With just a few months left in office, the U.S. president made sure to deliver a message to the Israeli people, and more pointed one to its leader.
Nearly every aspect of Friday’s state funeral for Shimon Peres, who died this week at the age of 93, had a subtext, or could be seen as a metaphor.
The passing of the last member of Israel’s founding generation (in Hebrew: Generation of the State / דור המדינה) felt as though someone ended a written sentence with a full stop marked in thick-tipped black marker. The End. The end of the aspirational ideals of the socialist generation; the end of the days of aspiring toward a democratic, fully representative state; the end of looking at history as progressive instead of stagnant.
It fell to Barack Obama to highlight all the symbols and ironies both in Peres’s life and in the way his funeral was conducted. The U.S. president tied together the threads of the historical events Peres witnessed and participated in over his long life, even as he (Obama) channeled an idealized version of that life to deliver a deeply nuanced lecture to Israelis. At the risk of coarsening his message with reductiveness, it could be parsed down to one sentence: What kind of state do you want to be?
Do you want to be the kind of state that is led by Benjamin Netanyahu, a man who just today humiliated President Abbas, the man who is ostensibly his partner for peace, by refusing to even acknowledge him in his own eulogy? Or do you want to be led by someone who is gracious and generous; someone who understands that basic courtesy requires him to express appreciation to Abbas for having come to pay his respects — even though it meant losing yet more respect from his own people, having to request permission from the Israeli army that controls his movements, and sitting through the funeral on Mt. Herzl, named for the founder of Zionism.
Between you and me, I know that Shimon Peres was not an observant Jew. But he did care deeply about the Jewish people (let’s leave aside for a moment that you might not have agreed with his goals or deeds) and, while he was indeed one of the original fathers of the settlement movement (of course I know that), in later life he came...Read More