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Friday, October 22, 2010

Yitzchak Shamir turns 95

Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir turned 95 years old this week. While some on the Right criticize Shamir for going to the Madrid Conference in 1991 (a conference at which, by the way, the only 'Palestinians' present were part of the Jordanian delegation - Shamir refused to permit a 'Palestinian' delegation), compared to every Prime Minister who has followed him, Shamir was a breath of fresh air.
“Yitzhak Shamir had a warm heart,” said Ben Aharon. “He was a leader who knew what is good for the people of Israel in the Land of Israel. He knew how to fearlessly implement his principles, even when he spoke with world leaders. Many leaders did not like his way, especially with regard to Israel and the Arabs. He constantly had to deal with the formula set before him by the Americans who thought they had invented the redeeming formula of land in exchange for peace.”

Ben Aharon pointed out that Shamir always knew to ward off American attacks on the issue of ‘settlements’, which he said came up often when George H. Bush was US President. “One time, Secretary of State Baker told Shamir: ‘If you think I’m an extremist, wait until you hear my boss,’” recalled Ben Aharon. “Shamir listened and did not flinch. He said that as long as there are settlements, we will guarantee that there will not be an Arab state in Israel. He told Baker that this land is our land. Today you do not hear any such bold and open statements from leaders.”

He recalled a time in 1983 when Shamir was visiting New York as Foreign Minister and was being attacked by the UN because of Israel’s actions during the First Lebanon War which was then taking place. “All of a sudden a message came from the White House that President Reagan was inviting him for a meeting in Washington. When the Israeli entourage reached the White House we were told that only two people will be allowed to accompany Shamir during the meeting with the President. Ambassador Meir Rosenne and I went with Shamir, but then we were surprised to find that across the table sat President Reagan with all his top administration aides, about 15 people.

“I felt as though the organizers of the meeting tried to give the impression that they were placing the Israelis in front of a court,” recalled Ben Aharon. “The President began speaking in a low voice, describing the harsh impression made by the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. When the President finished speaking, there was silence. Then, his voice quiet and calm, Shamir opened by expressing gratitude to the President on the endeavors to help Soviet Jews leave the USSR. The Americans were surprised. The tension in the room dissipated.”

Ben Aharon described how Shamir then explained the factual situation which led to the Israeli operation in the Lebanese border, without drama and without apology. “Shamir said that the conditions which prevailed in Lebanon left us no choice but to attack and destroy the PLO's terrorist bases, and that any responsible government in the world would have acted like us. Again there was silence in the room. Finally, Shamir suggested that the President meet with foreign and defense ministers to get a detailed picture of the situation and see what the US can do to help. Discussions with ministers took place in a businesslike manner, and no more criticism was heard. Shamir behaved this way during his entire time as Prime Minister.”
Read the whole thing.

I mentioned the Madrid Conference. Shamir's government was brought down (by the Right) over his attendance at Madrid. In the ensuing election, the Right split into a number of small parties. In the end, two of those parties missed the threshold for getting into the Knesset (one headed by Rabbi Levinger and one headed by Geula Cohen - I still recall someone sitting in our house on the day of the election debating which one to give her vote). As a result, their votes were split among those parties that had met the threshold. Those votes gave Rabin the victory and as a result, we got Oslo.

We'd have been better off swallowing Madrid and sticking with Shamir.


At 1:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last time I saw him was when he went out for a daily stroll on the streets of his Rehavia neighborhood. It must have been around 15-20 years ago.

I understand he's had Alzheimer's for many years now.

Your arguments for his Madrid escapade sound like "better the devil you know." The problem is no one should have gotten to know the devil in the first place.

Shamir was the one who got scolded jumping into the hot tub, which cooled it off for those who followed.

At 6:38 PM, Blogger i_like_ike52 said...

While I have great admiration for Shamir, and he does seem to be better than those who followed, there is room for criticism:

(1) It is a myth that the Right lost the elections in 1992 because of the split between Tehiya and Moledet. The Right lost because the Likud was destroying itself internally. David Levy made his infamous "monkeys in the trees" speech pusing his "Sefardic victimiztion" theme, in addition Yitzhak Modai left the Likud. Shamir did a wonderful job alienating a LOT of right-wing people.

(2) Shamir had no interest in a "right-wing" agenda other than the settlements-he preferred a coalition with the Labor Party over one with the Haredim. He appointed Leftists to most high positions.

(3) Shamir repeatedly brok agreements with many people, particularly the Haredim who he quite openly disliked. He had little credibility with many people

(4) The IDF , under Shamir, quietly began unilaterally pulling out of the Arab towns of Judea/Samaria and allowing the growth of a terror infrastructure which led to the intifada.

All in all-he had a mixed record. This does not detract from his great contributions to Israel and the Jewish people.


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