On working with Shimon Peres

The following piece appeared in a Belgian-Jewish special edition magazine for Israel’s 60th Birthday:When working with Shimon Peres one is inevitably faced with a no-win dilemma in terms of one’s self-perception: either you’re narrow-minded or he’s delusional.It is no secret that President Shimon Peres has a most fertile mind, to say the least. Not a day goes by that he does not dream up a new scheme, adopt a new cause, promote a new vision for the Middle East and the world at large, or speak enthusiastically about the great potential of the new new technology. For someone who is 84, he is entirely comfortable dreaming up visions that might not materialize in his lifetime, if at all.But the flipside of being a visionary is being ridiculous. Visionary is a term most often used in retrospect. Ridiculous is the term most often used in the present.I was once invited to give a talk to young students about leadership and what I’ve learned from the leaders with whom I’ve worked. Upon my return, then Vice Prime Minister Peres wanted to know what I said. I told him that what I’ve said to the students is that what’ve I learned from him is that if one is to be truly a great leader, one must not be afraid to be seen as ridiculous.I could see he was not happy with my observation, as much as it was offered in the spirit of compliment. In his mind he and his ideas were never ridiculous. It’s just that everyone else was not visionary enough. In his life, there has been one simple and constant narrative – given enough time, people will always come around to realize that he saw the future better and more clearly than anyone else.Peres’ visionary spirit is not only his own, it is quality of a generation. In his person, he retains the early spirit of Zionism in which hair-brained schemes were considered realistic plans for execution. As a person born much too late to absorb the spirit I cannot but confess to be jealous. It is a spirit one can admire, but never fake.Einat Wilf had the privilege of working with Shimon Peres from 2002 to 2006 as his foreign policy advisor