A towering figure, one among the founding generation of Israelis, Shimon Peres served as president, prime minister and in various key cabinet posts. He died Sept. 28 at the age of 93.
Canadians joined in the international chorus of leaders mourning Peres’ death.
“Every so often, our lives are graced by the presence of truly remarkable individuals. They teach us invaluable lessons about compassion, fairness and generosity. They give us innumerable memories and a life of service that changes societies for the better,” said Gov.-Gen. David Johnston.
“Shimon Peres meant so much to Israel, to Jewish people in Canada and around the world, and to the friendship between our nations. He called Canada an extraordinary friend during his state visit to our country in 2012, and I remember quite clearly the impression he left on me as a socially-conscious man, driven by his love of Israel,” Johnston stated.
“Though he is no longer with us, I hope that the legacy he left – as former president and prime minister of Israel and as a Nobel Peace Prize recipient – will let us strive for a better, more peaceful world. He will be missed and remembered by all those whose lives he has touched.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement saying, “Shimon Peres was, above all, a man of peace and a man dedicated to the well-being of the Jewish People.
“Over the course of his long and distinguished life, Mr. Peres made enormous contributions to the founding and building of the State of Israel. He was devoted to promoting understanding between his country and its neighbours, and shared a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to create peace in the Middle East.
“Mr. Peres was an internationally-respected statesman and a great friend to Canada. He visited our country often, and helped build relations that remain strong to this day.
“On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Peres – and to the people of Israel. His legacy as a tireless advocate for peace will not be forgotten.”
Rona Ambrose, leader of the Official Opposition Conservative party, stated, “Few have accomplished more for the advancement of Israel and the Jewish people than Shimon Peres. His legacy spanned more than six decades in public service and as a political figure. He was a man who was the architect of Israel’s robust defence strategy, and someone who also won the Nobel Peace Prize in an attempt to find peace with the Palestinian people.
“Israel today is a steadfast ally to the West and all those who cherish democracy and pluralism. Israel’s strength is due in no small part to Shimon Peres and his foresight in advocating for peace while ensuring the nation he loved had the means to protect itself and its citizens in a turbulent world.
“Shimon Peres’ relationship with Canada was strong and lasting. In the 1950s, he visited Canada to secure assistance for the fledgling state. This soon cemented the special relationship between Canada and Israel, and he paid tribute to Canada on his 2012 visit when he said Canada is ‘an extraordinary friend’ and ‘never indifferent, never neutral.’”
Businessperson and former diplomat Arie Raif knew Peres well. He considered the Israeli leader his mentor and he first met him as a teenager in the Israeli Knesset. Peres was a visionary, an elegant individual who never lost the common touch, who felt just as home with cooks and workers as with prime ministers and diplomats, he said.
Raif recalled an incident as a youth, when Peres visited the staff at the Knesset before Passover. He greeted them all with a warm embrace and wished them a happy holiday. He was able to meet the future prime minister, president and cabinet minister, because his mother was the sous-chef in the Knesset at the time.
Later he would go on to work with Peres and he opened the Canadian Peres Center for Peace Foundation in Toronto.
Peres’ like will never be found again in Israel, Raif said. He possessed unique qualities that can’t be duplicated. As someone born in Europe, he brought something to Israel that the do-it-quick Israelis are lacking – a longterm vision for the country and the region.
Raif credited Peres with promoting peace and convincing his colleague, then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, to agree to the Oslo accords and shake Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s hand. That was something Rabin resisted for a long time.
Raif noted that while a committed advocate for peace, in his earlier years Peres played a key role in ensuring Israel possessed the means for its defence. In the 1950s, as director of the Ministry of Defence, “he made sure Israeli security forces got the best available weaponry and, according to the foreign press, he was the one who negotiated with the French for unconventional weapons,” – Israel’s nuclear plant.
Peres possessed a strategic mind – looking beyond immediate concerns to consider those of the next generation, Raif said.
He was a visionary – sometimes called “a dreamer” – whose interests included promoting Israel’s technological innovations and in promoting peace through grass roots meetings, such as those advocated by the Peres Center for Peace, Raif added.
Canadian Jewish organizations also paid tribute to Peres.
“President Shimon Peres was a visionary, statesman, philanthropist and a giant of Israeli life whose private and professional accomplishments over seven decades read like the history of the modern state of Israel,” said David Cape, chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). “As a strong proponent of conflict resolution who earned a Nobel Prize for his efforts, Peres embodied the timeless aspiration of the Israeli people for a future in which their children will live in peace and security.”
“Shimon Peres was a vital force in shaping Israel,” said Julia Berger Reitman, chair of Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA. “His contributions in the political and security fields are unparalleled. He was one of modern Israel’s defining figures.”
Adam Minsky, president and CEO of UJA Federation, stated: “Shimon Peres was a tireless and dedicated proponent of peace, with boundless optimism and an unwavering devotion to Israel and to the Jewish People. He was a firm believer that of all of Israel’s assets, none were more vital than the minds of its own citizens. ‘We are too small to be average. If we don’t have quantity we need to have quality,’ said President Peres during a visit to Toronto for a special UJA Federation event in 2014,” Minsky said.
“President Peres strongly believed that the message of the Jewish people to mankind is that faith and moral vision can triumph over all adversity. He was a unique and important figure in Israel’s history and he will be greatly missed by all who yearn for peace,” Minsky stated.
In Montreal, Federation CJA called Peres a “visionary statesman, a devoted public servant who dedicated his life to securing a Jewish homeland in Israel, and the Jewish people’s safety and prosperity.
“Peres will be remembered as a dynamic leader who, through both diplomatic and military channels, relentlessly pursued a vision of peace for Israel’s future,” Federation CJA stated.
“Peres was an important military and technology strategist, renowned for his diplomatic skills,” it continued. “He is credited with laying the foundations for Israel’s current aerospace, electronics, military and nuclear industries. In 1976, he initiated the famous rescue mission, Operation Entebbe.
“A central piece of his legacy will be the Peres Peace Center, a not for profit, non-governmental organization devoted to peace-building through joint projects between Israel and her neighbors – the Palestinians, Jordanians and Egyptians – as well as Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel.”
Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre issued a statement offering its condolences. The organization’s president and CEO Avi Benlolo, added: “I was honoured to know President Peres most recently at the Spirit of Hope dinner in Toronto in May 2016. He was especially gracious to meet my children and interact with them. His words of wisdom and quest for peace is an inspiration to us all.”
JSpaceCanada, a progressive Zionist organization, issued a statement saying it “mourns the passing of Shimon Peres, a source of optimism and inspiration for Israel and for the world wide Jewish community. He was not only a seeker of peace but was what in Hebrew is called a ‘rodef shalom,’ a man who actively pursued any opportunity for peace. He is mourned not only by Israel’s allies throughout the world but also by members in the Palestinian leadership who seek real peace.”
Meanwhile, Montreal MP Anthony Housefather addressed Parliament by noting that, “rarely does a man embody a country, but Shimon Peres, was indeed such a man. He was a part of every bit of Israeli history, big or small, since before the nation was founded.
“Israel and the rest of the world lost an exceptional human being… a great statesman who dedicated his life to promoting peace and dialogue. He was a source of inspiration to many people all over the globe, myself included. Through his enduring commitment to the principles of justice and human dignity, he always worked in the best interest of his people.”
Also addressing Parliament, Toronto MP Michael Levitt said “the international community has lost a giant.
“Shimon Peres was a peace builder, a public servant who embodied the boundless energy, optimism and desire of Israelis to seek peace in a region fraught with immense challenges.
“In his 66 years in public life, President Peres dedicated himself to fostering peace between Israelis and Palestinians, as exemplified in his leadership role in forging the Oslo accords.
“President Peres’ contributions extend far beyond peace and diplomacy. He was a driving force for innovation, inspiring Israelis to dream and think big. Unquestionably his influence contributed in no small part to the rise of the ‘start -up nation.’… Israelis have lost a founding father, but his legacy will continue to shine.”
In Ottawa, the Israeli embassy opened a Book of Condolences in honour of Peres. It can be signed on Friday, Sept. 30, from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.; on Wednesday, Oct. 5, from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. and from 2 p.m. – 4:p.m.; on Thursday, Oct. 6, from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. and from 2 – 4 p.m. The embassy is located at 50 O’Connor St. in Ottawa.
In Toronto a book of condolences will be opened at the Consulate General of Israel in Toronto , located at 180 Bloor St. W, 6th Floor, on Friday, Sept. 30 from 12:p.m.-3:p.m. and Wednesday, Oct. 5 and Thursday, Oct. 6 from 2 -4 p.m. Meanwhile, in Toronto, UJA Federation set up a website for those wishing to express their condolences to the Peres family.