Generally speaking, when President Shimon Peres meets with members of the entertainment industry, they are the ones on stage and he’s the one sitting in the audience and applauding.
On Thursday, the situation was reversed, when a joint delegation of The Creative Coalition and a group of women from the entertainment division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles met with Peres at the President’s Residence during their week-long tour.
Peres proved that if he ever decides to give up on statesmanship and politics, he could easily find his place in entertainment.
His guests not only applauded him but gave him a standing ovation.
Among the “Peresisms” that provoked laughter and applause were: “I have no hard feelings against Arafat.
He remembered names and birthdays, but he didn’t remember facts;” “Peace is like [making] love. You can’t enjoy either without closing your eyes a little bit;” “We don’t want to rule other people. We have enough problems ruling Jewish people, why would we want to rule anyone else?” and, “Today it’s difficult to become a dictator in the Middle East.
Five years ago it was so easy.”
In a more serious vein, Peres welcomed the group as people who not withstanding their fame, “would like to serve humanity.” Several members of the group were first-time visitors to Israel and said when introducing themselves, how much they loved it, and not all those who expressed such enthusiasm were necessarily members of the tribe.
To Emmy Award-winning Howard Meltzer, Peres said that they might be related because his mother’s maiden name was Meltzer. The actor, who glowed with the thought, said this was the first time he had come to Israel without having to celebrate the bat mitzva of one of his daughters.
Fielding questions about political developments in the region, the Palestinians, the prospects for peace, the future of Jerusalem and the level of acceptance of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Peres said that the younger, better educated and more informed generation of Arabs in the 16-29 age group knows that it cannot blame the rest of the world for what it lacks. It has access to the Internet and to Facebook and cannot understand why it is denied the freedoms enjoyed by its peer generation elsewhere.
“The real problem of the Arabs is not Israel, but poverty,” said Peres, adding that social change must be introduced to Arab society from the inside.
In this context he included equal rights for women. One of the greatest achievements of the 20th century he said was women’s liberation. “When a woman is not liberated, she is not educated, and if she’s not educated she cannot make a proper contribution to society,” he said.
Referring to the seven wars in which the Arab states attempted to destroy Israel, Peres said that the 1973 Yom Kippur War, while triumphant for the Arabs in its initial stages, ended in their defeat and became a turning point in the Arab belief that Israel could be overpowered.
It was after the Yom Kippur War though that Israel began to consider peace as an option.
“For us, peace is not just a policy but a moral code,” said Peres.
The story of the Palestinians he continued is tragic, because they are a people who were never recognized, never had their own land and never ruled themselves. “Their existence was verbal and not connected with reality.”
Peres opined that the Palestinians had made a mistake by trying to reach independence through the United Nations when direct negotiations with Israel would be far more effective.
The United Nations, he said, could not determine borders nor could it guarantee Israel’s security.
Ironic though it may seem, Israel was in fact the first country to recognize the Palestinians as a people, said Peres.
Peres rejected the Vatican solution to the status of Jerusalem, which is to proclaim it extraterritorial. There are more than 100 Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites in the 2-square kilometer area that comprises the Temple Mount and the Old City of Jerusalem, said Peres. All those sites must remain accessible to people of all faiths.
He declined to comment on the final sovereignty over Jerusalem, but was confident that if and when peace comes, the climate that will ensue will be better suited to dealing with the issue. Until then, he preferred to postpone it.
Peres attributed the hesitancy in resuming the peace process to an over eagerness for its conclusion.
“Contrary to Hollywood, they would like to have the happy end at the beginning.”
Peres has pinned hopes on the ability of the young generation to succeed
where its parent generation has failed. An Internet Youth Movement to
which some 130,000 Arab and Israeli youth regularly send posts, goes by
the name of Yalla. Peres spoke of plans for a convention of some 20,000
Yalla people next January.
These young Israelis and Arabs communicating with each other discuss not
only peace but a range of other subjects which will gradually lead
Yalla to expand into education, he said.
The Creative Coalition whose tour began last Sunday, is led by President
actor Tim Daly and CEO Robin Bonk. In addition to Daly who appeared in
Private Practice and Wings, the delegation includes: Emmy Award-winner
Patricia Arquette (Medium, Holes); Emmy Award-winner Alfre Woodard
(Memphis Beat, Desperate Housewives, Miss Evers’ Boys); Emmy
Award-winner Joe Pantoliano (The Sopranos, The Matrix); CCH Pounder (Law
& Order: Special Victims Unit, Avatar); Giancarlo Esposito
(Breaking Bad); Griffin Dunne (Law & Order: Criminal Intent);
Richard Kind (A Serious Man, Spin City, Mad About You); Esai Morales
(Fast Food Nation); Rob Morrow (Northern Exposure); ICM Head of
Independent Film Hal Sadoff; Emmy Award-winner Richard Schiff (The West
Wing, Ray, A Solitary Man); Rachael Leigh Cook (Perception); Tichina
Arnold (Everybody Hates Chris); Steven Weber (Brothers & Sisters);
Andrea Bowen (Desperate Housewives, Boston Public); Harry Hamlin
(Veronica Mars); KayCee Stroh (High School Musical); Emmy Award-winner
Howard Meltzer (Crazy Heart); and amNY Publisher Paul Turcotte.
If the delegation was enthusiastic about Peres, the media was even more
enthusiastic about members of the delegation especially Richard Schiff,
who said that he was currently unemployed. The media turnout was huge
and many of the reporters and photographers not only wanted to interview
the stars of the small and large screens, but also wanted to be
photographed with them. Away from the regular paparazzi who so
frequently make their lives miserable, this time the stars were
completely obliging and acquiescent.