November 21, 2019

Shimon Peres — Naïve and indispensable

Shimon Peres, Israel’s larger-than-life statesman, global ambassador and Nobel Peace Prize winner who impacted every significant moment of the state of Israel since its birth in 1948, including the buildup of its defense forces and its search for peace, was a naïve man.

By naïve I mean that Peres, who passed away on Sept. 28 at 93, was a fanatic of hope.

No matter how horrible things got, no matter how much genocidal hatred was directed at the Jewish state by its Arab enemies, Peres clung to his hope and dreams of peace. For his ideological opponents, this kind of naivete wasn’t just misguided, it was dangerous. In an evil, nasty neighborhood that sees the very presence of a Jewish state as an affront, such blatant yearning for peace could easily be perceived as weakness.

His opponents believed that if a neighbor wants to annihilate you, the last thing you want to show is weakness. Before you can express any hope for peace, you must first destroy their hope to annihilate you.

For Peres, however, there was never a bad time to dream and yearn for peace. This was his oxygen. I’m not sure he could function without it. Even when he angrily condemned a terror attack against Jews, he never lost that little ray of hope, that wistful yearning that “only peace can end this horrible violence.”

My own reaction was usually the opposite. A terror attack against Jews, all too often encouraged by the official sanctioning of Jew-hatred and glorifying of terrorism in Palestinian society, reminded me that Israel must double down on toughness, not peace.

For the last two decades of his life, ever since he helped launch the Oslo Peace Accords that led to his Nobel Prize, Peres never stopped doubling down on peace, or at least the hope for peace.

Being such a prominent and relentless merchant of hope, he went against the hard-nosed realism of an Israeli population traumatized by the evil rockets of Hamas and the intifadas of its Palestinian neighbors. Maybe he was afraid that becoming too realistic would turn him into a pessimist and then a cynic and then lead to despair, which is one of the ultimate sins in Judaism.

As a former security hawk and pioneer of Israel’s nuclear program, he was certainly aware of Israel’s security challenges. As a lover of his people, he surely identified with the trauma of living life 15 seconds from a bomb shelter.

And yet, unlike so many Israeli leaders over the years, it wasn’t this imperative of security that defined his public image, but rather, it was his craving for peace, his craving for hope.

This is what made him indispensable — he could do what so few of us could. He internalized hope so that it never left him, so that it became a way of life.

Why is that so indispensable? Because the opposite of hope is despair. He loved his people so much that he saw despair as the biggest enemy he had to conquer.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at