Shimon Peres Dies at 93

YERUSHALAYIM -
Shimon Peres. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters/Files)
Shimon Peres. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters/Files)

On September 28, 25 Elul, Shimon Peres passed away.

Peres, 93, who had served as prime minister and in various ministerial capacities in successive administrations, recorded a range of achievements in the areas of defense, economy and social justice in the country.

Peres fought for his life during his final weeks after a serious stroke, but on Tuesday his medical condition deteriorated dramatically, organs failed, and family members and close friends were summoned to his bedside at Tel Hashomer hospital to bid him farewell.

Peres, a key figure in Israel’s founding generation, was at the center of the state’s development in the 68 years since its inception. He served in a dozen cabinets and twice as prime minister, even though he never won a general election outright in five tries from 1977 to 1996.

He later served as president, a largely ceremonial role in Israel, from 2007–2014, before leaving government.

When Rabin was assassinated in November 1995, Peres became prime minister. He then lost the 1996 election to Netanyahu by a razor-thin margin.

Shimon Peres was born Shimon Perski on August 2, 1923, in Wiszniew, Poland (now Vishnyeva, Belarus). Only after he came to Israel and embarked on a public career did he change his name to Peres.

During his childhood he would accompany his father, a timber merchant, on visits to Gedolei Yisrael, where he would ask them for a blessing of long life for his son. They did so, and the blessings were fulfilled, as he reached the age of 93, fully and remarkably active until almost the very end.

In 1934, he arrived in Israel with his family. During the years of the British Mandate and then during the War for Independence, Peres was very active in obtaining weapons and other military equipment for the Haganah.

In 1952, he was appointed deputy director-general of the Ministry of Defense, and the following year, he became director-general. At age 29, he was the youngest person to hold this position. He was involved in arms purchases and establishing strategic alliances that were important for the state. He was instrumental in establishing close relations with France, securing massive amounts of quality arms that, in turn, helped to tip the balance of power in the region.

During these years, Peres worked intensively behind the scenes to establish Israel’s nuclear program and the infrastructure for the country’s defense industry.

At the end of the 1950s he entered the Knesset for the first time on the Mapai party list and served as deputy minister of defense. In that capacity, he began his struggle of many years in support of the Torah community to block the repeated attempts of the left wing within his own party to dismantle the status quo.

Peres often declared that no yeshivah bachur would ever be forced into the army. He reiterated his position numerous times in recent years, including when he served as president, at a time when the political configuration had changed and there was a concerted effort to overturn the status quo and revoke military deferments for yeshivah bachurim.

Though he was of the political left, he never took part in the waves of anti-religious animosity that burst forth from his political home.

To the contrary, Peres is credited with blocking numerous attempts by his political comrades to change the status quo, and stood by the Torah community in its steadfast efforts to maintain the Jewish character of the state.

Shimon Peres frequently visited the homes of the Gedolei Yisrael, and became close to the Rishon Letzion, Hagaon Harav Ovadia Yosef, zt”l, and other Gedolim.

However, his long career also included actions that were deeply painful to Torah Jewry. Ignoring the anguished pleas of Gedolei Yisrael and the vehement protests of tens of thousands, as prime minster he allowed the construction of a Mormon university on Har Hatzofim.

In 1994, speaking in the Knesset, Peres made a comment that the Gedolei Yisrael deemed so disrespectful that they instructed that the following Shabbos a public condemnation should be announced in shuls throughout Eretz Yisrael.

Peres and Moshe Dayan left Mapai with David Ben Gurion to form a new party, Rafi. After two years, however, he became a founding member of the Labor party.

He experienced setbacks in politics in his later years, losing his bid for prime minister to Yitzchak Rabin in 1992. Peres succeeded Rabin as party leader after Rabin was forced to resign in a foreign currency scandal, but he subsequently lost in elections to Menachem Begin in 1977 and 1981.

However, Peres was not one to give up. In 1984, he served in a rotation as prime minister, taking turns with Yitzchak Shamir, Begin’s successor as head of the Likud.

During this period, he had some success in curbing a high rate of inflation and stabilizing the border with Lebanon.

Peres played a key role in attaining the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, and shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with then-Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, although his vision of a “new Middle East” has yet to materialize.

After Rabin was elected prime minister in 1992, Peres was appointed foreign minister. As such, he worked to open a dialogue with the Palestinians, which led to the Oslo Accords, a contentious issue to the present day.

In his last years, Peres realized that the Oslo Accords had not fulfilled his hopes, and he would explain that it was only meant to be a first phase in the peace process; but from the moment it failed to have continuity it lost all meaning, according to his original conception.

In the wake of the assassination of Rabin, Peres stepped in as prime minister. However, in the next elections, he was defeated by a narrow margin by Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu.

In 2000, Peres was the favorite for the office of president, but unexpectedly lost the election. Peres was again appointed foreign minister in the government formed by Ariel Sharon a year later.

In 2007, Peres finally succeeded in being chosen as president of the state of Israel.

His seven years as president were his most successful in politics, during which he attained legitimacy among the broad spectrum of Israelis. He also made numerous trips abroad, visiting with world leaders, made many speeches and won friends even in places where he and his idea had been fought against in former years.