Peres's metaphysical propensity to lose

By MATTHEW WAGNER
November 10, 2005 23:52
3 minute read.

Shimon Peres's defeat, again, this time at the hands of Amir Peretz, was so dumbfounding and astonishingly unexpected that some people with a religious bent are turning to metaphysics to make sense of it. "The previous Gerrer rebbe, Rabbi Simcha Bunim Alter, vowed that Shimon Peres would never be elected prime minister," said Ishai Weiner, a veteran haredi journalist. A longtime student at the Ponevezh Yeshiva had another explanation: "Rabbi [Elazar Menahem Man] got angry at Peres because he acted like a traitor before the goyim after the Sabra and Shatila massacre. As a result, Peres has been a loser ever since." One rumor has it that Rabbi Yisrael Ya'acov Fisher, former head of the Edah Haharedit Rabbinical Court, basing himself on Kabbala, said that someone with the name Shimon Peres is destined to fail. Peres's predicament highlights an important aspect of human nature - the inherent need to make sense of our surroundings. A failure to do so creates dissonance. "It is a human trait to interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices," Joan Didion wrote. "We tell ourselves stories to live. We live entirely... by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images." In Peres's case, the disparate images are the Geocartography poll, the Teleseker poll, the Dahaf Institute poll and the Ma'agar Muhot poll that had him outstripping Peretz by between 9 percent and 28% just days before the vote. But the results were Peretz 42.35%, Peres 40%. How do people resolve these disparate images? How do they impose a narrative? Some confine themselves to rational political analysis. Peres lost because he did not campaign hard enough, so his supporters did not show up. Peretz ran aggressively. He mustered a mass of support where it counts - at the polling booths. The pollsters failed to detect Peres's imminent loss because either they screwed up or people lied. In contrast, people with a more faith-based orientation turn to less conventional explanations. A curse, evil eye or the anger of a holy man are cited as the causes of Peres's downfall, not just in this election but ever since he lost against Yitzhak Rabin in the race for the Labor Party chairmanship in 1974. In Peres's case, it is unclear which approach demands a more extreme leap of faith, the "rational" political analysis or metaphysics. "There is no rational explanation for that man's propensity to lose," said one haredi political journalist. "Time after time, no matter how good are his chances, he comes out on the bottom. He must be cursed or something." On the Hyde Park Internet Forum's haredi chatroom several stories have been floated since Peres's loss became known early Thursday morning. The story about the Gerrer rebbe is the most detailed. In 1981, while Peres headed the opposition, Alter, who became rebbe in 1977, met Peres to discuss a pro-abortion bill. He asked Peres to allow Labor MKs to vote their conscience. Peres promised, but, goes the story, he reneged. "He allowed babies to fall out of their mothers' wombs," Alter purportedly said. "So he will fall every time he tries to get elected." True, this story does not explain Peres's losses before 1981. But it does answer part of the conundrum, if you believe in the powers of a righteous man. Still, many haredim view Peres in a favorable light. Noted one haredi journalist approvingly, "Together with [David] Ben-Gurion, he arranged exemptions from army service for yeshiva students."


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