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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Leaders of B'nai B'rith Europe who are on their biannual leadership mission to Israel were somewhat taken aback on Tuesday when President Shimon Peres advised them to "stop fighting anti-Semitism."
Peres was responding to remarks by BBE President Reinold Simon from Holland, who outlined a BBE program in which BB members in 28 countries across Europe were being professionally trained to speak out with one voice on behalf of Israel and against anti-Semitism.
"We want to speak the same language in each country," said Simon.
However, Peres urged the BBE leaders to "make it a positive campaign."
"Don't apologize for being Jewish," he said. "Some of the greatest minds in the world were Jewish. Don't complain. Explain the contribution of the Jewish People to the world. Instead of the 'Elders of Zion,' talk about the wise minds of the Jewish People."
Peres revealed that Israel was in the process of organizing a public relations campaign along these lines.
A country the size of China has significant respect for Jewish minds, he pointed out, noting that the Chinese place great store by Karl Marx, Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud.
In a question-and-answer session with some 30 BBE leaders from Holland, the UK, Switzerland, France, Hungary, Belgium, Italy and the Czech Republic, Peres dealt with issues such as the Iranian nuclear threat, the rise of Muslim power in Europe, missiles aimed at Israel, the Palestinian misuse of European funds, his vision of the world 10 years from now and his belief that a nation's progress can best be judged from the way it treats its women.
Simon came with a message from German Chancellor Angela Merkel inviting Peres to a conference in Germany on March 11. Peres, who is scheduled to pay a state visit to France on March 13, has also been invited to address the European Parliament, though a date has not yet been set.
When he takes up that particular invitation, he pledged, he will definitely talk about the misuse of European funds.
When Simon expressed concern that some one million Muslims currently live in Holland and that left-wing intellectuals "are turning in their direction" and possibly giving them political power, Peres placated him by stating that the Muslims' strength could also work against them.
"It creates resentment. I don't think Holland wants to become a Muslim country. Holland is a very liberal country that likes freedom."
Peres also suggested that Europeans had made a mistake in opening the gates of their respective countries to large-scale Muslim immigration.
"It created a problem, and they have to solve it," he said.
Regarding Iran, Peres stressed that it was a problem not just for Israel, but for the whole world: "It is the center of global terror, global ambition and hegemony in the name of Allah."
Neither the Americans nor the French have to be convinced of this, he said, but many European countries have not yet realized the extent of the danger.
"It's basically a European problem," said Peres, adding - even as he praised the capabilities of the IDF - that it was one Israel was not going to solve.
"We're not going to defend the world," he said. "We can't do it."