Bishop Atallah Hanna on Israel Shamir, “Great Russian Thinker and Writer”
Towards the end of September, Israel Shamir published an endorsement in Arabic by Bishop Atallah Hanna, written to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Shamir’s baptism by Hanna. The message refers to Shamir as “Adam Ermash”, and appears to describe him (via Google translate) as a “great Russian thinker and writer”. It goes on to list his publications, and to note their wide circulation. The message comes attached with a photograph of the two men, which Shamir states was taken “in the yard of the monastery in the Old City”.
Shamir has come to wide attention due to his association with Julian Assange and Wikileaks; he was profiled by Andrew Brown at the end of 2010:
WikiLeaks’s spokesperson and conduit in Russia has been exposed in the Swedish media as an anti-semite and Holocaust denier; his son, who represents the organisation in Sweden and is handing out stories to selected papers there, has been involved in an earlier scandal where a story he wrote about the supposed Israeli control of Swedish media was withdrawn after several of the people in it complained of being misquoted.
…The two men involved are Israel Shamir, a Jew who has converted to Orthodox Christianity and passionate antisemitism, and his son Johannes Wahlström. Shamir was listed as a co-author of a story in Counterpunch, which suggested that the woman who brought a complaint of rape against Julian Assange was a CIA plant.
As I’ve noted previously, Shamir is also known for his links with the authoritarian regime in Belarus; in December, Charter97 reported that he had met with Uladzimri Makei, Head of the Belarusian President’s Administration. There is a concern that Wikileaks cables concerning opposition groups may have been brought to the attention of the authorities.
At the end of last month there was controversy when the Morning Star republished a piece by Shamir which described Pussy Riot as a Western plot; thepaper took the precaution of removing a sentence in which Shamir mentioned lack of free speech for “holocaust revisionists”. Also in September, Shamir decided to report from Cambodia, explaining that
The Pol Pot the Cambodians remember was not a tyrant, but a great patriot and nationalist, a lover of native culture and native way of life… As for the mass killings, these are just horror stories, averred my Cambodian interlocutors.
Shamir’s reasoning provoked a sarcastic response from the Phnom Penh Post:
We must admit we were swayed when Shamir provided conclusive proof that the KR genocides were either inept or out-and-out fabrications: he alerted us to the fact that the population of Cambodia has doubled since 1970. We eagerly await his next Counterpunch article, “Population of Europe has increased by a factor of six since 1939, therefore World War II never happened.”
Atallah Hanna, meanwhile, is the the highest-ranking Palestinian in the Orthodox church, and relations with the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilus, appear to be strained; in 2009 it was reported that:
Rivalry between Arab and Greek clergymen in the Orthodox Church has resurfaced following a decision by Patriarch Theophilus to dismiss a senior member of the Kingdom’s church court last week.
…Atallah said he was informed last Tuesday of the decision to dismiss him from his post as vice president of the Orthodox Church court in Amman.
…Atallah considers the dismissal as part of a series of decisions targeting Jordanian and Palestinian clergymen in the Greek Orthodox Church.
In 2007, Theophilus suspended salaries of Atallah, Archbishop Atallah Hanna and Archimandrite Milathius Basal after they took part in an Amman meeting that called for revoking recognition of the patriarch because he did not fulfil commitments he had pledged prior to his appointment, according to sources from the Amman-based Orthodox Society.
These unfulfilled “commitments” probably includes resolving the murky issue of church-owned land was sold to Israeli settlers in 2005.
As I’ve also written previously, Hanna is an articulate defender of Palestinian rights, and he is sometimes incorrectly described in reports as being an Archbishop (or even as the “Archbishop of Jerusalem”). However, there is reason to regard him with scepticism, even aside from the link to Israel Shamir: in 2003 (before he became bishop) reports appeared which quoted him as supporting suicide bombing, leading to censure from Theophilus’ (later ousted) predecessor, Irenaeus. Hanna complained that the accusations were part of a “crusade” against him by people close to the then-Patriarch, but given that the quotes appeared in sympathetic Arab and Muslim media outlets this explanation remains mysterious.
Atallah is also a supporter of the regime in Syria: while calling for “reform”, he also rails against “conspirators” who “want to destroy the brotherly relations between Muslims and Christians”.