Israeli leaders mourn Peres: 'He was a visionary, a man of peace'
Prime Minister Netanyahu expresses 'deep personal grief at the passing of the beloved of the nation,' while President Rivlin, who is cutting short a state visit to Ukraine to return to Israel, vows to 'carry his memory with me, and in particular his spirit of hope.'
Israeli leaders from across the political spectrum mourned the passing of the nation's ninth president Shimon Peres on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed "deep personal grief at the passing of the beloved of the nation."
"Shimon dedicated his life to the independence of our nation," the prime minister said. "As a visionary, he looked to the future. As a man of defense, he fortified the strength of Israel in many ways—some remain unknown to this very day. As a man of peace, he worked up to his final days to promote reconciliation with our neighbors and a better future for our children."
"In his seven years as the president of Israel, he's done much to unite the people, and the people responded with great love. There aren't many people in our history who contributed so much to the State of Israel and the people of Israel," Netanyahu continued.
The prime minister also had a more personal note to add, "I met Shimon for the first time 40 years ago at the grave of my brother Yoni. I will never forget his warm treatment of me, my brother Iddo and my parents, at the time of our loss."
"And now, Shimon, the beloved of the nation, is saying goodbye to us. But he will never be away from our hearts and memories. Shimon Peres's name will be forever etched in the story of the Jewish people's independence, as one of the great leaders and founding fathers of the State of Israel."
President Reuven Rivlin, who cut short his state visit to Ukraine to return to Israel on Wednesday, expressed "deep sadness."
“A short distance from where I am visiting in Ukraine, in the city of Vishnyeva, Belarus, was born Szymon Perski, who grew to be a young man with great dreams. From here, from Eastern Europe, he emigrated to the land of Israel, and ever since never ceased to work for the sake of the Zionist movement, for the sake of the State of Israel, and the people of Israel," Rivlin said.
“There is not a chapter in the history of the State of Israel in which Shimon did not write or play a part. As one man he carried a whole nation on the wings of imagination, on the wings of vision. A man who was a symbol for the great spirit of this people. Shimon made us look far into the future, and we loved him. We loved him because he made us dare to imagine not what was once here, nor what is now, but what could be.
“This is a sad day for the Israeli people, and the State of Israel. We all bow our heads at hearing of his passing. I will carry his memory with me, his handshake, his sensible advice which he always gave lovingly, and in particular his spirit of hope which he breathed into this people. The spirit of hope and peace which was his path and desire.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein also sent his condolences. "Israel's Knesset bows its head and grieves the loss of the ninth president and former prime minister Shimon Peres," he said.
"Israel is saying goodbye today to the man who stood at the head of its family. It is saying goodbye to the man who saw everything, was involved in everything, and shaped everything. Peres is the story of the Jewish people and the State of Israel: Whether as a son to a family of Holocaust survivors, an oleh, a farmer, a security man and a statesman."
"We will sorely miss Peres, but his fingerprints and the fruits of his labor will remain with us for many generations," Edelstein added.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely admitted that "Even those who disagreed with his political beliefs could not help but admire his determination and persistence in his aspiration for peace."
Education Minister Naftali Bennett praised Peres as a “practical visionary” and a “courageous leader.”
"Peres was my education minister, and I'll miss him terribly," the Bayit Yehudi leader lamented. "Peres lived and breathed education ... It was important to him that every children in the State of Israel gets the opportunity to have excellent education.
"He loved the children of Israel, the people of Israel and the State of Israel. It was the project of his life, and I'd come out of every meeting with him charged with energy and optimism."
Bennett acknowledged that he and Peres “did not always see eye-to-eye” on the issues facing Israel. "He kept trying to convince me there was no meaning to geographic borders because technology doesn't see borders, and I thought he was wrong. But it was an argument borne of very great love."
Bennett noted that Peres “proudly represented Israel around the globe, and cared for the future of the Jewish people with every ounce of his body and soul.”
“I was fortunate to have met Peres multiple times over the past few years, and to hear his vision of a country that would be a light unto the nations; an Israel that would export to the world our greatest product: the Jewish mind,” Bennett added. "I'd come to him with a notebook and write down his insights."
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked praised Peres who "during his time as president had the wisdom to bring the different parts of the nation together, and aided in improving Israel's international standing among world leaders. Even though our political views were different, there is no doubt he dedicated all of his time and effort to the State of Israel."
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman also acknowledged his ideological and political differences of opinion with Peres, but also said that he would miss the former president.
“In recent years, particularly when he was president and I was foreign minister, and later when I was defense minister and he was the former president, we would meet often to talk about the future of this country. I will miss him, both as a statesman and as a person,” Lieberman said.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon spoke of Peres as someone who "in his personality embodied the creativity, determination and faith that led Israel to new heights in all fields, and holds a place of honor in the national pantheon."
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said that all IDF soldiers were bowing their heads at the loss of the former president, prime minister and defense minister.
“President Peres was one of the founders and builders of this country, a man of vision and action whose accomplishments spanned more than 70 years, left his fingerprints on every area of life in Israel, and particularly on the defense establishment,” Eisenkot said.
“His long-term activities and accomplishments, and his vision for the future, served as an important milestone in the establishment and development for the IDF for many years," the IDF chief continued.
“Israel was Shimon’s life mission, and the security of this country stood at the forefront of everything that he did. His legacy of action, of turning vision into reality and of unrelenting forward thinking and development will guide the IDF for many years to come,” Eisenkot said.
Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Labor party that has been Peres's political home, eulogized "the man who, from youth and up to his final days, worked for the State of Israel."
"He was a teacher, a friend and a great leader who will be forever bound up with the chronicles of Israel's history," Herzog continued.
"There's a feeling like we're saying goodbye to one of our nation's fathers, because Peres was always there. For 70 years Peres was at the forefront of the work in the State of Israel. As someone who used to be state founder Ben-Gurion's right hand man, to his final day, he was there. He was there as a wonderful foreign minister, a wonderful defense minister, a wonderful prime minister and a wonderful president," he added.
"Peres played a part in everything that grew here. He was a man of great deeds that shaped the State of Israel throughout all of its years. His contribution to Israel's security and to its deterrence, to the determined fight against terrorism and the endless striving for peace, to its economy and its social strength, to its international standing, and to Israeli innovation and daring—cannot be described by mere words.
"The diplomatic issue was a real passion for him. All Peres cared about lately was the need to make a brave diplomatic move and separate from the Palestinians," Herzog noted.
On a personal note, Herzog said he "has known Peres and his family since I was a child. As an adult, it was my honor to be an aid, an advisor and a friend to him ... We'd meet frequently. I came to him for advice. And in general, history always fascinated me—how he led moves."
Herzog sent his condolences to Peres's children and grandchildren, as well as to Peres's staff and close advisors.
"The State of Israel, and the nation in both Israel and the Diaspora, is saying goodbye with pain and love to a great leader, a giant," the Labor leader concluded.
MK Tzipi Livni, the head of Hatnua and Herzog's co-leader at Zionist Union, stated that "This is the end of an era, of the Generation of Giants—those who built the nation and ensured its security. But I don't want it to be the end of his vision. I don't want him to be the last person to have pursued peace so much, who worked to bring peace."
Shas leader Aryeh Deri described Peres as "a true friend to me. I loved him very much. I will always remember him for his wisdom, vision, sensitivity, and the great respect he had to every person."
Deri noted Peres's contribution to Israel's security and his efforts to make peace, saying these contributions "outline his rare, Jewish nature—a public leader in every fiber of his being who dedicated his entire life to his people and legacy."
The Shas leader went on to talk about how "Peres honored and treasured the scholars of Torah. His warm and close relationship with Shas's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, was well known, and (Peres) would visit (Rabbi Yosef) every holiday."
"Peres's passing is a great loss to the Jewish people and the State of Israel," Deri added.
On Tuesday evening, Deri arrived the Sheba Medical Center to pray for Peres.
"Yesterday, when I heard these were his final hours... I left everything and went there. I felt a duty as a religious Jew, as his friend, to come and pray Shema Yisrael, the traditional prayer said for every person who is passing from this world," Deri said.
"Rabbi (Shmuel) Rabinovitch, the Western Wall's rabbi, who is also a friend of the family, joined me along with his son. Even though no one was allowed into the room, they realized the importance of the moment and the responsibility we had and we went into the room along with the hospital's director. We had a very moving prayer with a lot of tears, and that's how we said goodbye to him. I'm pleased we've done this. He deserved this, such a great leader of the Jewish people, to pass from this world as custom dictates with the Shema Yisrael prayer."
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid wrote, "When a man passes away, it's customary to say he is 'gone.' This is what the newspapers' headlines will say—'Shimon Peres is gone.' They're wrong. Shimon Peres is here. Even in his death, he's here with us. He's here because we're surrounded by the results of his actions: The defense establishment, the Dimona reactor, the Israeli democracy, our international standing. He put his own unique stamp on each and every one of them.
"While he did so, he taught us all a unique lesson in leadership. He taught us that real leaders are not measured just by the way they face the enemy, but also—and perhaps mostly—by the way they face their people and tell them everything, including the things they don't want to hear."
Former prime minister Ehud Barak lamented "a giant, a leader and an outstanding statesman," who was "the last of the leaders who were truly present at the birth of the nation."
"A man who made an immeasurable contribution to Israel's security, its standing in the world and its efforts for peace. A world statesman, who even during his greatest achievements and until his last days had a great vision for a better Israel and a better world, along with an inexhaustible curiosity of a young man for every emerging innovation and revolution," Barak continued.
Barak, a former leader of the Labor party himself, as well as a former IDF chief of staff, defense minister and prime minister, spoke of Peres's security achievements. "I remember him as a defense minister during the Entebbe Operation," he said, adding that "Peres contributed to the rehabilitation of the IDF after the Yom Kippur War."
Speaking of Peres's work to build the nuclear reactor in Dimona, Barak said: "He wasn't a man of science and chemistry, but he was the very life of the project that added a safety net to the State of Israel's strength and ensured its existence. This also gave him the moral authority to come and say that Israel was strong enough to also try achieving peace."
Despite the fact Peres "had left a massive mark" on the State of Israel, Barak lamented the fact he "had to fight his entire life ... It was only in his last years that he received love from every direction as the president of the state."
Udi Adam, the Defense Ministry's director-general, also spoke of Peres's contribution to Israel's security, saying "Words cannot quantify the tremendous amount that Shimon Peres did for the security of Israel. Shimon Peres shaped the character and values of the Ministry of Defense, led the building and development of the Israel Defense Forces and its strategic capabilities, developed defense relationships between Israel and different countries around the world, and played a key role in the developing Israel's defense industries."
The Mossad released a statement as well, saying "For many years, Shimon Peres worked together with the Mossad on operations and activities for Israel's security, and was one of the country's prominent leaders, a symbol of peace and brotherhood and one that gave an enormous contribution to fortifying Israel's security."
Author Amos Oz lamented "My friend Shimon had a very rare human quality: He had the ability to change.
When I met Peres in the early 70s, he was in my eyes a banal hawk. Supporting settlers, a settler lover, a security man, the more land the better, the more power the better. He changed before my eyes ... into an enthusiastic and stubborn believer in Israeli-Palestinian peace and Israeli-Arab peace." — Israeli author Amos Oz