Shimon Tzabar, who died in London on 19 March 2007 of pulmonary infection, was a true Renaissance man: painter, writer, poet, and satirist, as well as an amateur mycologist (he discovered and named at least one species of mushroom). Above all, he was a rebel.
Shimon was born on 5/3/1926 in Tel-Aviv. His parents, who sold poultry in Carmel Market, sent him to a religious school. He was a member of the Betar right-wing Zionist youth movement, but he was not accepted by ETZEL (The Irgun) because he questioned their right-wing views. Nevertheless, he was detained in the Latrun prison camp for several months. He was then recruited to the LEHI (Stern Gang) by his friend Amos Keinan, but after going through a period of induction failed to be admitted because he expressed support for the idea of a bi-national state. Finally, he joined the PALMAH (mainstream Zionist commando). In the 1948 war he was wounded in Jerusalem. At about that time, having read Marx’s Capital, he joined the Hebrew Communists (where he met his wife Naomi) and together with other members of this splinter group joined the Israeli Communist Party. He left the CP a few years later “because I was bored (not because of any political disagreements).”
His first journalistic job was (while still in uniform) as graphic editor of Bamahaneh, the Army journal. He later worked as a cartoonist and columnist in Ha’aretz and Ha`olam Hazeh.
Shimon was a trail-blazer in the struggle against the occupation and Zionist colonization. He was viciously attacked not only by the Israeli-Zionist establishment, but also by some who later would follow in his footsteps, albeit at some distance.
On 22.9.1967 Ha’aretz printed an advertisement initiated by him and signed by 12 people (of whom I am proud to have been one) with the following words:
Our right to defend ourselves from extermination does not give us the right to oppress others
Occupation entails foreign rule
Foreign rule entails resistance
Resistance entails repression
Repression entails terror and counter-terror
The victims of terror are mostly innocent people
Holding on to the occupied territories will turn us into a nation of murderers and murder victims
Let us get out of the occupied territories immediately
This was the first widely publicized protest in Hebrew against the occupation after the June 1967 war, and was met with almost universal chauvinistic howls of anger. Now it seems prophetic, but it only took common sense to foresee what would happen.
In December 1967 Shimon left Israel for London. In his (yet unpublished) autobiography he says that his aim was to “try to mobilise the world opinion against the occupation”. Shortly after his arrival, he and some like-minded comrades published a satirical magazine, Israel Imperial News. He recalled that “in contrast to the favourable reviews in the British press, Israel Imperial News got a stormy reception In Israel. It was attacked by almost everybody who could hold a pen and had a foothold in the press, including Amos Keinan and Uri Avnery, the editor of Haolam Haze.” Shimon relished these attacks, because they confirmed to him that he was on the right track.
He made numerous, varied and highly original contributions to modern Hebrew literature (see here in Hebrew)
His satirical erudite anti-war book, The White Flag Principle: How to Lose a War (and Why) has been translated to nine languages.
In 2004 he published a “a tourist guide that never was”, entitled [Much Better Than] The Official Michelin Guide to Israeli Prisons, Jails, Concentration Camps and Torture Chambers. Michelin started legal proceedings against him for using their distinctive format, colour scheme and logo, but – to his great disappointment – withdrew the charge when it transpired that the entire limited edition had been distributed free of charge, and he had no intention to republish the “guide”.
Professionally speaking, Shimon regarded himself primarily as a painter. He joined Avni’s Art School at the age of 15, and soon became a prolific painter, with a very distinctive style. His artistic creative activity continued and even intensified during his last few years, despite his physical frailty.
Shimon and Naomi separated in 1976. He is survived by her and their sons Yoav and Rami, and by Judit Druks, with whom he shared the last two decades of his life.