The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations wound up its annual mission to Jerusalem on Thursday by presenting President Shimon Peres with an artistic gold-plated plaque, in appreciation of his having spoken to every one of their missions over the past 40 years.
The gift was given also in appreciation of his unflagging sensitivity to the needs of Diaspora Jews and his ready availability to listen to their problems and to cooperate with them in trying to work out solutions.
Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the conference, praised Peres as a man of vision, citing as an example the president’s advocacy of nanotechnology long before he took up his present role.
“You talked to us about nanotechnology and none of us knew what you were talking about,” he said, pointing out that today nanotechnology is an important aspect of science.
While Peres may be invited to address future conferences, this was the last time that he addressed the Conference of Presidents in an official capacity, hosting the delegation in the reception hall of his official residence.
Israel is surrounded by many problems and has many demands, said Peres, “but the main purpose is to keep this small state Jewish.”
Without specifically spelling out the usual message about a two-state solution, Peres said in relation to the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians that there is no other option for either side than to make peace, especially as the Palestinians want an independent state of their own.
Israel wants the Palestinians to have a state of their own so as to keep Israel as a Jewish state, he said.
“The Bible endlessly tells us of the pursuit of peace,” Peres said. It’s a principle, not just a convenience.”
He welcomed the special status that the European Union wants to confer on both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Peres said that the Arab states have begun to realize that Hezbollah and Hamas are more dangerous for them than they are for Israel, because “terror has no clear rationale.”
He said that there had been many acts against Israel and the Jewish people, but there was also great friendship and support.
“We have many friends, foremost the United States, which [has] stood at our side for 65 years, even when it was not always convenient, said Peres.
“It’s something we should not take for granted”.
Israel and the Jewish people have friends, and there are also “people who hate us,” Peres acknowledged. “Let’s not overlook the anti-Semitism; but at the same time, let’s not overlook the great potential for friends.”
During a question and answer session, Peres was asked about how to maintain Jewish identity among unaffiliated and assimilating young Jews.
Peres emphasized several times when answering this and other questions that in a changing world, issues cannot necessarily be resolved by using antiquated methods.
Today, it’s not just a matter of who is a Jew, he said, but of defining what Judaism means – and that means establishing a moral foundation based on the Ten Commandments, but with a modern approach that nonetheless relates to Jewish tradition.