Sidebar to the Peres Funeral
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
With the passing of the Shimon Peres, the last of Israel’s founding icons was laid to rest. For the history of the State of Israel it is indeed the end of an era. Considering that Peres was never elected Prime Minister on his own and barely was elected to the honorific post of President, the national outpouring for him was truly moving, but the response from other quarters was even more extraordinary.
It was truly hard to contemplate that over 70 countries were represented at his funeral including all the major countries in the West; including the sitting and one of the previous American presidents attended, the heir to British throne, and assorted heads of state or heads of government. President Obama even ordered American flags to be flown at half-staff out of respect Peres.
While the world dignitaries naturally came to pay their respects to Peres and his life, it’s hard to fathom the level of respect and perceived importance that Israel plays in the world that so many leaders were moved to attend his funeral. What is fascinating is that less than 70 years ago there was no Israel and when Peres was born 93 years ago a modern, robust state of Israel was even beyond the imagination of most people in the world—even Jews.
While there was some actual subtle and even not so subtle politicking which took place in the context of the funeral and the accompanying theatre, this was not a gathering which was occasioned by a tragic assassination as was the outpouring after the murder of Yitzhak Rabin. Peres was a former Israeli President and Israeli Prime Minister whom these leaders came to honor.
Admittedly many people came because Peres’ respect grew internationally during the final few decades of his life as he moved more and more to the left and became one of the most important leaders for peace in the Middle East; for improved relations between Israel and her Arab neighbors. Most of them also knew that Peres had made major contributions to Israel’s foreign policy and defense policy during the early decades of the State. They also believed that it was Peres’ diplomatic skill and persuasive power that enabled the very young State of Israel to acquire nuclear weapons from France. He also skillfully eventually maneuvered America’s tacit acceptance of Israel’s nuclear program.
Now the world came to Jerusalem to recognize the dreamer, the poet, the negotiator and the statesman.