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Olmert’s Holyland trial is only the latest of the ex-prime minister’s legal troubles. On July 10, the Jerusalem District Court will hand down its verdict on two other corruption scandals – the Talansky Affair, in which Olmert is on trial for accepting bribes and for campaign finance irregularities, and the Rishon Tours Affair in which Olmert is accused of double billing his travel expenses.
However Olmert’s legal travails pan out, the fact that he is facing corruption charges to begin with is wholly a function of his character.
Unlike Shamir, Olmert is perfectly prepared to abandon the public interest to advance his personal comfort. During his tenure as premier, rather than stand up to US pressure for Israeli concessions of land and rights to the Palestinians, Olmert preemptively capitulated.
He called for Israel to unilaterally surrender much of Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians, despite the latter’s rejection of Israel’s right to exist. He offered to carve up Jerusalem in his peace proposal to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. He continued to embrace the cause of appeasement despite Abbas’s preference for peace with Hamas over peace with Israel.
So too, during the Second Lebanon War, Olmert chose to lose the war, in a vain attempt to uphold his preference for appeasement over justice and victory. To that end, he accepted a cease-fire that left Hezbollah in charge of south Lebanon. That cease-fire led directly to Hezbollah’s takeover of all of Lebanon in 2007.
Olmert defends his behavior through a mixture of lies and self-justification. AtThe Jerusalem Post Conference in New York on April 29, Olmert claimed that the Second Lebanon War was the greatest military victory in Israel’s history. Apparently he thought we had forgotten about every other war Israel has fought. So, too, Olmert claims that he had no choice other than to submit to US pressure regarding the Palestinians.
SHAMIR’S RECORD is a standing rebuke of Olmert’s excuses for his failures.
Yes, in two key instances, Shamir caved in to US pressure. He did not respond to Iraq’s missile offensive against Israel during the 1991 Gulf War. And he agreed to participate in the Madrid Conference in 1991 where then-US president George H.W. Bush forced Shamir to hold negotiations on the basis of “land for peace,” with the Palestinians and the Syrians.
In both cases, Shamir’s acquiescence to American demands may have been unjustified. Certainly he didn’t exact a high enough price for his sacrifice.
Yet even these concessions did not change the situation on the ground. Shamir did not agree to give the Arabs any land. And during his tenure the US significantly upgraded its strategic ties with Israel.
Moreover, from the perspective of Israel’s long-term viability and prosperity, Shamir exacted the greatest concession Israel ever gained from the US. He convinced Bush to stop steering Soviet Jewish émigrés to the US and away from Israel. This ensured that one million Soviet Jews made aliya. The Soviet Jewish aliya fundamentally transformed Israel’s economy and demographic posture, and upgraded its strategic position. Whatever damage Israel may have incurred as a result of Shamir’s concessions to Bush was likely outweighed by his success in bringing Soviet Jews to Israel.
And it is true that Shamir was never beloved or even liked by the US government or the leaders of Europe. But it is also true that during his tenure in office major countries, including China and India, renewed their diplomatic relations with Israel.
By standing up for his country, he earned the respect of the world – not just for himself, but for Israel as a whole. And in international affairs it is far more important to be respected than liked.
In his obituary for Shamir, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner explained that Shamir was a successful leader because he was intelligent and tenacious.
Aviner noted that Shamir’s intelligence was hard-earned. He took the time to learn the details of every subject he had to contend with. He was a voracious reader and wanted to gather as much information as possible before he made decisions.
Shamir’s devotion to learning made it possible for him to intelligently weigh the costs and benefits of various courses of action.
Aviner wrote that Shamir’s tenacity was a consequence of his life experiences. He was the commander of the Stern Group (Lehi) guerrilla force in pre-state Israel. He was imprisoned and escaped, twice. He was a Mossad officer. At each stage of his life, he faced great challenges and overcame them.
And each experience steeled him for the next until he gradually became the force to be reckoned with he was as prime minister.
It is important to recognize that Shamir was the product not only of his times, but of his values and of the choices that he made throughout his extraordinary career.
The greatest compliment one can pay another person is to say that he is a model to be emulated, and that his life should serve as an example for what a good life can and should be.
We were blessed to have had him as our leader. And his memory should be a blessing in the annals of Jewish history.
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