St Julian and his dodgy disciples
It is not that surprising that Wikileaks should attract anti-Semites: both share a conspiratorial world view.
Has Julian Assange – hairstyle impresario and media hacktivist Number One – finally fallen from the mainstream media’s grace? After his widely reported phone conversation with Private Eye editor Ian Hislop, during which Assange apparently accused a group of British journalists of leading a ‘Jewish’ conspiracy against him, it seems the cult of St Julian is finally losing its sheen. Rather than a risqué rebel, Assange more and more comes across as a ranting paranoiac.
In the latest issue of Private Eye, Hislop writes that Assange had called him to complain about an article on Israel Shamir, the notorious anti-Semite named as Wikileaks’ spokesperson in Russia. Assange accused Hislop of joining an international conspiracy to smear the whistleblower website. According to Assange, the Private Eye article on Shamir was ‘an obvious attempt’ to deprive Wikileaks of ‘Jewish support and donations’. (So, apparently, keeping the Jews sweet will keep the cash rolling in.)
In response to the ensuing controversy, Wikileaks sent out two extended tweets. The first stated that Wikileaks itself has been smeared as agents of Mossad and George Soros because it has some Jewish staff and enjoys widespread support among Jews. In the second, Wikileaks denied any association with Shamir.
But why has it taken Wikileaks so long to try and disassociate itself from Shamir, a man who has said it is the duty of every Muslim and Christian to deny the Holocaust, has likened Jews to a ‘virus in human form’ and has expressed admiration for Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? After all, back in December 2010, a Swedish radio documentary revealed Assange’s dealings with Shamir, whose son, Johannes Wahlström, is Wikileaks’ agent in Scandinavia. In the programme, Wikileaks’ spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson confirmed that Shamir was an associate. Asked if he was aware of how controversial Shamir is, Hrafnsson replied: ‘There are a lot of controversial people around the world that are associated with us.’
Indeed, the decision to give Johannes Wahlström exclusive access to Wikileaks’ cables in Scandinavia, and the right to decide who they will be distributed to in the region, would suggest Wikileaks has a knack for attracting journalists low on credentials and high on trouble stirring. Wahlström, who is listed as a ‘distinguished contributor’ on his father’s website, caused a media storm in 2005 after arguing in the magazine Ordfront that ‘Israel’s regime manipulates Swedish media’. Several high-profile Swedish journalists cited in the piece claimed they had been misquoted and that their responses were manipulated in order to support Wahlström’s thesis that the Israeli state and Jewish interests in Sweden direct the media agenda there. Ordfront issued an apology and vowed never to hire Wahlström again.
Perhaps Wikileaks’ attempts at damage control came so late because Assange, in fact, finds Shamir pretty agreeable. If Daniel Domscheit-Berg, former Wikileaks Number Two, is to be believed, Assange has described Shamir’s writing as ‘compelling’ and actively sought out his help to spread Wikileaks’ leaked cables to the Russian media. In his new tell-all, salaciously-titled book, Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website, Domscheit-Berg claims Assange considered giving Shamir a new pseudonym (that would be his sixth) after news reports of his anti-Semitic statements and links to Holocaust deniers. According to Swedish tabloid Expressen, Shamir has set up a support fund for Assange in Moscow and a Russian visa has been prepared for him. Guardian journalist James Ball has also claimed he knows first-hand that Wikileaks’ statement on Shamir is ‘categorically untrue’, and in their nearly beyond-parody exposé of Wikileaks, journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding claimed Assange paid Shamir €2,000 to be Wikileaks’ representative in Russia.
Granted, Domscheit-Berg may be bitter because Assange sidelined him and tried to strangle his cat. But Assange himself has previously said that Shamir has assisted Wikileaks. The claims made by the string of former Assange cheerleaders are also corroborated by a leaked email correspondence between Assange and Shamir, obtained by the BBC’s Panorama. There, Assange writes to Shamir that ‘from a brief sampling of your writing, I did not find the allegation [that Shamir is an anti-Semite] borne out’. Instead, he complemented Shamir on his ‘strong and compassionate’ work.
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A quick scan of Shamir’s website, which states that ‘Shamir-bashing is a popular pastime for supporters of Judaic supremacy on the web’, suggests Assange has a pretty weird taste in writing. For instance, Shamir has complained that the media is controlled by Jewish ‘masters of discourse’, that Judaism is a ‘dangerous and troublesome ideology’, and that: ‘We must deny the concept of the Holocaust even if the most fantastic inventions of [Eli] Wiesel were absolutely true.’
Both Assange and Wahlström have likened Shamir to Salman Rushdie, apparently regarding him as a misunderstood intellectual, persecuted for speaking his mind. And it seems this comparison is taken straight from Shamir’s own distorted self-image. He once wrote a letter to The Times (London), stating: ‘I walk under a fatwa not less scaring than that of Rushdie, for my name is on the hit list of Jewish Defense League.’
In a 2002 article in Swedish student newspaper Gaudeamus, Wahlström also compared Shamir to Noam Chomsky and suggested they had both been dismissed as ‘self-hating Jews’ because of their criticisms of Israel. He said that ‘Zionism may be a destructive ideology, but not nearly as destructive as “anti-Semitism” which crushes all opportunities for free and open debate’. Similarly, Shamir has claimed that those who oppose ‘segregation in Israel’ tend to get dismissed as anti-Semites.
One reporter interviewed in Wahlström’s Ordfront piece, Donald Boström, did not denounce the article, in which he claimed that Israeli authorities had attempted to confiscate his images of Palestinians whose bodies had allegedly been ‘ripped up’, their organs removed. In 2009, Boström wrote a controversial article for the tabloid Aftonbladet in which he claimed that the Israel Defense Forces steals organs from Palestinians. Last year, the same newspaper commissioned Wahlström to investigate the Jewish Bonniers family’s ‘grip’ on the media, book and film industries in Sweden. The resulting series of articles was criticised in Sweden for its conspiratorial undertones. In April last year, Wahlström interviewed Assange for Aftonbladet, labelling him ‘the internet’s James Bond’. However, Aftonbladet’s plan to make Assange a columnist fell through after he got accused of rape by two Swedish women.
Several commentators in Sweden and beyond have rightly questioned Assange’s judgement. Why would he surround himself with disgraced journalists and unhinged anti-Semites, they ask? Does he not understand the damage this does to Wikileaks’ reputation? At the same time, many of Assange’s critics who have gone from celebrating him as a hero of transparency and a crusader for truth to denouncing him as a paranoid megalomaniac, still defend the Wikileaks project and ethos.
They miss the point. The reason why Wikileaks attracts shady figures who see themselves as brave, persecuted dissidents fighting the power is because they feel an affinity to Assange, who has presented himself in exactly those terms. The story of the cult of Wikileaks is the story of the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories and the elevation of insider gossip to breaking news. The journalists who are now distancing themselves from Assange in the wake of the anti-Semitism revelations, belatedly revising their poor judgement of him, are doing a bad job of masking just how naive and starstruck they were from the outset - and how their own conviction that society is largely controlled by faceless or unaccountable figures made them believe Wikileaks was a sensible and brave project.
While the cult of St Julian is finally being knocked over, unfortunately the cult of leaking has yet to be shaken off.
Nathalie Rothschild is an international correspondent for spiked. Visit her personal website here.