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23 ביוני 2024
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The leader who introduced Mizrahi Jews to the Israeli political arena

He was presented by the Israeli media as “Mr. No” and as a passive leader, but Yitzhak Shamir promoted the State of Israel by advocating for Jewish immigration to Israel, growing the economy, and having a steady hand. This week, five years after his death, we must correct the record on his legacy.

In the collective memory of the Israeli political world, Yitzhak Shamir is perceived as a sub-par prime minister. His loss in the 1992 elections was accompanied by negative descriptions of him by the homogeneous left-leaning press, in the era that preceded social media or an open communications market. These biased media reports created a feeling among the public that Shamir’s government subjected Israel to political and economic stagnation. A wave of Palestinian knife attacks, culminating in the murder of 15-year-old Helena Rapp, as well as the State Comptroller’s annual report which accused the Likud Party of corruption, led Labor candidate Yitzhak Rabin to victory.

Given this context, we must not forget: despite the absurd media coverage, the right-wing parties received more votes than the left-wing. Yet, the splitting of the right-wing electorate’s votes by six right-wing parties led many right-wing parties to fail to reach the threshold to enter the Knesset, leaving the right with less seats than the left. In the aftermath of the election, with the left in power, Rabin signed the Oslo Accords, bringing waves of terror into Israel that still lingers today. Meanwhile, a year after the end of his tenure as Prime Minister, Shamir was replaced as the leader of the Likud Party. Until his death, the media and the left continued to advance the negative image of Shamir, calling him “Mr. No” and an incompetent leader.

However, reality proves the opposite. It is important to share the unfiltered truth to correct the false image cultivated by biased politicians and media outlets. Five years after Shamir’s death, I want to share with you who Shamir really was: the man who bettered many segments of Israeli society.

I will not focus my argument on the tremendous personal sacrifice of Shamir and his family when Shamir personally fought for the reestablishment of the State of Israel in his service as an Irgun fighter and the commander of the Stern Gang. Shamir’s contribution to Israeli security and intelligence as a Mossad agent are not known to the public, yet still deserves recognition. In a future biography about him, more details about his service may come to light. What is clear is that Shamir developed Israel in a myriad of ways.

After his service in the Mossad, Shamir began to rise up the ranks of the Herut movement to become the director of the organizational wing of the party. This work proved very important. Shamir changed the reality for Jewish immigrants to Israel significantly.

Shamir was one of the first politicians to integrate the periphery into mainstream Israeli society, giving a place in the country for Sephardic Jews. To accomplish this goal, Shamir established chapters of Likud across the country, offering Sephardic Jews influence in the party’s decision making. Thanks to his efforts, these Israelis achieved better representation and more legitimacy in decision making.

As director of Likud’s organizational wing, in the 1977 election, Shamir gave sweeping power to those traditionally excluded from the political establishment by Mapai and the Labor Party. He granted the large Likud Central Committee with the power to elect the list of Likud candidates for Knesset, whereas beforehand this list was chosen by a handful of political elites. Shamir was a revolutionary in this regard, as he was the first to bring democracy to internal party elections.

Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky once said: “The national sport that I wholeheartedly recommend to Jewish youth is free immigration to Israel; without a doubt this is the noblest sport in the world.”

Years later, Shamir was a major pioneer on this issue. He believed that Jewish immigration was an act that could change the fate of the State of Israel, and he worked to advance this intensively in his various positions, especially as prime minister. He fought to bring the Jews of the Soviet Union to Israel in unbelievable ways, and he will always be remembered as the prime minister who carried out the will of Menachem Begin, who requested: “Bring me Ethiopian Jewry.” To this day, he is considered, with a great deal of justice, to be the Ethiopian Jewish community’s political hero.

Seeds of economic change

Menachem Begin is widely considered to be one of the most esteemed leaders in the history of the State of Israel, but we must not forget who replaced him when he pleaded “I cannot go on any longer”. After being elected by the Likud Central Committee to lead the movement and the country, Shamir carried out a series of actions that changed Israel dramatically.

Together with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Modai, Shamir managed to reduce inflation and initiate the economic plan of 1985 that ended Israel’s economic crisis. In fact, Shamir, following Begin’s example, was the leader who planted the seed to change the Israeli economy into a Western free market economy. By the end of his term, the Israeli economy showed an impressive growth rate of 6 percent, and began a new era after the crisis of the 1980’s.

As prime minister, Shamir promoted building throughout Israel, battling confrontation from the Bush administration. Israel continued to build in all regions, including Judea Samaria.

During the First Gulf War, Shamir exhibited restraint and broad discretion when he decided not to attack Iraq, despite hundreds scud missiles launched by Iraq to Israel, in order to help maintain the international coalition of 34 countries that eventually defeated Saddam Hussein.

A few months later, Shamir attended the Madrid Conference, and Israel established diplomatic relations with 30 new countries, including China and India. At this conference, Shamir insisted against giving away Israel’s strategic assets, firmly demanding the preservation of Israel’s interests in any negotiations with the Arab states. Due to his attendance at this conference, three right-wing parties rebelled against the decision and foolishly left the coalition, leading the national camp to a failed election.

Twenty-five years have passed since Shamir’s election defeat, and it seems that the irrationality behind the attempts to cultivate false images about Shamir apply to the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as well. Yet, since 1992, a lot of realities have changed: today the media does not command exclusive control of the political discussion. This ensures the truth comes out in the end, and gives us the obligation to correct history and present reality with clarity.

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