(photo credit: REUTERS)
President Reuven Rivlin spoke for most of the nation on Tuesday night when he said: “I am following with concern the updates from the hospital, and pray together with the entire people for my friend Shimon’s recovery.”
Similar wishes were expressed by politicians across the ideological spectrum, reacting with simple human compassion to the severe illness of Shimon Peres, who has helped lead the country since he was David Ben-Gurion’s right-hand man. Among the many official roles he went on to play was the unique achievement of serving as both prime minister and president of the state.
Family members cling to hope for his recovery, noting that Peres’s personal physician, Dr. Rafi Walden, said that during the night he had been responsive and squeezed their hands.
“I’m listening to people on the radio and it sounds like a eulogy,” son Chemi Peres added. “It’s too early for that.
We are in the beginning of a battle. We won’t give up and we will continue to believe.”
“Peres is like the mythical phoenix. He fell down 20 times, and every time he got up and resurrected himself,” former MK Michael Bar-Zohar, Peres’s official biographer, told Channel 10.
But amid all the expected good wishes, social media also carried an outpouring of meanness, loathing and mindless hatred toward the great leader, including a wish that he should “die a painless death so that he can rot in hell.”
The psychological term schadenfreude refers to a feeling of pleasure that some people have when bad things happen to someone else; in other words taking delight in another person’s misfortune. While it is a relatively modern term, it is inexorably linked to the concept of mindless hatred that is associated with the destruction of the Temples and countless misfortunes of the Jewish people.
Since Peres’s stroke, social media have been deluged with messages of clueless, gloating opprobrium.
Perhaps the worst expressions came from those who prematurely supposed that Peres had died: “Ding dong the witch is dead”: “Too late to make anyone happy”: “My mind is badly infected with hatred toward everyone who hurts Israel.”
The conspiracy theorists are well represented: “This man with his giving away our land to our enemies, and with his supplying them with weapons, has caused the MURDER of 23 of my friends and neighbors, 19 widows and 89 orphans. May his name rot.” One of Peres’s alleged victims “was one of the few people who could tie Peres to Avishai Raviv” and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
“Dear Mr. Peres: Although you have done much good, you have also done more than enough evil to fill a thousand lifetimes, and you only seem to want to do more.
Please leave us alone so that Am Israel can breathe again.”
The longest serving of all of Israel’s leaders, Peres completed his seven-year term as president just two weeks shy of his 91st birthday, but he never retired, representing Israel as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and establishing the Peres Center for Peace. His career mirrors the course of Israeli history since before the state was created.
One of the founders of the Labor-Zionist Youth Movement, he was a member of the Hagana during the pre-state period and became director-general of the Defense Ministry at age 29. He served as a member of the Knesset from 1959 to 2007, much of it as chairman of the Labor Party.
His government appointments included two terms as prime minister and variously as minister of Immigrant Absorption, Transportation, Information, Defense, Communications, Internal Affairs, Religious Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Finance and Regional Cooperation.
It is reassuring that among the attacks on Peres there were several comments that expressed better judgment.
One example: “Those of us who love Israel will never all agree on what’s good for the country or terrible for it, but let’s at least agree that wishing each other death or harm is way over the line. Otherwise we’ll spend more time on infighting than on our actual enemies.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on Twitter that he and the entire people of Israel love Peres and hope he has a complete recovery.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog wrote on Twitter that he hopes Peres recovers quickly and will soon “resume making his clear, smart and enlightened voice heard.”
It is a sentiment that we wholeheartedly agree with.