Whatever else you might say about him, Shimon Peres was devoid of intellectual substance. He began his career essentially as an arms-procurement agent for Ben Gurion, the very caricature of the Yid swindler, and ended it as a sort of Yoda to the plutocracy, jetting around in his dotage, dispensing schlock Hallmark wisdom to the planetary managerial class. I’m not saying he lacked actual wisdom (if shrewdness can be called wisdom)—no no, he possessed that in ample reserve, but it was strictly machiavellian. What Peres embodies isn’t so much the thwarted Jewish longing for tranquility (he lived a life of luxury), but the much-decried Jewish mastery of having our cake and eating it, too.
Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon pursued Arafat to death’s very edge, first in a Beirut bunker and later in his besieged Ramallah compound, and they did it with such maniacal abandon that first Ronald Reagan and, later, George W. Bush (each man a mass murderer of Arabs in his own right) constrained them to yield. Arafat was actually a great admirer of his adversaries’ wanton single-mindedness, and was known to have devoured Begin’s memoirs and applied their lessons to his struggle. But you know what they say about swatting at a fly with a hammer. Or a Sbarro with a nail bomb, or a UN school with a bunker-buster.
The thought of the world’s tech, financial, artistic and political elite turning Mother Mary-like for counsel to a Newark mafia don is inconceivable. Yet like Arafat, Shimon Peres was a consummate gangster whose every word about peace was mendacious, and in the end he took Arafat to school, hard, with a kind of rope-a-dope strategy intended to appease the so-called international community’s insistence on peace-seeking while at the same time reducing the Palestinians—whose political prospects today are little better than they were in 1949— under hopelessly absolute despotism, by hook and by crook.
And like icing on the cake, not only did Peres live to see the literal demise of his old frenemy, he lived to see that once formidable nuisance reduce himself to the role of supplicant on American television, a kind of Palestinian Al Sharpton, a grievance pimp doing penance before American Jewish Senators and media mandarins, swearing up and down that he had reformed. My family spent the 1990s wondering why Peres didn’t seem to mind that Arafat was lying, but now we know why. This long con, and not the bullshit knighthood or the bullshit Nobel or the photo-ops in Hollywood and Palo Alto, is the best evidence of Peres’ profundity, longevity and achievement. For better or for worse, this hot-air liberal paragon’s legacy is one of utter ruthlessness.
As the last surviving political father of his country, Peres was correct to credit himself some for the glimmer of all he surveyed: the start-ups, biotech, aerospace, the relative political liberty, the robust bursa. Yet in Israel tonight, while Shimon Peres lies interred on Mount Herzl, hapless women who came seeking refuge from the blight of the former Warsaw Pact are selling their bodies beneath the glinting skyscrapers. Mafia thuggery is winked at by police. Jewish children are going to bed hungry in towns that manufacturing deserted, Arab ones in towns that the army and the never-ending ‘resistance’ have decimated, and social services that can be had by Jewish immigrants years before they’re asked to pay so much as a gruza in VAT are denied to impoverished Arab villagers, or provided in unequal quality and proportion to taxpaying ones. And relative to its size and economic scale, Israel is far and away the world’s number one exporter of death, of weapons’ systems and expertise, without which its GNP would compare favorably only to Albania’s.
None of this will be forgotten or forgiven. Damocles’ sword hangs over that land, and patriotism is slowly giving way to fragmentation of the same traumatized pragmatism that midwifed the Zionist dream into reality on the heels of terrified, fleeing natives. Peres was but one man who, of course, could never have been arraigned individually for all these grim realities (unlike, say, an octogenarian former enlisted-man who spent three months manning a guard tower at Treblinka). All the same, you’d be well-advised to shop around before taking a brand ambassador’s word.