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Leaders from around the world pay tribute

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Shimon Peres and David Johnston
Shimon Peres, right, with Gov. Gen. David Johnston during Peres' visit to Canada in 2012

Tributes are pouring in from politicians and Jewish groups in Israel, North America and around the world for former Israeli president Shimon Peres, who died Sept. 28 at 93, as a respected leader and a warrior for peace.

“Shimon Peres was, above all, a man of peace and a man dedicated to the well-being of the Jewish People,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who expressed “great sadness” at his passing.

“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.”

READ: SHIMON PERES, LAST OF ISRAEL’S FOUNDERS, DIES AT 93

Opposition Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose added her “profound sadness” over Peres’ death.

“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, including serving as both president and as prime Minister of the State of Israel. 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,” Ambrose said.

Shimon Peres signs the guest book in Ottawa
Shimon Peres signs a guest book in Ottawa during his 2012 visit as then-prime minister Stephen Harper looks on. FILE PHOTO

“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.

The Israeli government convened a special mourning session at 10 a.m. Sept. 28, which began with a moment of silence in Peres’ honor.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eulogized Peres: “I join the Israeli public, the Jewish people and many worldwide, bowing my head in memory of the nation’s beloved, Shimon Peres.

“Shimon dedicated his life to our people’s independence. As a visionary, he looked to the future. As a defence official, he worked to bolster Israel in many ways, some of which remain covert to this day. As a man of peace, he worked to his last days to promote peace with our neighbours, to forge a better future for our children.”

President Reuven Rivlin also eulogized his predecessor, saying Peres was “young at heart and had an unwavering belief in the ability to achieve one’s goals.”

“Peres never stopped creating and dreaming, always in the service of the State of Israel and its people. There is not a chapter in the history of the State of Israel which Shimon did not write or play a part.”

Canadian Jewish groups also praised 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. “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.”

Speaking about his decades-long personal friendship with Shimon Peres, former senator Leo Kolber said: “Shimon Peres had a long and close relationship with Canada and came to know and befriend many of our leaders – from Lester Pearson to Pierre Elliot Trudeau and our current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, who spent time with President Peres when he visited Israel in 2008. He was a visionary leader, whose ideas inspired all of us to contemplate what could be achieved in the Middle East.”

Adam Minsky, president and CEO of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, lauded Peres as “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.

“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.”

JSpaceCanada called Peres “a source of optimism and inspiration for Israel and for the worldwide 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.”

Shimon Peres and Barack Obama
Then-Israeli president Shimon Peres bestows the President’s Medal on U.S. President Barack Obama in 2012. FILE PHOTO

U.S. President Barack Obama posted an impassioned paean to Peres’ legacy.

“There are few people who we share this world with who change the course of human history, not just through their role in human events, but because they expand our moral imagination and force us to expect more of ourselves,” said the unusually lengthy statement coming out late Tuesday, an hour or so on after the death of Israel’s elder statesman was announced.

“My friend Shimon was one of those people,” he said.

The statement, issued also in the name of the first lady, Michelle, recounted Obama’s meetings with Peres in Israel and in Washington, including in 2012, when Obama awarded Peres the Presidential Medal of Honor.

Obama’s characterizations of Peres were suffused with an appreciation of what the American president has acknowledged is his preferred vision of Israel, that of a nation peopled by pioneers ready to defend their country but also committed to pursuing peace.

“Shimon was the essence of Israel itself – the courage of Israel’s fight for independence, the optimism he shared with his wife Sonya as they helped make the desert bloom, and the perseverance that led him to serve his nation in virtually every position in government across the entire life of the State of Israel,” he said.

“Perhaps because he had seen Israel surmount overwhelming odds, Shimon never gave up on the possibility of peace between Israelis, Palestinians and Israel’s neighbours—not even after the heartbreak of the night in Tel Aviv that took Yitzhak Rabin,” referring to the 1995 assassination of Israel’s prime minister by a Jewish extremist.

“A light has gone out, but the hope he gave us will burn forever,” Obama concluded. “Shimon Peres was a soldier for Israel, for the Jewish people, for justice, for peace, and for the belief that we can be true to our best selves – to the very end of our time on Earth, and in the legacy that we leave to others. For the gift of his friendship and the example of his leadership, todah rabah, Shimon.”

Separately, former U.S. president Bill Clinton, who presided over the Oslo peace accords that led to the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for Peres, Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, ‎issued a statement in his name and that of his wife, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Shimon Peres and Bill Clinton
Then-Israeli president Shimon Peres bestows Israel’s President’s Medal on former U.S. president Bill Clinton in 2013. FILE PHOTO

“His critics called him a dreamer,” the Clintons’ statement said. “That he was – a lucid, eloquent dreamer until the very end. Thank goodness. Let those of us who loved him and love his nation keep his dream alive.”

World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder called Peres “one of the greatest human beings I have ever known: an astute statesman, a great intellectual and strategist, a seasoned diplomat, and a peace-maker. He did Israel proud, and he made Jews in every corner of the world proud.”

Lauder added: “Shimon Peres epitomizes Israel’s many achievements over the past seven decades. He was ‘Mr. Israel’. He embodied the Zionist dream, he helped to build a free, secure, and prosperous state in the ancient homeland of the Jewish people.

“The fact that Israel has not just survived over the past 68 years, but thrived, was due in no small part to Peres’ enormous efforts. His life was dedicated to making the Zionist project a success. He didn’t just talk about peace, he worked toward it so it could eventually become a reality, in his own lifetime. He knew achieving peace is possible.

“Shimon Peres also knew that Israel would not be saved by military force, by diplomacy or by economic strength alone, but only by the combination of all three. Whether it was finding weapons to defend the fledgling state in the 1950s, or creating diplomatic alliances that were crucial to Israel’s standing in the world, or coming up with some of the most innovative technologies, he made it happen,” Lauder said.

“Peres was always driven by a deep sense of responsibility toward the entire Jewish people. He concerned himself with the fate and future of the entire nation, but also with each of its sons and daughters, both near and far,” Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel said.

Shimon Peres and Amar'e Stoudemire
Then-Israeli president Shimon Peres greets NBA power forward Amar’e Stoudemire at Peres residence in 2013. FILE PHOTO

Sharansky recalled that Peres was “the first Israeli” he saw when he arrived from Russia after his many years in prison and that he would always remember the then-prime minister as “the individual who started the Israeli chapter of my life.”

Peres served as president of Israel from 2007 to 2014. He served twice for short terms as prime minister.

Hadassah president Ellen Hershkin said her organization lost more than a powerful senior statesman and peacemaker. “We have lost more than a strong defender of Israel, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and a father of the Oslo Accords, a past prime minister and president.” Her members, she said, have lost “a friend.”

“An important part of our people is no longer with us and our collective heart is aching.” European Jewish Council president Moshe Kantor said in a statement.

“Peres had extraordinary energy, boundless optimism, and future-oriented vision, not only about the possibilities of peace and coexistence in the region, but also about the exciting pathways of new technologies for the benefit of humankind—from nano-science to mapping the brain,” said American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris, who met with Peres many times both in Israel and the U.S.

Peres reached the peak of his popularity while serving as the country’s president, according to the AJC statement. “Liberated from the constraints of partisan politics, he emerged as a revered symbol of national unity and a visionary spokesman for peace between Israel and its neighbours,” it said.

The Anti Defamation League called Peres “the diplomatic, political and social innovation face of Israel over a seven-decade career.”

“His moderation and insight not only drew world leaders and dignitaries to meet and consult with him, but also served Israel in its ongoing fight against delegitimization and other anti-Israel forces,” Marvin  Nathan, ADL national chair, and Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO said in a statement. They marvelled that Peres had recently taken up skydiving alongside his work to “promote social innovation and new advanced technologies for international social change and the greater good.”

“The history of the State of Israel cannot be written without including Peres and his myriad accomplishments during a nearly 70-year career in public service,” Bnai Brith International said in a statement.

Peres “will be remembered for his tireless efforts to keep Israel safe and in his latter years to reach a just peace with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution,” J Street said in a statement, which called Peres “the grandfather of the entire nation (who) was in many ways its moral conscience, preaching untiringly the need for peace and reconciliation with the Palestinians.”

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the New York-based Union for Reform Judaism, said Peres “was a tough minded lover of peace who understood that Israel lives in a dangerous neighbourhood and must have the deterrence it needs, but that in the end, the best deterrence is hope for a better tomorrow, and promoting the wisdom and creativity of the Israeli people on the world stage, while also ensuring that Israel engages significantly in a global arena.”

“We have truly lost a giant, but we have not lost the resolve to continue to dream and to continue to strive for an Israel that lives side by side with its neighbors, in peace and with justice,” Jacobs said.

The Orthodox Union called Peres “a beacon of light in times of darkness for our people… As someone who built lasting bridges across the secular-religious divide in Israeli society, Peres knew intimately the importance of Israel’s Jewish identity in the state’s vibrant character. His legacy inspires us to continue doing our work, ensuring a strong Jewish future with a strong Jewish state.”

Women of the Wall’s Anat Hoffman praised Peres for his championing of equal rights for women, something she said Peres did “from his days as a young soldier in the trenches to his last days as an elder statesman pursuing peace in the Middle East.”

The Israeli American Council praised Peres as “a giant of our time,” saying he “absorbed nearly a century of Jewish experience and used it to build a strong and vibrant state of Israel and pursue peace.”

The Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial lauded Peres as “a dedicated supporter of teaching the legacy of the Shoah, so that the Jewish people – and all humanity – may have a brighter future.  Shimon Peres worked tirelessly to further the causes of justice and peace for all humankind. ”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called Peres a “brave” partner for peace in a condolence letter sent to his family.

“Peres was a partner in making the peace of the brave with the martyr Yasser Arafat and prime minister [Yitzhak] Rabin, and made unremitting efforts to reach a lasting peace from the Oslo agreement until the final moments of his life,” the letter says, according to the Wafa news agency.

Abbas also tweeted in Arabic that “Shimon Peres’ death is a heavy loss for all humanity and for peace in the region,” The Times of Israel reported.

It was not clear on Wednesday afternoon whether a Palestinian delegation would attend Peres’ funeral. Peres died early Wednesday morning, two weeks after suffering a serious stroke.

Palestinian sources told Israel Radio that Palestinian officials would not decide to attend unless invited to by the family.

The Hamas terror group, which runs the Gaza Strip, was pleased by Peres’ death.

“The Palestinian people are very happy at the passing of this criminal who caused their blood to shed,” Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri told the Associated Press.

“Shimon Peres was the last remaining Israeli official who founded the occupation, and his death is the end of a phase in the history of this occupation and the beginning of a new phase of weakness,” he said.

With files from JNS