As Israelis mourned Simon Peres’ death–scores of world leaders, including two U.S. presidents, one current and one former–there was one conspicuous absence. That was the leaders of the Arab world (with one exception which proved the rule, Mahmoud Abbas) and the Israeli Palestinian community. They found nothing to mourn. Shimon Peres was not their leader; nor their hero. To them, Peres was little more than an iron fist in a velvet glove. He was the Father of the Bomb and of Israel’s military-industrial complex. His bomb, if used, would have caused a nuclear holocaust among Arabs. He was also the Father of the Settlements, their first supporter within the Labor Party. Peres was the hard-nosed hawk who, through the first four decades of his career, preferred military action to diplomatic compromise.
Though credited with Oslo Accords, this was a plan brought to him by his younger advisers and blessed only after he saw it having some chance of success. As historical reports indicate, while Rabin accepted the idea of an independent Palestinian state during the Oslo period., Peres rejected the notion outright.
Even those Israelis who worked closely with Peres concede that he never had any particular interest in the Palestinians beyond them being a means of achieving peace for Israelis. The notion that Peres was a peacemaker is only half-true. He wanted peace for Israel. As for the Palestinians, he hardly cared.
He did profess a visionary (to some) and fantastical (to others) plan to meld the region into a Middle Eastern version of the European Common Market. In his vision, political division and enmity would be subsumed within a wide-ranging prosperity which would lift all boats. The plan garnered him enormous good-will on the world stage. It was positive and optimistic in a region beset by unremitting bloodshed. It was just vague enough so that no one knew enough about it to be suspicious or even care about it. It was a plan full of noblesse oblige, Orientalist to the core, Israel bringing wealth and civilization to the backward Middle East.
No one knew how his vision would be implemented. He probably didn’t himself. His plan was the equivalent of working out an entire societal structure for human civilization on Mars before working out the scientific and technical issues that would enable the first human to get there. That’s why Israelis could warm to him in the last two decades of his life. He was grandpa sitting in his rocking chair reminiscing about the good old days.
Israeli Jews including the right-wing Israeli media professed shock when they learned that no Israeli Palestinian MKs would attend his funeral. It seemed to them a cudgel that they could use to prove that Israeli Palestinians aren’t really Israelis, but somehow alien to Israel.
The truth is that Israeli Palestinians had nothing to mourn for. Peres was no leader to them. Peres did nothing for them. These are Israeli Palestinians, citizens of the state of Israel. If Peres was a true democrat, he would have seen them as part of his natural constituency. But he didn’t. Peres, throughout his political career made a point of disparaging Arabs, including Israeli Jewish Arabs. During a speech in the 1977 Israeli election campaign, he said of Mizrahim: “you have neither honor nor respect.” This is what you were to him. He was the prototypical Ashkenazi throwback to the founding of the state, when Jews of European origin were treated with deference and all others treated with derision.
So why should Israeli Jews feign horror at the notion that Israeli Palestinians would not mourn Shimon Peres? Why should Israeli Jews have any right to say what Israeli Palestinians should feel toward Shimon Peres? As Carolyn Kasbari says in her Haaretz op-ed: which Israeli Jewish leaders attended the funeral of Mahmoud Darwish, Israeli Palestinians’ national poet? Which of them mourned at the funeral of Yasser Arafat?
The real truth is that Israeli Jews didn’t much honor Shimon Peres while he was an active political leader. He was spurned in every national election in which he stood for party leadership. He never was elected prime minister, although he did serve in the post twice: once in which became PM through rotation, and the second time after the assassination of Rabin . The first time Peres ran for president he lost. The second time he finally won, but this was at the close of a half-century political career. And besides, the presidency in Israel is more of a ceremonial post. Israelis could afford to honor him with a position in which he had little power.
So the question arises why do Israelis feign shock when they themselves never trusted Shimon Paris with real power during his lifetime? The mourning for him after his death came easy and cheap.
Further, why do Israeli Jews have any right to tell Israeli Palestinians how to behave? Why do they have the right to tell Palestinian citizens of Israel who they should mourn and who they should honor? When have Israeli Jews made any attempt to create a state in which the Palestinians were equal to Jews? In which Jews mourned the death of Palestinian leaders and heroes as much as Palestinians?
If we compare this to America, can anyone imagine a U.S. president attending the funeral of Geronimo, Sitting Bull or any Native American chief? After all, Native Americans are Americans too. And these were the revered leaders of Native Americans. If the leaders in Washington truly honored and respected all Americans, why would they not mourn the loss of a Native American chief? Did the president of the day attend the funerals of George Washington Carver or WEB DuBois? Yet African Americans mourned the deaths of U.S. presidents. Why was there no reciprocity between whites and other U.S. minorities?
I’d venture to guess that if today there was a leader like Martin Luther King, a U.S. president would attend his funeral. That’s because we’ve changed as a nation. Blacks and whites are a whole lot more equal than they were half a century ago. This is a change Israel has never realized and must for it to be truly democratic; and for it to be able to expect Palestinians to share the national vision and emotions of Jews.
The post headline is a reference to the song from musical, Evita: Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.