An open letter to the scores of world leaders who came to Israel today for the funeral of Shimon Peres.
Today’s speeches and media coverage focus almost exclusively on Peres’ dreamy peacemaking efforts, while ignoring the iron fist he helped build for Israel’s defense and which he wasn’t ashamed of using when necessary. Such tributes ultimately amount to only qualified support for Israel.
Published in Israel Hayom , September 30, 2016.
Dear kings, princes, presidents, premiers, and ministers, friends all,
Thank you very much for honoring the memory of Shimon Peres and his legacy of peacemaking by traveling to attend his state funeral in Israel today.
The fact that so many of you from all corners of the world arrived on such short notice to attend this extraordinary event, speaks to the power of Peres’ powerful presence on the world stage. It is testament to his exemplary optimism and wise counsel.
It also is a powerful statement about the importance you attach to your relationships with Israel, and for that, we, the people of Israel, are appreciative.
However, I have to wonder and hope that you’ll be there for the people of Israel and the State of Israel not just at funeral times, like that of Peres and Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral 20 years ago — but also in times of crisis.
I pray that you’ll stand up for Israel also when we run into conflict and need your hard-core political, not just sentimental, backing.
When the Israel Defense Forces next have to crush the Iranian-backed Hamas and Hezbollah armies that are arrayed on our southern and northern borders — armed as they are with hundreds of thousands of missiles aimed at this tiny state — will you support Israel or condemn her?
Will you rush to take our side as you rushed to Friday’s funeral, or will you hurry to indict us in the courts of global opinion as you have done too many times in past?
When the IDF is forced to interdict Palestinian terrorists planning to blow up Israeli buses and cafes, requiring mass arrests or significant crackdown in Hebron, will you show understanding and love for Israel as you showed for Peres, or will you extend to us only “tough love” leading to unfair rebuke and a deepening of our isolation?
I’m forced to ask this uncomfortable question specifically at this moment of tribute to Shimon Peres, because I sense a distortion of his memory in parts of the international discourse about Israel — in two ways.
First, international speeches at the funeral and coverage of Peres’ passing in the media focus almost exclusively on his dreamy peacemaking efforts, while ignoring the iron fist he helped build for Israel’s defense and which he wasn’t ashamed of using when necessary.
Such tributes to Peres ultimately amount to qualified support for Israel; insufficient in my view. They express a love for Israel that is not realistic and doesn’t always stand up to the test of reality. Our reality, after all, is a Hobbesian one, with conflict and the use of hard power a permanent and persistent feature of Israel’s political future.
Second, there is a subtle anti-Netanyahu tone underlying the otherwise deserved paeans of praise to Peres that have been heaped upon the modern Jewish/Israeli prince of peace. Oh, what visionary and sophisticated and broad-minded leaders Israel once had, and what hard-headed, small-minded, dark and depressing leaders Israel has today!
That’s what U.S. President Barack Obama was saying when he spoke on Mt. Herzl about Peres’ “moral vision” and passion for “justice”; contrasted with his concerns about those who only see “the true wickedness of the world.” That’s what Obama meant when he spoke about the “dehumanizing” and “unfinished business” of peacemaking with Palestinians, and talked about security that can come only from “true peacemaking,” and by ending Israel’s “slave”-like ruling over the Palestinians.
In fact, Obama’s speech can be read as a warning of “tough love” that can yet be expected of him in the waning days of his presidency; of determined action in support of “justice” for the Palestinians that Obama will yet dish out while citing the legacy of Peres as cover.
In short, the love expressed for Peres is largely a love for the Israel of Oslo, the Israel that makes broad concessions and takes risks for peace, etc. It is almost as if Israel can be loved only if it talks and walks in Peres’ footsteps. If Israel chooses a different path — which it clearly has after 23 years of Oslo-spawned diplomatic disaster — it can’t be deserving of the world’s love. Alas, this is tone I sense in current discourse, including the eulogies.
Take Prince Charles, for example. He has visited Israel only twice, and both times for state funerals (for Rabin and Peres). He comes to bury Israeli leaders. Neither he, nor any other member of the British royal family ever have made a proper visit to Israel. In close to 70 years, they have never visited the Knesset, Yad Vashem, the Old City of Jerusalem, or the vineyards of Judea. The living, breathing, renaissance of the Jewish people in their ancient homeland doesn’t rank a visit. Only funerals cut it.
Unfortunately, such tentative, tenuous support for Israel is becoming more and more politically correct in global capitals. On our toughest existential issues (like the conflict with Palestinians and with Iran) we are not so beloved.
So excuse me if I am a somewhat jaded about, and skeptical of, the love lavished on Peres and Israel this weekend. We should appreciate such friendship, but remain a bit wary of it.