The Jewish Press joins Jews around the world in mourning the death, at age 96, of Yitzhak Shamir, a key leader in Israel’s fight for independence who later served as a top Mossad official, speaker of the Knesset, foreign minister and prime minister.
In the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “Yitzhak Shamir belonged to the generation of giants that established the state of Israel and fought for the freedom of the Jewish people in its land…. As prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir took action to fortify Israel’s security and ensure its future.”
Shamir spent many years in leadership positions in the Jewish underground, fighting to drive the British out of Palestine. He was instrumental in the success of many pivotal operations against British forces as well as Arab armies and militias bent on eradicating the Jewish presence in Eretz Yisrael.
Shamir was said to have come by his “whatever it takes” dedication to a Jewish homeland from the loss of much of his family in the Holocaust, with his father having been killed by Poles whom the family had considered their friends.
As prime minister, Shamir was unstinting in his promotion of Jewish settlement building and was a vocal proponent of what has been referred to as “Greater Israel” – a modern state of Israel that includes most of biblical Israel. Shamir also championed the influx of Soviet Jews to Israel and evacuated more than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews overnight to Israel in an airlift dubbed Operation Solomon.
Though he was capable of strategic pragmatism, his overall unyielding approach to dealing with the Palestinians led to some epic confrontations with the first President Bush and his secretary of state, James Baker, over Middle East policy.
The world today is a lot more complicated than the one in which Yitzhak Shamir lived and thrived in his underground and government service years. But we should never forget his example of courage, commitment and selflessness – qualities not in apparent abundance these days.