Israel Shahak died yesterday July 4, 2001. This obituary below from Mid-East Realities.


Dr. Israel Shahak, Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at Hebrew University, headed the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights, was a ferocious and tireless critic of his country's policies, and wrote volumes of articles and other work including "Jewish History, Jewish Religion" (Pluto Press, 1994). As a young child he survived Hitler's death camp, Bergen-Belsen, with his mother, and arrived with her in Palestine around age twelve. (His father died in the holocaust.) He grew up in Israel; served in the army; became a chemist; went on to the faculty of Hebrew University. He was a savage, unbending and courageous critic of his country's policies, denouncing its colonialist designs from earliest Zionism.

As head of The Israeli League for Civil and Human Rights he was instrumental in 1977 in persuading editors at The London Sunday Times to publish the first international exposure of Israel's torture of Palestinian prisoners. I was one of a group of US intellectuals who in the 1980s and early 90s received his invaluable monthly "Shahak Papers"- ten to fifteen single-spaced pages of translations from the Hebrew Press, headed by his commentaries.

I knew Dr. Shahak as a friend starting in 1979. He was a staggering intellectual with an encyclopedic erudition in world religions; the migrations of ancient peoples; archaeology; ancient and modern history, and more. He once lectured to me about the horse and its domestic use in early human history. In 1985, after I'd done a reporting stint in the Sudan, he told me details about the work of a heroic woman I'd met, prominent in the Sudanese Communist Party. He adored opera; on US speaking tours he brought tapes of his favorites and listened to them for relaxation. He was an ardent supporter of women's rights; he abhorred the denunciations of feminism usual among male intellectuals including his countrymen. When I became Senior Editor of *The Women's Review of Books*, he subscribed, and wrote me letters in which, predictably, his praise was leavened with criticism.

During my reporting trips to Israel and the West Bank in the 1980s he opened his small home to me. When I visited he'd always start by giving me his most recent Hebrew press "cuttings." His two-room apartment was always in breathtaking disarray - "cuttings" everywhere, piles of magazines and newspapers, no place to step, apparent chaos! Yet he could always find whatever was needed for his visitors. He lived a Spartan life with almost no furniture - a bed, a table, a lamp, a couple chairs. To many he seemed cold, abrupt, and a peculiar recluse. Once on his wrong side, you didn't easily regain his friendship, and it was often hard to know where you'd erred. Perhaps he saw me as a niece or little sister, for he showed me another side, gentle and compassionate.

In his ferocious denunciations of the occupation he was a "loyal patriot" not unlike his friend, the fiery Rabbi Yeshayahu Leibovitz. He was warm in his appreciation of his country's positive aspects (for example he treasured memories of his comradeship with ordinary men during his Army service.) A true friend of Palestine, he denounced not only his country's policies against it, but also PLO corruption and injustices within the Palestinian community (for example the "honor murders" of Palestinian women by male family members.) In countries like Israel and South Africa, people of Dr. Shahak's integrity, fearlessness and breadth of mind stand out against the background of their states' injustices as humanity's most shining gems. In any just world he should have received a Nobel Prize. I had hoped to see him once again and I write this with tears in my eyes and a very heavy heart.

Ellen Cantarow

American Jewish Journalist