Shimon Peres, who passed away on 28 September in Tel Aviv, was one of Israel’s best known and most loved public figures.
Peres’ public life spanned six decades, including time as Israel’s President, Prime Minister, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and as a member of the Knesset for an extraordinary 47 years.
I must remark that today, November 9, is the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht, because Peres spoke often about Kristallnacht.
The tragedy of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, when SA brownshirts and mobs of Nazi supporters murdered nearly 100 Jews and torched and vandalised Jewish synagogues, homes, schools, businesses and cemeteries, was a turning point in the nature of persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany.
When Peres spoke about Kristallnacht, it was as he spoke about the Holocaust, not with a view to revenge, but as lessons in history that must be learned so that they are never repeated.
Peres was a giant of Israeli politics. A prodigious optimist, he worked tirelessly to achieve peace, no matter how many hurdles arose. He was a deep thinker and an inspired speaker, whose ability to negotiate when negotiation seemed lost, was legendary.
Shimon Peres was a deep soul, a man of literature and poetry. His place in the history of Israel is almost mythical in its greatness, but all of his achievements were reached through hard work, negotiation and incredible resolve.
Shimon Peres was an icon, not only of Israel, but of peace itself: a man whose early life was engulfed in the rabid anti-Semitism of the 1930s and 40s, but who emerged from this senseless hatred determined to bring peace to his people and to his region.
It is well documented that Peres’ grandfather was one of millions of Jews who perished in the horror of the Holocaust, but this personal tragedy, though scarring, did not embitter Peres, who spent his life fighting to ensure that the tragedy that is war was not unnecessarily repeated.
I was fortunate enough to meet Shimon Peres several times and was always impressed by his optimism, humanity and appreciation of the strong bonds between Israel and Australia.
Peres was a man deeply intertwined with the history of Israel. He was there at the beginning, when the modern state of Israel was founded. He was the man who helped achieve one of the biggest steps toward peace in the Middle East, through the Oslo Peace Accord, for which he was later deservedly awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. He was there in Israel’s most recent history, as a guiding, passionate and beloved President from 2007 to 2014.
Shimon Peres is an inspiration to millions of people, Jews and non-Jews alike, for his irrepressible passion for peace and his unmatched resolve to achieve it.
I quote from Shimon Peres’ courageous speech at the German Bundestag on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, 2010.
We want to learn from the Europeans, who unshackled Europe from a thousand years of war and bitterness, and enabled Europe’s youth to substitute the hostility of their forefathers with brotherhood.
It would be wise to learn from their experience, to dream about a Middle East in which its countries will depart from the conflicts of their parents on behalf of peace for their children. Establish a modern regional economy that would fight new and common challenges: hunger, desertification, sickness and terror. Promote scientific cooperation to improve the standard of living and secure quality of life.
The common God of all is the God of peace, not the God of war.
Shimon Peres’ legacy is the example that peace can be achieved throughout the Middle East and that all of us can live side-by-side. It is telling that Peres, this champion of democracy and reconciliation in the Middle East received his Nobel Prize for peace alongside Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, demonstrating what can be achieved when world leaders can work together for a common good.
Israel has lost one of its finest leaders and the world one of its finest, fiercest and most compelling advocates for peace.
Shimon Peres was truly an icon for Israelis and for peace. He will be sorely missed by the people he led as Prime Minister and President.
May he rest in peace.