The 1967 War and the Political Legacy of Shimon Tzabar
Shimon was always a political person, with a rebellious
spirit and revolutionary mind. But if not for the 1967 war he would
probably not be remembered as a political activist who has left
a significant political legacy.
The 1967 war was of course pivotal in the modern history of the
Middle East. It was also pivotal in Shimon’s life. Less than
a year after the war, he went into self-imposed political exile
in England, where he died 39 years later.
Not long before leaving Israel, Shimon was the main mover behind
the first public call against the occupation (“Let us get
out of the occupied territories immediately”) to reach a wide
audience in Israel, published as an advertisement in Ha’aretz
on 22 September 1967. Reading that statement many years later, quite
a few people have remarked that it was prophetic. But Shimon and
the other 11 signatories did not possess supernatural clairvoyance.
What was needed was clarity of political vision – and this
quality was remarkably rare in the Israel of that time.
The decade preceding the 1967 war was the period in which the Israeli–Arab
conflict was at its most quiescent, almost dormant. In the Suez
War of October 1956, Israel had pounced, showing its expansionist
claws in a bid to annex the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip,
which Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion hastened to declare parts
of the “Third Kingdom of Israel”. But massive international
pressure soon compelled Israel to withdraw back to its 1949 Armistice
The general public soon forgot all about that episode. Israel seemed
to be a more or less normal nation state, which just happens to
have an unresolved border conflict with its neighbours. The basic
nature of Israel as a Zionist state – not only a product of
the Zionist colonization project, but also a tool for its further
extension and expansion – seemed to recede into the background,
and tended to be ignored or regarded as no longer relevant.
Of course, this was just an illusion. The whole of Israel’s
domestic and foreign policy was in fact determined by its basic
nature as a settlers’ state, actively engaged in an ongoing
process of colonization. But so long as this involved a myriad of
routine acts and practices rather than major moves, the common denominator
of all these policies, the Zionist colonizing drive, could easily
be ignored or denied.
So the majority of Israelis – like public opinion in the West
– could easily be misled about the causes and aims of the
1967 war. Exploiting Nasser’s disastrous tactical errors,
the Israeli government was able to fool almost all Israelis (as
well as public opinion in the West) and present the war as one of
Shimon was among the small minority of Israelis who could see through
this propaganda, because he had not lost sight of the true nature
of Israel as a Zionist settlers’ state. He gauged correctly
the expansionist drive behind the war defensive façade, and
was able to foresee clearly its long-term consequences. (His views
on this issue were close to those of the socialist organization
Matzpen; so it is no accident that four of the 12 signatories of
the 22 September call were Matzpen members.)
Shimon also understood that Israel’s aggression and expansionism
was made possible and encouraged by its role as a junior partner
and local enforcer of Western imperial domination of the Middle
East region. The struggle against Israeli occupation, colonization
and annexationism therefore had a vital international dimension:
progressive public opinion in the West had to be weaned away from
its indulgent sentimental pro-Israeli bias.
So his going into exile was not merely an individual act of protest,
or an expression of personal exasperation and disgust with the chauvinist
intoxication of Israeli society; it was a calculated move to fight
against the new Israeli empire by doing its dirty washing abroad,
in full public view.
His main weapon in this fight was literary and graphic satire, at
which he excelled.
This is how Israel Imperial News was conceived. The few issues that
came out – almost entirely Shimon’s work, with a little
help from his friends – are a classic of this genre and his