Yesterday evening I had the rare pleasure of attending a speech in San Francisco given by one of Israel’s most accomplished and admired politicians, Israeli President Shimon Peres. First, my husband and I had to pass through a human barricade of Occupy Oakland protestors while they screamed vile comments about Zionists and the state of Israel. Then a wait in the cold before San Francisco Police, Secret Service and Mossad agents suspiciously eyed each person passing through metal detectors. Finally we were admitted to the beautiful Congregation Emanu-El building.
What struck me most about Peres was his humanity and genuine kindness. He didn’t have a prepared speech, teleprompter or notes of any kind; his talk was based directly from his own experience and covered everything from Israel’s fight for statehood in 1948 to today. Imagine 650,000 Jews vs. 40 million Arabs. In those days, Jews were outnumbered (as we still are) and outgunned (no longer!) in a desert and had no modern conveniences of running water or means of irrigation. Israelis discovered at the time that all they truly had was each other, nothing else.
Peres asked the audience to name the greatest contribution of the Jewish people to the world. Before anyone could respond, he offered, “dissatisfaction.” Laughter ensued then he explained that’s because we’re a people who are always dissatisfied with something and that’s what makes us work even harder to make it right. “Now, Israel leads the world in irrigation technology,” added Peres.
Next, Peres pointed out that the real problem in the Middle East has nothing to do with politics, it’s poverty. The revolt that has taken the majority of Middle East countries by storm is due to lack of food, lack of jobs, lack of freedom and ongoing corruption. He followed with,
“It’s a tough time for dictators in the Middle East these days,”
Again, laughter could be heard from his ability to inject humor in the face of such hard-hitting subjects.
Peres discussed how young people launched the “Arab Spring”. Statistics back his comments that 65% of the population is younger than 30. A dictator’s job is to make sure his people are blind to what’s happening outside his country’s borders. But with the advent of social media like Facebook and Twitter young people were able to see for the first time that others around the world had a better life. In other words, it’s harder and harder to be a dictator when people realize they have options.
Regarding 9/11, Peres was reflective and surprisingly hopeful. Terrorism and brutality have become the new form of “war,” and as a result of the attack, America has spent over $1 trillion to fight our attackers. But the end result he believes is the end of racism. A recognition of others’ ideals and beliefs, and a globalization of the world that will ultimately lead to MORE understanding and cooperation.
Surveying his audience, Peres told attendees,
“Keep your children informed about Judaism. Send your children to Israel. Let them have a good look.”
This comment hit me especially hard since I have communicated with our Israeli relatives via Facebook but have yet to step foot in Israel. Then, Peres addressed the elephant in the room.
“The biggest danger of our time is Iran.”
“Today, Iran is the only country that calls for the destruction of Israel,” said Peres. He gave examples on how Iran denies the Holocaust, is the primary state supporter of terrorism and even tried to kill the Saudi Ambassador on American soil. Peres stated that he has no ill will towards the Iranian people but just the government of Iran. He also mentioned Obama’s declaration was serious, timely and responsible but suggested more must be done.
Peres emphasized Israel’s deep friendship with America and left attendees with a few gems that we can’t forget. Namely, ‘remembering’ is a waste of time; we can’t change the past but we can hope for the future. He added a few items to that:
1) We cannot be a Jewish State without having a moral foundation (which is and always has been the Ten Commandments)
2) We have to always strive for knowledge and to get involved. He joked, “We used to be a people of the book, now it’s better to be people of Facebook.” We need to keep questioning to solve today’s problems.
3) We must keep Israel’s friendship with America. Support for Israel means everything.
As we left, we realized something profoundly strong. The next time you or someone you know wants to criticize Israel, its leaders, its government, Israelis, or Jews in general, keep in mind the year-long revolt taking place in the Middle East. The Arab Spring turned Arab Winter now turning Arab Spring again along with the butcher shop occurring in Syria leaving over 7,000 dead hasn’t caused any of the “Occupy” protestors to form human barricades in front of ANY Arab event in America. The double standard is palpable as this kind of misinformation and anti-Israel propaganda continues. It’s up to us to help end it.
Start evening the playing field now by joining Act For Israel’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/ActforIsrael and Shimon Perez’s new Facebook page: http://tinyurl.com/6nlq6o8. We need your support!