Amir Peretz is an Israeli politician who formerly served as Minister of Defense and was leader of the Labor Party. He is currently a minister in the Israeli Cabinet.
Peretz 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, buat 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 advocated restarting and continuing negotiations with the Palestinians under the context of the road map plan. He has said 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, Peretz was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense. Following the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006 and heavy criticism for his actions during the war, Peretz retired the portfolio in June 2007.
Peretz lost leadership of the Labor Party to Ehud Barak in 2007 but remained in the Knesset until 2012. He opposed Barak’s decision to enter a coalition government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu and left the Labor Party to join Tzipi Livni’s new Ha’Tnuah Party winning a Knesset on that party list in 2013. He was appointed Minister of Environmental Protection but resigned because he opposed the government’sproposed budget.
Peretz was reelected as Labor leader in 2019, promising not to join a Netanyahu-led government and, in a stunt, shaved off his iconic mustache, stating “I decided to remove my mustache so that all of Israel will understand exactly what I’m saying and will be able to read my lips — I won’t sit with Bibi.”
In the April 2019 election, Labor won only seats seats and Peretz turned down an invitation by Netanyahu to join the government. When no coalition was formed, another election was held in September in which Labor running with Gesher again won only six seats. After Benny Gantz failed to form a government, a third election was held in March 2020. This time Labor won seven seats on a combined list with Gesher and Meretz and Peretz unexpectedly decided Labor would join the Netanyahu-Gantz coalition. He was rewarded with an appointment as Minister of the Economy.
The decision to join the coalition, after pledging not to be part of a government with Netanyahu, angered party members. Prior to the 2021 elections, Peretz quit Labor rather than be forced to resign as a minister in the government. MK Merav Michaeli subsequently won the party primary and became its new leader.
Peretz is married to Ahlama and has four children.
Photo courtesy of The Knesset