For more than 20 years since I started working with Shimon Peres, I have
developed a kind of cynicism to cope with the seriousness of the man, with the
almost impossible situations he knows how to escape from, with the high peaks of
his career, with the abysses we fell into; and especially with the boundless
optimism that he exudes at all times and under all circumstances.
cynicism, it seems to me, was constructed by my psyche to complete, balance and
be employed as the devil’s advocate against his creative innocence.
Wednesday at the White House, I was freed for the first time of this inherent
The moment of liberation occurred when I saw the president of
the world’s sole superpower, Barack Obama, hand the highest US award, the
Presidential Medal of Freedom, to the president of the Jewish state, once a
little boy who left his grandfather’s tallit in Vishneva, which today is in
Belarus; the young man who led the pro-Ben-Gurion revolution in the Noar Ha’oved
youth movement; the kibbutz member who later led the construction of Israel’s
defense forces, Israel Aerospace Industries, Israel Military Industries, the
nuclear reactor in Dimona, and the IDF’s rehabilitation after the Yom Kippur
I watched the ceremony, filled with pride in the man who built the
Good Fence along the border with Lebanon, the leader who during his tenure as
prime minister saved the State of Israel from economic collapse, and in my
opinion, managed to reduce inflation that was over 600 percent to tolerable
rates, the prime minister who for the first time withdrew IDF troops from
Lebanon in 1985.
It was he who removed a cloud over Israeli-Egyptian
relations by solving the Taba crisis. I watched as he, together with Yitzhak
Rabin, laid the foundation for a peace treaty with Egypt in the form of an
interim agreement. I watched as he served as a senior partner in the peace
treaty with Jordan and the architect of a future peace agreement with the
During his tenure as prime minister (after Rabin’s
assassination), mutual visits as well as economic and cultural cooperation
between Israel and countries such as Qatar, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Morocco, Tunis
and Mauritania become everyday occurrences – and, therefore, no longer
During Wednesday’s ceremony, while Obama gave a long speech
praising Peres, I remembered different moments in my work with him, and one in
particular came to mind.
It was when he was foreign minister and appeared
before the Council of Europe’s foreign ministers in Brussels, speaking after an
exceptionally harsh address against Israel by the foreign minister of
In her speech, there was not a crime Israel wasn’t blamed for:
oppression, discrimination, war-mongering, excessive use of force and even war
crimes. I watched Peres. He didn’t move as he heard these outrageous
accusations, and his speech opened with a question to all the foreign ministers
Peres said that he had acquired a lot of experience with foreign
policy but could not fathom Sweden’s policy. Could they? Then, he reminded his
audience, when the world witnessed the slaughter of six million Jews and 30
million others during World War II, Sweden – yes, the same Sweden that now
preaches morality to Israel, chose to be neutral.
“Can someone in this
hall explain to me this policy?” he asked. At this point, Peres turned to each
of the foreign ministers personally and asked: “Perhaps your excellency can
decipher the code of this neutrality for me? How could anyone be neutral against
the Nazis?” You could cut the air with a knife. The shocked ministers nodded
soberly in agreement with Peres. The Swedish minister, young and pretty, shrank
in her chair.
After the Israeli foreign minister stepped down, the
discussion turned to other matters, and Israel, for a while, was off the
I recalled this incident and many others while I
witnessed the White House ceremony, causing me to feel pride rather than my
usual, old cynicism. My normal pessimism was replaced by Peres’s famous
optimism. I realized that the story of the boy who moved from a wooden hut in
Vishneva to the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, a shepherd on the hills
above Lake Kinneret who became the revered leader of a global hi-tech superpower
was why Peres won this medal.
It is actually the story of the State of
Democratic Israel, independent Israel, a Jewish state that
strives for peace with its Arab neighbors.
On my way home to Israel, I
thought to myself that it would be a good idea if each and every one of us would
let go – even for a moment – of the cynicism that surrounds us, and become
Shimon Peres, if only for a day.
The writer is a senior strategic adviser
to President Shimon Peres.