The Shimon Peres haters — and they are many — are coming out in full force already, preying on his would-be memory while his life hangs in the balance. Even as his family grows optimistic that he will recover following a massive stroke, these haters are trying to undermine the inevitable hagiography that looms and to prejudge what seems to them like the inevitability of his passing (a precarious position to take, betting against Israel’s fiercest ageless fighter).
There are the haters on the right, who mock Peres’ “new Middle East” rhetoric and the folly of his persistent belief in the possibility of peace in spite of so much counterfactual data about its sheer plausibility. These haters conveniently forget Peres’ extraordinary legacy in building Israel’s military strength, the part of his biography as the foremost architect of Israel’s strategic superiority, which lay the foundations of his later politics. It was because he believed in survival that he fought for peace. If you think otherwise, you never understood Peres at all.
There are the haters on the left, who know this prehistory of Peres all too well. They are incapable of understanding the muck and real-world mire from which true peacemakers sometimes need to emerge. Self-preservation and compromise, justice and peace — these are twinned values, and can best be pursued in tandem. Peres is too complicated for the moral purists of the left. The former haters forget Peres’s past all too quickly; the latter are too persistent in preventing the narrative of the life of a complicated person to evolve.
Then there are the Zionist-myth haters of Peres who have mocked him his whole life for his accented Hebrew, his European demeanor, his anti-Sabra tendencies. Zionists of this ilk are just funny: a nation of immigrants, and still they persist in believing there is some idealized picture of “the Israeli” to which its statesmen and icons must comport. Peres is — if ironically — the ultimate Israeli: a constructed Diasporic image, builder of a new nation from a whole bunch of spare parts.
I’m thinking about Peres now and praying for his health. Not just in gratitude for the gifts he gave in his lifetime of leadership for the Jewish people and the state of Israel, and not just because a person of his stature will deserve better and more than these haters will allow him when the time comes to construct his memory. I’m thinking about Shimon Peres because he is the embodiment of a central idea of Zionism — optimism — that has lost its luster in the posturing and politicking of the inferior generation of would-be statesmen who have tried (and failed) to follow in and fill his shoes, with their hopeless realism and petty pragmatism.
Zionism is imagination, and Peres is its prophet.
Yehuda Kurtzer is the President of The Shalom Hartman Institute of North America.