Beyond the accolades: A sobering retrospection of Shimon Peres
Shimon Peres, with his fondness for a universalism – an offshoot of his socialist, and later global, inclinations – that was the hallmark of the Left, offered us a New Middle East where both sides were wrong. Murderer and victim alike.
“For me, dreaming is simply being pragmatic.” Words which captured the essence of Shimon Pere’s approach to bringing peace to the Middle East, and ones that might more suitably belong on a poster found on the walls of a college dorm. But not in the real Middle East, where they have little political currency. Shimon Peres died as he lived. Dreaming. And tragically, clinging to a misbegotten notion of an elusive peace that was victim to an ongoing Arab war against a Jewish people.
Driven by a philosophical outlook that fashioned his politics, Peres believed that democracy, coupled with science-and technology-based economies, would by nature produce peace. His dream was as naïve as it was ambitious. He was forever proud of his place with the Socialist International, an organization that was befittingly referred to by the Americans for a Safe Israel as one “of little influence and less morality.”
Often rejecting the very element that drove other Jewish leaders in a post-Holocaust world, he once confessed that, “It is a great mistake to learn from history. There is nothing to learn from history.”
He doubled-down: “Israeli children should be taught to look to the future, not live in the past. I would rather teach them to imagine than to remember.” No, the words were not those of John Lennon, but the utopian utterance of Shimon Peres who envisioned a “New Middle East.” It was a dream not shared by the other side, an enemy that was actually comfortable falsifying history simply to have it fit their own narrative.
But history has taught us that dreams can usher in illusions, and illusions can readily turn to delusions. Or worse – self-delusions. Described once as a “purveyor of delusions to a people desperately grasping for hope,” Shimon Peres, with his fondness for a universalism – an offshoot of his socialist, and later global, inclinations – that was the hallmark of the Left, offered us a New Middle East where both sides were wrong. Murderer and victim alike.
As the last of the generation of Israel’s founders, he entered politics in 1959 and subsequently served as prime minister, twice; as well as minister of defense, foreign affairs, and finance, and finally, unable to vacate the stage, in the ceremonial post as its president. He needed the spotlight as much as he craved an audience and an interview.
Although he never served in the IDF – something that he was often criticized for by the average man in the streets – his political opponents remembered well the roles that the much younger Peres played with Israel’s military industry. There were many. Most notable, he skillfully befriended the French, and played a pivotal part in establishing Israel’s nuclear installation in Dimona, a cornerstone of Israel’s deterrent capability.
His political perspective shifted over the years. From hawk to dove. And then, to a dove among doves, with a political viewpoint more befitting one of the smaller, often fringe, leftist camps that was always unapologetically critical of its own country. And as he journeyed left, his international standing seemed to grow. It was understandable in a post-1967 world that was quick to eschew its feelings of guilt about Jewish suffering. As Peres aged, he often seemed to be Israel’s favorite political personality, everywhere but in Israel.
As Peres aged, he often seemed to be Israel’s favorite political personality, everywhere but in Israel.
Former Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin called Peres unscrupulous and untrustworthy, offering that he could not believe a word spoken by him.
Shimon Peres tried in vain to subvert Israel’s bombing of the Iraqi nuclear installation in Osirak in 1981, and continued to criticize it even years after its success. In kind, it was reported just recently that he took credit for having been the stick in the spokes aborting Israel’s efforts in taken similar preventive measures to cripple the installations in Iran as well.
Applauded by the European political elite that he respected more than he did his own nation’s counterparts, Peres was more concerned in the accolades of the former than the objections and criticisms of the latter.
His frequent pursuit of utopian visions led to a number of distinguished awards in Europe and the United States, but was met with derision by the people of Israel where he was never popular. Not surprisingly, he was more the darling of the leftist J-Street in Washington than he was his own political party in Israel. He sought those who would appreciate his statesmanship, however failed his endeavors.
Largely unpopular among the Israeli populace, at the head of his Labor Party he led it to electoral defeat on five occasions. When he ran and lost against Menachem Begin in 1977 and again in 1981, it was often said that ‘half the nation loved Begin and the other half hated him; but everyone hated Peres.’ Later in his political career, when he was spurned for a leadership role by some of his own, he opted to join other parties in order to keep himself relevant, while never truly finding an alternative political home.
He kept dreaming. The thing that characterized Shimon Peres was not the arrogant elitism that he wore quite proudly – it was the politics – the zeitgeist – as it shaped his immutable New Middle East mindset. His proudest accomplishment was the 1993 Oslo Agreement that brought together Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. The spurious peace that emerged brought the Nobel Peace prize to Peres, Rabin and Yasir Arafat a year later. It did not bring peace.
Shimon Peres viewed Israel’s implacable enemy, the PLO – which was formed in 1964, three and a half years before Israel “occupied” the territories it wished to liberate – as a legitimate partner for peace, notwithstanding the Palestinian Arab’s constant reminders that they were not.
Peres called the Oslo Accords a moral imperative, a “sense of national mission and historic conscience” – while his peace partners were launching a proliferation of terror attacks that murdered over one thousand of his countrymen.
He remained undeterred.
A champion of the creation of a Palestinian state as part of the two-state solution that was envisioned at Oslo, he failed to understand that the Palestinians refused to accept one of those two states. So much so, that when asked if he questioned Arafat’s desire for peace following the PA’s frequent praise of suicide bombings in Israel, Peres stated that “what counts is not the intentions of the Palestinians; yes, I do believe it is irrelevant.” Not to the Palestinians, it was not.
Three years later, in 1996, determined to deliver the elusive peace, Peres boasted: “By the year 2000, we will overcome Hamas, Islamic Jihad and terrorism. By then we will bring a comprehensive peace to the Middle East.” The promise and the prediction were not to be.
The Arab Spring that he had hoped would spread did not. But Islam has. Violent and unapologetic. And beyond his New Middle East. The poorly disguised Trojan horse began to find a home throughout Europe. A befuddled Mr. Peres seemed confused. Even his favorite, France, tasted the terror that Peres thought could be dreamt away.
A darling of a world that sought to always find fault with Israel, Peres often incredulously served as an apologist for those who scolded or lectured the Jews. He once opined that while the Israelis were willing to petition for peace, the Jews, less so. The distinction was classic Peres-speak. Not exactly a populist, Peres futilely tried to channel David Ben Gurion when he remarked, “I may not know what the people want; I know what is good for the people.”
Following several series of murderous terror attacks against Israelis, Peres tried to assuage an angry Israeli citizenry by urging that it not make too large a matter of it. He callously called those Jews who were murdered in one particularly heinous attack as “sacrifices for peace.”
He callously called those Jews who were murdered in one particularly heinous attack as “sacrifices for peace.” No, a grieving mother corrected him sternly, they were victims of peace.
No, a grieving mother corrected him sternly, they were victims of peace. In Israel, that obscene comment by Peres was never fully forgotten. Nor forgiven.
Willfully blinding himself to an enemy whose raison d’etat was the denial and destruction of the Jewish State, Peres relished that he continued to be viewed everywhere but in Israel as the nation’s most admired politician. The very impressive guest list of VIP’s at his state funeral – foreign political dignitaries and those of pop culture – was proof. As were the very thin lines of Israelis that dotted the streets to pay homage for his procession, unlike the hundreds of thousands who appeared to memorialize Begin and Rabin.
For him, the “other side” was not the Arab camp that never recognized Israel’s right to exist – de jure. It was the other side of the political divide in his own country, of whom he often spoke with a scorn reserved for them alone.
He even dared to suggest that the attacks on the United States on 9/11 were caused by the failure to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, a propaganda canard that echoed the narrative of its perpetrators.
Shimon Peres wanted so much to leave his mark as peacemaker that he routinely ignored the fact that Israel’s designated “peace partner” – the Palestinian Authority – routinely named city squares, soccer stadiums, and streets after some of the most notorious murderers. That could not be dreamt away. It was something that the civilized statesman was unable to grasp about the uncivilized.
The accolades and the eulogies are now yesterday’s news. And the war against the Jews is as real today as it was when Shimon Peres was still a young man, when he first started dreaming.
Shimon Peres lived a long life. By most measures, it was certainly a life rich in accomplishments. And yet, his dreams were unfulfilled. On the day he was buried the official Fatah newspapers featured a cartoon of Mr. Peres finding his place in Hell. After seventy years of political activism, even the venerable statesman could not find a willing dance partner.
Meir Jolovitz is a past national executive director of the Zionist Organization of America, and formerly associated with the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies.