Opinion

Shimon Peres Was the Last of His Kind

Unlike other Jews who succeeded him in power, Peres always knew that to be a Jew also meant to be universal and moral; to be on the correct, enlightened side of history.

An undated photo of Shimon Peres with a missile ship in the background.
IDF Archives

True, he founded Israel Aircraft Industries (1953), made the decision about the Entebbe Operation (1976), saved Israel from hyperinflation (1985) and got the army out of most of Lebanon (1985). He tried the London agreement (1987) led the Oslo process (1993), and succeeded in turning himself from a controversial politician into a beloved president (2007).

But the real contribution Shimon Peres made to the Jewish state was the amazing work he did in Paris in the mid-1950s that led to the construction of the nuclear reactor in Dimona.

Read more on Shimon Peres: Peres pursued peace for sake of Israel's values, and Palestinians' dignity | Hawk to dove, pro-settlements to pro-peace: Shimon Peres was it all | The countless contradictions of the late and great Shimon Peres | Obama, world leaders mourn Peres | Shimon Peres, the eternal immigrant | Peres' quixotic battle for Israeli-Palestinian peace | Drop the kitsch: Shimon Peres had a dark side, too | Peres, 1923-2016: an interactive timeline

Against powerful counterforces, David Ben-Gurion’s sorcerer’s apprentice succeeded in spreading the strategic security net that assured Israel’s existence. Against all odds, the 34-year-old kibbutznik erected above us that invisible glass dome that allows us to lead almost sane lives in this crazy place.

But Peres was never really a kibbutznik. He was a child of the Jewish Diaspora who arrived from Europe before the disaster to the Ben Shemen Youth Village and tried all his life to become an Israeli. He was the beloved grandson of the grandfather killed in the Holocaust, and all his life he tried to flee the past into the future.

That’s why he was so devoted to tomorrow. He was always stubbornly hopeful. That’s why he couldn’t stand problems; he searched for solutions. He was always en route to the next computer, the next car, the next missile or the next nano that would bring scientific succor to the pains of a small, isolated and persecuted people. He was always a Jew, who did everything he did as a Jew, on behalf of the Jewish people.

But unlike other Jews who succeeded him in power, he always knew that to be a Jew also meant to be universal and moral; to be on the correct, enlightened side of history.

During the past year he asked that we write a book together. Peres knew that the many books he had written hadn’t succeeded in capturing the incomprehensible drama of his 93 years. Before it was too late, he wanted to put one last book on the shelf that would tell the story of his life as the story of Israel’s life.

Unfortunately, the book never got written. But his story is our story; the last-minute escape from the inferno, the descent to the sun-swept beach of promise, the attempt to believe in utopia and to achieve it.

Then there was coping with the reality of the conflict. The work with Ben-Gurion on arming the state before it was established, and on strengthening it after it was established. The understanding that our lives were dependent upon a combination of military prowess, high technology and international legitimacy. The knowledge that we must always balance building our strength with upholding justice.

And yet there was his sophistication, maneuverability and cunning. His ability to raise our eyes to the skies even as our feet were in the mud.

Then, when he was 70, there was the touching attempt to bring the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy to a happy end – and its failure; its collapse in the face of messianic nationalism.

But he refused to give up. He had perseverance, resourcefulness and initiative. He had a lust for life and loved life. He had great vitality and the almost religious belief of a secular person that despite everything, here we could make the impossible, possible.

Shimon Peres was no saint. He had plenty of human weaknesses. He had an endless hunger for love, and a need to charm and be charmed. But he was a strong man who knew how to fight for what was his and what was ours.

He kept at it, rising after each fall and recovering from every blow to move on. He was a true patriot who was prepared to stick his hand into the muck to pull out some diamond.

And he was the last of them. The last of the Zionist leaders who personally experienced all the phases of the Zionist revolution. The last of the Israeli leaders who participated in the state’s establishment. The last of the Jewish giants who built the Third Temple with their own hands.