In Washington last week, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger was among
the dignitaries at the White House who witnessed President Barack Obama’s
conferment of the Medal of Freedom on Israel’s President Shimon Peres.
Tuesday night in Jerusalem, Peres, 88, will confer on Kissinger, 89, the
Presidential Award of Distinction at the opening of the 4th Israeli Presidential
Conference, “Facing Tomorrow.”
Peres thought that the time was ripe for
Israel to emulate other countries that honor individuals and organizations for
unique and exceptional service to society and the world at large.
year, he appointed a distinguished advisory panel of leading figures from
different fields of endeavor to review recommendations for the award and to
suggest a limited number of potential recipients, leaving the final choice to
Altogether there were six honorees, four of whom were honored on
Monday in a ceremony at the President’s Residence.
Kissinger was not
among them because he had not yet arrived in Israel. He is due to fly in Tuesday
for a four-hour visit, meaning that he will attend the opening ceremony of the
conference at the Jerusalem International Convention Center (Binyenei Ha’uma)
and head straight back to the airport.
Zubin Mehta, the legendary
conductor of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, was also listed among the
honorees, but was unable to be in Israel this week and will receive his medal at
a later date.
The four other recipients of what is intended as an annual
tradition are Hubert Leven, president of the Rashi Foundation, which is
dedicated to strengthening Israeli society by providing opportunities for young
people from underprivileged communities to realize their potential: Judy Feld
Carr, a Canadian musician whose covert actions three decades ago enabled more
than 3,000 Jews to get out of Syria; Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, who established
numerous educational institutions and made the Talmud accessible to students
throughout the world; and Ory Slonim, who for 27 years has worked in a voluntary
capacity on behalf of captured Israeli soldiers and soldiers missing in action,
in addition to which as president of Variety, he is an energetic and tireless
activist on behalf of children with special needs.
momentarily toward the honorees who were grouped behind him on the dais, said
that what was most difficult in selecting the recipients was that the advisory
panel had to deal with contemporary Israel, which is 64 years old, and the
history of ancient Israel, which goes back 3,000 years. The six honorees
collectively represented heroism, wisdom and justice, which are all integral to
Jewish history, he said.
The Rashi Foundation has made a tremendous
contribution to Israel, by giving young people horizons of hope, and by rescuing
them from ignorance and poverty, he said.
Peres said Feld Carr’s actions
helped to maintain Syrian Jews both physically and spiritually.
see how difficult it is today to rescue Syrians from Syria,” he said. “Rescuing
Jews from Syria was much more difficult.”
Peres underscored the efforts
Slonim made to ensure that every captive soldier and every soldier missing in
action would not be forgotten. He also praised Slonim’s concern for the
welfare of children with special needs.
Turning toward the honorees,
Peres said it was a privilege to express appreciation on behalf of the nation
for their exceptional contributions to the State of Israel, to humanity and to
repairing the world.
Peres was only the third oldest person in the room.
The oldest was Ralph Goldman, still spry at 97, who is best known for his long
association with the Joint Distribution Committee. Next was Israel’s fifth
president, Yitzhak Navon, 91, still a straight backed, brisk walker who has no
use for a cane.
Among the numerous dignitaries attending the opening of
Facing Tomorrow will be former British prime minister and current Quartet
representative Tony Blair; Ziad Abu Zayyad, co-editor of the Israel-Palestine
Journal; Meir Dagan and Efraim Halevy, former Mossad chiefs; Gabi Ashkenazi,
former IDF chief of staff; Uzi Arad, former head of the National Security
Council; Prof. Peter Beinart (the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel has written
to Peres to protest Beinart’s inclusion on the grounds of his call for a boycott
of Israeli goods produced in the West Bank); Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian
negotiator; Dr. Ruth Westheimer; Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharanksy; and
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of
Major American Jewish Organizations.
A Facebook Page from the conference
will enable people from around the world to have what organizers term an
interactive conversation with Peres about many topics. There is a list of
topics, from which a Net surfer can choose and then the surfer sits and listens
as Peres talks about the selected subject.
On Tuesday night, Peres will discuss with Blair and
Kissinger the key foreign relations and security challenges facing the Middle
East and the world.
On Wednesday, he will join a plenary discussion on
“What’s New in New Media” moderated by Dr. Yossi Vardi, alongside John
Chambers, chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems, Julius Genachowski; chairman of the
US Federal Communications Commission; Stephane Richard, chairman and CEO of
France Telecom Group; and Maurice Levy, chairman and CEO of the Publicis Groupe
SA. Later in the day, Peres and Chambers will jointly announce the expansion of
the Maan-tech Project for employment in the Arab sector. In the evening Peres
will conduct a working meeting with the president of Croatia, Ivo Josipovic, a
guest at the conference.
On Thursday, Peres will join Nobel Prize
Economics laureate Prof. Daniel Kahneman, Dr. David B. Agus, Prof.
Michael Sandel and Dr. James Sebenius in a discussion on “Learning from Mistakes
on the Way to Tomorrow,” after which he will conduct a discussion with 40
international bloggers who have come to cover the conference.
evening Peres will deliver a speech at the closing plenary of the conference
under the title “Decisions at the Doorstep of Tomorrow.”
There will also
be a panel discussion between Peres, Prime Binyamin Minister Netanyahu,
Sharansky and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
Immediately after the
conference, Peres will start preparing for the visit next week by Russian
President Vladimir Putin.