The People Are Not the People

Letters to the Editor: Walk in Israelis’ shoes before criticizing their election choices

I’m not a native Hebrew-speaker, let alone a “pro member” of Knesset. Yet I had the distinct honor of meeting Shimon Peres, Israel’s president, in the Prime Minister’s office during the elections. I sat with him and his family as they were sworn into office. I spoke with him during visits when he traveled throughout the country, and when he and other ministers traveled to Washington. Peres is undoubtedly one of the world’s most renowned and beloved leaders. Yet I’ll never forget his words and advice as I sat in his living room the afternoon after the election.

“I can tell you who won,” said Peres. “It’s not them. The people, you know.”

His words were as much a gift for me as they were for Israelis across the country, many of whom I’ve met personally in the course of writing my column. Peres’s words were meant to remind Israelis to “give up the illusion” that they “have to take on and change the way of life,” to accept that “Israel belongs to its people,” in the words of one commentator.

Such a message resonated with me this time. In the weeks after the election, I became especially concerned that this country, so deeply invested in its leaders’ words and their performance, wasn’t listening to its people—and, in particular, wasn’t recognizing its leaders’ actions and motivations.

Peres and his coalition have made the election of themselves an issue that will resonate with their constituents and the world for a very long time. However, many Israelis, particularly those with whom I spoke, were shocked by the choices voters made.

The election was no surprise to anyone who watched, listened, or read the news (though, admittedly, some of my colleagues are much

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