Remembering Yitzhak Shamir

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in his office in Jerusalem in 1992, one week before he lost the elections to the Labor’s Yitzhak Rabin.

By Sherwin Pomerantz

Yesterday the State of Israel buried another of its former prime ministers, Yitzhak Shamir of blessed memory, who held that position from 1983-84 and again from 1986-1992.  Born Icchak Jaziernicky in 1918 in what is now Belarus, he was Israel’s longest serving prime minister next to David Ben Gurion.

I remember the first week I was in Israel as a new immigrant in early February, 1984.  I was walking one evening in the area of Liberty Bell Park in Jerusalem and Shamir was walking from what was then the LaRomme Hotel (now the Inbal) to the King Solomon Sheraton Hotel just across the street.  In those days people at his level of government were still able to walk the streets freely with just one bodyguard.  

I walked up to him, unhindered, and introduced myself saying that I had just moved to Israel.  After asking me where I came from, he looked at me with those steely eyes of his and said, simply, “Welcome home and happy that you are here.” And when Yitzchak Shamir said something, you just knew that he meant it.

He was a man of high principle, honest, modest and not in the least bit desirous of the normal trappings that now come with such a high position in government.  He was most consistent when it came to the security of Israel.  It was clear that in his heart he never believed in the concept of making peace with our Arab neighbors and even voted against the peace treaty with Egypt.  He was not against making peace, he just felt that the negotiated cost was simply too high for what Israel got in return.

New Mt. Sinai Cemetery advertisement

He went, reluctantly, to the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference because the United States gave him no choice.  But there is a story told, which may or may not be true, that at one point during his stay he called the members of the Israeli delegation to his room and, beginning with the Yiddish word for “children” he said:  “Kinderlach, this is the beginning of the end.”  That was in keeping with his overall philosophy that nothing changes here.  As he said many times when confronted by an opportunity to negotiate and compromise, “The Arabs are the same Arabs and the sea is the same sea.”

I thought of him today as I was reading the transcript of yesterday’s meeting of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council held in Geneva.  On the very day when Human Rights Watch reported that at least 1,776 children have been killed in Syria since February, 2011, the UN Human Rights Council devoted the entire day to the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories, better known as “a day against Israel” — a permanent feature of every council meeting.

Speakers included representatives of Iran, Cuba, Libya, Egypt and Sudan —countries whose own records of human rights violations exponentially exceed anything you will see in Israel. 

Shamir once said “We have said that Israel has had a very bad history with the United Nations, and whoever cares for himself in Israel distances himself from the organization.”  It is difficult to argue with that position given the actions of the Human Rights Council. 

Regarding peace, it would be depressing to think that Shamir may have been correct in his hard line assessment of the prospects for peace in the region.  Certainly to those of us who had hoped for some other truth, the possibility of his being correct is disheartening.  

In an interview given to Daniel Pipes in 1998, Shamir’s response to the question “What are the greatest dangers facing Israel?” was “The establishment of a Palestinian state in Israel.” 

Was he right or wrong?  

Time will tell but one has to give him credit for consistency and an unbending loyalty to the long term security of Israel as the eternal homeland of the Jewish people. For that alone we need to respect his memory.