Peres at Davos

Earlies this week I posted the video of the Davos panel on Israel’s Gaza offensive. The video featured Turkey Prime Minister Erdogan’s intemperate remarks and temper tantrum. In his Davos Journal, part VI, Jay Nordlinger comments on the performance of Israel President Shimon Peres responding to the calumnies heaped on Israel by Erdogan and others on the panel:

Friends, there is an amazing confrontation between Shimon Peres and three others: the Turkish prime minister Erdogan; the Arab League chief Amr Moussa; and the U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon. Peres, as you know, is the old Israeli Labourite and dove who has held virtually every position in his country. (Peres is a member of another party now–Kadima–but it’s natural to think of him as a Labourite, which for decades he was.) This confrontation made world headlines, which you may have seen. It also sparked demonstrations in at least two places: Turkey and the Gaza Strip (as we used to know it).

I was present for this amazing confrontation. But I will not get into it much here, for this reason: I have a piece on the matter in the forthcoming National Review. The issue appears on Friday, in digital form, and will be available in paper soon thereafter.

But let me say something brief here in the journal. The subject of the panel, or Congress Center session, was Gaza. And–to put it in a small nutshell–Erdogan dumped on Israel very badly. Moussa dumped on Israel very, very badly. Even Ban dumped, though in a milder way. Moussa gave something like a full-out rant, very unusual for Davos. His remarks were more suited to the fabled “Arab street” than to a tony international conference.

You remember what Queen Victoria said about Gladstone? “He addresses me as though I were a public gathering.” Moussa addressed us as though we were a mob in the PA–or London or San Francisco–rather than the World Economic Forum. To hear him tell it, Israel went into Gaza–back into Gaza, I should say–for the simple purpose of killing people. Especially women and children. In fact, Moussa said “women and children” over and over. And over and over.

You were led to believe that the IDF skipped over the men, in pursuit of women and children to gun down or burn up.

Frankly, Moussa sounded more like a spokesman for Hamas than the secretary general of the Arab League. And–equally frankly–Erdogan was not much better. (For the essence of what he said, see the longish item on Erdogan I had earlier in this journal.)

And through it all, Peres simply sat. I sat too. I looked at him and said, “Why Peres? Why not someone with a little more . . . fiber?” Peres is Davos’s kind of Israeli, usually: the ultimate dove, the ultimate conference-goer and peace-processer. Would he rise to the occasion, would he do the necessary? There was a lot on his shoulders: the burden of answering these rants; the burden of defending Israel, and speaking for the truth of recent events. Could Peres, 85 years old and steeped in accommodation, do it?

Oh, God, could he. He was magnificent. He rose up magnificently, majestically. For close to a half-hour, he spoke with extreme passion, pouring his heart out, answering every charge, correcting every lie, saying all that needed to be said. As I say in my NR piece, this was probably the most stunning and gratifying public performance I have ever witnessed.

I’ll tell you something I thought of. This is a little strange, so please bear with me. A. C. Bradley, the great Shakespeare scholar, said that Emilia–Desdemona’s aide in Othello–is the most gratifying character in all of literature. Why? Othello is thick with lies, and the protagonist acts on those lies. The audience simply can’t bear it, when finally Emilia blurts out the truth. At the end she says, “You f***ing fool: Iago has been lying, and Desdemona was pure, and you have murdered an innocent woman.”

We love Emilia because it is she who at last delivers the truth. She comes as a huge relief, and we are intensely grateful.

So it was with Shimon Peres, in a way. The air had been thick with misrepresentation, and he cleared it, magnificently (as I have said before). I have never been a Peres man–regular readers know that pretty well. When it comes to Israel, as elsewhere, I am more a security hawk than a dove. And I have knocked Peres for years, particularly as he has attended Davos, giving the elites the kind of Israeli face they especially like.

But no one could have done better than Peres. It was a shining hour. He rose up a champion–a great Israeli patriot and more. Whatever he has done before, and whatever he’ll do later: I will cherish him forever for this.

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