Israel Palestine Infos
May 14, 2011
I COULD not restrain myself. Though I was alone in the room, I burst out laughing.
I was reading a newspaper report about the latest poll. People were asked to evaluate the nation’s leaders.
It appears that the President of the State, Shimon Peres, is by far the most
popular leader in
The three champions of unpopularity were the three most powerful politicians in the country, the men who are shaping our future: Binyamin Netanyahu (38% approve, 53% disapprove), Avigdor Lieberman (40% approve, 52% disapprove) and Ehud Barak (30% approve, 63% disapprove!)
So why did I laugh?
HISTORY HAS a lot of humor. It is easier to imagine it directed by the willful
and spiteful gods of
Yet here is Shimon Peres, the most popular] person in
He has been a politician since the age of 20 and has never been anything else. In a democratic country, the business of a politician is to get elected and then reelected. Yet Peres never was. In dozens of election campaigns – Knesset elections and party primary elections – he has never won. (He has never won a majority in an election as party leader, and failed to be elected in other cases where he was standing as an individual candidate.) The voters just could not bring themselves to vote for him.
(He once flung a rhetorical question at a party audience: “Am I a loser?” The reply was a thunderous: “Y E S !”)
Even his present job he got by a fluke. The President of the State is elected by the Knesset in secret ballot. When Peres ran for president the first time, the Knesset rejected him, preferring a mediocre, run-of-the-mill party hack called Moshe Katzav. That was the ultimate humiliation. Only when Katzav was uncovered as a serial women-molester and had to resign, was Peres elected by a remorseful Knesset. The members seem to have said to themselves: enough is enough. We can’t go on torturing this man, who has – after all – been a member of the Knesset for some 45 years.
And now this man – whom almost everybody loved to hate – has become the most beloved leader in the country, as well as a respected Elder Statesman throughout the world. Weird.
I MET him for the first time in 1953. I was the owner/editor of a popular news magazine, he was the newly appointed Director General of the Ministry of Defense, an immensely powerful position because the minister was David Ben-Gurion. Peres became his main assistant.
He had invited me to a meeting about some trivial matter. It was not a case of love at first sight. As a matter of fact, we disliked each other from the first moment.
There was not just a lack of chemistry. There was a very concrete reason why many people of my - and his - age-group detested him: he did not serve in the army in the 1948 war. That was almost incredible: when the fighting broke out, all of us had rushed to the colors, our entire generation was ravished by the war, I myself was seriously wounded. Yet here was a young man who had missed these momentous events.
To be fair, Peres did not idle during the war. Ben-Gurion sent him abroad to procure arms, which we needed desperately. But that could have been done by an older person, rather than an able-bodied young man of 25. It was a stigma that clung to him for decades, as long as the war generation was setting the tone in our new state. It helps to explain, by the way, why he lost out several times to Yitzhak Rabin, an authentic combat commander, loved and respected by almost everybody.
Yet, though there were always good reasons for not liking him, it seems that the aversion to him was basically irrational. He himself once complained that as a boy, when he was coming home from (Jewish) school in his Polish home town, the other (Jewish) boys used to beat him up for no reason at all, and his younger brother had to rush to his defense. “Why do they hate me?” he queried his mother plaintively.
Fortunately, his parents took him to
IN THE early 1940s, there was a split in Mapai, the almighty ruling party in the
Yishuv (the Jewish community in
That was Peres’ first great chance. He was one of the very few young people who remained true to the old party, and thus attracted the attention of the party bosses, Ben-Gurion and Levy Eshkol. That was the end of Peres the kibbutznik and the beginning birth of Peres the life-long politician.
He did what he did later many times in his life. He “plowed”
the country, visited all the local chapters of the youth movement, made speech after speech. His indefatigable diligence made up for the lack of natural charm. His deep voice gave his most banal platitudes the ring of profound truth.
WHAT WERE his innermost convictions? What did he believe in?
Well, that depends on the year, the day and the hour. Throughout his political life, Peres has held all possible views, shedding them without a backward glance and adopting others. He is the perfect example of Groucho Marx’s famous dictum: “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others, too.”
When I first met him, he was a raving hawk. He and Moshe Dayan were pushing Ben-Gurion – and were being pushed by him – towards war by “warming up” the borders with “retaliation raids”. He boasts of being the architect of the then French-Israeli alliance.
France was fighting a dirty war to keep Algeria in its grip and needed Israel to
divert the Egyptian leader, Gamal Abd-al-Nasser. Peres willingly served this
noble cause and prepared the French-Israeli-British collusion that led to their
At the time, Peres announced that the alliance between
AS MINISTER of Defense in the mid-1970s, Peres was the father of the settlements
in the central
Next, Peres suddenly emerged as the Man of Peace. Not with the Palestinian
people, God forbid, but with King Hussein of
At that time Peres realized that peace, as an abstract idea, was good for him.
He became the prophet of “the New
The practical test came when Rabin was assassinated and Peres took over. For the
first time, he was free to act and turn
That was not the end. Ariel
AS PRESIDENT of the state, Peres talks endlessly, as he has always done. Yet in all his uncounted millions of words, I have yet to detect a single original idea.
That is by itself a curious state of affairs. Like Ben-Gurion, whom he seeks to
imitate, he presents himself as a profound thinker, an intellectual who reads
all the important books. One of his former aides claims that he never really
reads a book, but has his assistants prepare resumes of their contents, so he
can talk about them knowingly. I judge by his style – a person who reads poetry
and literature is bound to reflect some of this in his speeches and writing.
Peres’ products are uniformly shallow, his Hebrew trite and superficial. No
wonder that he is now the most popular leader in
The man who has advocated everything, war and peace, socialism and capitalism, secularism and religion, and whose principles are so elastic that they can embrace anything and everybody – at long last he has achieved, on the State of Israel’s 63th anniversary, what he has been searching for all his life:
People love him.