Tag Archives: Minister of Defence

Jew of the Week: Shimon Peres

A young Shimon Peres with his wife Sonia

A young Shimon Peres with his wife Sonia

Szymon Perski (1923-2016) was born in the shtetl of Vishnyeva (then part of Poland, now in Belarus) to a wealthy Russian-Jewish family. He was the great-great-grandson of the famed Rabbi Chaim Volozhin, and was greatly influenced by his own grandfather, Rabbi Zvi Meltzer. At the young age of 11, Perski’s family moved to Tel Aviv and Hebraized their last name to Peres. (Their entire extended family back in Vishnyeva would later perish in the Holocaust). After finishing his schooling, young Shimon went to live on a kibbutz working as a dairy farmer and shepherd before co-founding his own kibbutz. He was soon elected secretary of a Labor Zionist youth organization. From there, he joined the Mapai party, whose leader David Ben-Gurion took a personal interest in him. At 21, Peres was imprisoned for two weeks by the British for leading an “illegal” expedition into the Negev to scout a new place for Jewish settlement. In 1947, now married, Peres was appointed to the Haganah and put in charge of recruitment and weapons purchases. The following year, he took charge of Israel’s nascent navy. In the 50’s, while part of Israel’s delegation to the US, he studied at NYU and Harvard. At 29, he became the head of Israel’s Ministry of Defence – the youngest person to ever hold the position. He was praised for building strong military alliances with other countries (particularly France, who awarded him their highest distinction, the Legion of Honor), and securing large amounts of modern weapons that propelled Israel into a regional powerhouse. He also helped establish the crucial Dimona nuclear reactor. In 1959, Peres was elected to the Knesset. At one time or another, he served as Minister of Immigrant Absorption, Minister of Transportation, Minister of Defence, Foreign Minister, Minister of Finance, and Information Minister. In 1984, Peres was elected Israel’s prime minister, and in 2007, Israel’s president. Among his other major achievements are the 1976 Entebbe rescue operation (which he pushed through the Cabinet), the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan, and his Peres Center for Peace, which has trained over 250 Arab doctors and brought life-saving treatment to thousands of Arab children. Peres was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his work with the Oslo Accords, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2008, presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 by Barack Obama, and with the US Congressional Gold Medal in 2014. He was also the author of 11 books. Sadly, following a debilitating stroke, the last of Israel’s founding fathers passed away in his sleep early Wednesday. Dignitaries from around the world are flying in to pay their respects, including past and present heads of state of Germany, France, Canada, Australia, Mexico, and the US – many of whom Peres had guided and advised. President Obama has ordered flags in America to fly at half mast. Despite his age, Peres worked tirelessly until the very last days of his life. He had once said, “Optimists and pessimists die the same way. They just live differently. I prefer to live as an optimist.”

Words of the Week

It’s better to be controversial for the right reasons than to be popular for the wrong reasons.
– Shimon Peres

Jew of the Week: Avigdor Lieberman

Israel's New Minister of Defence, Avigdor Lieberman (Photo Credit: Yossi Zamir)

Israel’s New Minister of Defence, Avigdor Lieberman (Photo Credit: Yossi Zamir)

Evet Lvovich Lieberman (b. 1958) was born in Moldova to a Russian-Jewish family. He grew up speaking Yiddish and dreamed of being a poet. In 1978, his family made aliyah to Israel, where he went by the name “Avigdor”. After serving in the IDF, Lieberman studied political science at the Hebrew University. During this time, he worked as a bouncer in a club, and went on to become the club’s manager. In the mid-80s, Lieberman co-founded the Zionist Forum for Soviet Jewry, and worked for Israel’s National Worker’s Union. His first real foray into politics was in 1988, when he began collaborating with Benjamin Netanyahu. By 1993, Lieberman was the Director-General of Likud, and in 1996 became the Director-General of Netanyahu’s Prime Ministerial office. However, the following year he had a falling out with Netanyahu over concessions made to the Palestinians. He left Likud, and two years later, founded a new political party, Yisrael Beitenu. That same year, he was elected to the Knesset for the first time. He remained in this position until 2004, when Ariel Sharon kicked him out because of his vocal opposition to the Gaza withdrawal plans. In the next elections, Lieberman returned to the Knesset, his party having won 11 seats. Once again, in 2008, he left his post to protest “land for peace” negotiations, and was re-elected the following year. All in all, Lieberman has been an MK in every Knesset since 1999, and served as Minister of National Infrastructure, Minister of Transportation, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and even as Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister. Most recently, he has been appointed Minister of Defense. His strong support among the million-plus Soviet immigrants in Israel gives him consistently large Knesset seat victories, making him a key part of forming any successful coalition government. For this reason, he has been nicknamed the “kingmaker”. Over the years, Lieberman has worked to improve ties with European and African nations, and campaigned for Israel to join the European Union and NATO. He has always insisted on keeping Jerusalem undivided, on responding harshly to terror attacks, and strengthening Israel’s borders. On being a controversial figure, he has said: “I’ve always been controversial because I offer new ideas. For me to be controversial, I think this is positive.”

Words of the Week

The peace process is based on three false basic assumptions; that Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the main cause of instability in the Middle East, that the conflict is territorial and not ideological, and that the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders will end the conflict.
– Avigdor Lieberman