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Irgun, Stern Gang: Know your terrorists before you support bombing of innocent civilians

By Chandra Vikash 

Irgun was a Zionist paramilitary organization that operated in Mandate Palestine and then Israel between 1931 and 1948. It was an offshoot of the older and larger Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah. The Irgun has been viewed as a terrorist organization or organization which carried out terrorist acts.
The Irgun policy was based on what was then called Revisionist Zionism founded by Ze’ev Jabotinsky. According to Howard Sachar, “The policy of the new organization was based squarely on Jabotinsky’s teachings: every Jew had the right to enter Palestine; only active retaliation would deter the Arabs; only Jewish armed force would ensure the Jewish state”.
Two of the operations for which the Irgun is best known are the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on 22 July 1946 and the Deir Yassin massacre that killed at least 107 Palestinian Arab villagers, including women and children, carried out together with Lehi on 9 April 1948.
The organization committed acts of terrorism against the British, whom it regarded as illegal occupiers, and against Arabs. In particular the Irgun was described as a terrorist organization by the United Nations, British, and United States governments; in media such as The New York Times newspaper; as well as by the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, the 1946 Zionist Congress and the Jewish Agency.
Albert Einstein, in a letter to The New York Times in 1948, compared Irgun and its successor Herut party to “Nazi and Fascist parties” and described it as a “terrorist, right wing, chauvinist organization”. Irgun’s tactics appealed to many Jews who believed that any action taken in the cause of the creation of a Jewish state was justified, including terrorism.
Irgun members were absorbed into the Israel Defense Forces at the start of the 1948 Arab–Israeli war. The Irgun was a political predecessor to Israel’s right-wing Herut (or “Freedom”) party, which led to today’s Likud party. Likud has led or been part of most Israeli governments since 1977.
Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu born 21 October 1949) the prime minister of Israel since December 2022, having previously held the office from 1996 to 1999 and again from 2009 to 2021. He is the chairman of the Likud party. Netanyahu is the longest-tenured prime minister in the country’s history, having served for a total of over 16 years.
Stern Gang was a Zionist paramilitary militant organization founded by Avraham (“Yair”) Stern in Mandatory Palestine, a geopolitical entity that existed between 1920 and 1948 in the region of Palestine under the terms of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine. Its avowed aim was to evict the British authorities from Palestine by use of violence, allowing unrestricted immigration of Jews and the formation of a Jewish state.
Stern Gang was initially called the National Military Organization in Israel, upon being founded in August 1940, but was renamed Lehi one month later. The group referred to its members as terrorists and admitted to having carried out terrorist attacks.
Lehi split from the Irgun militant group in 1940 in order to continue fighting the British during World War II. It initially sought an alliance with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Believing that Nazi Germany was a lesser enemy of the Jews than Britain, Lehi twice attempted to form an alliance with the Nazis, proposing a Jewish state based on “nationalist and totalitarian principles, and linked to the German Reich by an alliance”. After Stern’s death in 1942, the new leadership of Lehi began to move towards support for Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union and the ideology of National Bolshevism, which was considered an amalgam of both right and left.
Regarding themselves as “revolutionary Socialists”, the new Lehi developed a highly original ideology combining an “almost mystical” belief in Greater Israel with support for the Arab liberation struggle. This sophisticated ideology failed to gain public support and Lehi fared poorly in the first Israeli elections.
In April of 1948, Lehi and the Irgun were jointly responsible for the massacre in Deir Yassin of at least 107 Palestinian Arab villagers, including women and children. Lehi assassinated Lord Moyne, British Minister Resident in the Middle East, and made many other attacks on the British in Palestine. On 29 May 1948, the government of Israel, having inducted its activist members into the Israel Defense Forces, formally disbanded Lehi, though some of its members carried out one more terrorist act, the assassination of Folke Bernadotte some months later, an act condemned by Bernadotte’s replacement as mediator, Ralph Bunche.
After the assassination, the new Israeli government declared Lehi a terrorist organization, arresting some 200 members and convicting some of the leaders. Just before the first Israeli elections in January 1949, a general amnesty to Lehi members was granted by the government. In 1980, Israel instituted a military decoration, an “award for activity in the struggle for the establishment of Israel”, the Lehi ribbon. Former Lehi leader Yitzhak Shamir became Prime Minister of Israel in 1983.
Avraham Stern wanted to open Palestine to all Jewish refugees from Europe and considered this to be the most important issue of the day. Britain would not allow this. Therefore, he concluded, the Yishuv (Jews of Palestine) should fight the British rather than support them in the war. When the Irgun made a truce with the British, Stern left the Irgun to form his own group, which he called Irgun Tsvai Leumi B’Yisrael (“National Military Organization in Israel”), later Lohamei Herut Israel (“Fighters for the Freedom of Israel”). In September 1940, the organization was officially named “Lehi”, the Hebrew acronym of the latter name.
Stern and his followers believed that dying for the “foreign occupier” who was obstructing the creation of the Jewish State was useless. They differentiated between “enemies of the Jewish people” (the British) and “Jew haters” (the Nazis), believing that the former needed to be defeated and the latter manipulated.
In 1940, the idea of the Final Solution was still “unthinkable”, and Stern believed that Hitler wanted to make Germany judenrein, from which Jewish people are excluded through emigration, as opposed to extermination. In December 1940, Lehi contacted Germany with a proposal to aid German conquest in the Middle East in return for recognition of a Jewish state open to unlimited immigration.

Political racism

According to Yaacov Shavit, professor at the Department of Jewish History, Tel Aviv University, articles in Lehi publications contained references to a Jewish “master race”, contrasting the Jews with Arabs who were seen as a “nation of slaves”. Sasha Polakow-Suransky writes that “Lehi was also unabashedly racist towards Arabs. Their publications described Jews as a master race and Arabs as a slave race.” Lehi advocated mass expulsion of all Arabs from Palestine and Transjordan, or even their physical annihilation.
In contrast, a number of Lehi veterans, including co-leader Nathan Yellin-Mor, went on to establish the Semitic Action movement which sought the creation of a regional federation encompassing Israel and its Arab neighbours on the basis of an anti-colonialist alliance with other indigenous inhabitants of the Middle East.
When the Irgun split in 1940, Yitzhak Shamir joined the Stern Gang. He was imprisoned by British authorities in 1941. A few months after Stern was killed by the British in 1942, Shamir and Eliyahu Giladi hid under a stack of mattresses in a warehouse of the detention camp at Mazra’a, and at night escaped through the barbed wire fences of the camp. Shamir became the leader of the Stern Gang, and, together with Giladi, Anshell Shpillman and Yehoshua Cohen, reorganized the movement into cells and trained its members. In his memoirs, Shamir admitted in 1994 what had long been suspected: that the killing of Giladi in 1943 was ordered by Shamir himself, allegedly due to Giladi advocating the assassination of David Ben-Gurion, and arguing for other violence deemed too extremist by fellow Stern members.
In 1943, he became one of the three leaders of the group, serving with Nathan Yellin-Mor and Israel Eldad. Shamir sought to emulate the anti-British struggle of the Irish Republicans and took the nickname “Michael” after Irish Republican leader Michael Collins.
Yitzhak Shamir plotted the 1944 assassination of Lord Moyne, British Minister for Middle East Affairs, and personally selected Eliyahu Hakim and Eliyahu Bet-Zuri to carry it out. Moyne had been targeted due to his perceived role as an architect of British restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine, and in particular, the Patria disaster, which was blamed on him. In July 1946, Shamir was arrested. He had been walking in public in disguise and a British police sergeant, T.G. Martin, recognized him by his bushy eyebrows. Arrested, he was exiled to Africa, and interned in Eritrea by British Mandatory authorities. Lehi members subsequently tracked down and killed Martin in September 1946. On January 14, 1947, Shamir and four Irgun members escaped the Sembel Prison (a British Detention Camp) through a tunnel they had dug, 200 feet in length, and Mayer Malka of Khartoum subsequently arranged for them to be hidden in an oil truck for three days as it was driven over the border to French Somaliland. They were re-arrested by the French authorities, but Shamir with Malka’s assistance was eventually allowed passage to France and granted political asylum. Lehi sent him a forged passport, with which he entered Israel after the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948.
During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, most of Lehi’s members joined the newly formed Israel Defense Forces. Lehi formally disbanded on May 29, 1948. However, the Lehi group in Jerusalem continued to function independently, outside government control.
During a UN-imposed truce, Shamir, Eldad, and Yellin-Mor authorized the assassination of the United Nations representative in the Middle East, Count Folke Bernadotte, who was killed in September 1948, when Lehi gunmen ambushed his motorcade in Jerusalem.
Lehi had feared that Israel would agree to Bernadotte’s peace proposals, which they considered disastrous, unaware that the provisional Israeli government had already rejected a proposal by Bernadotte the day before. The Israeli provisional government drafted an ordinance for the prevention of terrorism and then invoked it to declare Lehi a terrorist organisation, consequently rounding up 200 of its members for “administrative detention” (prison). They were granted amnesty some months later and given a state pardon.
In the first years of Israel’s independence, Shamir managed several commercial enterprises. In 1955, he joined the Mossad, serving until 1965. During his Mossad career, he directed Operation Damocles, the assassinations of German rocket scientists working on the Egyptian missile program.
He ran a unit that placed agents in hostile countries, created the Mossad’s division for planning and served on its General Staff.
Shamir resigned from the Mossad in protest over the treatment of Mossad Director-General Isser Harel, who had been compelled to resign after Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion ordered an end to Operation Damocles.
In 1969, Shamir joined the Herut party headed by Menachem Begin and was first elected to the Knesset in 1973 as a member of the Likud. He became Speaker of the Knesset in 1977, and Foreign Minister in 1980 which he remained until 1986, concurrently serving as prime minister from October 1983 to September 1984 after Begin’s resignation.
Shamir had a reputation as a Likud hard-liner. In 1977 he presided at the Knesset visit of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. He abstained in the Knesset votes to approve the Camp David Accords and the Peace Treaty with Egypt. In 1981 and 1982, as Foreign Minister, he guided negotiations with Egypt to normalize relations after the treaty. Following the 1982 Lebanon War he directed negotiations which led to the May 17, 1983 Agreement with Lebanon, which did not materialize.
Shamir won reelection as party leader in the 1984 Herut leadership election, defeating a challenge from Ariel Sharon.
His failure to stabilize Israel’s inflationary economy and to suggest a solution to the quagmire of Lebanon led to an indecisive election in 1984, after which a national unity government was formed between his Likud party and the Alignment led by Shimon Peres. As part of the agreement, Peres held the post of Prime Minister until September 1986, when Shamir took over.
As he prepared to reclaim the office of prime minister, Shamir’s hard-line image appeared to moderate. However, Shamir remained reluctant to change the status quo in Israel’s relations with its Arab neighbours and blocked Peres’s initiative to promote a regional peace conference as agreed in 1987 with King Hussein of Jordan in what has become known as the London Agreement. Re-elected in 1988, Shamir and Peres formed a new coalition government until “the dirty trick” of 1990, when the Alignment left the government, leaving Shamir with a narrow right-wing coalition. During this period the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip launched the first Intifada, which was suppressed with force by the Israeli government.
Shamir urged the US government to stop granting refugee visas to Soviet Jews, persuading it that they were not refugees because they already had a homeland in Israel and were only moving to the United States for economic reasons. He also termed the emigration of Soviet Jews to the United States rather than to Israel “defection”, and called the issuing of US refugee visas to Soviet Jews when Israel was already willing to take them in “an insult to Israel”. In 1989, a wave of Jewish emigration began from the Soviet Union after the Soviets allowed their Jewish population to emigrate freely. In October of that year, the US agreed to his requests and stopped issuing refugee visas to Soviet emigrants. Subsequently, Israel became the main destination of Soviet Jewish emigrants. Over one million Soviet immigrants would subsequently arrive in Israel, many of whom would have likely gone to the United States had Shamir not pressed the US government to change its policy.
In September 1989, a journalist for the Jerusalem Post asked Shamir, “Doesn’t it amaze you that in Poland, where hardly a Jew is left, there should still be a powerful anti-Semitic presence?” Shamir replied “They suck it in with their mother’s milk! This is something that is deeply imbued in their tradition, their mentality.”[40] The comment caused public and diplomatic controversy within Poland as being libelous. Adam Michnik later addressed the comment by stating “the stubborn categorization of Poland as an anti-Semitic nation was used in Europe and America as an alibi for the betrayal of Poland at Yalta. The nation so categorized was seen as unworthy of sympathy, or of help, or of compassion.
During the Gulf War, Iraq fired Scud missiles at Israel, many of which struck population centers. Iraq hoped to provoke Israeli retaliation and thus alienate Arab members of the United States-assembled coalition against Iraq. Shamir deployed Israeli Air Force jets to patrol the northern airspace with Iraq. However, after the United States and the Netherlands deployed Patriot antimissile batteries to protect Israel, and US and British special forces began hunting for Scuds, Shamir responded to American calls for restraint, recalled the jets, and agreed not to retaliate.
During his term, Shamir reestablished diplomatic relations between Israel and several dozen African, Asian and other countries. In May 1991, as the Ethiopian government of Mengistu Haile Mariam was collapsing, Shamir ordered the airlifting of 14,000 Ethiopian Jews, known as Operation Solomon. He continued his efforts, begun in the late 1960s, to bring Soviet Jewish refugees to Israel.
Shamir restored diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and Israel in October 1991, and following its dissolution, established relations between Israel and his native Belarus in May 1992. Shamir was dedicated to bringing Jews from all over the world to Israel, and called on American Jews to emigrate to Israel in spite of a higher standard of living in the US, saying that he expected even American Jewish youth to realize that “man does not live by bread alone” but to “learn and understand Jewish history, the Bible… and reach the only conclusion: to come on aliya to Israel.”
Relations with the US were strained in the period after the war over the Madrid peace talks, which Shamir opposed. As a result, US President George H. W. Bush was reluctant to approve loan guarantees to help absorb immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Finally, Shamir gave in and in October 1991 participated in the Madrid talks. His narrow, right-wing government collapsed, and new elections were necessarily called.
In a February 1992 leadership election, Shamir retained his leadership of Likud, defeating challenges from David Levy and Ariel Sharon.
One of Yitzhak Shamir’s last acts as Prime Minister was to approve the 16 February 1992 assassination of the leader of Hizbullah, Sheikh Abbas al-Musaw.
Speaking ahead of anniversary of ex-PM’s killing , Mervan Michaeli, opposition leader and former Minister singled out Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Ben Gvir for roles in incitement.
Speaking at a conference organized by the Yisrael Hayom newspaper ahead of Saturday night’s memorial ceremony marking 27 years since the 1995 assassination, Michaeli also singled out Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit’s MK Itamar Ben Gvir.
“Yitzhak Rabin was murdered in a political assassination. He was murdered in a political assassination with the cooperation of Benjamin Netanyahu and [Itamar] Ben Gvir,” Michaeli said.
Netanyahu has been repeatedly accused by the left over the years of encouraging incitement that led to Rabin’s killing, or at the very least of contributing to the incendiary political climate that led to the murder. He has rejected such claims as “attempts to distort the historical truth.”
Ben Gvir, the rising star of the current election campaign, whose Religious Zionism party is seen heading for some 14 seats in the 120-member Knesset, first captured national attention when he was filmed as a teen boasting about stealing an emblem from Rabin’s car a short time before the assassination.
Rabin was murdered on November 4, 1995, by Yigal Amir, an extremist Jew, who was opposed to the Oslo Accords and the handing over of control of parts of the West Bank to the Palestinians as a part of a landmark peace agreement.
In the weeks before the assassination, Netanyahu, then head of the opposition, and other senior Likud members attended a right-wing political rally in Jerusalem where protesters branded Rabin a “traitor,” “murderer,” and “Nazi” for signing a peace agreement with the Palestinians earlier that year.
Netanyahu also marched in a Ra’anana protest as demonstrators behind him carried a mock coffin, reminiscent in India of the parading of the dead bodies in the Godhra train incident which catapulted Narendra Modi to the centrestage of Indian politics. He incidentally shares a ‘personal relation’ with the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Over past several years, from Pegasus to EVM software, there has been a ‘close rapport’ between the two regimes.
On 27 October, 2023, reneging on India’s long standing support for Palestine and its leadership of the Global South reinforced in the recently concluded G20 Summit in September 2023, Modi’s regime abstained on UN General Assembly resolution voting calling for ‘humanitarian ceasefire in Palestine’. Surprisingly, even close US and Israel allies and NATO member France, Belgium and Spain voted for the resolution supporting the ceasefire. In her Explanation of Vote (EoV), Yojana Patel, the Indian Dy. Ambassador in the United Nations stated that India abstained because the resolution did not mention the Hamas attack on 7th October 2023. This was later defended by the External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar who cited India’s ‘firm position’ on terrorism.
What do you call a person who sees ‘double standards’ only where it suits him?
“It is still a world of “double standards” and those countries which are occupying positions of influence are resisting the pressure to change and those with historical influence have weaponised a lot of those capabilities.”
Jaishankar was speaking in New York at this event hosted by the Observer Research Foundation, in collaboration with the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations, United Nations India and the Reliance Foundation.
Jaishankar sees no ‘double standards’ when from the bombing by Israeli Irgun terrorists of King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946, through the assassinations of UN Mediator Count Bernadotte in 1948 by Stern Gang whose founder Yitzhak Shamir later becomes Israel Prime Minister to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, whose death anniversary is today on 4th November to the bombing of ambulances that killed 15 people in Gaza yesterday where the death toll in the ongoing genocide has crossed 10,000 innocent people killed, large number of children among them.
Jaishankar sees no ‘double standards’ in being party to the totalitarian monster that is devouring its own children, as Hannah Arendt warned about in the shadows of Nazism which is now in its new avatar as Zionism. She also said that totalitarianism is dissipative and self-destructive.
For the answer to my earlier question on ‘double standards’, follow the tweet in the link here.

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