Israeli statesman Shimon Peres, a life-long public servant and one of the last surviving members of Israel’s founding generation, passed away on Sept. 28 at the age of 93. Peres’s life encompassed the tumultuous birth, survival and growth of the Jewish state, and he was known for building Israel’s defense capabilities as well as his persistent efforts to help Israel achieve peace with its neighbors. Also, in deep appreciation of the democratic values the two countries share, Peres sought to establish and strengthen close ties between the United States and Israel.
In recognition of his extraordinary contributions, U.S. flags worldwide were flown at half-staff “as a mark of respect for the memory of Shimon Peres, former President and Prime Minister of Israel.” In addition, a U.S. delegation, headed by President Barack Obama and including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and former President Bill Clinton, attended the Sept. 23 funeral.
“There are few people who we share this world with who change the course of human history, not just through their role in human events, but because they expand our moral imagination and force us to expect more of ourselves. Shimon was the essence of Israel itself,” said President Obama in a statement immediately following Peres’ passing.
Born in 1923 in Wiszniew, Poland, Peres and his family immigrated to Tel Aviv in 1934. Following training as an agriculturist, in 1947 he joined the Haganah—the predecessor to the Israel Defense Forces—and became a close advisor to Israel’s founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.
In 1959, following an 8-year career as a top Ministry of Defense official, Peres entered Israeli politics when he was elected to the Knesset (Israel’s parliament). He would go on to serve in a range of roles, including prime minister (twice), president, minister of defense, minister of foreign affairs, minister of finance, and minister of transportation. In these positions, Peres worked tirelessly to create Israel’s defense industry, negotiate arms deals, strengthen the U.S.-Israel alliance, and pursue peace between Israel and its neighbors. Notably, Peres worked with President John Kennedy to lay the groundwork for robust U.S.-Israel defense cooperation, beginning with informal security guarantees in 1962 and the sale of U.S. anti-aircraft missiles in 1963
At AIPAC's 2009 Policy Conference, Peres said: “Since the rebirth of Israel, one commitment remained firm, profound, unshakeable—the alliance between Israel and the United States of America. It has provided us with moral and strategic strengths, both of them. For 61 years, America has been and still is more than just an ally. It is an unusual partner, a brave friend.”
Also, Peres worked closely with America in hopes of realizing peace—playing a pivotal role in the conclusion of the 1993 Oslo Accords, an interim peace agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In recognition of this achievement, Peres was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 with the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.
Although Oslo did not achieve peace as was hoped, Peres was not deterred. In 1996, he established the Peres Center for Peace with a mission statement to “promote lasting peace and advancement in the Middle East by fostering tolerance, economic and technological development, innovation, cooperation and well-being.”
Former President Bill Clinton, a key player in the Oslo peace process, said: “He was a genius with a big heart who used his gifts to imagine a future of reconciliation not conflict, economic and social empowerment not anger and frustration, and a nation, a region, and a world enhanced by caring and sharing, not torn asunder by the illusions of permanent dominance and perfect truth.”
On several occasions American leadership honored Peres’ accomplishments. In 2012 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 2014 the Congressional Gold Medal. “He was part of that exceptional generation of founders—the men and women who recognized the necessity for a Jewish State of Israel and then willed it into existence, despite overwhelming odds,” said Vice President Joe Biden in a Sep. 28 statement. “He was a treasure. He held every office. Earned every award and recognition—including America’s highest civilian honors.”
Many other noted U.S. leaders commented on the loss of Peres, including this sampling:
“As a young man, he [Peres] worked for his country's independence. For the rest of his life, he led it with a deep and abiding concern for his people and a commitment to freedom and peace,” said former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura Bush in a joint statement.
“Shimon Peres’s story was the story of modern Israel—a saga of daring, dynamism and wisdom. With all of his heart, this farmer, fighter, author, Nobel peace prize winner, prime minister and president worked to guide his nation into a secure and confident future. I valued his friendship. He was an intellectual resource who personified the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel.” said House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
“Shimon gave his life to Israel, and he came to embody that which I and so many others admire about that small island of democracy in the Middle East –— its warmth, its daring, and its tenacity. I have known no greater patriot, nor any statesman more beloved and respected by his countrymen than Shimon Peres,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
May his memory forever be a blessing.
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