The Nobel Peace Prize laureates for 1994 in Oslo, from left to right: Palestinian Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat, Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. (photo by Saar Yaacov, GPO)
A towering figure, one among the founding generation of Israelis, Shimon Peres served as president, prime minister and in various key cabinet posts. He died Sept. 28 at the age of 93. Canadians joined in the international chorus of leaders mourning his death.
“Every so often, our lives are graced by the presence of truly remarkable individuals. They teach us invaluable lessons about compassion, fairness and generosity. They give us innumerable memories and a life of service that changes societies for the better,” said Gov. Gen. David Johnston.
“Shimon Peres meant so much to Israel, to Jewish people in Canada and around the world, and to the friendship between our nations. He called Canada an extraordinary friend during his state visit to our country in 2012, and I remember quite clearly the impression he left on me as a socially conscious man, driven by his love of Israel,” Johnston stated. “Though he is no longer with us, I hope that the legacy he left – as former president and prime minister of Israel and as a Nobel Peace Prize recipient – will let us strive for a better, more peaceful world. He will be missed and remembered by all those whose lives he has touched.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement saying, “Shimon Peres was, above all, a man of peace and a man dedicated to the well-being of the Jewish people.
“Over the course of his long and distinguished life, Mr. Peres made enormous contributions to the founding and building of the state of Israel. He was devoted to promoting understanding between his country and its neighbors, and shared a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to create peace in the Middle East.
“Mr. Peres was an internationally respected statesman and a great friend to Canada. He visited our country often, and helped build relations that remain strong to this day.
“On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Peres – and to the people of Israel. His legacy as a tireless advocate for peace will not be forgotten.”
Rona Ambrose, leader of the Official Opposition Conservative party, stated, “Few have accomplished more for the advancement of Israel and the Jewish people than Shimon Peres. His legacy spanned more than six decades in public service and as a political figure. He was a man who was the architect of Israel’s robust defence strategy, and someone who also won the Nobel Peace Prize in an attempt to find peace with the Palestinian people.
“Israel today is a steadfast ally to the West and all those who cherish democracy and pluralism. Israel’s strength is due in no small part to Shimon Peres and his foresight in advocating for peace while ensuring the nation he loved had the means to protect itself and its citizens in a turbulent world.
“Shimon Peres’ relationship with Canada was strong and lasting. In the 1950s, he visited Canada to secure assistance for the fledgling state. This soon cemented the special relationship between Canada and Israel, and he paid tribute to Canada on his 2012 visit when he said Canada is ‘an extraordinary friend’ and ‘never indifferent, never neutral.’”
Businessperson and former diplomat Arie Raif knew Peres well. He considered the Israeli leader his mentor and first met him as a teenager in the Israeli Knesset. Peres was a visionary, an elegant individual who never lost the common touch, who felt just as home with cooks and workers as with prime ministers and diplomats, he said.
Raif recalled an incident as a youth, when Peres visited the staff at the Knesset before Passover. He greeted them all with a warm embrace and wished them a happy holiday. Raif was able to meet the future prime minister, president and cabinet minister because his mother was the sous-chef in the Knesset at the time. Later, he would go on to work with Peres, and he opened the Canadian Peres Centre for Peace Foundation in Toronto.
Peres’ like will never be found again in Israel, Raif said. He possessed unique qualities that can’t be duplicated. As someone born in Europe, he brought something to Israel that the do-it-quick Israelis are lacking – a long-term vision for the country and the region.
Raif credited Peres with promoting peace and convincing his colleague, then-Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, to agree to the Oslo accords and shake Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s hand. That was something Rabin resisted for a long time.
Raif noted that, while a committed advocate for peace, in his earlier years, Peres played a key role in ensuring Israel possessed the means for its defence. In the 1950s, as director of the Ministry of Defence, “he made sure Israeli security forces got the best available weaponry and, according to the foreign press, he was the one who negotiated with the French for unconventional weapons” – Israel’s nuclear plant.
Canadian Jewish organizations also paid tribute to Peres.
“President Shimon Peres was a visionary, statesman, philanthropist and a giant of Israeli life whose private and professional accomplishments over seven decades read like the history of the modern state of Israel,” said David Cape, chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. “As a strong proponent of conflict resolution who earned a Nobel Prize for his efforts, Peres embodied the timeless aspiration of the Israeli people for a future in which their children will live in peace and security.”
“Shimon Peres was a vital force in shaping Israel,” said Julia Berger Reitman, chair of Jewish Federations of Canada-United Israel Appeal. “His contributions in the political and security fields are unparalleled. He was one of modern Israel’s defining figures.”
Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre issued a statement offering its condolences and JSpaceCanada, a progressive Zionist organization, issued a statement saying it “mourns the passing of Shimon Peres, a source of optimism and inspiration for Israel and for the worldwide Jewish community…. He is mourned not only by Israel’s allies throughout the world but also by members in the Palestinian leadership who seek real peace.”
Meanwhile, Montreal MP Anthony Housefather addressed Parliament, noting that, “rarely does a man embody a country, but Shimon Peres was indeed such a man. He was a part of every bit of Israeli history, big or small, since before the nation was founded.
“Israel and the rest of the world lost an exceptional human being … a great statesman who dedicated his life to promoting peace and dialogue. He was a source of inspiration to many people all over the globe, myself included. Through his enduring commitment to the principles of justice and human dignity, he always worked in the best interest of his people.”
Also addressing Parliament, Toronto MP Michael Levitt said, “the international community has lost a giant.
“Shimon Peres was a peace builder, a public servant who embodied the boundless energy, optimism and desire of Israelis to seek peace in a region fraught with immense challenges.
“In his 66 years in public life, President Peres dedicated himself to fostering peace between Israelis and Palestinians, as exemplified in his leadership role in forging the Oslo accords.
“President Peres’ contributions extend far beyond peace and diplomacy. He was a driving force for innovation, inspiring Israelis to dream and think big. Unquestionably, his influence contributed in no small part to the rise of the ‘start-up nation.’… Israelis have lost a founding father, but his legacy will continue to shine.”
– A longer version of this article and more national Jewish news can be found at cjnews.com