It is with great sadness that Matzav.com reports the passing of former Israeli President Shimon Peres at Tel HaShomer Hospital. He was 93.
Peres had suffered a massive stroke some weeks ago sustained irreversible brain damage. He died at about 3:40 am Israel time.
Over the last day, his relatives were urged to come to the hospital in order to bid farewell to him. He passed away early Wednesday morning Israel time.
Born Szymon Perski on August 2, 1923, the Polish-born Israeli statesman was the ninth President of Israel from 2007 to 2014. Peres served twice as the Prime Minister of Israel and twice as Interim Prime Minister, and he was a member of 12 cabinets in a political career spanning over 66 years.
Peres was elected to the Knesset in November 1959 and, except for a three-month-long hiatus in early 2006, served continuously until 2007, when he became President. He held several diplomatic and military positions during and directly after Israel’s War of Independence. His first high-level government position was as Deputy Director-General of Defense in 1952, and Director-General from 1953 until 1959.
During his career, he represented five political parties in the Knesset: Mapai, Rafi, the Alignment, Labor and Kadima, and led Alignment and Labor. Peres won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize together with Yitzchak Rabin and Yasser Arafat for the peace talks that he participated in as Israeli Foreign Minister, producing the Oslo Accords.
Peres was nominated in early 2007 by Kadima to run in that year’s presidential election, and was elected by the Knesset to the presidency on June we 2007 and sworn into office on 15 July 2007 for a seven-year term.
He was the first former Prime Minister to be elected President of Israel. At the time of his retirement in 2014, he was the world’s oldest head of state.
Peres was born in Wiszniew, Poland (now Vishnyeva, Belarus), to Yitzchok (1896–1962) and Sara (1905–1969 née Meltzer) Perski. The family spoke Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian at home, and Peres learned Polish at school.
His father was a wealthy timber merchant, later branching out into other commodities; his mother was a librarian. Peres had younger brother, Gershon.
Peres related that he had been born as a result of a brachah his parents had received from a chassidic rebbe and he was proud of it.
Peres’ grandfather, Rav Zvi Meltzer, a grandson of Rav Chaim Volozhiner, had a great impact on his life. In an interview, Peres said: “As a child, I grew up in my grandfather’s home. … I was educated by him. … My grandfather taught me Talmud. It was not as easy as it sounds. My home was not an observant one. My parents were not Orthodox but I was chareidi. At one point, I heard my parents listening to the radio on Shabbos and I smashed it.”
At the age of four, Peres was taken by his father to Radin to receive a brachah from the Chofetz Chaim.
In 1932, Peres’ father immigrated to Eretz Yisroel and settled in Tel Aviv. The family followed him in 1934.He attended Balfour Elementary School and High School, and Geula Gymnasium (High School for Commerce) in Tel Aviv.
At 15, he transferred to Ben Shemen agricultural school and lived on Kibbutz Geva for several years. Peres was one of the founders of Kibbutz Alumot. In 1941 he was elected Secretary of Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed, a Labor Zionist youth movement, and in 1944 returned to Alumot, where he worked as a dairy farmer, shepherd, and kibbutz secretary.
At age 20, he was elected to the Working and Studying Youth national secretariat, where he was only one of two Mapai party supporters, out of the 12 members. Three years later, he took over the movement and won a majority. The head of Mapai, David Ben-Gurion, and Berl Katznelson began to take an interest in him, and appointed him to Mapai’s secretariat.
In 1944, Peres led an expedition into the Negev, then a closed military zone requiring a permit to enter. The expedition, consisting of a group of teenagers, along with a Palmach scout, a zoologist, and an archaeologist, had been funded by Ben-Gurion and planned by Palmach head Yitzchak Sadeh, as part of a plan for future Jewish settlement of the area so as to include it in the Jewish state. The group was arrested by a Bedouin camel patrol led by a British officer, taken to Beer Sheva (then a small Arab town) and incarcerated in the local jail. All of the participants were sentenced to two weeks in prison, and as the leader, Peres was also heavily fined.
All of Peres’ relatives who remained in Wiszniew in 1941 were murdered during the Holocaust, many of them (including Rav Meltzer) burned alive in the town’s shul.
In 1945, Peres married Sonya Gelman, who preferred to remain outside the public eye. They had three children.
In 1946, Peres and Moshe Dayan were chosen as the two youth delegates in the Mapai delegation to the Zionist Congress in Basel.
In 1947, Peres joined the Haganah, the predecessor of the Israel Defense Forces. David Ben-Gurion made him responsible for personnel and arms purchases.
Peres was director of the Defense Ministry’s delegation in the United States in the early 1950s. While in the U.S. he studied English, economics, and philosophy at The New School and New York University, and advanced management at Harvard University.
In 1952, he was appointed Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Defense, and the following year, he became Director-General. At age 29, he was the youngest person to hold this position. He was involved in arms purchases and establishing strategic alliances that were important for the State of Israel. He was instrumental in establishing close relations with France, securing massive amounts of quality arms that, in turn, helped to tip the balance of power in the region.
Owing to Peres’ mediation, Israel acquired the advanced Dassault Mirage III French jet fighter, established the Dimona nuclear reactor and entered into a tri-national agreement with France and the United Kingdom, positioning Israel in what would become the 1956 Suez Crisis. Peres continued as a primary intermediary in the close French-Israeli alliance from the mid-1950s, although from 1958, he was often involved in tense negotiations with Charles de Gaulle over the Dimona project.
From 1954, as Director-General of the Ministry of Defense, Peres was involved in the planning of the 1956 Suez War, in partnership with France and Britain. Peres was sent by David Ben-Gurion to Paris, where he held secret meetings with the French government. Peres was instrumental in negotiating the Franco-Israeli agreement for a military offensive.
In November 1954, Peres visited Paris, where he was received by the French Defense Minister Marie-Pierre Kœnig, who told him that France would sell Israel any weapons it wanted to buy. By early 1955, France was shipping large amounts of weapons to Israel. In April 1956, following another visit to Paris by Peres, France agreed to disregard the Tripartite Declaration, and supply more weapons to Israel. During the same visit, Peres informed the French that Israel had decided upon war with Egypt in 1956. By 1956, France had become Israel’s closest ally and partner in the Middle East.
At the Sèvres, Peres took part in planning alongside Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury, Christian Pineau and Chief of Staff of the French Armed Forces General Maurice Challe, and British Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd and his assistant Sir Patrick Dean. Britain and France enlisted Israeli support for an alliance against Egypt. The parties agreed that Israel would invade the Sinai. Britain and France would then intervene, purportedly to separate the warring Israeli and Egyptian forces, instructing both to withdraw to a distance of 16 kilometers from either side of the canal. The British and French would then argue, according to the plan, that Egypt’s control of such an important route was too tenuous, and that it needed be placed under Anglo-French management. The agreement at Sèvres was initially described by British Prime Minister Anthony Eden as the “highest form of statesmanship.” The three allies, especially Israel, were mainly successful in attaining their immediate military objectives. However, the extremely hostile reaction to the war from both the United States and the USSR forced them to withdraw, resulting in a failure of Britain and France’s political and strategic aims of controlling the Suez Canal.
Peres was first elected to the Knesset in the 1959 elections, as a member of the Mapai party. He was given the role of Deputy Defense Minister, which he filled until 1965. Peres and Moshe Dayan left Mapai with David Ben-Gurion to form a new party, Rafi, which reconciled with Mapai and joined the Alignment (a left-wing alliance) in 1968.
In 1969, Peres was appointed Minister of Immigrant Absorption and in 1970 became Minister of Transportation and Communications. In 1974, after a period as Information Minister, he was appointed Minister of Defense in the Yitzchok Rabin government, having been Rabin’s chief rival for the post of Prime Minister after Golda Meir resigned in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War. During this time, Peres continued to challenge Rabin for the chairmanship of the party, but in 1977, he again lost to Rabin in the party elections.
Peres succeeded Rabin as party leader prior to the 1977 elections when Rabin stepped down in the wake of a foreign currency scandal involving his wife. As Rabin could not legally resign from the transition government, he officially remained Prime Minister, while Peres became the unofficial acting Prime Minister. Peres led the Alignment to its first ever electoral defeat, when Likud under Menachem Begin won sufficient seats to form a coalition that excluded the left. After only a month on top, Peres assumed the role of opposition leader. After turning back a comeback bid by Rabin in 1980, Peres led his party to another, narrower, loss in the 1981 elections. In the 1984 elections, the Alignment won more seats than any other party but failed to muster the majority of 61 mandates needed to form a left-wing coalition. Alignment and Likud agreed to an unusual “rotation” arrangement, or unity government, in which Peres would serve as Prime Minister and the Likud leader Yitzchok Shamir would be Foreign Minister. A highlight of this time in office was a trip to Morocco to confer with King Hassan II.
As part of the deal, after two years, Peres and Shamir traded places and in 1986, Peres became foreign minister. In 1988, the Alignment led by Peres suffered another narrow defeat. He agreed to renew the coalition with the Likud, this time conceding the premiership to Shamir for the entire term. In the national unity government of 1988–90, Peres served as Vice Premier and Minister of Finance. He and the Alignment finally left the government in 1990, after “the dirty trick” – a failed bid to form a narrow government based on a coalition of the Alignment, small leftist factions and ultra-orthodox parties.
From 1990, Peres led the opposition in the Knesset, until, in early 1992, he was defeated in the first primary elections of the new Israeli Labor Party (which had been formed by the consolidation of the Alignment into a single unitary party) by Yitzchok Rabin, whom he had replaced fifteen years earlier. Peres remained active in politics, however, serving as Rabin’s foreign minister from 1992. Secret negotiations with Yasser Arafat’s PLO organization led to the Oslo Accords, which won Peres, Rabin and Arafat the Nobel Peace Prize. After Rabin’s assassination in 1995, Peres served as Acting Prime Minister and Acting Defense Minister for seven months until the 1996 elections, during which he attempted to maintain the momentum of the peace process.
During his term, Peres promoted the use of the Internet in Israel and created the first website of an Israeli prime minister. However, he was narrowly defeated by Benjamin Netanyahu in the first direct elections for Prime Minister in 1996. In 1997 he did not seek re-election as Labor Party leader and was replaced by Ehud Barak. Barak rebuffed Peres’s attempt to secure the position of party president and upon forming a government in 1999 appointed Peres to the minor post of Minister of Regional Co-operation.
In 2000, Peres ran for a seven-year term as Israel’s President, a ceremonial head of state position which usually authorizes the selection of Prime Minister. Had he won, as was expected, he would have been the first ex-Prime Minister to be elected President. However, he lost to Likud candidate Moshe Katsav.
Following Ehud Barak’s defeat by Ariel Sharon in the 2001 direct election for Prime Minister, Peres made yet another comeback. He led Labor into a national unity government with Sharon’s Likud and secured the post of Foreign Minister. The formal leadership of the party passed to Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, and in 2002 to Haifa mayor Amram Mitzna. Peres was much criticized on the left for clinging to his position as Foreign Minister in a government that was not seen as advancing the peace process, despite his own dovish stance. He left office only when Labor resigned in advance of the 2003 elections. After the party under the leadership of Mitzna suffered a crushing defeat, Peres again emerged as interim leader. He led the party into coalition with Sharon once more at the end of 2004 when the latter’s support of “disengagement” from Gaza presented a diplomatic program Labor could support.
Peres won the chairmanship of the Labor Party in 2005, in advance of the 2006 elections. As party leader, Peres favored pushing off the elections for as long as possible. He claimed that an early election would jeopardize both the September 2005 Gaza withdrawal plan and the standing of the party in a national unity government with Sharon. However, the majority pushed for an earlier date, as younger members of the party, among them Ophir Pines-Paz and Isaac Herzog, overtook established leaders such as Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Haim Ramon, in the party ballot to divide up government portfolios. Peres continually led in the polls, defying predictions that rivals would overtake him. Peres lost the leadership election with 40% to Peretz’s 42.4%.
On November 30, 2005, Peres announced that he was leaving the Labor Party to support Ariel Sharon and his new Kadima party. In the immediate aftermath of Sharon’s debilitating stroke there was speculation that Peres might take over as leader of the party but most senior Kadima leaders, however, were former members of Likud and indicated their support for Ehud Olmert as Sharon’s successor.
Labor reportedly tried to woo Peres back to the fold. Peres announced, however, that he supported Olmert and would remain with Kadima. Peres had previously announced his intention not to run in the March elections. Following Kadima’s win in the election, Peres was given the role of Vice Prime Minister and Minister for the Development of the Negev, Galilee and Regional Economy.
On June 13, 2007, Peres was elected President of the State of Israel by the Knesset. 58 of 120 members of the Knesset voted for him in the first round (whereas 38 voted for Reuven Rivlin, and 21 for Colette Avital). His opponents then backed Peres in the second round and 86 members of the Knesset voted in his favor, while 23 objected. He resigned from his role as a Member of the Knesset the same day, having been a member since November 1959 (except for a three-month period in early 2006), the longest serving in Israeli political history. Peres was sworn in as President on 15 July 2007.
In November 2008, Peres received an honorary knighthood, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George from Queen Elizabeth II in Buckingham Palace in London.
In June 2011, he was awarded the honorary title of sheikh by Bedouin dignitaries in Hura for his efforts to achieve Middle East peace. Peres thanks his hosts by saying “This visit has been a pleasure. I am deeply impressed by Hura. You have done more for yourselves than anyone else could have”. He told the Mayor of Hura, Dr. Muhammad Al-Nabari, and members of Hura’s governing council, that they were “part of the Negev. It cannot be developed without developing the Bedouin community, so that it may keep its traditions while joining the modern world.”
Peres was once considered a “hawk.” He was a protégé of Ben-Gurion and Dayan and an early supporter of the West Bank settlers during the 1970s. However, after becoming the leader of his party his stance evolved. More recently he has been seen as a dove, and a strong supporter of peace through economic cooperation. While still opposed, like all mainstream Israeli leaders in the 1970s and early 1980s, to talks with the PLO, he distanced himself from settlers and spoke of the need for “territorial compromise” over the West Bank and Gaza. For a time he hoped that King Hussein of Jordan could be Israel’s Arab negotiating partner rather than Yasser Arafat. Peres met secretly with Hussein in London in 1987 and reached a framework agreement with him, but this was rejected by Israel’s then Prime Minister, Yitzchak Shamir. Shortly afterward the First Intifada erupted, and whatever plausibility King Hussein had as a potential Israeli partner in resolving the fate of the West Bank evaporated. Subsequently, Peres gradually moved closer to support for talks with the PLO, although he avoided making an outright commitment to this policy until 1993.
Peres was perhaps more closely associated with the Oslo Accords than any other Israeli politician (Rabin included) with the possible exception of his own protégé, Yossi Beilin. He has remained an adamant supporter of the Oslo Accords and the Palestinian Authority since their inception despite the First Intifada and the al-Aqsa Intifada (Second Intifada). However, Peres supported Ariel Sharon’s military policy of operating the Israeli Defense Forces to thwart suicide bombings.
Peres’ foreign policy outlook is markedly realist. To placate Turkey, Peres allegedly downplayed the Armenian genocide. Peres stated: “We reject attempts to create a similarity between the Holocaust and the Armenian allegations. Nothing similar to the Holocaust occurred. It is a tragedy what the Armenians went through but not a genocide.” Although Peres himself did not retract the statement, the Israeli Foreign Ministry later issued a cable to its missions which stated that “The minister absolutely did not say, as the Turkish news agency alleged, ‘What the Armenians underwent was a tragedy, not a genocide.'” However, according to Armenian news agencies, the statement released by the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles did not include any mention that Peres had not said that the events were not genocide.
On the issue of the nuclear program of Iran and the supposed existential threat this poses for Israel, Peres stated, “I am not in favor of a military attack on Iran, but we must quickly and decisively establish a strong, aggressive coalition of nations that will impose painful economic sanctions on Iran,” adding “Iran’s efforts to achieve nuclear weapons should keep the entire world from sleeping soundly.” In the same speech, Peres compared Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his call to “wipe Israel off the map” to the genocidal threats to European Jewry made by Adolf Hitler in the years prior to the Holocaust. In an interview with Army Radio on 8 May 2006 he remarked that “the president of Iran should remember that Iran can also be wiped off the map.” Peres is a proponent of Middle East economic integration.
Peres announced in April 2013 that he would not seek to extend his tenure beyond 2014. His successor, Reuven Rivlin, was elected on June 10 2014 and took office on July 24 2014.
In May 1945, Peres married Sonya Gelman, whom he had met in the Ben Shemen Youth Village, where her father served as a carpentry teacher. The couple married after Sonya finished her military service as a truck driver in the British Army during World War II. Through the years Sonya chose to stay away from the media and keep her privacy and the privacy of her family, despite her husband’s extensive political career. Sonya Peres was unable to attend Shimon’s 2007 presidential inauguration ceremony due to ill health. She died on January 20 2011, aged 87, from heart failure.
Shimon and Sonya Peres had three children: a daughter, Dr. Tsvia (“Tsiki”) Walden, a linguist and professor at Beit Berl Academic College; an elder son, Yoni, director of Village Veterinary Center, a veterinary hospital on the campus of Kfar Hayarok Agricultural School near Tel Aviv who specializes in the treatment of guide dogs; and a younger son, Nechemia (“Chemi”), co-founder and Managing General Partner of Pitango Venture Capital, one of Israel’s largest venture capital funds. Chemi Peres is a former helicopter pilot in the IAF.
David Steger – Matzav.com Israel News Bureau / Bio info courtesy of Wikepedia