Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter

 
font size: +
 

Shimon Peres has journeyed from ‘loser’ to Israel’s most popular public figure

 
|| Tell-a-Friend || Print
 
 

WASHINGTON — For decades, this was the joke in Israel: How do you know when Shimon Peres is headed for defeat?

When he announces that he is running.

Peres — today Israel’s extremely popular president and on Wednesday a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom — always seemed doomed to defeat at the polls because of everything he was not: a soldier, a sabra, a gladhander, a gladiator in Israel’s rough-and-tumble political arena.

It has taken Peres, a leader in the Zionist enterprise since his second decade, until his ninth decade to receive the accolades for what he was — the fixer who married Israel to the West.

Part of how Peres, 88, has survived is simply that he has outlasted everyone else.

“He outlived them all,” said Shlomo Aronson, a retired Hebrew University political science professor. “He is a cat with seven souls.”

Peres arrived in Washington this week to receive his honor in a separate ceremony, two weeks after 12 others, including folk singer Bob Dylan and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, were similarly honored. The Israeli’s award symbolizes the enterprise that has been his life’s vision, wedding Jewish nationalism to the universal yearning for freedom.

“Through his life and work, he has strengthened the unbreakable bonds between Israel and the United States,” the White House said last month in announcing Peres as a Medal of Freedom winner.

For David Makovsky, a senior analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who has tracked Peres’ role in the U.S.-Israel relationship since the 1980s, Peres found the key to bonding his nation with the West. “He was someone who believed that Israel was rooted in its Jewish values and universal values, and that went together,” he said. “He articulated a vision of Israel that many in the West found they could support.”

Peres’ dogged optimism, expressed indefatigably in meetings and appearances that would tire a man half his years, keeps his approval rating stratospheric at home. Haaretz reported in March that he had an 81 percent approval rating. That’s 9 percent higher than a year ago and first among political leaders.

Yet as central as Peres was to Israel’s enterprise since his youth, he also seemed apart from it.

When his mentor, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, named him director general of the Defense Ministry in 1953, he became the architect of Israel’s defense establishment. He was 29, and already had more than a decade in the spotlight. Back in 1941, at 18, Peres was elected secretary general of the kibbutz movement’s youth wing. In the Defense Ministry, Peres became instrumental in building Israel’s nuclear reactor and in establishing its reported nuclear weapons program. Yet he never accrued the battlefield scars that were seminal to the persona of other pioneer leaders; in the pre-state militia, the Haganah, Ben-Gurion made him a procurer of weapons.

In 1957, Peres persuaded Germany to break its arms embargo on Israel; a year earlier he had achieved a similar breakthrough with France. Twelve years after the Shoah, the decision on ties with Germany was highly controversial.

Meanwhile, Peres was the published Hebrew poet whose unmistakably Polish vowels were fodder for generations of impressionists. He was the dapper, even-spoken man with the styled hair, the tailored suit, and the muted, tasteful tie in an Israeli political culture that prided itself in outspoken pols who wore roomy pants and open collars. His assistants for decades have been youthful, attractive, and female. Yet the love of his life, his late wife, Sonya, kept a modest kosher home.

He lost the 1977 elections — his first as a Labor Party contender to be prime minister — to the Likud’s Menachem Begin, but his low point came four years later. In the 1981 elections, his campaign was marred by protesters who pelted the podium with fruit and shouted obscenities at him. In the final days of the campaign, Labor tried to make an issue of such attacks, running a TV ad showing Likud backers openly brandishing knives at Peres rallies. It backfired; critics deemed Peres elitist for pointing out that he campaigned under the threat of violence.

In both the 1984 and 1988 elections, Peres was in a deadlock with Likud’s Yitzhak Shamir; both elections resulted in an uncomfortable national unity government. Throughout, Peres fought bitterly with Yitzhak Rabin’s camp in the Labor Party. In 1990, when Peres attempted to talk smaller parties into breaking away from the ruling coalition, Rabin gave it the lasting label of the “stinking trick.”

To observers such as Makovsky, Peres could not adapt his vision to the needs of the day. “He could be so far ahead; he is futuristic,” Makovsky said.

In 1987, as Shamir’s foreign minister, Peres attempted to negotiate a peace treaty with Jordan that would have had the Hashemite kingdom take back much of its authority in the west bank. What made headlines, however, was how Peres had kept Shamir out of the loop and then nixed the secret plan when it came to light.

Today, the Israeli elite, both right and left, believe the deal would have allowed Israel to shed much of its responsibility for the Palestinians, which likely would have meant that there would have been no intifadas. Many now see the failure to accept the plan as the government’s greatest mistake in the post-1967 period, according to Makovsky.

Peres, however, would not relinquish his vision.

He attempted to maneuver away from the national unity government in 1990, in part because he was readier than Shamir to embrace President George H.W. Bush’s eagerness to broker a deal with the Palestinians. When Rabin was elected prime minister in 1992, and named Peres his foreign minister, the germination of that effort became the Oslo Accords.

The next year, that blueprint for a still-unfulfilled Israeli-Palestinian peace would win the two Israelis the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Two years later, Peres was devastated by Rabin’s murder by a right-wing Jewish extremist. Assuming the prime ministership, he faltered ahead of the 1996 elections. Seeking to prove his security credentials, in response to bus bombings in Israel and rocket fire from Lebanon, he ordered a mini-invasion of Lebanon. He hastily pulled out after an errant Israeli shell killed 106 civilians taking refuge in a U.N. compound. As a result, Peres seemed simultaneously bloodthirsty abroad and equivocating at home.

In that race, the Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu established an easy call and response with his base; Peres would deliver dry encomiums on the new Middle East he imagined, looking up occasionally to scan the crowd in what seemed to be silent pleas for cheers. When Peres went to sleep early the next morning, the polls had declared him a winner; he woke up having lost yet again.

An additional humiliation on the national stage came in 2000. He was 77 and ready to enter his post-political career. He hoped for the presidency, a largely honorary position elected by the parliament. Peres believed he had the necessary support, but the haredi Orthodox Shas party, after delivering assurances to him, switched to supporting the Likud candidate, Moshe Katzav.

Katzav was forced out in 2007 after being charged with rape, which eventually resulted in a conviction and prison sentence. Peres, the forgotten man, emerged yet again. His flaws of image seemed petty against such a scandal.

By then, noted Aronson of the Hebrew University, Peres’ image had yet another reversal.

“He is a kind of hero of the Israeli left, which was not the case for most of his career,” Aronson said. “And those Israelis who do not believe in the peace process see Dimona,” Israel’s nuclear reactor, “as necessary to our survival.”

Finally, 70 years after Shimon Peres arrived on the national leadership stage, the vast majority of Israelis are applauding.

JTA Wire Service

 
|| Tell-a-Friend || Print
 
 

Stay tuned for the return of comments

 

Iran deadline approaches

Skeptics on both sides draw dueling red lines

WASHINGTON — It’s deadline time at the nuclear talks between Iran and the major powers, and skeptics on both sides are laying out red lines in a bid to shape a final deal.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, who had been wary of the talks, last week outlined his own expectations for the deal — and where there would be no compromise.

On the American side, a five-point memo circulated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has been influential in shaping how Congress and others are pressing the Obama administration.

Among the contentious issues are the period that restrictions must stay in place and how much Iran must reveal of its nuclear past.

Officials on both sides say that the talks being held in Vienna, Austria, will stretch for a week or so beyond Tuesday’s deadline.

 

Will Israelis pay the price for a natural gas ‘monopoly’?

Israeli consumers are no strangers to high prices.

Basic household goods like food and toiletries cost more in Israel than in all but two countries in Europe, a recent Nielsen research study found. Israeli real estate prices are up nearly 60 percent since 2008. Tel Aviv is the world’s third-most expensive city in which to buy beer, and furniture prices at IKEA Israel are more than double those at IKEA Norway, recent surveys have shown.

Now Israeli consumers are worried about high natural gas prices.

At issue is a deal on which the Knesset is preparing to vote that would give a partnership between two companies — Texas-based Noble Energy and Israel’s Delek Group — control over developing the two largest gas fields discovered off Israel’s Mediterranean coast in recent years.

 

Remembering Steven Sotloff

Honoring the slain journalist in his Florida hometown

It’s been eight months since Jewish freelance journalist Steven Sotloff was beheaded by ISIS.

Still shaken by the loss, his hometown, Pinecrest, Florida, an upscale community of some 20,000 people, just south of Miami, continues to find new ways to honor his memory.

The tributes to Sotloff range in scale from local tributes to programs that are global in reach.

“Temple Beth Am Day School wants you to know that your sacrifice will not be forgotten,” fifth-grader Zachary Marcus wrote in a dedication in the school’s yearbook. “It must have been too terrible to put into words what you went through leading to your death. You have more bravery and courage than anyone else we know. You are a true superhero, a real superman.”

 

RECENTLYADDED

Israel launching drive to void Goldstone Report

WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would launch an international campaign to cancel the Goldstone Report after its author, ex-South African Judge Richard Goldstone, wrote in an Op-Ed in the Washington Post that Israel did not intentionally target civilians as a policy during the Gaza War, withdrawing a critical allegation in the report.

Netanyahu said he had asked his security adviser, Ya’akov Amidror, to establish a committee focused on “minimizing the damage caused” by the report.

 

Facebook and Zuckerberg does an about-face and deletes Palestinian page calling for a Third Intifada

Following widespread criticism, a Facebook page calling for a third Palestinian intifada against Israel was removed on March 29. On the Facebook page, Palestinians were urged to launch street protests following Friday May 15 and begin an uprising as modelled by similar uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan. Killing Jews en masse was emphasized.

According to the Facebook page, “Judgment Day will be brought upon us only once the Muslims have killed all of the Jews.” The page had more than 340,000 fans. However, even while the page was removed, a new page now exists in its place with the same name,  “Third Palestinian Intifada.”

 

Did heated rhetoric play role in shooting of Giffords?

WASHINGTON – The 8th District in southern Arizona represented by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords comprises liberal Tucson and its rural hinterlands, which means moderation is a must. But it also means that spirits and tensions run high.

Giffords’ office in Tucson was ransacked in March following her vote for health care reform — a vote the Democrat told reporters that she would cast even if it meant her career. She refused to be cowed, but she also took aim at the hyped rhetoric. She cast the back-and-forth as part of the democratic process.

 
 
S M T W T F S
1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31