Kristol on Ends Justifying Means

Following on Marsha’s post about the Yitzhak Shamir, Bill Kristol’s eulogy for the late Israeli leader has not received the attention it deserves, particularly considering Kristol’s championship from the get-go of the “global war on terror”. His eulogy was included in the Weekly Standard’s lead editorial entitled “Profiles in Courage.”

Yitzhak Shamir, who died June 30 also at age 96, immigrated to Palestine in 1935. After first serving in the Zionist military organization, the Irgun Zvai Leumi, he led the militant Lohamei Herut Israel—Fighters for the Freedom of Israel—in the 1940s in the fight for Israel’s independence. His means were not always respectable, and he did what he judged necessary—though no more. Founders cannot always be fastidious, and statesmanship involves moral dilemmas. Shamir resolved those dilemmas in favor of the safety and well-being of the Jewish people in the land of Israel. Then, as foreign minister and prime minister 40 years later, he resisted pressure for concessions by Israel for the sake of a fanciful peace process—while opening wide the doors of Israel to massive immigration from Russia and elsewhere, immigration that has, as he foresaw, immensely strengthened the nation he served so selflessly and resolutely.

Predictably, Kristol did not use the word “terrorist” in his description of Shamir’s role in the Irgun and Lehi, otherwise known as the “Stern Gang,” the group that he headed after its founder was shot dead by the British in 1942. Instead, he deployed a series of euphemisms: “not always respectable” is the closest he gets to any hint of disapproval, generously observing that “statesmanship involves moral dilemmas” — to describe Shamir’s activities.

Shamir himself was refreshingly blunter, writing in a 1943 article entitled “Terror” (hat tip to Nima Shirazi writing in, suggesting that he didn’t spend too much time agonizing over the kinds of moral dilemmas Kristol thinks he faced:

Neither Jewish morality nor Jewish tradition can be used to disallow terror as a means of war. … We are very far from any moral hesitations when concerned with the national struggle.

Writing a few days before Shamir’s death, Yossi Sarid listed a few “typical cases” of terrorist acts committed by the Irgun and Lehi in Haaretz:

On 4.11.1937 – five dead and eight wounded in shooting at a bus in the Jerusalem suburb of Romema; 16.7.38 – 10 killed and three wounded including four women, a boy and young girl, by a bomb hidden in a basket of vegetables; 26.7.38 – 27 killed and 46 wounded when a bomb exploded in Haifa’s Arab market; 29.5.39 – five killed and 18 wounded when mines were detonated in the Rex Cinema in Jerusalem, and among the seriously wounded were a Jewish man and woman; 20.6.39 – 78 killed by a bomb in the Haifa vegetable market.

And we have not mentioned the best known incidents – the explosion at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the massacre at Dir Yassin, the executions of Jews who were suspected of cooperating with the foreign occupier (at least 10 cases ), and the assassinations of some of the representatives of His Majesty’s government and of the international community in the region or in the country.

From the end of 1937 until the middle of 1939, in less than two years, the terrorist activities of the Irgun and Lehi claimed 232 victims with another 370 wounded – men, women and children.

If we are to understand Kristol correctly, all of this (not counting additional acts of terrorism by Lehi in the decade that followed), could be justified on the basis that they were for “the safety and well-being of the Jewish people in the land of Israel.” Which obviously begs the question of whether Kristol believes that similar acts of terror could be justified for any other group of people in any other land.

Of course, Kristol was not alone in alluding to Shamir’s past as a terrorist in the U.S. mainstream media, as pointed out in an essay by Steve Rendall of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.