism.

New information may always arise which will demand a reassessment of the situation, but as things stand, the Shamir case does not appear to the be the "smoking gun" against Wikileaks it has been presented as. The examination of a complicated situation, where culpability is distributed, is something we cannot expect the commercial media to do with any pretense at fidelity. A cautious reader, on the other hand, will go far.

Articles on Shamir

2011-02-03: Sources on Israel Shamir

2011-02-03: Who is Israel Shamir?

2011-02-03: Israel Shamir's Relationship with Wikileaks?

2011-02-03: Shamir & The Guardian, Part 1: Astana & Tashkent Cables

2011-02-03: Shamir & The Guardian, Part 2: Censorship?

2011-01-06: Observations on Israel Shamir in Counterpunch: Julian Assange's Deal With the Devil

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