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Israel’s Last Founding Father

TEL AVIV – In 2006, a year before Shimon Peres was elected as Israel’s president, Michael Bar-Zohar published the Hebrew edition of his Peres biography. It was aptly titled Like a Phoenix: by then, Peres had been active in Israeli politics and public life for more than 60 years.

Peres’s career had its ups and downs. He reached lofty heights and suffered humiliating failures – and went through several incarnations. A pillar of Israel’s national security leadership, he subsequently became an ardent peacemaker, always maintaining a love-hate relationship with an Israeli public that consistently declined to elect him Prime Minister but admired him when he did not have or seek real power.

Undeterred by adversity, Peres kept pushing forward, driven by ambition and a sense of mission, and aided by his talents and creativity. He was a self-taught man, a voracious reader, and a prolific writer, a man moved and inspired every few years by a new idea: nanoscience, the human brain, Middle Eastern economic development.

He was also a visionary and sly politician, who never fully shook off his East European origins. When his quest for power and participation in policymaking ended in 2007, he reached the pinnacle of his public career, serving as President until 2014. He rehabilitated the institution after succeeding an unworthy predecessor and became popular at home and admired abroad as an informal global Elder on the international stage, a sought-after speaker in international fora, and a symbol of a peace-seeking Israel, in sharp contrast to its pugnacious prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.