Birthday celebrations are not intended for a public self-examination, and Shimon Peres is no exception. And yet, after we've agreed about the principle, there was a sense of trouble and discomfort watching the film about the president's life and work, which was screened Tuesday at the International Convention Center as part of the mega production of his 90th birthday celebrations.
Whoever has not read several books about Israeli history would have been under the impression that there is one person responsible for the entire enterprise of the establishment and shaping of the State of Israel – and his name is Shimon Peres. And that's not the case. Don’t call me petty: Peres and his staff chose to present the history of his life, and did not settle for portraying him as the most admired Israeli in the world today. They also rewrote history.
We'll start with the War of Independence: While every young man and woman in the Yishuv (the body of Jewish residents in Palestine before the State's establishment), and every Holocaust refugee who landed on the shores of the newborn State, risked their lives defending Israel, Peres took part in the effort to purchase weapons. He didn't fight and didn’t risk his life in the battlefield.
Let's move on to another distortion in the film: David Ben-Gurion was the one who ordered the acquisition of materials for the construction of a nuclear facility. Peres was just the executor. From the film one might conclude that Peres is the father of the nuclear bomb. He is indeed worthy of all praise for his performance, but he cannot take credit for something he didn't do.
Moreover, Peres' associates want us to believe that he has been pursuing peace between us and the Palestinians for decades, yet he is one of main people responsible for the establishment of the settlement enterprise in the West Bank – a move which has likely pulled the plug on the possibility of reaching any compromise in the future.
And a personal note. A day before the Oslo Accords signing ceremony, in September 1993, my colleague Nahum Barnea and I met with Peres at his home in Jerusalem for an interview scheduled to be published several days later. Peres heard with us on the radio that US Secretary of State Warren Christopher had managed to convince Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who had refused to go to Washington earlier, to participate in the ceremony.
Peres was furious. He saw it as an attempt by Rabin to rob him of his glory. We were asked to leave the room, and Peres telephoned Giora Eini, who used to mediate between Rabin and Peres at times of difficult personal conflicts. "It's either me or Rabin, otherwise I'm staying home," Peres told the shocked mediator. "That man ruined my life. He has been persecuting me for 16 years," he shouted.
You're wondering how we found out about the conversation? When we got back to the newsroom we discovered that we had forgotten to turn off the tape recorder.
Peres completely despised Rabin, and Rabin didn't change his mind about him either (calling him a "tireless subverter"). The rest is a refurbishment of history. On Tuesday, in the film, hypocrisy and pretence were evident in every single statement Peres made about the slain prime minister.
Before he turns 120, and I do wish him that, Peres should find the time to answer a few questions about his life which remain unsolved.