US President Barack Obama’s eulogy to Shimon Peres last Friday at Mt. Herzl was a thinly disguised assault on Israel. And he barely bothered to hide it.
Throughout his remarks, Obama wielded Peres’s record like a baseball bat. He used it to club the Israeli public and its elected leaders over and over again.
Peres, Obama intimated, was a prophet. But the suspicious, tribal people of Israel were too stiff necked to follow him.
In what was perhaps the low point of a low performance, Obama used Peres’s words to slander his domestic critics as racist oppressors.
“Shimon,” he began harmlessly enough, “believed that Israel’s exceptionalism was rooted not only in fidelity to the Jewish people, but to the moral and ethical vision, the precepts of his Jewish faith.”
Fair enough. You could say that about every Israeli leader since the dawn of modern Zionism.
But then Obama went for the jugular.
In a startling non-sequitur he continued, “‘The Jewish people weren’t born to rule another people,’ he [Peres] would say, ‘From the very first day we were against slaves and masters.'”
We don’t know the context in which Peres made that statement. But what is clear enough is that Obama used his words to accuse the majority of Israelis who do not share Peres’s vision for peace – including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who was sitting in the front row listening to him – of supporting slavery.
This libelous assault on Israel was probably the most unhinged remark ever directed at the Jewish state by an American president. What does the fact that Obama said this at Peres’s funeral tell us about Obama?
What does it tell us about Peres?
Obama was not merely wrong when he accused Peres’s detractors of support for slavery, he was maliciously wrong.
Due to Peres’s Oslo accords, since 1995, all the Palestinian population centers in Judea and Samaria have been governed by the PLO. Israel hasn’t been in charge of any aspect of their daily civic existence.
And they have only suffered as a result. Between 1967 and 1996, when the Palestinians of Judea and Samaria were governed by the military government, the Palestinians were free. They only became “enslaved,” when the PLO took over.
Under Israeli rule, the Palestinians enjoyed far more expansive civil rights than they have since we left. The PLO transformed their lives into chaos by implementing the law of the jungle, enforced by mob-style militias.
Their property rights were trampled. Their civil rights have been gutted.
The fact that PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies delayed their municipal elections indefinitely the day after Peres’s funeral is yet another testament to the absence of freedom in the PLO – as opposed to Israeli – ruled areas.
But really, Obama couldn’t care less. He didn’t come here to tell the truth about Peres. He came here to use Peres as a means to bludgeon the government the people elected.
Obama began his attack as he often begins his political assaults on his opponents. He created a straw man.
Peres’s critics on the Right, he said, “argued that he refused to see the true wickedness of the world, and called him naïve.”
In other words, as far as Obama is concerned, Israelis are prisoners of their dark view of the world. Unlike Peres the optimist, his countrymen are tribal pessimists.
Peres, whose vision for peace rested on giving the outskirts of Tel Aviv and half of Jerusalem to terrorists wasn’t naïve. He “knew better than the cynic,” Obama continued.
He was better than that.
He was better than us.
This brings us then to the paradox of Peres’s life’s work. Over last quarter century of his life, we, the people of Israel wanted to feel empowered by Peres’s superstar status. We wanted to get excited when Hollywood stars and A-list politicians came to his birthday bashes at the President’s House and the Peres Center.
But every time we tried to see Peres’s success as our success, some visiting VIP would smile before the cameras and kick us in the shins.
The higher Peres’s star rose in the stratosphere of celebrity stardom, the worse Israel’s global position became. The international A-listers who showed up at all of Peres’s parties always seemed to view him as their guy, not our guy. He was one of them – and above the likes of us.
How did this happen? How did the last surviving member of Israel’s founding generation become a prop for Israel’s chorus of international critics?
The most extraordinary aspect of Peres’s long life is that he packed two full – and contradictory – careers into one lifespan.
Peres’s first career began with Israel’s founding. It ended with the Likud’s victory in the 1977 Knesset elections.
Over the course of that career, Peres used his formidable diplomatic skills to build and strengthen Israel’s defenses. He cultivated and expanded complex strategic relationships with the French and British. Those ties led the two major powers to fight at Israel’s side in the 1956 Suez Campaign. They led to France’s decision to help Israel build its nuclear program and its arms industries.
In the 1970s as defense minister, Peres was able to rely on his warm ties to foreign leaders to shield the country as he established the Jewish communities in Samaria and Hebron. They empowered him to oversee the hostage rescue mission at Entebbe.
But following the Likud’s rise to power, Peres changed gears. Ever since 1981 when he almost managed to scuttle the air force’s bombing of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, Peres used his diplomatic talents and ties to foreign leaders to advance his own agenda, regardless of whether that agenda was aligned or contradicted Israel’s national agenda, as set out by its elected leaders.
Time and time again, on the backs of the public that failed to elect him and the politicians the public elected instead of him, Peres cultivated and used the relationships he enjoyed with foreign leaders to press his own policies. Each attempt to derail the policies of the government expanded Peres’s chorus of supporters abroad.
Peres’s second career reached its high water mark in 1994 when along with Rabin and Yassir Arafat he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the Oslo process. The world embraced and celebrated Peres for his peace deal that brought neither peace nor security to his people.
And the public rejected him for it. Between 1977 and 1996, Peres stood for election five times. He lost all five races along with a primary battle against Yitzhak Rabin for leadership of the Labor Party.
Contrary to Obama’s assertion, Peres’s critics on the Right didn’t oppose his Oslo process because they saw “the true wickedness of the world.” They opposed the Oslo process because they saw the reality on the ground.
Ahead of the 1996 elections, where Peres ran against then opposition leader Netanyahu, the Palestinians launched an onslaught of bus bombings that killed 60 people in eight days. After the second bus bombing in Jerusalem, a television crew stuck a microphone in front of a teenage boy who had just seen the bus blow up.
Standing amidst the wreckage, he let out a primal wail and called out, “Peres, what is wrong with you? We are Jews! They are murdering us!”
The next week, then US president Bill Clinton arrived in Jerusalem to campaign for Peres, whom he extolled as a brilliant statesman. But to no avail.
It was reality, not cynicism that dictated the outcome.
Peres’s second career left its deepest mark on the Foreign Ministry. As foreign minister during the heady days of Oslo, Peres told Israel’s diplomats to stop talking about PLO incitement and anti-Semitism. The best hasbara he said, was peace. Israel needed no other policy.
Beyond the obviously destructive implications of tethering Israel’s diplomatic standing to the fortunes of a peace process with a terrorist group, Peres’s directives forced our diplomats into passivity.
Why bother defending Israel when the status of the peace process alone would determine our standing?
Why bother using the diplomatic tools of carrots and sticks when whatever hostility Israel suffered from would be magically erased the minute Israel concluded a peace deal with the PLO?
A few weeks ago, it was reported that Netanyahu rebuked the diplomatic corps. It isn’t sufficient for you to simply send in reports about what is happening in your host countries, he reportedly said. I want you to actually do something to impact the situation for the better.
In other words, Netanyahu ordered Israel’s diplomats to abandon the legacy of Peres’s second career and embrace the legacy of his first career. He effectively said: Use whatever tools you have – just as Peres used the little leverage Israel had in its first fifteen years of independence – to advance Israel’s position. That is your job. I can read about current events in the newspapers.
This brings us back to Obama and Peres’s other foreign admirers who descended on the country Friday morning in their private jets and limousines.
A few hours after the funeral ended, the White House published a correction to the original text it had released of Obama’s eulogy. The correction related to the dateline. The original version had the dateline as “Jerusalem, Israel.”
The revised, corrected version had a line going through the word Israel. As far as the Obama White House is concerned, Jerusalem – along with Mt. Herzl, the Knesset, and all the rest – is not in Israel.
It was a petty, puerile thing to do. And it revealed a breathtaking animosity for Israel.
Any moderately sane observer knows that Israel won’t transfer sovereignty over its national war cemetery to a foreign power in exchange for peace. The “correction” wasn’t about advancing the cause of peace. It was about venting hostility towards the members of a primitive tribe that prefer their darkness to the optimistic vision of their spurned prophet.
Obama did get one thing right in his speech. In his round about, condescending way, Obama noted that due to their rejection of Peres’s vision of peace through appeasement, some Israelis have forgotten the important role Peres played in his first career in building the architecture of national defense on which Israel has successfully defended itself throughout the years.
And he is right, that with Peres’s passing, we should remember the tremendous good he did for the country in his first career, when he was working for us.
We should embrace that Peres legacy and cherish it always.