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
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin opened the proceedings by praising
“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
“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.