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July 5, 2012 10:08 am

Yitzhak Shamir: A Voice of Israel, Silenced

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avatar by Maxine Dovere

Yitzhak Shamir's coffin in the Knesset. Photo: Yaakov.

Leaders of Israel’s political hierarchy gathered on Mt. Herzl July 2 to expresses their official condolences to the family of Israel’s seventh Prime Minister, Yitzhak Shamir who was laid to rest in the Helkat Gedolei Ha’Uma cemetery. The funeral followed a period of public mourning earlier Monday when Shamir’s casket was placed at the Knesset Plaza in Jerusalem.  The former PM who was 96-years-old adopted the name “Shamir” -“a thorn” or “steel cutting rock” after it was assigned as his underground identity. He was married to Shlomit, (died, 2011) for 67 years and had two children, Yair and Gilada.

In his eulogy, Israeli President Shimon Peres said “we shared the same roots” and called his former colleague “a man who was at peace with himself….His ideology stemmed from the history of our people.”  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted that Shamir’s decisions “had to stand up to one test: Whether it is good for the Jewish people and the land of Israel (and) had unwavering commitment to the security of Israel.” He cited Israel’s Seventh Prime Minister as one who was “resolute, practical, realistic and completely committed to the security of Israel.” Though at times the two had been political enemies, Netanyahu said Shamir “was part of a marvelous generation which created the state of Israel and struggled for the Jewish people.” “Shamir belonged to the generation of giants who founded the State of Israel,” he said.

Yitzhak Shamir was a scant 5 feet tall.  Born Icchak Jaziernicki in 1915 in what is now Belarus, he completed his law degree at Warsaw University.  He was a member of Betar and immigrated to then Palestine in 1935.  Shamir became a member, later, head, of the Irgun Zvai Leumi – “Lehi” – during the pre-State year, and took command of the “Stern Gang” after Abraham Stern’s death. Captured by the British and interned in Eritrea in 1948, he escaped, crossed through French Somalia, and was granted political asylum by the French.  He returned to Israel in 1948. David Ben Gurion considered Shamir a criminal and a thug, and held great animosity towards him. Only in 1955 did he become part of the government, working with the Mossad from 1955-65. During his years with the Mossad, Shamir successfully located and eliminated Nazi war criminals living clandestinely in Egypt. He believed in an expanded, “Greater Israel,” to include both the West Bank and Gaza, shunning the concept of land for peace and eventually joined the Likud party.

As a politician Shamir served as a member of the Knesset then as Foreign Minister, and twice as Prime Minister, radically changing the face of Israel.  He was a leader in the ingathering of the diverse Jewish communities of the world and his push to bring Soviet Jewish refugees to Israel increased Israel’s population by more than a million.  Shamir made sure the first stop in their journey out of the Former Soviet Union was in Israel.  “Come here first,” he advised. “Choose after you have seen the choice here.” In May, 1991, he authorized “Operation Solomon” which carried some fifteen thousand Ethiopian Jews to the Jewish State on El Al flights authorized to fly on Shabbat for the first time.  His “lifetime achievements and special contribution to society and the State of Israel” were recognized in 2001, when the long serving Prime Minister was awarded the Israel Prize.

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Jewish and non-Jewish leaders worldwide sent messages of sympathy to the people of Israel and Prime Minister Netanyhu. Kenneth Bialkin, Chairman of the American Israel Friendship League, recalled meeting with Shamir in a letter sent to Netanyahu, saying “I remember the first time I met him… typically, the Prime Minister did not have much to say. Since that time, however, he had a great deal to say, largely reflected in the actions he took – or, refused to take – as Prime Minister. He held to his principles despite great political pressure.  I believe his leadership of the State of Israel deserves the respect of all lovers of Zion and friends of Israel.”

Of Israel’s founding fathers, Shimon Peres now stands alone.

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