Amir Peretz’s announcement that he will run for the head of the Labor party was received with a general yawn in the media. Only a tiny movement was registered in the political system and the public, too, demonstrated its apathy appropriately. Its typical representative, the taxi driver who gave me shelter in his car from the pouring rain that fell on the day of Peretz’s announcement, explained the reason.
Peretz, who has been here since ancient times, is the sort of phenomenon for which the eye and heart have lost any sense of feeling, the taxi driver said. Okay, he did not phrase it exactly that way. But the elderly driver, who has been a Labor Party man all his life, told me that if a new, charismatic leader who can beat Benjamin Netanyahu is not parachuted in from the outside in the next elections, he plans on voting for – surprise, surprise – Yair Lapid.
We were stuck in a terrifying traffic jam; outside the storm raged and inside the lightning struck me: The most absolutist and dangerous prime minister we have known has turned not only his party, ministers and supporters into sleepwalkers, heading with their eyes closed to the edge of any abyss he leads them to. His opponents, too, have been infected with the dubious wish for a savior, rather than for a leader. He must be new and inspiring, charismatic and cunning, with amazing rhetorical skills in order to beat Netanyahu, who himself was once new and inspiring, charismatic and cunning, with the skill .... The idea is clear, the left wants a Netanyahu in order to beat Netanyahu.
Peretz – the voice of common sense, the voice of social decency, the voice of the original Israeliness that has been so corrupted that it is now unrecognizable; who underwent the hazing that every senior Mizrahi politician goes through, including the jokes about his English and the binoculars with their covers still on, and who survived on his self-respect, which has no equal – is met with an upturned nose by those on the left and center. Because he does not seem to them to be made of the same material outstanding leaders are made from: A synthetic compound with super-natural powers to reproduce themselves endlessly.
Amir Peretz, the man who put the Iron Dome over your heads, was born in Morocco. In the army, he served as an ordnance officer in the Paratroop Brigade, but the dust of generals did not stick to him. His wounds even have a comic and allegorical dimension: He arrived to help soldiers in basic training who had run into trouble – and they repaid him by running him over with an armored personnel carrier.
Yet, with my own two eyes, I have seen that he is braver than many known for their courage. Our family sat Shivah during Operation Protective Edge. The president, ministers and many Knesset members came to pay their respects. The difficulty, embarrassment and even fear showed clearly on each and every one of them. Meeting with the horrible results of the decisions under your responsibility can’t be easy, and they responded accordingly. Most were empathetic in a stiff way, isolated, enlisting their personas in order to hide their scared selves behind them. Some even fled after only a few minutes.
When Peretz arrived he made his way with confidence between the hundreds of visitors who filled the house, walking without hesitation to the porch where we were sitting and immediately approached the parents. While he was being honored with a banal collection of baked goods, his eyes never left their eyes, stricken with grief, and, with a warmth whose honesty left no doubt, he took on all the explosive subjects – the loss, the operation, the hatred running wild on the streets.
I sat at a safe distance, in the smoking corner, and observed with affection the man who I had campaigned for in the 2006 elections. When he got up to leave after a long time, I wanted to get up and kiss him. Because I was embarrassed then, this is my public kiss: Amir Peretz is the most worthy leader of the left.
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