President Shimon Peres made a short visit to the Peres Center to toast in the Jewish New Year and meet employees at the Center he founded. Whatever your opinions of him are, it was still a special day to see him in the flesh, shake his hand and have my photograph taken with him.
I suppose it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see the founder of the organisation I am interning with make an appearance for one of the Jewish calendar’s biggest celebrations, Jewish New Year (we’re now in the year 5772). Asking around the office though it seems his appearances at the Center are few and far between nowadays.
Shimon Peres and The Peres Center
At the ripe old age of 88 and with plenty of official duties to carry out as the President of Israel it’s understandable that he’s no longer deeply involved in the Center’s work. Cynics might argue that it’s no longer politically rewarding for him to be associated with projects aimed at bridging the Israeli-Palestinian divide. A far cry from the days when the Peres Center was founded in 1996 when prospects for peace were as high as they have ever been: the Oslo Accords, a peace treaty with Jordan and Shimon Peres with the political capital of a Nobel Peace Prize. How times have changed…
Although it’s undeniable Peres in his times as Prime Minister and in government was tied to the Israeli occupation of Palestine as much as any other Israeli leader he is now seen, at home and abroad, as the ‘moderate’ Israeli face – in stark contrast to the hawkish and right-wing traits of the current Netanyahu government.
So although his involvement in the Center is now minimal his name in the organisation’s title is a priceless asset when it comes to opening doors and attracting funding, here in Israel and abroad.
A Political Leader, or a Human Wax Statue?
After an initial tour of the premises, a few brief speeches and the celebratory toast it was time for him to be wheeled off to his next assignment. In an tortuously slow escape for the exit, row after row of employees and assorted family members gathered around him, in hope of catching a single photo alongside the old man.
Okay so I was as guilty as anyone for trying to get a photograph next to him but I couldn’t help but feel slightly awkward about it all. After decades of highly influential political life it seems his role in Israeli public life is to act as a human wax statue for people to take their photographs with. Has it come to this? And on the occasions that Netanyahu ships him off abroad things aren’t much better. His role – to placate foreign leaders with conciliatory views and assurances that we all know, Peres included, Netanyahu has no intention of ever keeping.