Amir Peretz is the current leader of the Israeli Labor Party after defeating Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres for the position in national primaries on November 9, 2005. He is also chairman of the Histadrut trade union federation. Since earning a seat in the Knesset in 1988, Peretz has been a spokesman for the working class of the Israeli public.
Peretz, 53, was born in the town Boujad, Morocco, where his father was the leader of the Jewish community. His family made aliyah in 1956 and settled in the development town of Sderot, which was primarily composed of Sephardi immigrant families. In Sderot, Peretz was a vegetable farmer and went to high school, but never attended college. He was a captain in the Israel Defense Forces and, during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, he was badly wounded at Mitla Pass and spent nearly a year in the hospital recovering.
Peretz's career as a politician began in 1983 when he ran for mayor of Sderot on the Labor Party ticket. After being elected, he made education and relations with neighboring kibbutzim his top priorities.
In 1994, Peretz joined forces with Haim Ramon to defeat Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's favored candidate to lead the Histadrut. Peretz became Ramon's deputy, but the challenge to party leader Rabin left him isolated within the Labor Party. In 1995, shortly after Rabin's assassination, Peretz became the Histadrut chairman. In 1999, he broke from Labor and created his own party, Am Echad (One People), which won a few seats in the Knesset in 1999 and 2003. Am Echad merged back with Labor in 2004 after many social programs were cut under the free market policies of finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Peretz advocates restarting and continuing negotiations with the Palestinians under the context of the road map plan. He says Israel has become morally compromised by ruling over the Palestinians and must be prepared to withdraw from much of the West Bank to save itself as a Jewish state. By solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Peretz believes that many social maladies in Israeli society, such as poverty and the social inequality between Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews, will also be resolved. He believes that the West Bank settlements are diverting important funds that could be used to battle poverty. Regarding the hot-button issues of Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees, Peretz said through his spokesman, “I support a strong and united Jerusalem as Israel's capital for eternity. I oppose with an absolute opposition the right of return within the State of Israel.”
Following a dispute with then Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, Peretz established the Am Ehad ("One Nation") party in preparation for elections for the 15th Knesset in 1999. In 2004, Am Ehad was reunified with Labor, and in November 2005 Peretz was elected Chairman of the Labor Party.
In May 2006 Amir Peretz was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense.
Peretz is married to Ahlama and has four children.
Sources: Wikipedia; Dan Baron, “Peretz's rising star: Sephardi farmer turns powerbroker,” Washington Jewish Week, (November 17, 2005); IMRA; Photo courtesy of The Knesset