Will the Real Shimon Peres Please Stand Up?

Those familiar with the sources of Peres' oratory will have to decide: Is he divorced from reality, or does he think that in order to repair the world, one just has to talk about its improvement?

Memorial days are devoted to sprees of patriotic loyalty and well-worn lofty expressions: The speaker who uses the most polished rhetoric wins the prize. This is not the first time Shimon Peres has ousted his competitors and takes the mantle as the House of Israel's orator.

This is what Peres declared at Yad Vashem on Holocaust Remembrance Day: "All Israeli citizens know that Israel has been, and must be, the most anti-racist state in the world." Peres has turned into the national and international exponent of our qualitative edge. Nobody beats us when it comes to tolerance, and the IDF's morality is unparalleled.

Shimon Peres - Reuters - 8.5.11

It's interesting to wonder how Peres cultivates his audacity, and what serves as the foundations for his claims. "We have never set aside the religious commandment to honor all persons," he declared. "In a darkened world, we aspired, and will continue to aspire, to be a light onto the nations." The voice aspires to be that of David Ben-Gurion, but right now it actually sounds more like that of Yaakov Meridor, who became notorious for a ridiculous plan to bring electricity to Ramat Gan. Drawing from Meridor's boondoggle energy base, Peres proposes to light up all of the world.

Ben-Gurion was very careful in his use of eternal flames, understanding that if we are not circumspect in the use of collective memories, those memories will come to rule us. Instead of our wearing sackcloth and ashes, Ben-Gurion insisted that we should arise from the ashes; instead of our turning backward and looking at the world angrily, Israel must look forward and cooperate with the world in the spirit of solidarity, collaboration and responsibility toward all persecuted peoples. That was Ben-Gurion's legacy until Menachem Begin came along, opened up the bottle, and spilled out all its contents. Today, Peres looks more like Begin's oratorical successor than Ben-Gurion's pupil and protege.

We are fortunate that a man of vision walks among us, a leader who will not allow reality to spoil his facts and cut his wings. Among so many anonymously gray figures, it is fortunate that we have such an exalted figure who can prophesize for our benefit. "I am optimistic about Gilad," he said recently to the parents of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. Now it is completely clear: When they are seen from the president's house, things are completely different, as though they flicker on an alternate horizon. Let us be blessed with a nation of people who view reality through this Presidential haze.

Alas, for now we don't have such a field of vision. Proliferating in our state are young couples who lack basic housing. Some two million indigent people continue to live in Israel, many of them children who refuse to lessen in number; in contrast, the millionaires and billionaires also multiply and expand their waists, as social gaps continue to grow wider. Israel marches ahead, atop lists of countries that have high standards of living, and high levels of poverty. And as OECD figures attest, it also discriminates against Arab and other minority citizens.

We must also not overlook facts and figures about school students, who cling to the bottom rungs of the achievement ladder. Nor should we forget our place somewhere in the middle on worldwide rosters of corruption. The light of Israel is obscure right now; the Gentiles and the anti-Semites would have a hard time seeing it.

And how is it possible to talk about "light onto the nations" on Holocaust Remembrance Day, when thousands of survivors lack teeth to chew on this sweet rhetoric? Had they fled to other states, and not to the Jewish state, they would have had bread and butter, rather than the marzipan rhetoric served up in the President's kitchen.

Those familiar with the sources of Peres' oratory will have to decide: Is he divorced from reality, or does he think that in order to repair the world, one just has to talk about its improvement? In fact, an imagined reality will never be improved, because those who believe in it have no cause to change things; if everything is so wonderful in the Garden of Eden, why try to take action? With such trick lighting fooling us, we can all continue to dwell in darkness. The real Peres should stand up: Is he a trumpet for the people, and a prophet of peace? Or is he a partner to Netanyahu, made-up of the same stuff?