Shimon Peres: 1923-2016
Peres held some diplomatic and military positions during and after Israel’s War of Independence. His first major position was as Deputy-Director General of Defence in 1953 till 1959. In his career, he represented five political parties in the Knesset Mapai, Rafi, the Alignment, Labour and Kadima; he led the Alignment and Labour. Peres won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize as Israeli foreign minister along with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. It was for the peace talks he participated in producing the Oslo Peace Accords.
Peres was nominated in 2007 by Kadima for the presidential election, and was elected by the Knesset to the presidency in June 2007. Peres was the first former prime minister to be elected president of Israel. By the time of retirement in 2014, he was the world’s oldest head of state. He died near Tel Aviv on September 28, 2016 following a massive stroke.
Peres was born in Poland now Vishnyeva, Belarus to Yitzhak(1896-1962) and Sara (1905-1969 nee Meltzer) Perski. The family spoke Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian at home, Peres learned Polish, English and French at school. His father was a timber merchant while his mother was a librarian. He had a younger brother, Gershon. Peres learned the Talmud, the Jewish holy book under his grandfather Rabbi Zvi Meltzer.
In 1932, Peres’ father emigrated to British Palestine, settling at Tel Aviv. The family followed him in 1934. Peres attended Balfour Elementary School, Balfour High School and a College of Commerce in Tel Aviv. At 15, he transferred to Ben Shemen Agricultural School. In 1941, he was elected Secretary of a Zionist Youth Movement and in 1944 he returned to Alumot where he worked as a dairy farmer and shepherd. At age 20, he was elected to the national secretariat of the Mapai party. Later, the leader of Mapai David Ben-Gurion appointed him into the Mapai Council.
In 1941, all of Peres’ relatives remaining in Poland were murdered during the Holocaust, many of them including Rabbi Meltzer were burned alive in their synagogues. In 1945, Peres married Sonya Gelman. They had a daughter, Dr Tsiki Walden, a professor of languages; an elder son Yoni, a veterinary doctor and a younger son Chemi Peres, co-founder and managing partner, Pitango Venture Capital, one of Israel’s largest venture capital funds. Chemi is a former helicopter pilot in Israel Air Force.
In 1947, Peres joined the Haganah, the predecessor of Israel Defence Forces. Ben-Gurion made him head of personnel and arms purchases. He was promoted head of the Navy when Israel received independence in 1948. As head of the Israeli delegation to the United States in the 1950s, Peres studied Economics and philosophy at the New School, New York University and management at Harvard University. In 1952 at 29 years, Peres had become the director of the ministry of defence. He was the youngest person to hold such office at that time. In that capacity, he secured an alliance with France, securing massive arms that tipped the balance of power in the Mid East.
Due to Peres’ mediation, Israel acquired advanced French jet fighters, established a nuclear reactor and entered into a tripartite agreement with France and Britain positioning Israel advantageously for the 1956 Suez Crisis. Peres planned the Suez war with Britain and France. By 1955, France was shipping large cargoes of weapons to Israel. Astute diplomacy earned Peres the French Legion of Honour. In their alliance against Egypt, they invaded Sinai; successfully attained their objective. But hostility to seizure of the Suez Canal from the U.S. and the USSR forced them to withdraw, stopping them from control of the Canal.
When Peres was elected to the Knesset in 1959, he was made Deputy Defence Minister. In 1965, Peres, Moshe Dayan left Mapai with Ben-Gurion to form Rafi Party which later reconciled with Mapai to form the left leaning alliance. By 1974, after serving as minister of information, Peres became minister of Defence with Yitzhak Rabin as premier having been Rabin’s rival for the post after Golda Meir resigned in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war.
Peres succeeded Rabin as Labour party leader in 1977 after Rabin resigned over a foreign exchange scandal. Peres lost the subsequent election but returned as premier after an alliance with Likud in1984. Yitzhak Shamir replaced him as premier in 1986. Peres served as Rabin’s foreign minister from 1992, sharing the Nobel Peace Prize with Rabin and Arafat. After Rabin’s assassination in 1995, Peres was acting premier and minister of defence, winning the 1996 election to retain the premiership.
For his political views, Peres was once considered a hawk but later a dove, supporting a two state solution to the Middle East crisis. Shimon Peres authored 11 books, three of which were best sellers. Many world leaders attended his funeral, including President Barack Obama of the United States.