Israelis of all ages, backgrounds and political opinions came to the Knesset on Monday to pay their last respects to former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, who died Monday after a long illness.

Ethiopian representatives came in large numbers to thank Shamir for approving Operation Solomon, a covert exercise that brought 14,325 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 1991 when he was prime minister. Ethiopian kessim (religious leaders) came to the Knesset in colorful garb and conducted a ceremony near Shamir’s coffin.

“Yitzhak Shamir was the man who got me out of jail in Ethiopia,” said Haim Ben-Israel. “Were it not for Shamir, I would have never gone free.”

Many former ministers and MKs came to the Knesset, including former prime minister Ehud Olmert, Shamir’s foreign minister David Levy and former Knesset speaker Shevah Weiss.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin opened the proceedings by praising Shamir.

“You had only one weakness,” Rivlin said. “Your love for this nation, the land of our forefathers, your love for your children, your home and your [wife] Shulamit.”

On the sidelines of the event, Olmert told reporters that Shamir saw himself as an emissary of his father who told him before he was murdered in Eastern Europe to return the Jewish people to their land.

“He wasn’t a politician or a hack,” Olmert said. “He didn’t deal with petty politics. He was a statesman. There were times he was mistaken but he was straight as a ruler.”

Former minister Rafi Eitan, who like Shamir served in the Mossad, said he tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to accept the London Agreement that Shimon Peres reached behind Shamir’s back when Peres was his foreign minister. The agreement would have resolved the Palestinian issue through Jordanian sovereignty over the West Bank.

“Every time I saw him I told him how much a mistake he made,” Eitan said.

MK Danny Danon (Likud) announced plans on Monday to propose a bill seeking government funding for a Yitzhak Shamir Heritage Center.

“We must preserve the legacy that Shamir lived and breathed,” Danon said. “The new center will be a lighthouse of values for all those who love the land on Israel.”

The Likud MK plans to submit the bill this week, which would create a center telling Shamir’s life story and promoting values that were important to him, such as the complete Land of Israel and encouraging aliya.

Similar heritage centers exist in memory of former prime ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin.

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