Sunday, March 07, 2021

Thank you to Mitchell First for noting the passing of former Secretary of State George Shultz in last week’s Jewish Link (“Thoughts on the Passing of George Shultz,” February 11, 2021.)

It was fitting that Secretary Shultz passed the Shabbat of Parashat Yitro. Yitro, the Medianite leader and father-in-law of Moshe, arrives at the camp of B’nai Yisrael at Har Sinai. At that moment, B’nai Yisrael was quite literally a “Startup Nation” and Moshe, despite being the greatest of leaders, was suffering from a problem common to many founders—his centralized leadership style could not “scale.”

Yitro recognized the problem and suggested a decentralized but hierarchical structure to address the problem. It is a tribute to Moshe’s greatness that he was able to recognize and act on good advice from an outsider. It is noteworthy that Chazal chose to name the incredibly important portion of the Aseret Hadibrot after a non-Jewish supporter of the Jewish people.

In the mid-80s, Israel was an economic basket case with inflation over 400 percent a year. As a condition of $1.5 billion in emergency aid, Shultz dispatched American economists Herb Stein and Stanley Fischer (future president of the Bank of Israel [Israel’s Federal Reserve]) to oversee required market reforms to the Israeli economy. Within two years, inflation had dropped to under 20 percent and since 1997, it has never been close to double digits. The resulting stability and the reforms, which dramatically reduced the role of the government in the economy, created the foundation upon which today’s “Startup Nation” has been built.

Tributes to Secretary Shultz highlighted his critical role in ending the Cold War. However, in a recent New York Times article, Shultz biographer Philip Taubman noted: “When I asked Mr. Shultz once how he wanted to be remembered, I expected him to talk about geopolitical strategy and the four Reagan-Gorbachev summit meetings that eased Cold War tensions. Instead, he told me about the individuals trapped or imprisoned in the Soviet Union whom he helped to free so they could emigrate to Israel or the United States.

“I pressed him to talk about the big picture, his legacy as secretary of state. ‘Ida Nudel,’ he replied, referring to one of the Russians (a Soviet refusenik) who escaped Soviet tyranny thanks to Mr. Shultz.”

May his memory be blessed.

Dror Futter