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Shimon Peres, Israel’s greatest ambassador, will be remembered for enabling oppression of the Palestinians

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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

The world is awakening to the news of the death of Shimon Peres, the last liberal lion of the founders of the state of Israel. He was 93 years old. Yet the real meaning of Peres’s life will be decided in the future. That future is troubling. It has already arrived.

As a military and political person, Peres did it all from the beginning of the state of Israel. Peres fought for the new born state of Israel, held many and varied political offices during the course of Israel’s history, including Prime Minister and President, played a key role in Israel’s development of nuclear weapons and encouraged and augmented Israel’s settlement project in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

(Image: Carlos Latuff)

(Image: Carlos Latuff)

As important was Peres’s role in portraying Israel as a Jewish and democratic state around the world. In this latter project, so important to Israel and Jews in the Diaspora, Peres succeeded magnificently during most of his long life. Yet, it is exactly here that Peres faltered in his later years, partly as his age increased but more importantly because the tide of history turned. Today, portraying Israel as a refuge for Jews, as innocent, under siege and as a beacon of light, is unacceptable. It is impossible.

From the beginning, Palestinians knew a different Israel and, with time, more and more Jews do, too. Though Peres will be widely celebrated in the upper echelons of American and European power in the coming days, like Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust sage, who died some months ago, Peres will be remembered for enabling a narrative of Jewish innocence and redemption that was, also, something much more sinister from the beginning.

With Peres’s death, the issue of the future of Israel and Jewish life becomes more urgent. Though, again like Wiesel with the Holocaust, Peres sought to create a lasting legacy enshrined in Jewish history, now their legacy and Jewish history itself are in doubt. Building on the legacy of the Holocaust and Israel seems dubious. The ground beneath our feet is uncertain.

Entering the Jewish High Holiday season, a time of reflection and confession, what are Jews to do? Wiesel and Peres dedicated their lives to a project that deflects Jewish culpability in the oppression of the Palestinian people. Though world leaders will gather for Peres’s funeral in the coming days, Jews need to mourn aspects of the violence Wiesel and Peres enabled. The idea of Jews simply finishing the job that Wiesel and Peres began, viewing their legacy as simply unfinished, won’t do either.

Israel has embarked wholesale on the displacement and ghettoization of the Palestinian people. The trajectory Wiesel’s and Peres’s life is a dead-end for Palestinians and Jewish history, if one believes that without an ethical center, Jewish life is truncated, if not voided altogether.

Was Shimon Peres’s life wasted, culpable, to be derided in Jewish history and the history of peoples around the world, including and especially the Palestinian people? In the coming days, we will hear more about Peres’s accomplishments than explore the content of these dissident thoughts. To speak about the end of Jewish innocence will be seen as a betrayal.

Perhaps a rabbi or two will parse Peres’s life during the upcoming Days of Awe. More likely, however, most rabbis, like our political leaders, will laud Pere’s life and further postpone the confession so central to the Jewish future.

Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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13 Responses

  1. Steve Grover on September 28, 2016, 10:33 am

    “Entering the Jewish High Holiday season, a time of reflection and confession, what are Jews to do?”
    Continue to be Jews and be proud of the religion and be proud of Israel.

  2. jon s on September 28, 2016, 3:47 pm

    Shimon Peres will be remembered for his dynamic career, for not standing still. He started out as a protégé of Ben Gurion, a specialist in getting -things-done. In the 1970s he was known as a political hawk, and one of the sponsers of the early settlement movement. But then he started to evolve, to change , and became one of the prime movers in efforts to achieve Israeli- Palestinian peace. He was optimistic, he was committed, but , ultimately, he never went far enough.
    In his later years he became the gold-standard for “elder statesman”, as can be seen by the phenomenal number of dignitaries who are planning to attend the funeral.

  3. Marnie on September 28, 2016, 11:59 pm

    What’s more relevant – the zionist revisionist history wrt all the founding fathers, or the people who were done the most harm and continue to suffer to this minute as a result of Szymon Perski and company. Unfortunately we’ll mostly hear all of the fond recollections of his fellow zionist-in-arms, including from the ‘phenomenal’ number of dignitaries planning to grovel at his burial. Another sad day for the truth as his less than noble deeds, ethnic cleansing and murder will be attempted to be buried with him, leaving the ‘gold-standard’ – an old man with a nostalgic smile (nostalgia for what – Poland or the Haganah?) who was for peace? Let the BS-fest commence.

  4. jon s on September 29, 2016, 10:33 am

    I undrestand that President Obama ordered the flags be lowered to half mast, as a tribute to Shimon Peres.
    May he rest in peace.

  5. talknic on September 29, 2016, 11:25 am

    Shimon Peres

    Had no ties to the land, he was a foreigner to the region
    He didn’t make any desert bloom
    He was a warmonger, liar and terrorist

    • jon s on September 30, 2016, 10:06 am

      No Jew is a foreigner in our historic homeland.

      • oldgeezer on September 30, 2016, 11:09 am

        @jon s

        As with all things zionist a complete redefinition of the word is required. Of course he was a foreigner. Your statement is mere political rhetoric.

      • talknic on September 30, 2016, 7:32 pm

        @ jon s September 30, 2016, 10:06 am

        “No Jew is a foreigner in our historic homeland”

        Strange, all but one of the signatories to the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel were not from the region

        David Ben-Gurion – Płońsk, Poland – Palestine 1906
        Rabbi Kalman Kahana – Galicia (Ukraine) – Palestine 1938
        Aharon Zisling – Minsk, Belarus – Palestine 1904
        Yitzhak Ben-Zvi – Poltava (Ukraine) – Palestine 1907
        Saadia Kobashi – Yemen – Palestine 1909
        Daniel Auster – Knihinin (Ukraine) – Palestine 1914
        Rachel Cohen – Odesa – Palestine 1919
        David-Zvi Pinkas – Sopron, Austria/Hungary – Palestine 1925
        Mordechai Bentov = Grodzisk Mazowiecki, Poland – Palestine 1920
        Moshe Kol – Pinsk, Belarus – Palestine 1932
        Eliyahu Berlignee – Russia – Palestine 1907
        Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Levin – Góra Kalwaria, Russia – Palestine 1940
        Eliezer Kaplan – Minsk, Russia – Palestine 1920
        Peretz Bernstein – Meiningen, Germany – Netherlands til Palestine 1936
        Abraham Katznelson – Bobruisk, Belorussia – Palestine 1924
        Rabbi Wolf Gold – Stettin, Germany (Poland) – US 1907 – Palestine 1935
        Meir David Loewenstein – Copenhagen, Denmark – Palestine 1934
        Pinchas Rosen – Berlin, Germany – Palestine 1926
        Meir Grabovsky – Rîbniţa, Russia – Palestine 1927
        David Remez – Kopys, Belorussia – Palestine 1913
        Yitzhak Gruenbaum – Warsaw, Poland – Palestine 1933
        Zvi Luria (Lurie) – Lodz, Poland – Palestine 1924
        Berl Repetur – Ruzhyn, Ukraine – Palestine 1920
        Dr. Abraham Granovsky – Făleşti, Russia – Palestine 1924
        Golda Myerson – Kiev, Ukraine – Palestine 1921
        Mordekhai Shattner – Chernovitz ? ( Czernowitz ?), Ukraine ? – Palestine unsure (England during WWW2)
        Nachum Nir – Warsaw, Poland – Palestine 1925
        Ben-Zion Sternberg – Czernowitz, Austria /Hungary – Palestine 1939
        Eliyahu Dobkin – Babruysk, Russia – Palestine 1932
        Zvi Segal – Lithuania – Palestine unsure
        Bechor-Shalom Sheetrit – Tiberias, Ottoman Empire
        Meir Wilner-Kovner – Vilnius, Lithuania – Palestine 1938
        Rabbi Yehuda Leib Hacohen Fishman – Mărculești, Russia – Palestine 1913
        Haim-Moshe Shapira – Grodno, Belarus – Palestine 1925
        Zerach Warhaftig – Volkovysk, Russia – Lithuania/Japan/Canada 1941 – Palestine 1947

      • talknic on October 1, 2016, 2:14 am

        @ jon s September 30, 2016, 10:06 am

        “No Jew is a foreigner in our historic homeland.”

        A) foreigner
        ( and jon s says he’s a teacher )


        Zionism obviously rots moral fibre, integrity, intellect and the brain it seems. Reducing whoever is infected by it to a jibbering idiot, incapable of being truthful, willing to say anything no matter how ridiculous or false or how insane it makes them look

      • MHughes976 on October 1, 2016, 9:33 am

        As a reflection of common parlance I’d find that def from too extensive, because it seems that most people accept as ‘one of us’ those born abroad who legitimately join ‘our’ existing social contract – the word ‘naturalised’ expresses this.
        Those who come from abroad with the intention and effect of removing the existing social contract and replacing it, if necessary it by violent means, with one of their own devising never, unless and until until agreement is finally reached among all concerned, fully lose their foreign or alien status – logically, how could they? – and deserve terms like ‘invader’ even down the generations. I think that the Zionists know this as well as anyone. Their basic claim is that their social contract is not of their own but of God’s devising – maybe of some God-surrogate within the mighty forces of historical progress. I don’t agree with this claim but I hope I’ve stated it fairly.

  6. jon s on September 29, 2016, 3:36 pm

    It’s been announced that President Abbas (Abu Mazen) will lead a Palestinian delegation to the funeral tomorrow.

  7. LeaNder on September 30, 2016, 7:16 am

    Marc, I didn’t have the patience yet do dive down into Jewish history. Maybe I should, its usually gone after a while. Copyrights? But maybe you have the time and patience for it. Supposing you can follow the French version of the Colonization on the Arte channel.

    Maybe you are even interested to check beyond.

    Personally, I am not sure if I paid too much attention on Shimon Peres before the clash at Davos with Erdogan. But winds have blown (?) past that event. May he rest in peace.

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