President Shimon Peres expressed hope on Friday that rabbis worldwide will find a viable solution to the problems of conversion, so that all streams of Judaism can continue to relate to their Jewish heritage.
“The problem is not for Jews to have an Israeli passport, but for Jews to have a Jewish identity. We have to come together spiritually and morally,” the president told a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem.
Peres’s statements dovetailed with those made last week to the same audience by Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who said the agency’s chief priority today was the preservation of Jewish identity, which now came ahead of immigration, (the agency’s traditional mandate).
Peres, without alluding to Sharansky, made the same point.
At the outset of his address Peres read excerpts from an Indian publication, saying that the story allowed him no rest.
Peres referred to Iranian President Ahmadinejad as a murderer who goes around hanging people in the street, killing unarmed civilians, denies the Holocaust, calls for the destruction of Israel, “and walks around like a hero of our times.”
It was time for the world to acknowledge this, declared Peres. More than being disappointed by the behavior of Ahmadinejad, he was disappointed in the reaction to him, because Ahmadinejad was a man without a moral code, he said.
Quoting Italian Jewish writer Primo Levi, Peres said that the greatest danger in life is moral corruption.
Taking into account what is happening in Iran, its financing of terrorism and its attitude to the rest of the world, Peres said: “Lawful society has to fight lawless organizations which have no respect for anyone.”
Speaking in general terms about Iran’s nuclear program, Peres said: “We may destroy the bomb but not the knowledge of how to build the bomb.”
He was not sure whether it would not be a better idea to destroy the knowledge, but offered no suggestion as to how this might be achieved. “The danger is not in the bomb but in the system, in the hangman, in the nature of the hangman – the man holding the bomb,” he said.
He made it clear that anything that was done to curb Iran could not be done by Israel alone. “It requires many nations.”
Peres noted that first voices raised against Ahmadinejad were those of the Iranians themselves. “They were the first to call their supreme leader a dictator.”
Israel is not as alone on the Iranian issue as might be perceived, Peres said. Support is coming from countries in which Christian communities are being persecuted by Muslim fanatics, as well as from countries that have experienced terrorism within their borders and want to learn from the Israel experience of fighting terrorism.
Even Arab states are opposed to Iran, because it wants to renew the hegemony of the Persian Empire, he said.
If Iran was permitted to become a nuclear power, the whole region would follow suit – Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. “We will wake up to see the conflict continuing and the danger increasing, because everyone will have nuclear bombs – and there will be no way to negotiate. You know how wars start. You don’t know how they will end,” said Peres.
What was needed urgently, he said, was the combination of a moral code, economic sanctions and military countermeasures.
Emphasizing the need to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as quickly as possible, Peres said that terrorist organizations and various countries in the Middle East used the Palestinian issue as an excuse to attack Israel. “We should not postpone the possibility of peace with the Palestinians,” he said, adding that for the first time, the Palestinians were not merely negotiating a state, but were building one.
“[Palestinian Authority Prime Minister] Salam Fayyad is following in the footsteps of Ben-Gurion, who started building a state before he declared a state,” Peres said.