This week, on the eve of his retirement, Israeli President Shimon Peres visits DC, where he met with President Obama and yesterday was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal. The bill awarding him the medal received bipartisan support in the House and a unanimous vote in the Senate.
Shimon Peres was born in Poland in 1923 and immigrated to Israel at age eleven. Peres was educated in Tel Aviv, where he founded two kibbutzim, and was deeply involved on the Labor-Zionist movement. When Israel gained independence in 1948, David Ben Gurion, Peres’s political mentor, appointed him to a key leadership position with the Israeli army. In 1952 he was appointed deputy director-general of the Ministry of Defense, and he later served as director-general and deputy defense minister. In 1965 he resigned to join Ben-Gurion in founding a new opposition party, Rafi. This led to the establishment of the Israeli Labour Party, which he would later lead and through which he served as prime minister.
When Yitzhak Rabin became prime minister of Israel in July 1992, Peres became foreign minister, handling negotiations that led to the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO. After Rabin was assassinated in 1995, Peres succeeded him as prime minister. He decided not to seek reelection as leader of the Labour Party in 1997, but served as foreign minister, deputy prime minister, and vice prime minister. In 2007, Peres was elected president of Israel.
Today, at age 90, Peres is the last surviving member of Israel’s founding generation of politicians. He has played a key role in every major event in the nation’s history, from the Suez Canal crisis to the peace negotiations with Jordan, Egypt, and, as noted earlier, the Oslo peace accords, for which he was awarded a joint Nobel Peace Prize with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat in 1994.
In 1996, Peres founded The Peres Center for Peace, with a mission to help build a sustainable infrastructure for peace, by and for people in the Middle East. In 2012, Peres was awarded the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom, honored by President Obama as “a warrior for peace,” who “teaches us to never settle for the world as it is.” Shimon Peres has authored eleven books, including David’s Sling, The New Middle East, and Battling for Peace; A Memoir. He is the first Israeli to receive this award, and he is one of only nine recipients of both the Congressional and Presidential Medals. The RAC joins the Jewish community in celebrating Shimon Peres and his lifetime of achievements.
Rebecca Fisher is a rising sophomore at Columbia University.