By Anthony Silkoff
Boring? A father figure? An over-achiever? A failure? Conflicted? These were the varied descriptions of Israel’s President, Shimon Peres, which an audience of activists, students, Israelis, Palestinians, and others at Kings College, London, heard on January 30.
OneVoice Europe hosted a panel discussion on leadership in the aftermath of the Israeli election. Following a screening of the acclaimed documentary, The Price of Kings: Shimon Peres, a panel of speakers offered their take on Peres as a leader and the legacy he will leave in Israel and Palestine.
There was inevitably much disagreement on the panel, with different points of view represented by Paul Charney (Chair, Zionist Federation), Dr. Ghada Karmi (Palestinian activist and academic), John Lyndon (Executive Director, OneVoice Europe), and Richard Symons (Co-Director, The Price of Kings).
There was as much criticism as there was praise for Shimon Peres, which was unsurprising for a such a long-serving political figure.
Dr. Karmi was forthright in her view, saying she found him “to be so boring in that movie” asking “what has he achieved?” and suggesting she would find a film about assassinated Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin far more interesting.
Paul Charney found much more to be positive about, observing that “Peres was instrumental in the pulling out of Lebanon and a key figure in the Oslo accords.” Watching both the film and the debate, I was simply struck by the sheer, undeniable, expanse of his experience, having spent decades at the frontline of Israeli politics.
However, what is also hard to deny, is that all political leaders so far have failed in their attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The occupation remains; Palestinians and Israelis both live in fear and insecurity; neither side lives in peace. So given the gravity of this situation, there is little point drawing up a ranking of the “best” and “worst” politicians of each side. Rather, we need to support a new generation of leaders who are courageous enough to make a two-state solution become reality.
The young Israelis and Palestinians at the forefront of OneVoice’s grassroots campaigns continue to make me immensely proud to be part of this Movement. I often hear people quote Gandhi – “be the change” - our young activists are doing, not quoting; leading, not following.
In the past six months alone, OneVoice Israel activists compelled their fellow citizens to “Wake up!” to the reality of politicians who want to damage the two-state solution. OneVoice Palestine activists went out across the West Bank, planting trees for a new forest and demanding an end to settlement expansion.
Summing up proceedings, OneVoice Europe Executive Director John Lyndon made just that point, explaining out that there are many different ways to lead.
“Peres represents a totemic figure in Israeli political life,” Lyndon said. “But across the Middle East, young people are taking the initiative themselves, and pressing the case for change. Whether it’s the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who took to the streets for social justice or the millions across the Arab world who have demanded democracy and justice, it is clear that new dynamics are emerging, with youth at the fore.”
So yes, leaders of all countries have failed to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace, but hope is not lost when a new generation is so clearly putting its foot down. No more excuses. Two states, now. As internationals, let’s make sure we support them every step of the way.
OneVoice will be screening the second film in The Price of Kings series, examining the life and leadership of Yasser Arafat, on the February 27 in London. Please email Anthony@onevoicemovement.org.uk for more details.