In the address he gave at the end of Tuesday evening's celebration, Peres said that his late wife Sonia had taught him about modesty. I'm afraid that Shimon the student may have skipped some vital lessons. I assume I'm the dissenting opinion: Many Israelis had tears in their eyes when they listened to Barbra Streisand singing "Avinu Malkeinu" ("Our Father, Our King") with great intention.
On Tuesday night we had to pinch ourselves from time to time, and remember that we are living in a republic. The president is neither our father nor our king. Peres is laudable for some of his deeds. He is worthy of admiration for the fact that in spite of his advanced age, he is full of beans. The cult of personality he enjoyed on Tuesday is uncommon in Israeli political culture and contradicts all the values Peres preaches. What happens in North Korea should remain in North Korea.
The most irritating thing in Tuesday's celebration was the exaggeration. The exaggerated praise: Peres, with all due respect, is not a social Albert Einstein like Clinton called him. He did not invent the theory of relativity, he did not invent science or nanotechnology, although he often mentions them in his speeches, both relevantly and irrelevantly.
He is an extremely talented man who devoted his life to politics. Peres has been part of nearly every single thing that happened in the 65 years of the State of Israel, for better or for worse. He had great achievements. He made great mistakes. Sometimes it seems that he keeps on talking about the future because he would rather not deal with his past mistakes. A tempestuous political career, one of the longest and most fascinating in the world, was turned into kitsch, into barefoot girls doing rhythmic exercises to the sounds of "Give Peace a Chance."
Netanyahu delivered a speech in which he described himself as the contractor executing Peres' vision. Peres dreamed of security and peace, and Netanyahu is doing just that. Netanyahu's speech was an excellent example of the power of hypocrisy in politics. If Peres and Netanyahu are one and the same, a teacher and his student, why did they attack each other for so many years?
What do Israelis understand when they hear such speeches? They understand that politics has nothing to do with a worldview. It's all about personal ambition and ego. They are being led by people who are not serious (Clinton, slightly sarcastically, complimented Netanyahu for the praise he offered Peres. He said that in America such praise had ceased to exist).
Megalomaniac productionAlthough many words were said throughout the night, they skipped entire chapters in Peres' career. They skipped his historic role as the father of settlements in the heart of the West Bank, the father of Ofra, Kedumim and Elon Moreh; they skipped the fact that until 1977, after being in politics for decades, Peres had stuck to rightist views, both on security-related issues and on social issues. He shifted to the left not because he had seen the light but because he had been sent to the opposition and felt he had to position himself against the Likud.
They skipped his miserable year as prime minister, after the Rabin murder, during which he lost his ability to make decisions and did all he could to delay the Oslo process which he started. They skipped his willingness to serve as a fig leaf for Netanyahu's policy on the Palestinian issue, while in private conversations he has very harsh things to say against it.
One of Peres' greatest virtues is his ability to foster a talented and effective team of assistants. This team put on a marvelous production on Tuesday night – too marvelous. As every bar mitzvah boy knows, a megalomaniac production can destroy the most sincere celebration.
Peres is an excellent president, one of the best we've ever had. He is the most popular Israeli in the world – a strategic asset whose value cannot be measured. For all these things he deserves a big thank you, not a cult of personality.