peretz headshot 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Amir Peretz was born on March 9, 1952 in Boujad, Morocco, where his father was head of the Jewish community and owned a petrol station. In 1956 his family immigrated to Israel and settled in Sderot, a town in the western Negev.
In 1973 he was badly wounded in the Yom Kippur War and spent a year in the hospital recovering. Upon his release, still confined to a wheelchair, he bought a farm in Nir Akiva and began growing flowers and vegetables for export.
Ten years later Peretz became mayor of Sderot, ending a long period of Likud dominance over the town's politics. He strongly emphasized education and worked to improve Sderot's sometimes-stormy relations with surrounding kibbutzim.
Peretz was elected to the Knesset in 1982 for what was to be the first of five consecutive terms. Many of the committees that he served in over the years were socially-minded, including committees on labor and welfare, social justice, women's affairs, and foreign workers.
In 1994 he teamed up with Haim Ramon to run for leadership of the Histadrut, which is a federation of trade unions. They scored a victory against Labor leader Yitzhak Rabin, and Peretz became Ramon's deputy at the Histadrut. Their opposition to Rabin isolated them within the Labor party. One year later, Peretz became chairman of the Histadrut following Ramon's appointment to the post-Rabin government.
As head of the Histadrut, Peretz was a somewhat loose cannon when it came to calling strikes, leaving many with the impression that he used his power over the economy as political leverage in the Knesset. In 2003, a general strike encompassing 700,000 employees was called in response to Netanyahu's austerity measures to improve the economy, which was then in the midst of a deep recession. A port workers' strike in 2004 cost the country $3 billion and crippled Israeli industry by shutting down the flow of raw materials for manufacture. This, along with his love of rhetoric, has made him a love-or-hate figure in Israeli politics.
Peretz resigned from Labor in 1999 to form his own party, Am Ehad ("One Nation"), which won two Knesset seats in 1999 and three in 2003. During this time he became increasingly popular among the working class, and in the summer of 2004 Am Ehad merged with Labor after lengthy negotiations.
In the summer of 2005 Peretz was elected chairman of the Labor party by defeating Shimon Peres. His surprising victory sent shock waves across the political spectrum. Labor stands to be one of the top three winners in 2006 elections, along with Likud and Sharon's Kadima.
Peretz believes that the ongoing Israeli-Arab conflict is the biggest obstacle standing in the way of social justice. Throughout his career, his main agenda has been social justice and solving the growing problem of economic inequality in Israel, which has led many to wonder about his ability to handle the country's security situation.
Compiled by Joseph Flesh
Sources: Jerusalem Post archives, Knesset web site and Wikipedia.
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