President Shimon Peres advised the executive members of the World Zionist Organization at an introductory meeting on Tuesday not to rely on anti-Semitism to inspire Zionism. If they want to attract more young people to the Zionist enterprise, he said, they should accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.
"We must get out of the aura of tragedy. Anti-Semitism is not a Jewish disease. We have contributed to world civilization, and there is no need for us to prove ourselves. We have to have more pride, more morale, more enthusiasm. Vision doesn't exist without enthusiasm. The Zionist movement should not be a haven. It should be a place for dreamers who want to change the world." He also cautioned that the WZO must not become a movement of empty slogans.
It is customary for the executive bodies of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization to meet with each new Israeli president in order to spell out their concerns and to familiarize the president with certain points they would like him to make when visiting Jewish communities abroad.
In this case, Peres was asked to talk about the Zionist movement and about Herzl's vision; aliya and the continuity of the ingathering of the exiles; the need to stem assimilation through the establishment of a parliament of the Jewish people; the connection of the Jewish people to Israel; the need for young people to live in development towns; and the relevance of Israel in our time. One person, who said that he was a representative of Gush Katif, wanted Peres to talk about settlement in the Negev and the resettling of evacuated families who were still in limbo.
Although Peres frequently advocates expanded settlement in the Negev, he looked a little uncomfortable in the presence of the man from Gush Katif, who spoke entirely without rancor.
WZO representatives also asked Peres to emphasize the need for Jewish unity. Jewish Agency and WZO Chairman Ze'ev Bielski proudly noted that the WZO represented all shades of political opinion and all streams of Judaism, and that its members were able to coexist in harmony.
Peres conceded that the WZO was one of the few organizations that could make this claim.
As for promoting Israel among young people, Peres said that it was important to make Israel fascinating and attractive to them, "so that everyone will want to come here."
Economically, he said, Israel is unique. "No other place outside of the US can boast so much science, technology and talent," he said, adding that Warren Buffet was "the best Zionist envoy" because his investment in Israel speaks for the confidence that he has in the Israel economy.
The country has a good standard of living with excellent restaurants and good fashion, he added. Moral values need to be improved, Peres acknowledged, but he refused to accept the media's argument that Israel is a corrupt country. "Like every country, it has some corrupt people," he said, "but it is not a corrupt country."
Although there is much natural beauty in Galilee and the Negev, said Peres, who before assuming the presidency was the minister for the development of Galilee and the Negev, more can be done to enhance the beauty of these places and to make them flourish. This is one of the challenges of the Zionist movement, Peres stated.