amir peretz 298 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
When Ariel Sharon was defense minister, Amir Peretz was a leading activist organizing Peace Now demonstrations in which Sharon was called a "murderer" for allowing Lebanese civilians to get killed in the Lebanon War.
On Saturday night, Peretz came full circle when a small group of extreme left-wingers called him a "murderer" at a demonstration in Tel Aviv.
"Peretz, Peretz, defense minister, how many children did you murder today?" the demonstrators chanted, rhyming in Hebrew, as they walked down a major Tel Aviv thoroughfare.
People who worked with Sharon when he was defense minister said that he never forgot the people who called him a murderer and that in closed circles, he referred to them as "the vampires who are sucking my blood."
The people closest to Peretz said there was no doubt that enduring such epithets was hard on him, but that he was glad to see that such demonstrations had failed to attract support.
They said that during his short tenure as defense minister, Peretz had endured demonstrations against him for failing to respond sufficiently to rocket attacks on his hometown of Sderot and for responding too harshly to Katyushas in the North, and that he remained emotionally unscathed.
"He is at peace with himself because he knows he wasn't quick on the trigger," his closest adviser, Rachel Turgeman, told The Jerusalem Post.
"Yitzhak Rabin was called a murderer and he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Apparently, an Israeli leader who wants to reach peace has to endure horrible epithets along the way. With Rabin we saw where [the epithets] led. After the war is over, Amir will make an effort to reach peace with Lebanon and with the Palestinians," she said.
Turgeman said Peretz had ordered the IDF to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties. She said that one of the reasons that Peretz took the job of defense minister was because he wanted to make the IDF more sensitive to human rights.
"He didn't become defense minister to run a war - he took the job because he wanted to help bring peace," Turgeman said.
Former MK Uzi Baram, who serves as a strategic adviser to Peretz, said the defense minister would become more effected by the demonstrations if they started attracting a wider following. He said Peretz had been encouraged by the fact that his friends among the organizers of the demonstrations against Sharon now supported Peretz's policies.
"Being called a murderer is a moral blow and it hurts him because his own political outlook is very Left," Baram said. "But it will hurt him much more if the demonstrations become a consensus on the Left."
Baram said Peretz had told friends on the Left that the attacks by Hizbullah and Hamas on Israeli soil have harmed the Left's cause because they have made the public more skeptical about future withdrawals.
Uri Dan, who served as Sharon's media adviser during the Lebanon War, said the protest on Saturday night could not compare to the mass demonstrations against Sharon that led to the Kahan Commission removing him from office in 1983. He said he wished Sharon had been granted the same leeway when he was defense minister that Peretz was being given now.
"All the politicians, from Peres to Peretz, should go to Sheba Hospital and ask for forgiveness from Ariel Sharon," Dan said. "Now we are killing civilians and no one has a problem with it. But back then, when the Phalangists in Lebanon were doing the killing, they took away Sharon, Israel's most skilled commander, in the middle of a mission he should have been allowed to complete."