Today marks the beginning of a new era as Israel’s 10th president, Reuven Rivlin, takes office. Outgoing President Shimon Peres spent much of Thursday working on the speech that he delivered that night at the Knesset, and as of next week will be ensconced in the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa.
Rivlin has consistently stated that he wants to be the president of all the people – but that’s what every president of the state says, and that is in fact his role.
It remains to be seen whether Rivlin who is 10 years younger than Peres was when he took office, will prove to be as energetic. Peres, who next week celebrates his 91st birthday, visited communities all over the country almost every week. In addition, he hosted events in the presidential compound almost every day, often writing his own speeches, or improving those written for him. He traveled abroad on average of every six weeks – sometimes twice in one month – and hosted numerous state dinners and luncheons for some 50 visiting heads of state for whom he hosted welcome receptions that inter alia involved standing on his feet for long periods of time and accompanying his guests on honor guard reviews. He also had to review honor guards when he was abroad.
During his seven-year tenure he hosted some half-a-million Israelis at the President’s Residence, took 752 trips around the country to 185 communities, local councils, kibbutzim and moshavim including 90 schools in which he met a total of 32,000 pupils, as well meeting with people of all age groups and backgrounds from tiny tots to golden agers. He met with thousands of soldiers in 51 army bases; dealt with 175,000 requests from the public for his intervention on various issues, and was a constant player at home and abroad in Israeli public diplomacy activities that included more than a thousand meetings with public opinion makers and journalists from major international media outlets such as BBC, CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Der Spiegel, Fox News, etc.
Peres played a significant role in the economy, taking large business delegations with him on his trips, opening doors for them. First time participants were often amazed at the influence that he had in the world and the business opportunities that were made available to them as a result.
Overall, the business ventures by companies whose representatives accompanied Peres abroad amounted to approximately $2.5 billion. Convinced that Israel’s future lies in its scientific achievements, he actively promoted hi-tech start-ups, scientific research projects in universities and hi-tech employment opportunities for qualified Israeli Arabs. He awarded substantial scholarships from the President’s Discretionary Fund (bolstered by contributions from philanthropists) to outstanding young scientific researchers.
Although Peres started his career as a public servant prior to the establishment of the state, his first important position following the Declaration of Independence was as deputy director-general of the Defense Ministry, followed by his promotion a year later to director general. Along with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. Benny Gantz, Peres participated in a situation assessment in Tel Aviv of Operation Protective Edge. They were briefed by the head of Military Intelligence, commander of Southern Command and head of the Operations Directorate.
It was an opportunity for Ya’alon and Gantz to bid him farewell him just before he completed his term. Peres said that he did not remember a period of such solidarity between citizens and soldiers, between soldiers and parents.
“This is our victory of humanity. I am concluding my service, but beginning my reserve duty. From my experience I can say that I don’t recall a military command that instilled such faith in the people.
I leave here with great pride. As a citizen of Israel, I thank you from the depths of my heart.”
■ WHEN PERES was in Washington and New York towards the end of last month both US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon thought that this was their last meeting with him in an official capacity. Neither Kerry nor Ban realized at that time that less than a month later, each would be coming to the Middle East on an urgent mission of peace and security.
Ban met with Peres on Wednesday morning and Kerry met with him in the evening.
Ban praised him as a strong advocate for peace and said, “You may be leaving office, but you will never retire.”
Kerry said that he was glad to have the opportunity to see him in the last days of his presidency.
“I look forward to continuing our work. We have a lot to do still” he stated.
It looks as if there will be no R&R for Israel’s ninth president.
Everyone expects him to go straight into reserve duty, and that’s what he will do.
■ SOCIAL MEDIA can be a very dangerous thing as has been witnessed in recent days with deliberate disinformation and fake sources sent out on email, SMS, Facebook and Twitter to countless recipients. Everyone receives spam from time with threats of closure of bank accounts and email accounts or with false information about windfalls, tall stories of stolen wallets and credit cards, but some of the malicious false information that has been disseminated not only by Israel’s enemies, but by sick people within our midst is alarming.
However, social media can also bring out the best in humanity as was seen this past week at the funerals of the lone soldiers St.-Sgt. Jordan Bensemhoun, Sgt. Sean Carmeli and St.-Sgt.
Max Steinberg who were buried in Ashdod, Haifa and Jerusalem, respectively. Numerous organizations, synagogue groups and individuals conscious of the fact that the three had few or no relatives in Israel, sent out Facebook and email messages to ensure that there would be a religious quorum in addition to any soldiers who would be attending the funerals. The concept of young men and women abandoning comfortable lifestyles abroad to come and serve in the IDF, often striving to be accepted into combat units, is something that for whatever reason speaks to the heart and brings out the best in most people. It has already been widely publicized that tens of thousands of people who did not know any of these three valiant young men, responded to the call and came from all over the country to their final resting places.
■ ISRAEL’S ENTERTAINERS perform gratis in hospitals, retirement homes and bomb shelters all year round, but singers Shlomi Shabat and Eyal Golan have gone a step further.
Each has recorded a song in honor of the soldiers fighting in Gaza. Shabat recorded what is almost a hymn “Golani Sheli” (“My Golani”) and Golan a song that is in the form of a prayer “Shmor Alav” (“Guard Him”) that was written by Noam Horev and composed by Loren Benjamin and is dedicated to all the soldiers of the IDF who are embroiled in battle.
■ AN AGE-old question centers on whether media personnel should remain neutral and objective when witnessing acts of violence that they might be able to stop if they intervened.
Several years ago, there was a great scandal when several television crews photographed an Israeli soldier being violently attacked by Palestinians and did nothing to help him. In this war, it’s a little closer to home in that several journalists and television crews covering events in Gaza have sons among the combatants, and are terrified of what might happen to them. On the home front, it’s very personal in that television and radio anchors are strongly identifying with the national ethos and are not divorcing themselves linguistically from national aspirations.
They talk of “our soldiers” not “Israeli soldiers” and are quick to identify with fallen and wounded soldiers. For instance Bob Marley recordings are being aired much more frequently than they might be ordinarily, because he was a great favorite of fallen lone soldier St.-Sgt. Max Steinberg.
Channel 10’s Oshrat Kotler and Channel 2’s Yonit Levi are showing signs of fatigue, but Channel 1’s Ayala Hasson seems to get a shot of Adrenaline when she talks about heroes such as Golani Brigade commander, Col.
Rasan Alian who was wounded while fighting in Gaza, but returned to his unit on Tuesday because he thought it important for his men’s morale. Before returning to the battlefront, Alian visited wounded soldiers in the hospital.
When he met up with Gantz on his way back to military action, he embraced him and took a good look at the scars on his face, knowing full well that they would not affect Alian’s commitment to complete the mission. Hasson interviewed Alian’s father who told her that he had three sons fighting and that they were all committed. Though members of the Druse community, the Alian family is as Israeli as they come. This was one of the points that Hasson wanted to make when she said that she hoped the Druse would be treated with the same respect after the conflict as during it.
Alian whose bravery has become legend, is the first Druse commander of the Golani Brigade.
Later in the week, Hasson interviewed Communications Minister Gilad Erdan who wants to close down the Israel Broadcasting Authority. She interviewed him in his capacity as a member of the security cabinet and put some very tough questions to him, but he was amazingly polite and nonaggressive even when she asked questions that for security reasons he could not and would not answer.
■ MANY OF the doctors and nurses caring for wounded soldiers are in the battlefield themselves or have sons who are fighting there. Among the former is Dr. Ilya Polishuk, who at 49 is old enough to avoid reserve duty, but insisted on being where he was needed.
Polishuk got a 48-hour leave to attend the wedding in Beersheba last night of his daughter Miri, and will rejoin his unit Friday. Prof. Zeev Rotstein, the director-general of Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, worries not only about the wounded soldiers in his care, but also about his 23-year-old son, Lt. Roi Rotstein, who is still in Gaza with the Golani Brigade. Three of the Golani soldiers hospitalized at Sheba were under his command and told his father that they recognized him, because the father and son have the same smile.
■ RISING ANTI-SEMITISM in Europe made a memorial service in Sevastopol two weeks ago all the more poignant, and may have been one of the reasons that the event commemorating the murder by the Nazis of 4,200 Jews in July 1942 was on a much larger scale than in previous years, including rabbis from Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.
The ceremony was led by Rabbi Berel Lazar, the chief rabbi of Russia, and memorial candles were lit by 102-yearold David Barulya, a World War II veteran from Sevastopol, and Holocaust survivor Rabbi Alexander Boroda, president of Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia.
On the day prior to the memorial ceremony, a rabbinic delegation comprising Lazar and Rabbi David Moshe Lieberman (Belgium), Rabbi Benjamin Jacobs (Netherlands) and Rabbi Yirmiyahu Cohen (Israel) met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the resurgence of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and neo-fascism. Putin had assured them that Russia would do everything possible to ensure that these evils would not find a platform on Russian soil.