Shimon Peres: Farewell to the Man and his Dream

Perhaps there would be no Israel without a man like this.<br/>Perhaps, on the other hand, there would be no Israel with a man like this.

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Jack Engelhard,

Jack Engelhard
Jack Engelhard
צילום: מתוך האתר האישי

Shimon Peres leaves office in a few days as Israel’s ninth president and as the world’s oldest head of state. For better or worse, the man made a difference. Twice he served as prime minister and twice he served as interim prime minister, always with a view toward changing the entire Middle East and often at a hefty, intolerable cost to the Jewish State.

Peres has been at this game for some 60 years. He has answers for all the living. Not one for the dead.
Operating as a journalist, I caught up to him when he visited a synagogue in what used to be my neighborhood, Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

The place was packed, for this was an historic moment. The Sharon government had put forth a plan to vacate Gaza. Israel was in turmoil. Peres came here at the end of March, 2004 to explain the justice of Sharon’s cause – even as a few of us, like myself, foresaw disaster. We saw Hamas and we saw the rockets. Shimon Peres dreamed otherwise.

To get his Gaza plan to work, Sharon needed to cut and paste a coalition and he did so with strong-arm tactics and with the help of Labor Party’s Shimon Peres.

Peres was installed as vice premier.

Some two months after Peres’ visit to Cherry Hill, on June 6, 2004, the Gaza withdrawal plan was formally adopted and 10,000 Israelis were booted from their homes.

In Cherry Hill that night in late March 2004, I was pretty much a minority of one in that synagogue but I heard what Israel’s grand old diplomat had to say.

Here is what I had to say the next morning in the following dispatch for Arutz Sheva…note the date and note that it still hurts:

A Dreamer Dreams in Cherry Hill

First posting: March 29, 2004

Israel's grand diplomat, Shimon Peres, came to New Jersey this past Sunday night, to a synagogue in Cherry Hill, and found an audience of some 1,500 that agreed with him from A to Z, or if you please, from Aleph to Tav. He is a charmer and he charmed. He is a dreamer and he dreamed.

None of this is so simple, of course, for how dare we judge a man who was there at the start and helped build Israel's military, particularly its Air Force, its electronic aircraft industry, not to mention its program of nuclear deterrence. Perhaps it is even sinful to scoff at a man like this. Perhaps there would be no Israel without a man like this.

Perhaps, on the other hand, there would be no Israel with a man like this. So how dare we judge him, and how dare we not judge him?

Peres spoke for about an hour and his main points were as follows:

1. Israel must give up the "occupation." (No dissent here in Cherry Hill upon the word "occupation" from an Israeli statesman.)

2. He, Peres, and his followers will not pull out of the government if Prime Minister Ariel Sharon keeps to the strategy of relinquishing Gaza and the "West Bank."

3. The Israelis must do what they can to end the conflict. (No such burden upon the Arabs, at least not in this speech.)

4. The Palestinian Arabs finally realize [they do?] that the terrorists in their midst are the real enemy, not Israel. (This conclusion, or dream, may come as a surprise to the hundreds of thousands in Gaza and elsewhere who swore revenge and ripped their clothes in mourning over the hit that took out terrorist mastermind Ahmed Yassin.)

Here in Cherry Hill, all heads nodded in approval when Peres said that Israel must not rule as masters over another people.

Peres drew no rebuke when he compared the "occupation" to the Israelite captivity in Egypt. 

He drew the most sustained applause, at the end of his talk, when he said, "You have to fight the reasons for terror." 

Clearly, the reasons are the "settlements" and the "occupation." Clearly, it is Israel that must continue to make concessions.

(If so, if it is all on Israel, why Hatikvah at the outset of the ceremony in Cherry Hill? Why not, someone might ask, the Palestinian Arab national anthem?) 

Perhaps I will never eat lunch in this town again (as it is said about those who disrespect Hollywood), but I did not go to Temple Beth Shalom (Sunday, March 28) for Peres as much as I went for the people, to find out first-hand where upper middle class Jewish Americans find themselves in connection to Israel. 

I have returned, to this computer, disillusioned. Perhaps, then, I should let this rest and continue upon more reflection. But then I would be cheating myself and my readers. So let's move on while our thoughts are still fresh, honest and true, and have not been polished, sullied and corrected into "good writing." Write, as F. Scott Fitzgerald said, from emotion. So that's what this is.

What is Shimon Peres? Peres is a dreamer, and what follows is the crux of the matter. During the Q and A, in which, by the way, it was plain that any dissenting voice would be deemed mutinous, Peres was asked, by a daring man in a yarmulke, if he, Peres, needed to ask forgiveness during the upcoming Holy Days for inflicting the Oslo Accords upon the Jewish State.

The man who would be prime minister twice responded, without pause, that he was right. The Oslo Accords were a good thing. Better yet, Yasser Arafat was a prince (my interpretation), for Arafat was first to promise to recognize Israel, its right to exist, and its right to boundaries suitable to its sovereignty and self-defense. Yes, Arafat promised.

Nothing from Peres about Arafat's failure to keep his promises. Not a word about this most essential part of any agreement. Nothing from Peres that Arafat more than reneged, but that he launched a war of terror upon Israel that persists to this day, a terror visited upon Israel while the ink was still wet on those Oslo Accords. Peres, then, remembers the promises that were made, but forgets the promises that were dashed. Perhaps a dangerous and insensitive oversight, even for a dreamer.

During the entire session, from the opening remarks to the final question from the congregants, not a single mention was made of the more than one thousand Israelis who have been killed from Oslo onward. I found this strange. Perhaps it would have been rude to bring that up in this polite fan-club backdrop. 

Also, not a single mention that Israel, under Ehud Barak, and under the urging of Yossi Beilin and Peres, gave up the "occupation", but was turned down flat.

Does Cherry Hill know this?

Since Oslo, in fact, virtually all Palestinian Arabs have been living under the "occupation" of Arafat and his Palestinian Authority. 

Does Cherry Hill know this? 

When Peres mentions Arafat (as he did here in Cherry Hill), he speaks of him as a fellow negotiator, not as a killer. He speaks of Arafat as a friend, really, a buddy, as you and I would speak of a fellow Sunday night card player who charmingly may cheat at poker once in a while. So what's the harm?

What of Ma'alot? What of Munich? What of the cold-blooded murders throughout the decades?

Does Peres remember this? Does Cherry Hill know this? Is Cherry Hill reflective of America's comfy root-cause-bleeding-hearts who pity the enemy above their own?

Would members of the Evangelical Zionist Christian Church up the road have sat so compliant and starry-eyed upon this dreamer?s dreams? (I don't think so. There he'd be in for a tussle.)

About 10 of us got to ask a question, and I was third in line . I accorded him kol hakavod for what he did in the 1950s, but then asked: will it satisfy the Palestinian Arabs to keep on feeding them pieces of Israel when, in their own words, they demand all the land? Now, if I were a reporter, I would remember the answer, but I faded out. I don't know what he said. 

Maybe I forgot. Maybe I didn't care. I knew that whatever he said would be the right answer, for him and for these 1,500 satisfied customers in Cherry Hill.

You can't beat a man at his own game, and Peres has been at this game for some 60 years. He has answers for all the living. Not one for the dead.

Frankly, I just needed to ask the question. I did not need the answer; for nothing will change. His answers will never change and my questions will never change.

I do have one answer. The enemy is them, and the enemy is us!