A great optimist and a dreamer: Biography of Shimon Peres

Author : News Agency

Source : 112 Ukraine

112 Agency remembers life path of a Polish-born Israeli statesman
11:09, 29 September 2016

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Shimon Peres is a legendary man. His political career lasted for more than 70 years, one and a half years, he was the oldest acting head of state on the planet. Multi-year MP of Knesset, elected continuously from 1959 to 2007, twice prime minister of Israel, the Minister of 12 offices, the author of 11 books and a large number of publications and political articles that tell about the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict - Shimon Peres left a huge legacy. Even at the end of his earthly days, he was active and purposeful. "People ask me how to stay active. This is very simple. Keep in mind your accomplishments and dreams. If you have more dreams than achievements, you are still young," he said at the YES summit in Kyiv last year.

* * *

Shimon Peres was born on August 2, 1923 in the small town of Vyshneve (then it was Poland, and today this is Belarus), where about two hundred Jewish families lived. At that time, he was still Senya Persky. His father, Yitzhak Persky, was a lumber buyer-up. Mother Sarah Persky was a librarian and a teacher of the Russian language. Family spoke Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian, in addition Shimon studied Polish at school. Thanks to his grandfather, Shimon loved poetry lifelong. He began to write poetry at the age of nine. Some of the poems parents sent to Chaim Nachman Bialik. Yitzhak Persky was very proud when the national poet noted gifted boy.

Many Jews of Vyshneve were Zionists, waiting for a favorable occasion for emigration to Palestine. In 1931, Yitzhak Persky has got such an opportunity. Two years later, getting rich on the trade in grain, he took his wife and children. The spring of 1933 the rest of the Shimon's family migrated. All the relatives of Peres, who remained in Vyshneve, were killed during the Holocaust in 1941.

"We were told that everything would change dramatically, but we did not know exactly what changes await us. We imagined the Land of Israel in our fantasies. Sometimes we got photos of these places, sometimes oranges from Israel. But these are completely different things – receive an orange and smell it during flowering... I came from a foreign country to a country that I dreamed of," recalled Peres.

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In Tel Aviv, Shimon finished elementary and high school in "Balfour" gymnasium then studied at the school of agricultural labor settlements of Ben Shemen, where in 1945 he met his future wife Sonya Gelman. After graduating, for several years he worked as a farmer in kibbutz Geva in Jezreel Valley and Alumot in the Lower Galilee. He could become an agronomist or veterinarian, his wife begged him to stay on a kibbutz, but fate decreed otherwise.

 * * *

Shimon became active in the Zionist movement, and in 18 years has been secretary of the youth organization of the left-wing "Ha-Noar ha Oved ve ha Lomed" ( "working people and student youth"). "The movement opposed Ben-Gurion," says Peres. Then he met with the politician and publicist, the spiritual leader of Mapai party, who was the forerunner of the Labor Party, Berl Katznelson, who drew attention to a talented boy. Soon Perez joined the Mapai and in 1946 participated in the 22th Congress of the World Zionist Organization, held in Basel, which was of great importance to his political career.

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Ben-Gurion was for Peres akin to idol. He admired his dedication, analytical mind, the temperament of a fighter, and most importantly - the ability to make decisions.

"I was told that Ben-Gurion wanted to meet you. He asked to go with him by car from Tel Aviv to Haifa. I remember that it was winter. I went to his house in light kibbutz shirt. We got into the car, he took off his jacket and... fell asleep; he forgot about me. I was disappointed, I thought I could talk to him for some two or three hours. This man was my idol, and he just fell asleep... When we drove up to Haifa, he woke up and suddenly said: "You know, Trotsky was not a strong leader." I did not understand why he remembered Trotsky, but to keep up the conversation, asked him: “Why?” “Because he said: neither war, nor peace. This is not politics. The leader must be able to make decisions - war or peace - and be able to take responsibility for his decisions," Ben-Gurion continued. "Perhaps Lenin was intellectually weaker than Trotsky. However, it was Lenin who took the decision," he said and went back to sleep; then I returned to my kibbutz," Peres recalled his acquaintance with Ben-Gurion.

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In 1947, Ben-Gurion sent to Kibbutz Levi Eshkol, who was his deputy, with a request to allow Peres to the ranks of the Haganah. "The next morning I was given three liras, I got on the bus and went to the headquarters of the Haganah. I knew nothing about military affairs. I had come to the headquarters, the so-called Red House on Hayarkon Street in Tel Aviv, and no one could understand who am I and why do came there. Then Ben-Gurion came to me, took the note and began to read: how much we have of automats, guns and so forth. Then he said that Arabs will not agree with the UN resolution on the topic, they will attack us and we do not have weapons, just a couple of hundreds of rifles and several mortars; we have no tanks, no planes, no artillery, nothing at all! And they will destroy us if we do not have the weapons. You will deal with weapons. Get it from wherever you want – produce, buy, act!" this is how a great political career of Shimon Peres began.

At the end of the 40s Perez began working in the Ministry of Defense - assistant to Levy Eshkol, the Director General of the agency. Here Ben-Gurion “opened” the talent of Peres.

Ben-Gurion ordered to send 27-year-old officer in the United States as head of mission of the Ministry of Defense. There, he successfully combined work and study at Harvard.

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Returning in 1952 from the United States, Peres received a new designation – director general of the Defense Ministry. At the age of 29 years, Perez became the youngest CEO of the Ministry of Defense.

In those years before Peres was tasked not only to strengthen the defense capability of the army, but also to lay the foundation of the Israeli defense industry. In this role, Perez was able to subdue the significant part of the state budget, but gradually - and Israel's industry, which began to carry out numerous orders. This position was an important step in advancing the political ladder, as promoted the formation of Peres as the leader.

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Within ten years of service, he was described as a "technocrat number 1," "preacher of modernization." One way or another, Peres has played a key role in the creation of aviation, electronics, and defense industry; he has reorganized the research work in the military sphere.

He has put a lot of efforts in the search for sources of supply of those weapons, the production of which could not be established in the country. Already in 1954, he was able to make an order to receive the first aircraft and tanks from France. However, he managed to strengthen ties with the French leaders, who have been linked to the Ministry of Defense. Later he accompanied Ben-Gurion during his secret trip to Paris to finalize the joint military action before the attack against Egypt in 1956. At the end of the war, Peres was awarded by the French government with Legion of Honor.

 * * *

In 1959, Israel held elections to the Knesset of the 4th convocation. During the election campaign Peres has formulated his political and technical credo: "The length of territory of Israel is the achievement of its soldiers and peasants. The breadth of the territory is deprived by the presence of Arab states. Achievements of Israel is the achievement of its scientists and engineers, educational system and general intellectual level."

Mapai party won. Peres was elected to the Knesset and appointed Deputy Minister of Defense. Here he was still engaged in the expansion of the arms purchases in France. At this time, through the conclusion of target agreements, facilitating the later Israeli manufacturing industry, "Rafael" aircraft and other new weapons. Peres was the main force that contributed to the creation of the atomic centers in Dimona and Nahal Sorek, then oversaw Israel's nuclear program.


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The Israeli press called him a rising star on the political horizon. In 1959, the most important event in the political life of Israel was the fight for the inheritance in Mapai, between "veterans" and "youth" for leadership positions, before Ben-Gurion left. This struggle lasted until June 1963, while the "old man" finally resigned as the head of government.

Levi Eshkol became Prime Minister and asked Peres to remain in the post of Deputy Defense Minister. This angered the older members of the party. It looked like Peres would become Prime Minister soon. However, in 1965, Ben-Gurion defied yesterday's associates. He left the Mapai party and called under his banner for the people close to him. Peres did not hesitate to leave the post of deputy defense minister, and went for his teacher and idol into the wilderness of political opposition. Along with Ben-Gurion, he created a new RAFI movement "Work list of Israel," in July 1965 was elected its secretary. "I was sitting in a small room without air conditioning, - said Peres. –I was engaged in organizational issues, propaganda, and fundraising. And just six months ago, I ruled the apparatus of the Ministry of Defense."

After the "Six Day War" (June 1967), RAFI, Mapai, and Ahdut ha-Oved united in the Party of Labor of Israel (Labor). Peres was elected one of the two secretaries.

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after the elections in 1969, Peres became a member of the government. Temporarily, he was appointed Minister for Immigration device, and since September 1970 - Minister of Communications. In this position, he has taken steps to improve the lines of communication, especially radio and telephone. Signed an agreement on Israel's accession to the satellite. But despite all his efforts, delivery of letters from one city to another was poor and took more time than during the period of Turkish rule in Palestine.

* * *

Peres became a truly great politician after shocks of Yom Kippur War (October 1973), when he returned to the Ministry of Defense, but now as a minister. Ironically, those who nominated him for the post, was his long-term rival Yitzhak Rabin, then head of the government. Subsequently cooperation with Rabin morphed into secret enmity and mutual suspicion.

As defense minister, Peres was one of the organizers of the famous "Entebbe Operation." 27 June 1976 Palestinian and German terrorists hijacked passenger aircraft "Air France" and put him in Uganda in Entebbe airport. The kidnappers held humiliating passengers selection procedure, separated Israelis and Jews from other nationalities, and announced that they would kill them if Israel does not release 53 terrorists.

The Israeli government made an unprecedented decision and agreed to negotiate. Only Defense Minister was against it. Peres suggested a military operation, and it ended very successfully.

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In 1976, when an Israeli journalist revealed the story of the dollar account of wife of the Prime Minister (there were very strict regulations concerning the storage of currency abroad), Yitzhak Rabin announced his resignation. Peres was performing the obligations of the head of the government. He became the leader of the Labor Party, and topped the list for the next elections. It seemed that there were no barriers to get the top position.

And then, in May 1977, the first "coup" took place in the history of Israel. The unit of right-wing parties "Likud" came to power, led by Menachem Begin. Discredit campaign that leaders of the "Likud" waged against Peres, touched the party: it was accused in isolation from the people, elitism, and outdated ideas.

Peres showed him as a politician and leader. Gradually, the party came to life. But it was a process that required time. Peres also led the opposition in the Knesset. Along with the political activity in Israel, he became widely known abroad. In 1978, he was elected deputy chairperson of the Socialist International.

Nevertheless, Prime Minister Menachem Begin, still possessed the magical power of influencing the masses, and the Labor Party has not yet been a return to power after the elections to the Knesset of 10-th convocation in 1981.

Still, parliament representation of the party led by Peres has significantly increased - from 32 to 47 seats. "Likud" has got one mandate. This allowed the right block with the support of the religious parties to form a government, whose policies have led to an economic crisis and dragged Israel into an unpopular war in Lebanon.

But then the situation began to change. The sad results of the war in Lebanon, a dizzying inflation and the resignation of Begin - all this was tipping the scales in favor of the Labor Party. And in September 1984, Peres finally won the coveted chair in which there were Ben-Gurion, Sharett, Eshkol, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin, and Shamir.

The  early elections of that year have not been successful to any of the blocks. They created a coalition government based on a rotation principle: the first two-year Shimon Peres led the body, and then his political antipode and leader of the "Likud" Yitzhak Shamir served as deputy prime minister and foreign minister.

However, in a short period of tenure Peres managed to implement a number of "maneuvers" to tidy up "debris" left as a legacy of his predecessor Shamir. The withdrawal of army from Lebanon contributed to the pacification of the country. Hard economic measures stopped inflation. America once again started to generously give money, and some countries in Africa and Eastern European countries re-established diplomatic relations with Israel.

Perez was an intellectual, and his popularity among writers and artists also contributed to the creation of the country's public opinion favorable to the government. However, in fairness it should be noted that Peres was lucky for happy coincidence. The decline in oil prices on the world markets, the fall of the dollar, the Iran-Iraq war - all this turned out to be lucky for the Prime Minister. On the other hand, in the two years of his stay in power the US government showed a surprising indifference to the problem of peace in the Middle East. This cannot be called success.


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Agreement on rotation did not allow Peres to keep the wheel of the Board for four years. But during those two years he managed to do more than another prime minister would not be able to commit for a full term. Peres proved himself as a tireless, dynamic figure, clearly proving that he is the national leader, capable of solving the most painful and difficult problems.

Even people of the right beliefs acknowledged that Perez was an excellent head of government. Maybe the best in the history of Israel. But only much later public appreciated what he made. He has always seen further.

 * * *

In the elections of 1988, the Labor Party was very close to victory. And, presumably, he would have won it if not for the unfortunate event - a terrorist attack two weeks before the election, in which a woman with small children was burned alive.

In Israel, terrorist attacks caused a surge of support for right-wing parties. Labor party had two or three seats less than the "Likud." Government of National Unity was formed again. Shamir became Prime Minister, and Peres his deputy and Minister of Finance.

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After this defeat, a wave of accusations struck once again. Opponents said: "Yes, Perez is an outstanding leader of a politician large scale, but he is unfortunate... He cannot win the election." Even his supporters have become more prominent, that "while Peres remains the head of the party, we cannot win," that only Rabin "may return the Labor Party to power."

Rabin was not long in coming: he immediately announced his candidacy to the internal party elections and won. The party, which Peres raised from ruins and breathed life into it, betrayed him. But Peres felt that he and his baggage of experience and creative forces can be helpful to Israel. He managed to turn the former hostility between him and Rabin in an honest and open cooperation, even in friendship.

In 1990, when the "Likud" torpedoed the opportunity to start negotiations with the Palestinians brokered by the United States, the Labor Party withdrew from the government.

Shortly before the 1992 elections, Rabin asked Peres: “How did it turn out, that the rights managed to provoke people against you?”

“Now you go first, - Peres warned, - you still see what they do to you.”

In saying this, Peres, by his own admission, was referring to defamation, harassment, but not murder. Alas, the reality was more brutal.

Labor won. In the Rabin government, Peres took the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs.

With his active participation in 1993, agreements with the PLO were signed. A new era has come at the Middle East: there was a hope to resolve the seemingly intractable conflict. Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan, conducted negotiations with Syria, greatly improved relations with the other Arab states.

Shimon Peres, as Yitzhak Rabin, won the Nobel Peace Prize for 1994.

* * *

In November 1995, after the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, Peres led the cabinet and became a candidate of the Labor Party in the first direct elections. History has given him another chance: the death of his predecessor returned the sympathy of the people and the opposition, cornered by mass hysteria, did not dare look up.

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One year was left before the elections. But Peres, trying to use the situation, decided to hold them early. He confidently lead in opinion polls, and, apparently, had all chances for the victory. Therefore, on the night of vote counting he just went to bed in order to wake up in fame. Suddenly, the Likud candidate Benjamin Netanyahu won. The sharp change in public opinion was caused by terrorist acts organized by the Palestinian Islamist groups on 3 and 4 March 1996, shortly before the election. Labor Party has traditionally stood for territorial concessions to the Palestinians, but because of the resumption of terrorist attacks, this concept was now no longer relevant.

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In June 1997, Peres resigned as leader of the Labor Party, giving way to Ehud Barak, but remained the MP of Knesset and a member of the Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs and Defense. In May 1999, he was re-elected to Parliament.

He then served as Minister of regional cooperation in the Barak government, Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Sharon government. In January 2005, after long internal party disputes, Labor joined the coalition government of Sharon, fully supporting the decision of the Prime Minister of Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Peres has been criticized for supporting the unilateral disengagement plan from the Gaza Strip.

In November 2005, Peres again lost party elections to unionist Amir Peretz. Then he joined the Kadima party and got into second place of its pre-election list after Ehud Olmert. In April 2006, he was elected to the Knesset of the 17th convocation. he served as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Development of the Negev and Galilee during Olmert government (formed in May 2006).

However, in Israel, Peres entrenched behind the image of "constantly losing politician." He repeatedly confirmed the reputation of a "lucky loser" and was insulting nickname "eternal second" due to the fact that many times he missed the opportunity to take the seat, but always remained in politics.

However, in 2007, the fortune still smiled to Peres. In 2000, Peres was considered the most likely candidate for president, but the presidential elections held on July 31, he gave way to the candidate of the Likud, Moshe Katsav. Media called Peres a possible successor in the event of resignation.

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June 13, 2007 Peres was elected President of Israel. However, in the first round of the election, he received 58 of 120 votes. Only in the second round after Reuven Rivlin of the Likud and Colette Avital of Labor withdrew and refused to continue the struggle for the presidency. 86 Knesset members voted for Peres.

* * *

Peres has spent thirty years of his life to ascend to the top of the political and state pyramid. He had to wage fierce battles in his own party. However, this struggle has tempered him made invulnerable to personal attacks and insults. In clashes with opponents, he proved that he is a man, a perfect command of not giving vent to emotions, anger or hurt pride, never showing their superiority.

"When I created the nuclear reactor in Dimona, I was called a quack. When I laid the foundations of the aviation industry, very reputable people said that I trade white elephants. When I bought weapons in France, some of our politicians demanded that I stop fooling. Today, I do not care what they say about me I know my task and fulfill it to the end," said Peres.

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Peres was called a man from the future. He said that Israel still cannot understand him. However, it should be noted the openness of Shimon Peres and his progressiveness. He starred in funny movie, but was a philosopher at the same time. When Peres was 85 years old, he wrote a poem about the world and sent them to one of the portals of poetry. Someone wrote the music – this is how a prayer for peace was born, performed by the famous Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli. In Kyiv, in 2015 he delivered a powerful speech. He spoke of laziness, courage and audacity of hope. He told his story, which is beyond the power of anyone to repeat.

Ask me, am I an optimist or a pessimist. My answer: the optimists and pessimists die the same way, and live differently. And if I can offer people something, I would suggest to live as optimists.

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