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A Contradiction Until the End

Binyamin Rose and Sarah Pardes

Serving in the Knesset for 48 years and holding every top cabinet post yet never winning an election, Shimon Peres was a profile in paradox

Thursday, October 06, 2016

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THE UNEXPECTED Serving in the Knesset for 48 years and holding every top cabinet post yet never winning an election, originally a hawk yet morphing into the icon of the Israeli left, Peres defied expectations (Photos: Flash90, GPO)

S himon Peres was a study in complexity and contradiction. He grew up in an Orthodox family in Europe, became a secular Zionist, yet spearheaded and defended the policy of IDF draft exemptions for Torah scholars.

Shimon Peres fathered Israel’s nuclear program in the 1950s, accidentally authored the term “nuclear ambiguity” in the 1960s, and proactively supported Israeli settlement activity in the 1970s and ’80s on land Israel captured during the Six Day War.

By the 1990s, he had changed his tune, humming bars of Yitzhak Rabin’s famous peace song, committing Israel to the Oslo Accords and withdrawal from those very lands. In the process, he won a Nobel Peace Prize, became the icon of the Israeli left, the darling of the international community, and the goat of the Israeli right, who blame him for the bloodshed that stemmed from allowing PLO terrorists to establish an entity in Israel’s biblical heartland.

One more paradox for the records: Shimon Peres, the dyed-in-the-wool socialist, devised the harsh economic austerity program credited for salvaging Israel’s broken economy after its bank collapse of 1985 and ushering it into the modern Start-Up Nation era.

Peres set a record with 48 consecutive years of Knesset service. He served two short stints as an unelected prime minister, and held every top cabinet post, including defense, finance, and the foreign ministry. But despite the accolades he earned from the international community for his promotion of the peace process and other pet liberal causes, he never won the full confidence of the Israeli electorate, failing every time he ran for prime minister.

One could argue his quantum shifts are par for the course for the expedient politician. But Peres would never admit to falling into the expedience trap. He could glibly and cleverly demonstrate the sequential linkage between two seemingly opposite policies, or advocate for his own consistency.

RESPECT FOR THE RABBINATE “There’s no place for cynicism or scorn toward the religious or chareidim.” Peres always maintained good relations with the chief rabbinate, and was especially close with Rav Ovadiah Yosef

"Someone once asked me why I built Dimona, and I answered, in order to get to Oslo,” Peres told Mishpacha’s Aryeh Ehrlich in an interview two years ago, just after he stepped down as Israel’s ninth president — the last public office he held.

Peres could likewise support settlers in one decade and their eviction in another. “I understand them,” he told Ehrlich. “I would be with them if not for the fact that we have enemies. My problem is not with settlers who love the land. It is better to divide up the country than to finish off the state"

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