Wednesday, July 4, 2012

On Yitzhak Shamir

On Yitzhak Shamir

I was with Yitzhak Shamir at the Madrid Conference in 1990 (with thanks to BPO).  Or rather, he and I were there at the same time, he as Prime Minister, I, along with friends from Yesha communities, were there to represent the heart of the matter: Jews residing in the Land of Israel.


I am at the far right, slightly obscured. To my right, counter-clockwise are: Elyakim Rubinstein (legal advisor), Yitzhak Shamir, Uri Elitzur (Ofra - Amana), Shifra Blass (Neveh Tzuf), Shalom Wach (Hebron) and Yossi Achimeir (PM aide).  More onthe event here.

What did the two big US newspapers stress?

From Joel Brinkley's obituary of Yitzhak Shamir in the NYTimes, an interpretation of history:-

...[Shamir had been] promoting a muscular Zionism and expansive settlement in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip,

Many of his friends and colleagues ascribed his character to his years in the underground in the 1940s, when he sent Jewish fighters out to kill British officers whom he saw as occupiers. He was a wanted man then; to the British rulers of the Palestine mandate he was a terrorist, an assassin. He appeared in public only at night, disguised as a Hasidic rabbi. But Mr. Shamir said he considered those “the best years of my life.” His wife, Shulamit, once said that in the underground she and her husband had learned not to talk about their work for fear of being overheard. It was a habit he apparently never lost.

...To Mr. Shamir, victory came not from compromise, but from strength, patience and cunning.
“If he wants something, it may take a long time, but he’ll never let go,” Avi Pazner, his media adviser, once remarked...As prime minister, Mr. Shamir promoted continued Jewish settlement in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which Israel conquered in 1967; the Jewish population in the occupied territories increased by nearly 30 percent while he was in office. He also encouraged the immigration of tens of thousands of Soviet Jews to Israel, an influx that changed the country’s demographic character...

...The fighting also deepened divisions between Israel’s two political camps: leftists who believed in making concessions to bring peace, and members of the right who believed, as Mr. Shamir once put it, that “Israel’s days without Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip are gone and will not return.”

...He immigrated to the Palestine mandate when he was 20 and selected Shamir as his Hebrew surname. The word means thorn or sharp point...In the British-ruled Palestine mandate, Mr. Shamir first worked as a bookkeeper [he came straight to the Hebrew University as a student first] and a construction worker. But after Arabs attacked Jewish settlers and the British in 1936, he joined the Irgun Zvai Leumi, the underground Jewish defense league. In 1940, the Irgun’s most militant members formed the Lehi, or Stern Gang, named for its first leader, Abraham Stern.

After the British police killed Mr. Stern in 1942, Mr. Shamir became one of the group’s top commanders. Under his leadership it began a campaign of what it called personal terror, assassinating top British military and government officers, often gunning them down in the street. [let's not forget that Yair was gunned down in his underground apartment] To the Jewish public, and even to the other Jewish underground groups, Mr. Shamir’s gang was “lacking even a spark of humanity and Jewish conscience,” Israel Rokach, the mayor of Tel Aviv, said in 1944 after Stern Gang gunmen shot three British police officers on the streets of his city.

Years later, however, Mr. Shamir contended that it had been more humane to assassinate specific military or political figures than to attack military installations and possibly kill innocent people, as the other underground groups did. Besides, he once said, “a man who goes forth to take the life of another whom he does not know must believe only one thing: that by his act he will change the course of history.”

Several histories of the period have asserted that he masterminded a failed attempt to kill the British high commissioner, Sir Harold MacMichael, and the killing in Cairo of Britain’s minister of state for the Middle East, Lord Moyne. When Mr. Shamir was asked about these episodes in later years, his denials held a certain evasive tone...For a brief period after World War II, the three major Jewish underground groups cooperated — until the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on July 22, 1946. Scores of people were killed, and Mr. Shamir was among those arrested and exiled to an internment camp in Eritrea. But he escaped a few months later and took refuge in France. He arrived in the newly independent Israel in May 1948...

Shamir (l.), Geula Cohen, Anshel Shpielman (r.), at Yair's grave, 1949

But WashPost's Glenn Frankel and Robin Shulman get facts wrong and are outrightly nasty:
Former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, a gunman in the smallest and most violent underground faction fighting for a Jewish state who rose to become leader of the nation[he was one the three-man Central Committee of Lechi]

and add
Mr. Shamir’s vision for Israel — a strong, unassailable nation capable of defeating any enemy and continuing down the path of colonizing the West Bank even while establishing itself as an economic success story — endures. “There is the sense that no one had the impact that he had,” said Avishai Margalit, an Israeli philosopher at Princeton University. “He was the ultimate true believer in the idea of Greater Israel.”

Margalit is one of Israel's far-left philosophers, active in Peace Now.  Why not have a balance opinion?