Normally, I would not raise a big stink about Shimon Peres’s 90th birthday bash.
When it comes to birthdays, I salute that great Western Jewish tradition that loves to celebrate at least twice a year by the Jewish lunar date AND the Western calendar.
Whether you go from right to left or left to right, we can use a little more joy in our life. This is especially true when marking the birth of a person of great age and deeds.
Yet, the Peres festivities are not just a personal party but a national and even international series of events for Israel’s president. They are annoying for several reasons:
- They display a level hero-worship. A fair accounting of achievements and failures is deliberately ignored. The festivities even attempt to re-write history in order to sway Israeli opinion by claiming Peres and his policies were a complete success.
- They involve much toadying to foreign personalities some of whom were involved and may still be involved in affairs that were either immoral and/or hurt Israel (Peres’s employer). PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas is still working hard for Israel’s isolation and destruction. Bill Clinton, who has gotten much questionable money in his life, is getting more money to appear at the birthday. President Clinton once called Yitzhak Rabin his haver, his friend. Real friends do not need to be paid to come to the party, haver.
- The parties will cost Israeli tax payers many shekels in unnecessary costs.
President Peres is not King-For-A-Day, the Queen of England or Cinderella. Having Barbra Streisand come and sing is great, but Peres does not need to be driven around in a magical pumpkin drawn by flying horses (not really !!) or flown over fields whose wheat has been cut to form his facial features ( really !!).
It is fair to give the man a good time and recognize his achievements, which include:
- Helping to build Israel’s defense ministry and the atomic reactor in the early 1950â€²s, while serving as the aide to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion (who had the ideas and deserves the real credit);
- Pushing then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to send forces on the Entebbe rescue mission in 1976;
- Working to steady Israel’s inflation-strapped economy in 1984
- And, generally, a life-time of service to his country in many positions.
It is also right to recall some of the memorable failures and lapses in the Peres career:
- Aside from Ariel Sharon, Peres has been the most singularly ambitious politician in Israel’s history, showing what Plato called the “appetitive instinct.” Yitzhak Rabin once said that one difference between himself and Peres was that for Rabin (and, we may say, also Shamir, Begin, Meir, Eshkol) being prime minister was ”optsia”-an option, while for Peres it was “obsessiya”- an obsession.
Like Sharon, Peres went to great and immoral lengths to get partisan or personal success. Some of these episodes (such as the so-called Lavon Affair or “ha-eseq ha-bish” of 1954, or “ha-eseq ha-masriah” “the stinky caper” of 1990-where he tried toppling a government with chicanery -are still murky. Some are crystal clear. Peres lied about leaving partisan politics in 2005 and grabbed the Labor Party leadership while pretending to be an elder-statesman party caretaker. He then lost a primary to Amir Peretz, and then, ignominiously, defected to the newly formed Kadima Party of Sharon, betraying the same Labor Party he sought to lead only weeks before. This tradition of losing elections and changing parties like dirty socks is certainly not something for which Peres deserves a Nobel Prize.
- Peres opposed and even tried to interfere with Menachem Begin’s 1981 decision to destroy Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor. The stupid and devious way Peres behaved was in marked contrast to the noble and clairvoyant approach of Begin. The amazing thing is that Peres still believes that he, not Begin, was right.
- Peres won a Nobel Prize for engineering one of the worst strategic errors in Israel’s history: the treaty with the PLO. It began the decade of the worst terror and civilian bloodshed in Israel since the war of independence itself in 1948. Here, too, Peres has steadfastly refused to admit error in his love affair with Yasser Arafat.
Many who write or comment on Shimon Peres talk about his French-speaking romantic spirit, but it is Peres’s romantic notions about Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian movement that are the saddest epitaph to Peres’s long and colorful career.
Shimon Peres’s career fits the French author Saint Exupery’s description of love:
“un je ne sais quoi qui vient a je ne sais ou, et arrive je ne sais quand” – ”an ‘I don’t know’ that goes I know not where and gets there I know not when.”
Dr. Michael Widlanski, is the author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat published by Threshold/Simon and Schuster. He was Strategic Affairs Advisor in Israel’s Ministry of Public Security, and he will be a visiting professor at University of California, Irvine.