Exclusive Interview: Yair Shamir: Bush Good For Israel, But Sharon Is Ruining Him
Avraham Shmuel Lewin, Jewish Press Israel Correspondent
Wednesday, March 31 2004
TEL AVIV - "Never say never," says former prime minister Yitzchak Shamir's 59-year old son, Yair, when asked if he will enter the political arena.
"When the time is right I will do it," he says.
Yair Shamir, who served as a pilot and an engineer in the IAF, is now president, CEO and chairman of the Board of Directors of VCON, a leading developer of high-performance videoconferencing hardware and software products for the business market.
Yair had more than 20 years of strategic development, sales and marketing experience before taking over the reins at VCON. But to most people he is known as the son of Yitzchak Shamir, the former prime minister who, despite opposing any territorial compromise, served longer than any prime minister in Israel's history.
This week The Jewish Press met with Yair to hear his views on the current economic and political crises facing Israel.
Lewin: How does it feel to be the son of a prime minister? Have you talked with him about government policy or try to influence him?
Shamir: It's part of my life, it's like my second nature, and yes, we always would discuss the issues facing Israel. The relationship between my father and myself is very unique. It is not only as father and son but as two friends. This goes back to when I was 15 years old - we would have a specific time (then it was every Tuesday at 5 p.m.) when we would meet, just the two of us, and thrash out everything under the sun, whether it was politics or [about] when he served in the Mossad long before he was prime minister.
Later on, after he became a member of the Knesset and minister we would meet Friday nights, and when he retired from the premiership we met on Sundays. In those meetings we would cover all aspects of life, including my business as well as his. I cannot say I had influence on him but he was a very good listener. I was a source of information for him. He would ask me occasionally, "What do your friends say about this and that." I sort of served as his barometer. I tried to give him the most objective opinion. On the other hand, I was aware of the fact that I might influence him so I was very cautious in what I said.
How were you treated in school as the son of Yitzchak Shamir?
Well, when I was in school nobody had yet heard of Yitzchak Shamir. He did not hold any public office then. Even later on in the army few people connected me with him.
Do you share the same hard line views as your father?
Yes, but I wouldn't call them hard line, there just is no other way. I share with him a much broader point of view on life and it's not only politics. Politics I would say is only a small aspect. The fact that there was an issue that made newspaper headlines doesn't mean that it is the most important thing in life.
Do you think Israel should refuse to give up "even one inch" of territory to the Arabs?
Absolutely! But on the other hand, in life sometimes you have to compromise. You have to judge the situation well. Neither my father nor I am extremists. There is a dream and there is reality. There is a vision and real life. Sometimes you have to compromise. It is not a simple yes or no question. A person does not have to give up his dream and vision of a Greater Eretz Yisrael but sometimes you have to face reality and act accordingly.
So where did Ariel Sharon go wrong? He is also saying he has a dream but at the same time you must face reality, and that in reality, according to Sharon, Israel cannot hold on to Gaza nor all of Judea and Samaria.
No, I don't think he reached the stage where one has to judge if and how to compromise. He just gave up everything for nothing. He abandoned everything. My father has a deep belief in "netzach Yisrael lo yeshaker" - that there is still hope for Israel.
My father is not religious but to him being a Jew was much deeper. To him being a Jew is itself religious. The fact that he doesn't wear a yarmulke means nothing. He doesn't travel on Shabbat, he always eats kosher (I don't know where the rumors that he ate non-kosher food comes from) and he would attend the synagogue.
He has a very deep conviction and optimism that Jews and Eretz Yisrael will prevail despite all the difficulties. Such optimism can only come from a deep faith in the eternity of the Jewish people and their Land.
When I speak of compromise I mean that when you reach the stage of a fateful decision you have to take practical steps without abandoning your vision. It is not easy but this is what is required of true leadership. Never say never. A leader should not bring himself to a position where it would be hard for him to abandon it. But if he did reach that position, a true leader has to be prepared to admit "I made a mistake." But at this stage, to say that we will concede and evacuate unilaterally, like Sharon is saying - Why? For what?
Those people who served as prime minister after my father were all technocrats devoid of any principles. They were engaged in underhand business, horse trading, give and take. To them it was all business no ideology.
When your father was in office people would constantly criticize him as a man who does not want to compromise with the Arabs and only says NO. Do you ever hear from these people now that they admit they erred and that your father was right?
Absolutely! People constantly stop me and say they miss him. Not a day passes that I am not stopped in the street or wherever I go and people come over and tell me how much he is missed. It's amazing. Basically, he lost the election in 1992 because of his firm opposition against any territorial compromise with the Arabs.
What is your opinion about the Tannenbaum affair and prisoner exchange that made recent headlines?
I opposed the whole prisoner exchange with the Hizbullah to begin with. What did we get back? Someone who we knew committed a crime and had no business going there, and a few dead bodies. In return we freed murderers.
It makes no difference whether they are labeled murderers "with blood on their hands" or "without blood on their hands" - they are murderers and will now certainly make an attempt to kill Jews.
It was forbidden to carry out such a deal, it was an immoral deal. It was a total surrender by the prime minister to the pressure of the families of the victims and newspaper opinions. He acted in accordance with public opinion, not according with the right way.
Does Ariel Sharon surprise you now or do you share the opinion of many who were not surprised, based on his Labor background before he joined the formation of Likud?
He did not surprise me, but I did think he would be better than he is; he disillusioned me. Rationally, I had known all along that Sharon is a shallow person, without any deep or firm roots. But emotionally, I thought he would be stronger than others.
What is the solution to the quagmire Israel finds itself today?
Our chief problem is internal, not external. That is the way it has been throughout the ages - sinat chinam, hatred without cause.
There is no consensus among us. The moment there is no consensus or conviction that you are fighting a just cause, then the building is very weak and any small crack can bring it down.
We have to find that which will strengthen us internally. I don't care what the world will say, I am concerned only what the Jews say and do. If we try to act the way the world wants us to we won't get anywhere.
What do you think of the Likud today, there is certainly no consensus there, do you think the party is at its end?
No. The problem in Likud is that things there have turned into a personal and ego issue.
Is there anybody in the Likud today who can take over the premiership?
The truth is that the Likud Central Committee is a very powerful body; it was never as powerful as it is today. I don't think the Central Committee in any of the parties in Israel is as strong as the one in Likud.
Most of the members seek only their own interest, and they are the ones who set the tone. They are the ones who decide who will be the party's candidate for prime minister, who will be the Knesset members, etc. So you have this strong body but without a leader. It's like a big bulldog with a small head.
But I believe with a proper leader one can lead to a consensus in the Likud.
Bibi is not the answer for the long run but he might be a possible candidate for the short run. At least one can say about Bibi that the measures he has taken to heal the economic crisis are correct ones. He displayed a certain determination.
But he disappointed me very much during his first term in office and I am frightened it could happen again. He proved that he could not stand up to even the slightest pressure.
However, he was better than Sharon. Sharon capitulates even before you start applying pressure.
Uzi Landau is fine but cannot lead.
What would you tell American Jews who want to invest in Israel but are afraid to do so because of the instability in the region?
Nothing has changed, regardless of the political or security climate here. A person who wants to invest in Israel does so either in real estate or in technology. There will always be a shortage here in real estate regardless of the price. Therefore I think that investing in real estate in Israel is worthwhile and way will pay off in the long run.
As far as technology is concerned, it certainly is a good investment. I am very familiar with the high-tech field in Israel and in the world. I am CEO of VCON and involved in more than 40 companies.
Are you happy with President Bush's performance vis-a-vis Israel more than you were with President Clinton? Would you prefer him over the democratic candidate?
Yes, I am happy with Bush. With Bush you know where you're standing - with Clinton you never knew. I prefer him over Clinton. And yes, I would prefer a Republican candidate over a Democrat because, historically, the Republicans were always better for Israel.
I am aware that Jews in the U.S. traditionally voted Democratic, but in some cases the Republicans were better for Israel. If you look at Bush's actions towards Israel it stems from a religious belief. It seems that Bush feels that the Jews have a role designated by G-d, that the Holy Land belongs to them and it is his job to preserve it.
But Sharon is ruining Bush.
Have people approached you about jumping into the political arena and run for the premiership?
Yes, there is a lot of pressure on me. I am not negating it, and when the time is right I will do it.
Would you try and lead the Likud or you would establish a new party?
Look, most of the small parties that are formed disappear after a short while. There is no short cut in politics. Before establishing a strong influential party you have to exert a lot of hard work and effort, and it can sometimes take even 10 years; otherwise, it will fail.
The Likud is already an established fact with a strong infrastructure. It also has a very ideological and humane platform. There are many members in the Likud who feel that it has gone off track now, but we have to find some way to change that.
If I would see anyone in the Likud that I could go together and form a coalition with in order to rehabilitate the Likud and put the party back on the right track, I would do it.
Presently I don't see anyone like that.
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