JERUSALEM — President Barack Obama hailed Shimon Peres Friday as a man who showed the world that justice and hope are at the heart of the Zionist ideal and saw “all people as deserving of dignity and respect.”
Wearing a Jewish skullcap as a sign of respect and reverence, Obama said in his eulogy that Peres understood the Palestinians must be seen as equal in dignity to Jews and therefore must be equal in self-determination.
“Shimon never saw his dream of peace fulfilled,” noted Obama, speaking at Israel’s national cemetery, Mount Herzl. He said Peres believed that the Zionist idea would be protected when Palestinians had a state of their own.
“The region is going through a chaotic time,” the president said. “Threats are ever-present and yet he did not stop dreaming and he did not stop working.”
Obama noted that he was the 10th U.S president to meet Peres and “fall prey to his charms.” In many ways, he said that Peres reminded him of other giants like Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth, leaders “who speak with depth and knowledge, not in sound bites.”
Former President Bill Clinton, in his eulogy, said he always was in Peres’ endless capacity to move beyond the most crushing setbacks to seize the possibilities of each new day. “He never gave up on anybody, I mean anybody,” Clinton said.
Obama said that he and Peres, about four decades apart in age, shared a love of works and books and history. When they met at the White House and then in Israel, he said, they both understood they were there only because they reflected the magnificent story of the nations they led.
“The last of the founding generation is now gone,” Obama said, speaking just to the left of Peres’ casket draped in blue and white. Peres died at 93 Wednesday, two weeks after suffering a stroke.
Peres, whose name is synonymous with Israel’s history, served stints as prime minister, president and foreign minister. He welcomed Obama on his first trip to Israel as president in 2013, as the two men sought to restart a peace process with the Palestinians that has so far failed.
The United States delegation included Clinton, Secretary of State John Kerry and about 20 members of Congress and several administration officials.