Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir

Israel’s seventh Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir died June 30, one of the last of his country’s founding generation of leaders. He was 96.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one of several top leaders who eulogized Shamir at the funeral July 2 in Jerusalem, saying he was “resolute, practical, realistic and completely committed to the security of Israel. Every act and decision he made had to stand up to one test: Whether it is good for the Jewish people and the land of Israel.”

During his tenure, Shamir’s single-minded defense of his vision of Greater Israel earned him enemies as well as loyal allies. He clashed with much of American Jewry when he flirted with changing the Law of Return to define Jews according to strictly halachic (legal) terms to satisfy potential Orthodox coalition partners, and also because of his insistence on settlement expansion. 

But the American Jewish community rallied around Shamir in December 1991 when President George H. W. Bush sought to tie a $10 billion U.S. loan guarantee to help resettle Jews from the former Soviet Union to money Israel spent on settlements.

Shamir’s successful absorption of hundreds of thousands of Jews from the collapsing Soviet Union, and his surprise secret transport of thousands of Ethiopian Jews in Operation Solomon, also earned him respect and affection from American Jews. — jta &