The people of Israel lost a true leader with the passing of Yitzhak Shamir. Before assuming the reins as our seventh prime minister, Shamir dutifully served his people and his country first as head of the underground Lehi, then in the Mossad where he was responsible for tracking down and eliminating some of our worst enemies including Nazi war criminals who had fled to Egypt, and finally in the political arena where he served as a Member and then Speaker of Knesset, Foreign Minister and finally Prime Minister after the resignation of his mentor Menachem Begin.
Upon the death of a loved one, we often take the time to look through the memory book of their life and search for the lessons that their legacy can teach us. In the case of Yitzhak Shamir, a multi-volume set of thick bound tomes might be more appropriate a metaphor. These books are filled with the earth of the whole land of Israel, and immersed in values and an understanding of our unique place in history. His spirit and his values are an inspiration to all of those who love this land, and especially to the members of his beloved Likud movement that strive to stay true to Shamir’s teachings.
You do not negotiate on your core ideology. This is what guided Shamir in his steadfast defense of the rights of the Jewish people to their historic homeland. In the years that he guided Israel’s foreign policy, he would not compromise on this basic tenet. In 1992, under intense pressure from the American administration, Shamir stood fast and made clear to the world that money cannot buy and replace values. He bravely rejected the US demand that he stop building in Judea and Samaria in return for loan guarantees. This money was very much needed to absorb our brothers who were then coming home from the former Soviet Union, but Shamir knew such an act on his behalf would create a slippery slope that would set a terrible precedent for the future leaders of Israel. Such a move on his behalf would have endangered his beloved settlement enterprise which he knew was invaluable for the future well-being of the State.
Shamir’s decisions and policies were not always popular or politically correct. There was no end of criticism both in Israel and form the international community. In fact, there were times when his refusal to abandon his core values probably cost him at the ballot box, such as when he lost to Yitzhak Rabin in the 1992 elections. Nevertheless, over time, his steadfastness disproved today’s assumption that you must be guided daily by opinion polls to obtain power, and then govern. Without ever abandoning his beliefs, Shamir was able to not only reach the highest office in the land, but he also ended up serving in office longer than any other prime minister since David Ben Gurion. Moreover, because of his intellectual honesty and core decency, since leaving office Shamir is admired by all Israelis – whatever their political persuasion – for the great leader that he was.
To better convey Shamir’s unique foresight and leadership capabilities, I must share a short story. In the early 1990s, while serving as a Betar emissary in the United States, I invited one of my childhood heroes to visit my host community. Yitzhak graciously agreed to come and speak at an event I had organized promoting Israel and aliyah. When he was asked for his opinion about the demographic threat that is so often raised, Shamir answered with full confidence that we must remain steadfast and work tirelessly to bring millions of Soviet Jews home to Israel. At that time, such a prediction seemed completely unrealistic and even a tad naïve. Nevertheless, Shamir’s analysis proved with time to be completely accurate and proved how important it is for a leader to remain true to his values. By believing and planning, one million Russians ultimately came to live in Israel, changing our core demographic reality forever.
That night, after he had finished addressing the group, I had the honor of spending an evening with the former Prime Minister. I was enthralled with his stories and life lessons, especially with his core conviction that a leader must truly believe in and be ready to defend his policies. If a leader does so, he told me, there is no need to worry about the criticism that will inevitably follow any brave decision.