The Shortest Giant: The Legacy of Yitzhak Shamir (1915-2012)

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J.Scott Applewhite / AP

Israel‘s giants keep falling.  With the death of Yitzhak Shamir, at age 96, in the nursing home where he was treated for Alzheimer’s Disease, the scale of the public lives that long drove Israel’s politics becomes, at least for the time it takes to read an obituary, alive again in an imagination not much fired any more by the biographies of public servants.  But Shamir’s was an epic story and it is impossible to trim his life to a sentence, leaving out the prison breaks, assassinations and Holocaust. He went from robbing banks to support a terrorist organization committed to establishing a Jewish state, to serving longer as its prime minister than all but one other person.

The record-holder remains David Ben-Gurion, the erudite, socialist, and atheist founding father of Israel, who regarded Shamir as a criminal and a thug.  Ben-Gurion’s longtime aide, Shimon Peres, who now stands as the last of Israel’s founding generation, would in due course share the prime ministry with the one-time outcast.  At 89 Peres himself is finally immensely popular in Israel, the largely ceremonial office of the presidency fitting him like a fine suit.  In person only his hands look old, an almost eerie youthfulness on display with Peres’ prodigious, elastic intellect.  Each year he hosts an international conference, which always seems to include several panels on brain studies, not by coincidence his pet subject.

Who else fires the imagination? Ariel Sharon remains in his coma, kept alive by feeding tubes the six years since suffering a series of strokes while in office.  A junior officer when the giants bestrode the young state, Sharon straddles the founders’ generation much as he does the line between life and death, but is crowded into their vicinity by sheer force of reputation.  His great girth seemed of a piece with his rapaciousness as a warrior.  Field marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi,  when he was still jjust Egypt’s defense minister, once asked one of Sharon’s aides if it was true that the great man ate an entire lamb for breakfast every morning.  Told the story was apocryphal, Tantawi appeared to regard the denial as dissembling and preferred to go on believing the myth.

Shamir inspired no such legends. “They will not write or say in the eulogies of Yitzhak Shamir that he was a fierce, charismatic leader who knew how to inspire his people,” one of his successors and protégés, Ehud Olmert, wrote in Yedioth Ahronot on Sunday. The headline in Haaretz: “A modest man, an uninspiring leader – and a genuine zealot.”    Yet the sweep of his life describes the arc of modern Israel — from its birth in the ashes of the Holocaust, which claimed every member of the family Shamir left in Poland when he emigrated to what was then Palestine – to the new mainstream he thrived amid as inheritor of the Likud, the party that evolved from another Jewish militia regarded as outlaws by the Labor Party mainstream Ben-Gurion led.

Shamir believed in a physically expansive Israel, one that must include the West Bank and Gaza, at the minimum.  He encouraged the settlements (as did Perez) and disdained talk of a exchanging land for peace with Arabs who also claimed the territory.   “There is the sense that no one had the impact that he had,” the philosopher and journalist Avishai Margalit told the Washington Post. “He was the ultimate true believer in the idea of Greater Israel.” (From TIME’s archives: an interview with Yitzhak Shamir)

Before becoming a statesman, however, Shamir spent time living alone in orange groves, and moving stealthily through Jerusalem crowds dressed as a Hasidic rabbi.  He was on the run from British troops who controlled present-day Israel in the years between World War I and 1948.  As a leader of the Lehi militia, also known as the Stern Gang, Shamir plotted assassinations, including the Cairo shooting of Lord Moyne, the top British official in the Middle East.  Born Icchak Jazernicki, he took the Hebrew name “Shamir” after emigrating. It translates as “thorn.”

“A man who goes forth to take the life of another whom he does not know must believe one thing only — that by his act he will change the course of history,” Shamir once said.  Captured twice, he also escaped twice, the second time from a prison in Eritrea in 1948.  The government of the new state he found on his return had no place for him, at least at first.  But he got work by 1955 in Mossad, the Israeli state clandestine service that operates overseas, sometimes ruthlessly.  When Shamir shifted to politics, it was in the party run by Menachem Begin, whose own pre-independence militia, the Irgun, also operated on the rightward fringe ( though not at the extremes of Lehi).

Shamir succeeded Begin as premier in 1983, at age 68, and brought a spymaster’s habits to the job.  “He often met separately with each aide,” the Post’s Glenn Frankel noted, “compartmentalizing tasks and duties. There were huge gaps in his official diary, when aides said Mr. Shamir spent his time alone poring over diplomatic cables and intelligence reports. He preferred raw data from field agents.”

Stolid and diminutive at barely five feet tall, Shamir nonetheless loomed so large — and served so long — that the official announcement of his death could not avoid the question of stature: Shamir “belonged to the generation of giants who founded the State of Israel,” said the statement issued by the office of Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister who, in elections expected next year, is positioned to surpass Shamir’s tenure in office. He might not have enjoyed living to see it, according to Chemi Shalev, who covered Shamir for Haaretz.  Shamir “disliked ‘professional politicians’ and was no great fan of Shimon Peres… nor… Netanyahu, the Likud superstar who would eventually take Shamir’s place after his 1992 electoral loss to Yitzhak Rabin,” Shalev wrote. “Netanyahu’s slick, American-style politicking was alien to Shamir, and his willingness to grudgingly adopt the Oslo Accords in order to win over centrist voters in the 1996 elections was viewed by Shamir both as betrayal and as a vindication of his earlier mistrust.”

But it’s also possible he would not have minded. The single-mindedness that drove him as a young man remained with Shamir into his late 80s, according to Olmert, who recounted a Saturday night phone call from his old mentor in November 2003.

“Did you see the news?” Shamir asked,  “agitated and excited” watching coverage of car bomb attacks on Istanbul synagogues. There was still blood on the streets. “The reporter asked a Jew, wrapped in a prayer shawl, if he was afraid,” Olmert wrote. “ The Jew replied: “No, I am not scared.” The reporter asked him “How are you not afraid?” and he replied “Because the State of Israel exists.”

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Samantha Kennedy
Samantha Kennedy

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FormerLibyan
FormerLibyan

How nice that you corrected the "oversight" and now "Israel" is above the title. Freudian slips as they are can show your true colors. BTW, no "journalist" bothers to translate from the Hebrew or Arabic so there is no chance to get a real picture. You only get what they want to you to think. Hence Freudian slips are not necessarily slips.

ymedad
ymedad

This - " Shamir spent time living alone in orange groves, and moving stealthily through Jerusalem crowds dressed as a Hasidic rabbi." - is off.  It was Yehoshua Cohen who hid out in the orange groves of Kfar Saba while Shamir stayed in Tel Aviv.  It really is easy to get facts right.

Eileen Fleming
Eileen Fleming

Roy Tov , former Israeli army officer, author, prolific writer and a Christian refugee in Bolivia wrote:

"Writing an obituary about a terrorist? I couldn’t degrade myself to that; yet, the topic was amusing to the extent of irresistible. 'The Digger' had died....

"A spirit of suspicion and unfaithfulness left us yesterday, reminding us that injustice will not last. Not even the Zionist one."

http://www.roytov.com/articles...

TimeisTrueless
TimeisTrueless

 

It is obvious that Vick still hasn't developed any first person sources and

probably gets his impression of what happens in Israel (it really is a country,

Karl, despite your magazine's hallucinatory heading above) from the important,

but unrepresentative English language version of the left-wing  Haaretz

newspaper. The remarkable and unexpected outpouring of admiration and

appreciation for Shamir is the newsworthy story, Karl. Get someone to translate

the  Hebrew eulogies and articles in press and other media in Israel; they are

nothing like the carping, shrinking minority positions taken by Haaretz. 

Rather,  the tone is as if  many people who had not supported Shamir's insistent

ideological position have belatedly come to acknowledge the realism and accuracy

of his views. Also isn't it customary to include a few of the achievements

of the deceased in an obituary? (It would lend at least a thin veil of fairness

to your coverage.)  The ideological integrity and courage of a leader who set in

motion the airlift of Ethiopian Jewry to Israel, as well as the migration of

over one million Jews from the former Soviet Union is something that readers who

worry so much about migrants in a time of economic crisis might find surprising.

Eileen Fleming
Eileen Fleming

 I have been to the state of Israel and throughout the land of Palestine seven times since 2005.

Because THE MEDIA was NOT reporting accurately what We The People really need to know about America's Foreign Policies that endanger THIS homeland and most US Christians are clueless as to the reasons for the ever increasing Christian EXODUS from the so called Holy Land-which is in pieces/Bantustans, I established WeAreWideAwake.org and am now a candidate of Conscience for US HOUSE, D. 5, Fl. and I approve of ALL of my messages!

http://wearewideawake.org/

http://www.eileenfleming.org/

http://www.veteranstoday.com/a...

FormerLibyan
FormerLibyan

Why are you not mentioning the ever present exodus of and persecution of Christians, Baha'is and other non-muslims in the entire Muslim world?

http://frontpagemag.com/2012/0... 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P... 

http://www.persecution.org/201... 

http://news.bahai.org/story/91... 

About 2.1% of Israel's citizens are Christian and have full to worship as they please with full access to all Christian site in the country.  Last year, 3.5 million tourists visited Israel. Two-thirds of them were Christians. This year, tourism is already higher than last year. Get real. How many Christians visited any other country in the Middle East? Would they feel safe there?

TruthIsimeless
TruthIsimeless

It is obvious that Vick still hasn't developed any first person sources and probably gets his impression of what happens in Israel (it really is a country, Karl, despite your magazine's hallucinatory heading above) from the important, but unrepresentative English language version of the left-wing  Haaretz newspaper. The remarkable and unexpected outpouring of admiration and appreciation for Shamir is the newsworthy story, Karl. Get someone to translate the  Hebrew eulogies and articles in press and other media in Israel; they are nothing like the carping, shrinking minority positions taken by Haaretz.  Rather,  the tone is as if  many people who had not supported Shamir's insistent ideological position have belatedly come to acknowledge the realism and accuracy of his views.

Also isn't it customary to include a few of the achievements of the deceased in an obituary? (It would lend at least a thin veil of fairness to your coverage.)  The ideological integrity and courage of a leader who set in motion the airlift of Ethiopian Jewry to Israel, as well as the migration of over one million Jews from the former Soviet Union is something that readers who worry so much about migrants in a time of economic crisis might find surprising.

Sidney
Sidney

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SaumyaShrivastava
SaumyaShrivastava

RIP Yitzhak

Shamir.

Mr. Shamir often

disguised himself as an Orthodox rabbi to avoid arrest by the British. Still,

he was captured twice but escaped from two British detention camps and returned

to resistance action. The second camp was in Djibouti, in Africa.

Hetre is an interesting

Interview clip of  Leon Charney

interviews former Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Shamir.

http://liveoncampus.com/wire/s...

Check this out as he talks about his

life, government and a lot of his life!

Dror Ben Ami Commentator
Dror Ben Ami Commentator

Hey Karl,

You wrote an article 10 years ago saying that the USA was responsible for the deaths of 300,000 children in Iraq, yet CBS news said on 60 minutes that the death toll was 500,000 children .

whose right, karl?

 Also: do you have any statistics on how many children the terrorist yitzhak shamir killed ?

Do you have any statistics on how many children were killed in the 10 years of non-stop fighting in Vietnam ?

Falcon86
Falcon86

Hey Dror, you could win the Cheney Award for torturing logic.

Dror Ben Ami Commentator
Dror Ben Ami Commentator

why falcon breath ?   .....in this article karl cries about a hundred deaths associated with yitzhak shamir.....since 1948 the usa has killed millions of people and nobody is even sure why they did it.

but tell me falcon breath: if you had a choice: would you prefer to be blown up by begin and shamir at the king david hotel? or: would you prefer to be thrown out of a helicotor by the C.I.A. in Vietnam or Chile ???

Dror Ben Ami Commentator
Dror Ben Ami Commentator

hey karl,

why is this article under the title: "palestine"? where is palestine karl? I couldn't find it on the map.....

Does this mean you are now TIME's palestine bureau chief ??? Will TIME also be appointing a bureau chief for Atlantis ???

ricardo lion
ricardo lion

  Palestine is just the name of a reion, never a country.  It would make as much  sense if correspondents would report from the Sahara, Amazon, Alps, etc.  Today in Palestine:  in the 20%  of the region called Israel, rights for all.  The rest:  The judenrein autocratic Muslim Arab kingdom of Jordan, 

given by 

GB to one family from Arabia, the judenrein 

Gaza, ruled by a Muslim terrorist roup and te most of Judea and Samaria, 

given by stupid Israeli politicians to Egyptian (born in te occupied, by the Muslim Arabs from Arabia, land of the Copts, the original Egyptians) Muslim Arab terrorist Arafat and is corrupt PLO.

Falcon86
Falcon86

Why should Americans fight and die for "Israel"?

Should we recreate Scythia and the Kingdom of the Hittites while we're at it?

Dror Ben Ami Commentator
Dror Ben Ami Commentator

 The 3rd army did not fight to liberate the jews in the death camps....Patton himself was not a friend of the jews and during the short time he supervised the occupation of germany he did little to help them according to his biographer.

What Johnathan Pollard did was wrong, but there are many gentiles who have also betrayed the usa. , the liberty was a friendly fire incident and in iraq many americans were accidentally killed by americans and in gaza , most of the israeli causualities were friendly fire incidents...

The ONLY important issue here is that of all the animals in the world, you have selected a killer as your symbol...then you hypocritically  complain about shamir and israel...

Since 1870, there have been about 80,000 arabs killed i.e. palestinians, egyptians, jordanians. etc etc. No one is denying it and most people in israel regret the need for killing them

the united states has killed more 80,000 people in a single day and it has done so on several occasions...it is you who are attempting to re focus and redirect the issues, not us....as I said in an earlier comment, " the people who have killed millions are pointing their finger at the people who have killed thousands..."

Falcon86
Falcon86

My father and all four of my uncles fought the Nazis while Shamir ran away. Period. Calling me a hypocrite for using a high school mascot as my screen name is pathetic. The ONLY important and pertinent issue here is Shamir; he's the subject of the article, not American exceptionalism, which I've never supported and isn't relevant. Shamir was a terrorist; now he's dead. Deal with it.

Dror Ben Ami Commentator
Dror Ben Ami Commentator

where in the world are americans fighting for israel, falcon breath ?

as george c scott said in the movie "Patton": "americans love to fight"....they don't need israel as an excuse to kill people. In the last 64 years americans have quite happily killed north koreans, chinese, vietnamese, cambodians, africans, yugoslavians, iraqis, afganis, libyans, and south americans....

i don't believe, however, that the usa has killed any palestinians for israel.....

Falcon86
Falcon86

As I stated in the comment that Time won't print, your comment is an insult to the Allies,  including Brits, and my father (who served in Patton's 3rd Army), who fought in Germany to liberate the real death camps, still filled with Jews at that time who now inhabit Israel. Then there's the USS Liberty, the Pollard spy scandal, all despite decades of financial support. Many of the wars you mention were fought to prevent the kind of genocide that you tell us "never to forget". Save the schoolyard taunts for your own kind, you know, conceited morons.

Hatto Aquitaine
Hatto Aquitaine

Good riddance!  I despise few human beings more than that terrorist kingpin.

Kevin
Kevin

Andrew, while the political left screech that the Jewish run media are coveringf for the terrorist state of Isreal, what the left really means is that we aren't getting enough condemnation of Isreal. If you've ever seen the pictures of the Mufti of Palestine inspecting Nazi troops you start getting the picture of whom are running the media in this country, Muslim sympathizers, leftists only one step away from Nazism.

Andrew Fenster
Andrew Fenster

Why does TIME insist on calling the Jewish groups (Irgun, Haganah) terrorists, but the Palestinians are militants?  They just called Shamir a terrorist. The Jews never engaged in suicide bombings, never fired missiles at civilians, never blew up buses full of civilians.  They killed soldiers.  They bombed the King David Hotel, which was the British military headquarters.  Why are the Jews terrorists, but the Palestinians are militants?

Falcon86
Falcon86

Quit your whining; the press coverage in this country is overwhelmingly pro Israel. Shamir WAS a terrorist, 91 people murdered at the King David Hotel, the assassination of UN representative Volke Bernadotte, and much, much more. As I recall, it was the Allies, including the Brits, who liberated the Jews in the death camps. I don't recall the Irgun or Lehi liberating anyone, but you correct me if I'm wrong, Mr. Fenster. One less drooling, demented terrorist-turned-politician in this world---good riddance, and may God have mercy on his soul.

ricardo lion
ricardo lion

  Britain did not fight for the Jews.  The tracks leading  to the camps were never bombed.  

Falcon86
Falcon86

Another Revisionist History major, I see.

FormerLibyan
FormerLibyan

Where do you live? on land stolen from some Native American tribe whose members were murdered/mutilated for it? or some land stolen from some other aborigines et al? Are you really one of the "righteous" ones?

FormerLibyan
FormerLibyan

Oh righteous Falcon, you are sooo full of hate. Beware, this may encourage Cancer, may heaven forbid. you really need counselling to heal yourself. Nevertheless, You are sooo wrong about the Native American tribes and really should learn some history. What the Europeans did to ALL of the tribes does not compare to your pathetic statement. The descendants of the survivors of American atrocities still suffer and demand redress for their grievances. Clean up your own house before criticizing others. 

Kevin Kostiner narrates this comprehensive documentary about the 500 nations the Europeans tried to wipe out:

http://www.youtube.com/playlis... 

'Course, you wouldn't like to read 

Barbara Perry. Silent Victims: Hate Crimes against Native Americans. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2008 -it was reviewed on Reviewed by Robyn Bourgeois, Published on H-Genocide (April, 2012) 

http://www.h-net.org/reviews/s... 

And, BTW, There are no more Jews in Libya and in most of the Muslim world there are also no Jews. Just a few left in a few states. I have the statistics.  They are doing their best to persecute Christians and all other minorities too. But, you just go ahead and lambaste the Jews and Israel.... after all, you need someone to hate....

Falcon86
Falcon86

Nobody, anywhere, lives on land that wasn't stolen from somebody at some point in the past, including you, "FormerLibyan". The land I live on was stolen from one American Indian tribe from another, over and over, before any of my ancestors arrived in this country. Like Dror Ben, you use the same pathetic excuse (deflection) to exonerate Shamir from his crimes.

Dror Ben Ami Commentator
Dror Ben Ami Commentator

 As I recall, the british took those same jews who were liberated from the death camps and placed them in concentration/detention camps on cyprus. Hence, by killing the british in the king david hotel, shamir liberated the prisoners in the british camps....

furthermore, the during these same years and for many years afterwards the british operated a network of concentration camps in kenya. there they tortured and sexually abused the prisoners according to the BBC radio. One of these tortured individuals was Obama's grandfather...Plus during these years they killed over 30,000 Mau Maus.

In short, in reference to shamir's victims one might say: don't cry for me argentina.....oh I'm sorry, my mistake,  that was a different war......

Falcon86
Falcon86

If you're reviewing my responses, then just delete the second one.

Falcon86
Falcon86

The British detention camps were nothing like the Nazi death camps. And Shamir's actions (condemned by David Ben Gurion) had nothing to do with the liberation of people in those camps. Your comment is nothing but an insult to the Allied soldiers (like my father) who fought in Germany. What sophistry will you use to justify the assassination of a UN peace delegate? What possible relevance do British poicies in Kenya have to do with Shamir? If you don't care about Shamir's victims, why should we care about the victims of the Holocaust.

Falcon86
Falcon86

The British detention camps were NOTHING like the Nazi death camps, and the murder of innocent civilians accomplished NOTHING in terms of liberating people in those camps. Your comment is an insult to every allied soldier (including my father) who fought in Germany. What sophistry are going to use to defend the assassination of a UN peace delegate? How are the Brit's policies in Kenya even remotely related Shamir? If we don't care about Shamir's victims then why should we care about the victims of the Holocaust?