Drop the Kitsch: Shimon Peres Had a Dark Side, Too

Peres played a role in many of Israel's unsavory acts, most notably the cover-up of a summary execution of two Palestinian terrorists in the 1984 Bus 300 affair.

Opposition leader Shimon Peres in his Tel Aviv office, 1981.
Opposition leader Shimon Peres in his Tel Aviv office, 1981. AP

With the memorial festival for Shimon Peres in full force, we must remember more than his achievements. Of course, those achievements were many, like his role in Israel’s nuclear program and the Oslo Accords.

He also quelled inflation and stressed the importance of nanotechnology, all while being loved around the world. He promoted talented people and showed rare restraint, a positive demeanor, an amazing work ethic and the ability to stay relevant, think creatively and mine a rich imagination.

Still, we have to drop the kitsch. We mustn’t ravage his memory, but we mustn’t join the cult either. We have to remember his role in negative things like the 1984 Bus 300 affair in which two Palestinian hijackers were executed by the Shin Bet security service; the 1956 Suez Crisis, when Britain, France and Israel attacked Egypt; and the brutal attempt to oust Prime Minister Levi Eshkol on the eve of the Six-Day War.

We must remember the defense minister who flew his helicopter over the settlement of Sebastia to the settlers’ cheers, his dirty political conniving against Yitzhak Rabin, his opposition to the attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor, the Iran-Contra affair, spy Jonathan Pollard, Operation Grapes of Wrath in Lebanon, his political defeats, and his desperate clinging to power at all cost.

There were also the self-aggrandizing shows he put together, his recommendation letters for white-collar criminals and his ties to shady tycoons and machers. There was also his obsession with himself and the countless broken promises. “His head is in the sky but his feet are stuck firmly in the mood of the day,” someone close to him once said. His light cast many shadows.

In 1986, just as he was handing over the premiership to Yitzhak Shamir, Peres met with the Shin Bet’s outgoing deputy head, Reuven Hazak. In the months before, Peres worked tirelessly to cover up one of the most serious affairs in Israel’s history: the Bus 300 affair.

He intervened in favor of the wrongdoers, mainly Shin Bet chief Avraham Shalom, the man who gave the order to kill the Palestinians who hijacked the bus. Shalom also orchestrated the obstruction of justice and coordination of testimonies as if he were in the criminal underworld.

Peres had Shalom’s back. For a long time he prevented Deputy Attorney General Yitzhak Zamir from opening an investigation into Shalom, and he gave the green light to dismiss the three officials who sought to bring the truth to light. Meanwhile, he pressured journalists to quash stories on the scandal  and lent his hand to the shameless campaign to win pardons for the criminals.

Bus 300
Alex Levac

Peres left Hazak and the Shin Bet’s division heads, Peleg Radai and Rafi Malka, out to fend for themselves. He joined the people who threw the truth out the window.

He was among politicians who questioned the motives of those three who tried to bring the truth to light. He claimed they weren’t altruistic but rather part of a clique striving to replace the Shin Bet’s leadership.

He sat on the fence regarding Hazak, Radai and Malka when a massive smear and incitement campaign raged. The three Shin Bet veterans were accused of everything from drug smuggling from Lebanon to treason. It was even alleged that Hazak was having an affair with Dorit Beinisch, who decades later became Supreme Court president.

Peres made an immoral choice. Hazak arrived at that meeting with Peres months after the affair was at its high point. He wanted Peres to help him clear his name. When Hazak returned home that night, he turned on his tape recorder and recreated for his wife the conversation he had just held with Peres. “I have to admit, I had to shut my eyes very tight to hold back the tears,” Hazak told his wife.

“I told him: ‘You accused me of a coup, of a clique; you accused me of adultery with Dorit Beinisch.’ He responded, ‘Enough, Hazak.’ Then he told me: ‘No one ever spoke about adultery.’ He seemed very angry at that point, pounded his fist on the table and said: ‘I don’t gossip.’”

As Hazak put it, “I was flustered and very emotional, and told him ‘what do you think? That I don’t have a wife? That I don’t have three kids? That I don’t have a kid in the army whom everyone keeps telling that this affair and mess was born in his father’s bed? Why doesn’t anyone come to my defense?’

“And then we spoke about the coup. [Peres] said: ‘Coup, I never said that. I never said coup … I never said clique, I said the behavior was like that of a clique.’ He stumbled over himself. That day I saw that he wasn't that smart ... but he had that quality that I didn't have and that politicians must have: He just didn't care what the other person said.”

Toward the end of their meeting, Peres asked Hazak “if there was something I wanted from him. I told him that ‘yes, I want you to clear my name, that I’m not a putschist, I’m not part of a clique, I’m not an adulterer …. Then he was told that there were people waiting, and he started to button his jacket and told me that ‘we need to finish [the meeting].’

“He shook my hand and we spoke for a few more seconds while we were standing, and I said: ‘So I’ll hear from you, you owe me two answers.’ He said, ‘Yes, of course.’” Hazak is still waiting.