Phoenix: Shimon Peres and the Secret History of Israel Reviewed By Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com
Reviewer & Author Interviewer, Norm Goldman. Norm is the Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com.
He has been reviewing books for the past fifteen years when he retired from the legal profession.
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Author: Michael Bar-Zohar
Publisher: Magal Books
Shimon Peres served as Israel's ninth President (2007 to 2014) as well as Israel's Interim Prime Minister. He was a member of twelve cabinets and his political career expanded over seventy years. His first election to the Knesset was in November of 1959, and except for a three-month-long hiatus in early 2006, he was in office continuously until 2007 when he became President which he held for seven years. In 2014 he retired and was the world's oldest head of state.
Michael Bar-Zohar in his Phoenix: Shimon Peres and the Secret History of Israel states that because of all his defeats that had befallen him, some painted him as a tragic figure while others believed him to be an incurable optimist, someone who would never give in.
Peres' career flourished due to David Ben-Gurion's faith in his visionary abilities as well as his negotiating skills and due to the latter's protection and support, he was able to play important roles in a variety of important achievements. These included relations with France and Germany, the building of the nuclear reactor, the penetration in Africa, the transformation of the defense ministry into an empire and the various Israeli wars. And this was done in spite of strong opposition from Golda Meir, Isser Harel, Pinhas Lavon, Pinhas Sapir, Moshe Sharett and Yitzhak Rabin. You can say whenever there was an important event in Israel's history, you can bet that Peres was somewhere either in the forefront or behind the scenes playing an important role resulting in quite an important impact.
He was also a visionary always pointing toward Israel's future in development of science, industrialization of the country, bridging social gaps, promoting higher education, populating desert areas, and reforming the electoral system. In short, as Professor Bar-Zohar states: “Peres had conceived a dream of building a new, better Israel than the one described in Mapai's obsolete slogans.”
Peres was well-known for his extensive production of creative plans and ideas. Perhaps, his creativity sometimes had gone too far and that is why many characterized him as “a man of fantasies.” Yet, his fantasies did result in Dimona, the French Alliance and the German arms deals. Bar-Zohar points out that Ben-Gurion used to take from his ideas the creative parts and discard the unrealistic elements.
As Bar-Zohar mentioned, Peres in politics was accused of wooing his enemies and neglecting his friends as he devoted considerable time in winning the support of his rivals even if this meant at the expense of his friends. In fact, he often did not keep many of his promises and when Abba Eban was asked why Peres did not keep his promise to make him a minister, “Eban quipped cynically, he didn't want to set a precedent.”
There was considerable animosity between Peres and Rabin who often clashed when the latter was the chief of staff in the defense ministry and Peres was the deputy defense minister. Their diverging views were not a secret. As mentioned, when Rabin learned that Peres was going to run against him for Prime Minister, he reacted with disdain and spite. Rabin had fought in the War of Independence while Peres did not and to Rabin someone who did not wear the IDF uniform was a moral flaw of the highest order.
When Peres served as Foreign Minister in 2001, he had met with Bar-Zohar, the biographer of Ben-Gurion, and said that he was the same age as the latter when Bar-Zohar started writing his biography. He went on to further state that after what he had done for Israel, I hope that Ben-Gurion's biographer would also be his biographer.
Bar-Zohar, assisted by a gifted team, spent five years researching and writing Peres's biography. Using material from hundreds of interviews as well as dozens of books, documents and articles, Bar-Zohar examines Peres's political career from the late 1940's until his death on September 28th 2016 where he had held several diplomatic and military positions. The result is a fascinating look at someone who had done so much in so many fields and by such original methods, to strengthen Israel's security, to bring her peace, and to improve her world stature than Peres. And as Bar-Zohar mentions in his Author's Note, “I often recalled what Peres had said when I published my biography of Ben-Gurion: 'At every page Michael Bar-Zohar is torn between the desire to describe Ben-Gurion as a man with problems and flaws, mistakes and sins-and the truth about a unique man, a man who has made our lives unique.” This just about sums up Phoenix: Shimon Peres and the Secret History of Israel.
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