Prime Minister Shamir’s principle driven leadership – a model

Shamir was guided by principles, values and history-steered vision/ideology, not by pollsters and public opinion consultants. 

By Amb.(ret.) Yoram Ettinger, INN 21.6.23

In 1989, at the conclusion of a meeting between Prime Minister Shamir and Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, George Mitchell and Bob Dole, the latter told Shamir: “The Majority Leader and I completely disagree with your policies, but immensely respect you because you are tough!”

*The legacy of the late Prime Minister Shamir (who passed away on June 30, 2012) would be useful for Israeli leaders, who face systematic pressure, by the State Department, to restrain Israel’s military response to Palestinian Arab terrorism, forestall an independent Israeli military action against Iran’s Ayatollahs, and retreat from the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria (the ‘West Bank’) , in order to facilitate the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state.

*The late Prime Minister Shamir was very short in size (5 feet tall), but a giant of a statesman and a geo-political game-changer in the areas of Aliya (Jewish immigration to Israel), economy, US-Israel strategic cooperation and defiance of odds and pressure.

*Former Secretary of State George Schultz was a systematic critic of Shamir’s policy on the Palestinian Arab issue, but rarely failed to express his utmost respect for Shamir’s integrity and perseverance, which transformed Shamir into a most reliably effective ally on a rainy day.

*While the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment opened the doors of the USSR and Russia for emigration, Shamir’s pro-active Aliya policy was chiefly responsible for the arrival of over 1.25 million Olim (Jewish immigrants) from the former USSR to Israel, rather than to the US, Germany, Canada and Australia. Former US Assistant Secretary of State, Dick Schifter, experienced Shamir’s relentless and aggressive lobbying of Secretaries of State, Schultz and Baker, to stop issuing refugee certificates to Soviet Jews, and facilitate their relocation to Israel.

According to Shamir: “Jews are not refugees, since they have a home – the Jewish State!” In addition, Shamir initiated an appeal to the US Senate to send a letter, instructing Russia to direct all Jewish emigrants to fly directly to Israel, and not to Rome or Vienna. All 100 Senators signed the letter, which transformed an 80% dropout rate (until 1990) to an almost 100% arrival of Soviet Jews to Israel.

*Shamir orchestrated the absorption of over one million Soviet Jews and 60,000 Ethiopian Jews, by less than five million Israelis (in 1990) – an unprecedented human accomplishment. He considered Aliya to be the raison d’etre and the destiny of the Jewish State, its moral compass, top priority and its turbo growth engine of demography, science, technology, economy and medicine. He was aware that Aliyah determined Israel’s posture of deterrence, which is the most critical element of national security and peace.

*During the 1990s, Shamir projected a future Aliya wave from France, resulting from anti-Semitism and Islamic migration.

*President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State Jim Baker, who were among the crudest detractors of Shamir’s policies, respected Shamir’s ironclad commitment to deeply-rooted ideology and Israel’s national security, irrespective of their brutal opposition to Shamir’s view of the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria as the cradle of Jewish history, religion and culture, as well as a prerequisite for Israel’s national security and survival in the ruthlessly unpredictable Middle East. Therefore, they considered Shamir a trustworthy – although non-subservient – ally of the USA.

*Shamir was consistently guided by principles, values and history-steered vision/ideology; he was not herded – zigzagging – by pollsters and public opinion consultants.

*In 1991, at the height of the bitter conflict between Prime Minster Shamir and Republican President George H.W. Bush, then Republican House Whip, Newt Gingrich, shared with me: “How can anyone expect smooth communications between Bush the aristocrat, who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and given the presidency, as well as the CIA and the UN ambassadorship, on a golden platter, and Shamir the freedom fighter, who has demonstrated willingness to sacrifice his life on the altar of his principles?!”

*In 1991, Shamir preconditioned participation in the Madrid Conference upon a US commitment to avoid any reference to Land-for-Peace in the context of Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights, and to veto PLO participation. The US stood by its commitments.

*Shamir’s defiance of US pressure – when it came to Jewish roots in the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria and Israel’s fundamental security requirements – eroded his popularity, but earned him substantial long term strategic respect. His image as a strategic partner was upgraded by his dismissal of international guarantees of Israel’s security and any proposition to station foreign troops on Israel’s borders. On a rainy day, the US is not looking for a “punching bag,” but for a reliable, capable, democratic, unconditional, can-do ally, which is willing to defy even the US.

*In 1992, the Republican Whip, Senator Alan Simpson from Wyoming, who was critical of Prime Minister Shamir’s policies, told me: “How can I like Prime Minister Shamir when he resembles a roaring tiger? However, how can I but respect a roaring tiger?!”

*The late Prime Minister Shamir was a role model of Jewish patriotism, modesty, tenacity, optimism, principle-driven and security-based statesmanship, reliability, independence and endurance in the face of brutal pressure.

*Shamir laid down the foundations (in the mid-1980s) for the resurgence of Israel’s economy from a potential meltdown to one of the most fiscally responsible economies in the world. His composure in the face of lethal pressures, marathon-like (rather than sprint-like) style of leadership, strategic thinking and willingness to lead through delegation of authority to experts, paved the road to the stabilization of Israel’s Shekel, the dramatic restraint of inflation, interest and unemployment rates and the drastic reduction of budget deficit.

*Shamir’s seven years at the helm were characterized by unprecedented expansion of US-Israel strategic cooperation – despite severe disagreements with the US Administration over the Palestinian Arab issue – from the April 1988 Memorandum of Understanding through the 1990-1991 unprecedented enhancement of strategic cooperation, including bolstered defense industrial cooperation, joint exercises, intelligence and counter-terrorism cooperation, prepositioning of US military hardware in Israel, the upgrading of the port of Haifa facilities for the Sixth Fleet, etc.

*Most of these joint projects were initiated by Congressional amendments to the Appropriations Defense Bill in defiance of brutal opposition by the White House and the State Department. Shamir recognized the co-equal stature of the US Legislature, and considered Congress as a co-driver, rather than a backseat driver in the bolstering of the mutually beneficial US-Israel cooperation.

*In the face of mutual homeland and national security threats, as well as commercial and defense technology challenges, Israeli and US leaders would do well to follow in the footsteps of Prime Minister Shamir’s legacy – a role model of principle-driven and defiance of odds leadership.

Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, a popular speaker in Israel and abroad, is author of “Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative” and can be read at

June 21, 2023 | 2 Comments »

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  1. Israeli and US leaders would do well to follow in the footsteps of Prime Minister Shamir’s legacy – a role model of principle-driven and defiance of odds leadership.