The Israeli Left Is Also Focusing on Wealth Rather Than Peace

In its willingness to lend its name to promote a business deal, the Peres Center for Peace has exceeded the boundaries of good taste.

This is what peace looks like: an architect to the elite, a housing developer for the upper thousandth percentile, a commercial bank and the Peres Center for Peace. On Sunday, the Hebrew edition of Haaretz carried an infuriating and disheartening ad on the front page. The Peres Center was proudly announcing a meeting with the American architect Richard Meier. At the meeting, which took place on Monday and was closed to the public, "a residential tower was unveiled." The ad also mentions the tower's developers and Bank Leumi, which is backing the project financially.

What does a commercial construction project intended for Israel's wealthiest people and investors from abroad have to do with a center purporting to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians? What's the connection? Money, of course. The Peres Center is mired in debt and trying to extricate itself using any contribution, charity or sponsorship it can schnorr. When to this end it turns into an events hall and rents itself out to anyone who asks, one can understand. But it seems that in its willingness to lend its name, or more to the point the remnants of its reputation, to promote a business deal, the center has exceeded the boundaries of good taste.

The Peres Center has meandered a long and winding road since a decade and a half ago, when the Jewish-American billionaire Daniel Abraham gave Shimon Peres half a million dollars in seed money to set up the center. Abraham's donation helped Peres raise more and more funds from wealthy people around the world. Over the years, Peres, who is known far and wide as a warrior for peace, has raised many tens of millions of shekels for the center, whose management he has put in the hands of his aides, first and foremost Uri Savir and Avi Gil.

When Peres was tempted into establishing the center, he believed his political career had ended. But he rose like the proverbial phoenix, and naturally limited his involvement in the center. Under the direction of "the president," Savir and his friends, Peres' worldwide campaign for peace donned a new form - "peace industry." The vision and the way, and sometimes Peres' own castles in the air, found expression mainly in megalomania and the aspiration to enjoy the finer things in life. In the heart of Jaffa a magnificent building went up that could yet become a white elephant. The directors enjoy high salaries, travel the world and, especially, rub elbows with the rich, movie stars and soccer heroes.

The Peres Center's spokeswoman, who was asked to respond on the issue, said the ad was basically a mistake and the developer responsible for it improperly used the center and damaged it severely. If that's the case, why didn't the center publish a statement admonishing the developer?

In any case, the ad and the commotion it caused are symptomatic of Israeli society's attitude toward the peace process. The left has fallen apart. Two people are responsible for its disintegration: Yasser Arafat, who did not give up the "armed struggle," i.e., terror, and Ehud Barak, who made everyone sick of the Labor Party and destroyed it.

The public perceives the leftist camp mainly as sympathizing with the Palestinians' suffering and (rightfully ) fighting the injustice of the occupation.

The problem is that the left is also perceived as indifferent and even alienated from poverty, inequality and injustice in Israeli society.

No wonder most people - bogged down in the daily grind and helpless before an ugly, cruel capitalism that is greedy for the economy's resources - have had it with the left that raises only the banner of peace. To many people, the left and the search for peace, as they are represented faithfully by the Peres Center as well, are identified with monied interests.