Long-time leader of Israel's Labor Party.
Shimon Peres was born August 21, 1923 in Vishneva, White Russia (then Poland) near Volozhin, to Yitzhak and Sara Persky. In 1931, his father, emigrated to Palestine. His family followed two years later. Peres was initially enrolled in the Balfour High School, followed by the Geula High School ("Gymnasium") where he became a member of the Hanoar Haoved youth movement. At the end of ninth grade he quit school and moved to the Ben-Shemen agricultural school and youth village. Peres joined the Haganah underground in 1941. He trained at Kibbutz Geva and was then sent to join Kibbutz Alumot in the lower Galilee. He married Sonya Gelman in 1945 and they had two daughters and a son.
Early Political Career
At Alumoth, Peres was recruited by Levi Eshkol to work as an organizer for the Hanoar Haoved youth movement in Tel-Aviv. He was subsequently elected Secretary General of Hanoar Haoved, the Histradrut labor federation's youth movement, and was a delegate in 1946 to the 22nd World Zionist Congress. At the congress he met David Ben-Gurion and backed his program, which favored forming a Jewish state. In 1947, Ben-Gurion selected Peres and several others to search for officer talent for the Haganah [the precursor to the Israeli Defense Forces]. In May 1947, Ben-Gurion drafted Peres into the Haganah high command, where he was initially in charge of manpower and later became involved in arms procurement and production.
Peres served as chief of the naval department in 1948, was sent to the United States in 1950 on an arms-procurement mission (as well as to complete his education), and was Director General of the Defense Ministry from 1953-1959. Peres was instrumental in establishing the indigenous Israeli defense industries, including and especially the Avionics industries, and he is also known as the father of the Israeli hi-tech industry. In his tenure at the Ministry of Defense he built an alliance with France that secured a source of arms, and helped to enlist Britain and France in the Suez campaign of 1956. He also embarked on a program to develop nuclear power and nuclear weapons for Israel, convincing the French to help Israel build a secret nuclear reactor beginning in about 1957.
Climbing the Ranks
Peres was a close associate of Ben-Gurion and rose in the Mapai Party "young guard." He was first elected to the Knesset (parliament) in 1959. He then served as Deputy Defense Minister. Leaving Mapai with Ben-Gurion in 1965 over the Lavon affair [a failed espionage and terrorism plot in Egypt], he helped form the breakaway Rafi Party and returned to the Knesset in 1965. Three years later he returned to Mapai, forming the new "Alignment" party. From 1969, Peres served as Minister of Immigrant Absorption and minister without portfolio until August 1970, when he became Minister of Transport and Communication. In the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War (1973) Peres briefly served as Minister of Information as part of a cabinet reshuffle. During this period, Peres was part of the right-wing of the Labor or Alignment party as it was variously known, and actively encouraged settlement of the occupied West Bank.