Chief Rabbi mourns former Israeli president Shimon Peres, a ‘giant among men’

In 2001, Shimon Peres applauds Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, right, before Arafat speaks at the Davos World Economic Forum.
In 2001, Shimon Peres applauds Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, right, before Arafat speaks at the Davos World Economic Forum.
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BRITAIN’S chief rabbi has paid tribute to Shimon Peres, describing him as a “true giant amongst men”, after the former Israeli president died aged 93.

Mr Peres, who was one of the country’s most admired leaders and the last surviving link to its founding fathers, had been in hospital since suffering a major stroke two weeks ago.

Shimon Peres on election day in 1981

Shimon Peres on election day in 1981

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis joined former prime minister Tony Blair and other world figures in paying tribute to the elder statesman of Israeli politics who won the Nobel peace prize during his unprecedented seven-decade career.

“There will be countless tributes to Shimon Peres over the coming days, but I fear that few, if any, will adequately capture the palpable sense of collective grief felt across the world, nor do justice to the memory of a true giant amongst men,” Mr Mirvis said.

“It is true that Shimon Peres was a great statesman. He was the noblest of soldiers, a born leader, a uniquely talented diplomat, an inspiring speaker and a relentless campaigner.

“But, more significantly than any of those things, Shimon Peres was the greatest living example of an unshakable belief in the pursuit of peace against all odds.”

Mr Peres had an “unflinching optimism” to achieve peace and gave hope to millions of people around the world, Mr Mirvis said.

He added: “No matter what the future holds, your legacy lives on in the Jewish people who will never rest until we achieve our eternal dream of peace among the peoples of the world.”

Mr Blair said Mr Peres was “a political giant, a statesman who will rank as one of the foremost of this era or any era, and someone I loved deeply”.

The former premier added: “He was an inspiration, a mentor and a friend. His intellect, his way with words that was eloquent beyond description, his command of the world and how it was changing were extraordinary.

“Though he grew older, his spirit never did. Above all, his commitment to peace and his belief that it was in the interests of the country he adored marked him out as a visionary whose vision was never dimmed or displaced. He saw every setback as a spur to further action and every moment of hope as a sign of what could be done.

“The whole world will mourn his passing, but his memory will live on to inspire future generations to walk in his path.”

US President Barack Obama hailed Mr Peres as a leader whose commitment to Israel’s security and the pursuit of peace “was rooted in his own unshakeable moral foundation and unflagging optimism”.

Mr Obama said Mr Peres looked to the future “guided by a vision of the human dignity and progress that he knew people of goodwill could advance together”.

He called him “the essence of Israel itself”, noting that Mr Peres had fought for the nation’s independence, worked its land and served in virtually every government position.

The president said that, with the death of Mr Peres, “a light has gone out, but the hope he gave us will burn forever”.

Mr Mirvis’s predecessor as Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, said Mr Peres was “the great visionary of Israeli politics in our time”.

He added: “With his death an era has come to an end - marked by a series of outstanding leaders who showed as much courage in pursuit of peace as they did in the course of war. We will mourn him and miss him.”

Irish President Michael D Higgins said Mr Peres will be remembered for furthering peace in the Middle East.

“His life mirrored some of the great dramas of 20th century Europe and the Middle East and he shall be remembered for his courage that saw him change course from confrontation to reconciliation,” Mr Higgins said.