Academic journal article Shofar

Shimon Peres: The Biography

Academic journal article Shofar

Shimon Peres: The Biography

Article excerpt

Shimon Peres: The Biography, by Michael Bar-Zohar. New York: Random House, 2007. 554 pp. $29.95.

Throughout Shimon Peres's long political career, from his nomination in December 1953 as director general of Israel's defense ministry at the age of 30, through his service as Knesset member, government minister, and prime minister, to his election in June 2007 as Israel's president at the age of 83, the discrepancy between this statesman's great achievements and his image as untrustworthy keeps puzzling political observers. This biography, written by a long-time associate of Peres, provides a good illustration why. It consists of a lengthy account of Peres's deeds: the construction of Israel's military industries and nuclear reactor; the establishment of close relations with France and Germany in the fifties and sixties; the rescue of Israeli hostages from Entebbe in 1976; the fight against inflation in the 1980s; the Oslo accords of the 1990s, and others. At the same time, the biographer, just like his hero, seems as concerned with the spread of favorable images as with substance, which has been one of the main causes of Peres's loss of credibility.

From the beginning, when Peres's departure from Poland to Palestine as a child is described, one doubts whether grandpa's voice really trembled with emotion when he uttered to little Shimon: "Be a Jew, forever!" (p. 10). This commandment is followed by an endnote attributing its source to Peres himself, and could of course be true, but it would have seemed more credible had it not been so serving of a life narrative presenting Peres as an enlightened figure with a sense of mission rather than as an effective public servant.

While not hiding many of Peres's flaws of character, culminating in his failure to act on information he received as prime minister about the murder of two Palestinian terrorists after their capture, this biography often lacks serious scholarship when it is needed. For instance, Israeli-French relations are described as founded almost exclusively on Peres's personal contacts, without much analysis of the interests at stake; the description of Peres's tenure as deputy defense minister could have been significantly enhanced by a deeper consideration of civil-military relations in Israel; and a whole body of scholarship on the Suez Crisis of 1956 is ignored, when Israel is said to have achieved in that crisis "a hundred percent of its goals" (p. …

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