Comforting the bereavedComforting the bereaved

Obama consoled Peres’s son with tissue, hug

Footage from Friday funeral shows US president, seated next to Chemi Peres, trying to help the weeping son

US President Barack Obama hands a tissue to a weeping Chemi Peres, at the funeral of his father, former President Shimon Peres, September 30, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
US President Barack Obama hands a tissue to a weeping Chemi Peres, at the funeral of his father, former President Shimon Peres, September 30, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

US President Barack Obama was the most high-profile world leader attending the funeral Friday of Israel’s last founding father, former president Shimon Peres.

The lofty stature of his position earned the US president a front-row center seat at the Mount Herzl ceremony — right next to Peres’s son, tech investor and former air force pilot Chemi Peres.

The younger Peres struggled with his emotions, his weeping caught on national television more than once as prominent Israeli leaders and Peres family members eulogized the late prime minister, president, foreign minister and founder of Israel’s nuclear program.

And that’s where Obama came in, handing Chemi a tissue at one point and offering a hug after his eulogy.

Chemi Shalev, center, weeps at the funeral of his father, former president Shimon Peres on Jerusalem's Mount Herzl, September 30, 2016. (Emil Salman/Pool/Flash90)
Chemi Shalev, center, weeps at the funeral of his father, former president Shimon Peres on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl, September 30, 2016. (Emil Salman/Pool/Flash90)

After news broke of Shimon Peres’s passing early Wednesday, the US president ordered his staff to cancel a full day’s schedule so he could board Air Force One and rush to Jerusalem to attend the Friday morning funeral, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said Thursday. Obama was in Israel for just six hours, landing at the head of a 33-member American delegation shortly before the funeral and leaving, together with former president Bill Clinton, immediately afterward.

Obama was one of just ten people asked to deliver a eulogy at the funeral, which was attended by world leaders and delegations from 70 nations, as well as the entire Israeli political elite and representatives of the defense industries and agencies Peres played such a key role in establishing.

His speech was praised in Israel as a touching paean to the optimistic Israeli story Peres was so fond of articulating.

The late president, Obama said, “showed us that justice and hope are at the heart of the Zionist idea. A free life, in a homeland regained. A secure life, in a nation that can defend itself, by itself. A full life, in friendship with nations who can be counted on as allies, always. A bountiful life, driven by simple pleasures of family and by big dreams. This was Shimon Peres’s life. This is the State of Israel. This is the story of the Jewish people over the last century, and it was made possible by a founding generation that counts Shimon as one of its own.”

US President Barack Obama, center, greets Chemi Peres, the son of former Israeli president Shimon Peres, next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, during Peres's funeral in Jerusalem's Mount Herzl national cemetery on September 30, 2016. (Thomas Coex/AFP)
US President Barack Obama, center, greets Chemi Peres, the son of former Israeli president Shimon Peres, next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, during Peres’s funeral in Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl national cemetery on September 30, 2016. (Thomas Coex/AFP)

Obama’s eulogy was a subtle defense of the dovish former architect of the Oslo Accords.

Peres “understood, in this war-torn region, where too often Arab youth are taught to hate Israel from an early age — he understood just how hard peace would be,” Obama said. “I’m sure he was alternatively angry and bemused to hear the same critics, who called him hopelessly naïve, depend on the defense architecture that he himself had helped to build.”

He added: “I don’t believe he was naïve. But he understood from hard-earned experience that true security comes through making peace with your neighbors. ‘We won them all,’ he said of Israel’s wars. ‘But we did not win the greatest victory that we aspired to: release from the need to win victories.'”

Chemi Peres’s eulogy shied away from politics.

“I told you that I loved you,” he said standing over the coffin. “But I never knew how much. Only the pain of loss and sorrow of separation that surround us all here together have helped me understand.”

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