Death of Final Founding Father Peres Means Israel Must Now Grow Up

The full moral responsibility for the image of Israel has been passed onto Shimon Peres' political heirs. It's a scary time, but also one of real opportunity.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu standing at the casket of former President Shimon Peres at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, on September 30, 2016.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu standing at the casket of former President Shimon Peres at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, on September 30, 2016.Credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann

The fact that Israelis have been able to live alongside their founding fathers until now is clear evidence of the country’s youth. From this perspective, the death of Shimon Peres — the last of the founding fathers — is a dramatic milestone in the process of growing up.

For future generations, the “founding fathers” will be merely a symbolic term. That’s why what is happening now is of particularly great importance for the development of Israeli society.

According to Freud, society is created out of cooperation in a shared crime: the primordial murder — a patricide from which the social morals and organization emerge. The morals express the feelings of guilt and attempts to assuage this guilt. Ironically, at the roots of Freud’s theory stands a myth, while at the head of Israeli society (after all, what are only 47 years in the life of a nation?), a real primordial murder occurred.

Martin Indyk, who was U.S. ambassador to Israel at the time of Yitzhak Rabin’s murder, told PBS in the 2015 documentary “Netanyahu at War” that at Rabin’s funeral, Benjamin Netanyahu told him: “Look, look at this. He’s a hero now, but if he had not been assassinated, I would have beaten him in the elections, and then he would have gone into history as a failed politician.”

Even though Netanyahu denied saying this, he probably wouldn’t deny the kernel of truth in it: If Netanyahu had been given the chance to choose between being elected as prime minister in 1996 with the intervention of Yigal Amir, or to be elected without it (and metaphorically, if he had been given the choice between a real murder and a symbolic murder), he would have chosen the latter.

The tension between the left and right peaked at the historic moment of the assassination. The left’s accusation was: “Have you murdered and also inherited?” The right, meanwhile, is convinced it won despite the murder, not because of it. The shock from the actual murder and the tendency to prevaricate on this question — because it is impossible to truly know what would have happened — has curbed the real, painful and possibly violent debate needed in order to determine the country’s future.

The anger and hatred of about half the public to founders Rabin and Peres were repressed. The internal dispute that triggered the murder was silenced through the use of forced reconciliation and political correctness. And the spread of mass media turned out to be the best way to harm freedom of expression: a multiplicity of voices and the creation of unending background noise, which ultimately worked as a silencer. Like the background cries of “Blanks, blanks!” (“Srak, srak!”) when Amir shot.

English psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott refers to the need for symbolic patricide as a necessary act in healthy development. In a way, the real murder of Rabin undermined the possibility of a symbolic murder and locked the younger generation in developmental limbo. We may have “murdered” Rabin, but we became “stuck” with Peres.

The strange relationship between Netanyahu and Peres, between Israeli society and Peres, are the result of this developmental anomaly created by the murder. The reason may be connected to the failure of the “ideal” plan, which was to murder both Rabin and Peres (“the criminals of Oslo”).

The murder of only one of the pair led to an imaginary split: Rabin was cast in the mind as the real father, while Peres was crowned the symbolic father (the visionary). Israel refused to give Peres the role of prime minister and instead adopted him as president. And what is more symbolic in Israel than the role of president?

This also explains how the greatest of the inciters became the greatest of the mourners, too. Not only were Peres’ corneas donated to science, but also the greatest diplomatic project of his life: Oslo, which was no less than the first phase of implementing the two-states-for-two-peoples plan.

Peres’ death, the last of the founding fathers, will force Israel to grow up. All father are dead. There is no more father Peres, who will bear the morality of Israel on his shoulders while the children run amok. The full moral responsibility for the image of Israel has now been passed to his successors. It is sad, difficult and frightening. At the same time, it’s a real opportunity to break free. His successors will testify to who Peres was not in their words, but their deeds.

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