President Shimon Peres is living proof of the fact that Israeli political leaders never die, neither literally nor figuratively. No matter how many times they get voted out of office or humiliated in some other way — not only through financial or sexual misconduct, but also in those cases — they keep popping back up like those annoying ads on the Internet.
This is not their fault. The system enables it, the public expects it, and the players involved understandably would rather remain on the scene than to retire into oblivion.
It is said that familiarity breeds contempt. If so, it is no wonder that the public feels such disdain for its elected officials. The Jewish state is so tiny that even Average Joes are likely to have some kind of personal association with the figures who determine their fate.
But let us not forget that familiarity also provides comfort. So it is often easier to bemoan the lack of leadership and complain that the younger generation is not producing quality politicians than it is to see strangers at the helm. At least we know exactly at whom to hiss during the nightly news. We feel free to get up and make coffee without worrying about missing something he or she said in our absence.
Predictability is as soothing — and snore-inducing — as a lullaby.
No leader in this country is as predictable and snore-inducing as Peres. Not only because he has been on the scene for so long, but due to his having long ago taken up residence in la-la-land — a place he dubbed the “New Middle East.”
It was with no small degree of relief, then, when he was finally given a job that is well suited to his talents and tastes, and to our view of his actual abilities. The fact that Peres succeeded former President Moshe Katsav, who is currently serving seven years in prison for rape, elicited a sigh of relief similar to that which was heaved across the United States when the White House was fumigated from Bill Clinton’s sleaze. Whatever else can be, and is, said about Peres, including about his alleged affairs over the years, he is viewed as someone possessing class and gravitas — qualities perfect for Israel's presidency, a position that is chiefly ceremonial.
Not that Peres sees it that way. In fact, in spite of being forbidden in his current role to further any political stance, he continues to spout his “peace at all costs” ideology at every opportunity. This provided U.S. President Barack Obama with a great opportunity to appear pro-Israel by awarding him the Medal of Freedom. The fact that Peres’ politics are far more radical than most Jews are willing to acknowledge is not supposed to matter within Israel — where the presidency is ostensibly neutral. But outside of Israel it matters a great deal, which is why Peres loves taking trips abroad.
It is also why, for the past four years, he has hosted “Facing Tomorrow: the Israeli Presidential Conference,” a kind of Davos-like event funded by rich cronies who share his notion that Israel has to “give peace a chance,” no matter how often its doing so has failed as a result of Palestinian intransigence and no matter how many Israelis are holed up in bomb shelters due to Iran-funded rocket fire from territory ceded by Israel.
Indeed, at this year’s three-day conference — which included a wide array of leftist speakers from Israel and abroad, including Peter Beinart of “boycott settlements” fame — one would not have had a clue that missiles were flying into Israeli cities at an astounding rate. The amount of blah-blah devoted to insisting that there were steps Israel could take to persuade the Palestinians that it was seeking peace in good faith, coupled with the loud music in the lobby (which included songs such as John Lennon’s “Imagine”), would have drowned out the sound of Grads and Qassams exploding, even if they had struck Jerusalem, where the conference was held, rather than an hour away, where they actually struck.
In Thursday’s morning plenary session, entitled “Learning from Mistakes on the Way to Tomorrow,” Peres gave a speech that shed light on this phenomenon. The following are actual statements he made, which serve as examples of why it is increasingly difficult to write political satire these days:
“In order to make peace, you have to close your eyes,” he said. “You cannot make love or peace with open eyes.” (Much laughter from the packed audience; hints of sex tend to have that effect.)
“Let’s make investigating committees not about our mistakes, but about our successes.” (Applause.)
“The appetite to govern, rule and be famous are valueless.” (Laughter, only from me.)
“One mistake I made was participating in the government decision not to talk to the PLO. This was a mistake, because if you talk to them, maybe they won’t shoot!” (Really?)
“People think that to be strong means having the upper hand. But maybe generosity is more powerful than power.” (Here he used the Marshall Plan as an example of how the United States gave without receiving anything in return. He did not mention that this came after defeating the Nazis in battle.)
There is a common quip Israelis use in relation to the nearly 89-year-old Peres and his endless energy, to the effect that he will be around to dance on all of our graves. Sadly, too many of our graves already exist due to “peace” plans he supported with his eyes shut.
Happily, Peres is no longer in the position to govern and rule — the appetite for which he advises the rest of us to curb. He is left only with fame — and frequent flyer miles — the hunger for which he tells us to shun.
La-la land must be such a nice place to live.
Ruthie Blum, a former senior editor at The Jerusalem Post, is the author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring,’” soon to be released by RVP Press.