A tribute to Barry Chamish

In memory of the investigative journalist.

Barry Chamish (photo credit: FACEBOOK)
Barry Chamish
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
I moved to Israel 22 years ago, about a year and a half before Yigal Amir pointed a gun at prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Israel, I felt, was losing its way, its self-confidence and whatever good sense it might have once had, and was going on foolish paths. I felt that if we just let the Israelis degenerate over there while we sit here in the Diaspora, there may be little of Israel to go to when we want to. You know, like we had to go save the stupid Israelis from themselves.
Investigative journalist Barry Chamish appealed to this aspect of me. I suspected something was wrong with the government, and Chamish’s raison d’etre was to uncover corruption. I was open.
My first year here I read Ben Hecht’s Perfidy, and was ready to believe that Jews in positions of power could lie, even in Israel.
I first heard Chamish speak in 1995, while Rabin was still alive. It was a lecture at Off the Square Restaurant, then located on Yoel Solomon St. The speakers were Chamish and Joel Bainerman, who together produced a newsletter called Inside Israel. Joel was calm and collected; Chamish was always a bundle of nerves. His talks had the tempo of a Joan Rivers interview. He talked about the Shabak and Baruch Goldstein. He talked about how the government was trying to delegitimize the settlers. He speculated about El Al Cargo Jet Flight 1862 – which crashed in Amsterdam in 1992 – saying there were reports of people near the crash site getting sick, and he suspected that the jet had been transporting uranium and was sabotaged by Israel’s enemies.
I admired his imagination and ability to think out of the box.
Chamish was a bloodhound.
He had a nose for scandal. For him there were two types of journalists; investigative journalists and “pack journalists;” he looked askance at the latter. Nothing was sacred for Chamish; he was willing to suspect everyone. I remember once when Chamish spoke at our yeshiva, a friend remarked to me, “I was fascinated by what he said, but he lost my credulity when he said something imputing corruption to the then-Ashkenazi chief rabbi.”
I was not surprised when, shortly after Rabin’s death, Chamish was pointing out contradictions.
The Rabin episode became something of an obsession for me, too, and I followed Chamish’s efforts over the years. I remember when he was physically stopped from speaking at the Hebrew University Overseas School in 1997, by rioting left-wing student groups, led by a Labor MK. That type of opposition just made Chamish more determined.
Chamish was only one of many people who were investigating the Rabin demise, though Chamish liked to act like he was the first and foremost. Vital research was done by others, and Chamish’s theories were indebted to their findings. But perhaps because Chamish was the most outspoken, or the most self-promoting, he got the most attention.
It was Chamish who Rabin’s daughter referred to in an interview to the Israeli women’s magazine Olam HaIsha, saying something like, “We have all these questions, it is not just Barry Chamish.”
Chamish felt that the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) was out to get him. I worried that perhaps they might be, since, as the saying goes, “Just because you have a persecution complex doesn’t mean no one is out to get you!” Chamish’s theory of what happened to Rabin evolved over the years, as more pieces of the puzzle emerged and were put together.
That also has a lesson for us, I believe: never assert that your theory is final or airtight until it is proven.
Chamish’s passing on August 23 in Florida leaves me with feelings of loss and gratitude. As I finish my master’s degree in Human Rights at Hebrew University and embark on a new career in journalism, Chamish’s example inspires me to never stop asking questions.
May his memory be for a blessing.