The Israeli statesman who never gave up on peace
Shimon Peres 1923–2016
Shimon Peres was present at nearly every momentous event in Israel’s seven-decade history. He was a young aide to the country’s founding fathers when independence was declared in 1948, and he went on to hold almost every major government office, including as president, prime minister (three times), and defense minister. Peres helped Israel become the dominant Middle Eastern military power. But he also pushed hard for peace, sharing a 1994 Nobel Prize for his efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the Oslo Accords. Dapper and cultured, Peres was known as a skilled plotter: Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a longtime rival, called him an “inveterate schemer.” But in his last years, Israelis revered him as a pillar of the nation. “For 60 years I was the most controversial figure in the country,” Peres said. “Truth be told, I don’t know when I was happier, then or now.”
He was born Shimon Persky to a merchant family in the village of Vishniewa, Poland, said The New York Times. He immigrated to British-ruled Palestine at age 11 with his parents, and in 1941 helped found a kibbutz “where he worked as a herdsman.” Peres became active in the precursor to Israel’s Labor Party, and in 1944 his mentor, David Ben-Gurion, sent him to map the Sinai Desert, reconnaissance that proved vital in the 1948 war of independence. While in the Sinai, he spotted a nest of eagles, and adopted the Hebrew word for eagle, peres, as his family name. When Ben-Gurion became Israel’s first prime minister in 1948, Peres was named secretary of the navy, and four years later, at 29, was appointed head of the defense ministry. He set out to “make Israel a major military force,” said The Washington Post. Peres “negotiated with Germany for arms, cultivated a secret alliance with France, fathered Israel’s aircraft industry, and made his country a nuclear power by building a 24,000-kilowatt reactor in the Negev desert.”
He was elected to Israel’s parliament in 1959 but suffered a setback when Ben-Gurion suddenly resigned as prime minister in 1963.
Peres “languished on the opposition benches as Israel won sweeping victories over its Arab neighbors” in 1967’s Six-Day War, said The Times (U.K.). Following Golda Meir’s resignation as prime minister in 1974, Peres unsuccessfully battled Rabin for the vacant post. Appointed defense minister by Rabin, Peres dedicated himself to strengthening Israel’s military “and supporting Jewish settlements in the West Bank.” When Palestinian terrorists seized an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris and landed it at Uganda’s Entebbe airport in 1976, Peres helped devise the daring commando raid that freed some 100 mainly Israeli hostages. “It was an operation that won international admiration.” After a scandal-hit Rabin resigned in 1977, Peres served as acting prime minister for barely a month before Labor was trounced at the polls by Menachem Begin’s Likud Party.
Peres “suffered five further election defeats,” said BBC.com. But in 1984, he finally became prime minister through a power-sharing deal with Likud that required him to step aside after two years. When Rabin returned to power in 1992, Peres served as foreign minister, and the two men conducted secret negotiations with Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The talks culminated in 1993’s Oslo accords, which outlined a framework for Israeli-Palestinian peace. “Let all of us turn from bullets to ballots,” Peres said at a White House signing ceremony.
Peace never came, said the Los Angeles Times. Rabin was assassinated at a 1995 rally by a Jewish extremist, and Peres, who took over as prime minister, lost a 1996 election to the more hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu following a series of terrorist attacks inside Israel. Peres was elected president in 2007, a post in which he “played a quiet, mediating role” between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama. He finally left office in 2014, but “never completely retired from public life” and continued to work at the peace center that bears his name in Tel Aviv. “I have one weakness,” he said in November. “I don’t like vacations.”
The soap opera writer who put taboo subjects on TV
Agnes Nixon 1922–2016
In 1962, Agnes Nixon proposed a groundbreaking plotline for the soap opera The Guiding Light, about a character being diagnosed with uterine cancer after undergoing a Pap smear. The network and the show’s sponsor, Procter & Gamble, agreed—but only if the writer didn’t use the then-taboo words “cancer,” “uterus,” or “hysterectomy.” “I thought, ‘Well, hmmm, that’s a little tough,’” Nixon recalled. By using “irregular cells” in place of “cancer,” Nixon pulled it off, creating the first health story line in a daytime drama. In a decades-long career, she would insert many more socially relevant and politically charged topics like child abuse, AIDS, racism, and the Vietnam War into hit shows, including All My Children and One Life to Live. She insisted she never set out to “break barriers,” but simply rejected the notion that “entertainment and public service can never be in the same story.”
Born in Chicago, Nixon was an infant when her parents divorced, and she “grew up in Nashville, with her mother, grandmother, and an extended family of maiden aunts,” said The Washington Post. She longed to be a writer, but her father, a manufacturer of burial garments in Chicago, wanted her to join the family business. He arranged for her to meet Irna Phillips, a pioneering writer of radio serials, hoping she’d be put off the career. Instead, Phillips was so impressed with Nixon’s sample script that she hired her on the spot. Nixon started writing for radio in 1948 and soon moved to TV. Her early scripts stuck to “handsome cads, passions run amok, and dark secrets,” said The New York Times. But she “virtually reinvented soaps” with the 1968 premiere of One Life to Live, which featured a multi-ethnic cast. All My Children debuted in 1970, and three years later a character on the show was the first on TV to undergo a legal abortion after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.
Nixon’s writing “made her wealthy, one excruciatingly slow plot turn at a time,” said the Los Angeles Times. One Life to Live and All My Children were finally canceled in 2012 and 2013, respectively. She had little time for critics who dismissed soap operas as fantastical fluff. “Everyone’s life is a soap opera,” Nixon said in 1991. “Some are more interesting than others, and of course there are no new stories. But everyone’s life is a journey.”