Peres heads to Europe hoping to strengthen ties

President heads to Brussels, Paris, Strasburg in bid to strengthen Jerusalem's strategic relations with Europe.

Peres at Good Deeds Day event at the Shalva Center 370 (photo credit: Sivan Farag)
Peres at Good Deeds Day event at the Shalva Center 370
(photo credit: Sivan Farag)
President Shimon Peres is due to leave Israel on Tuesday on a week-long visit to Brussels, Paris and Strasburg aimed at strengthening Jerusalem’s strategic ties with Europe.
Israel has increasingly become the target of criticism in Europe, and Peres hopes to ameliorate this negative attitude through meetings with European leaders and a historic address to the European Parliament in Strasburg.
However, on Monday, Peres focused on setting an example for the local community, rather than the international one, by taking a hand in Good Deeds Day. The president spent the day promoting Shalva, the Jerusalem-based association for mentally and physically challenged children.
More than 13,000 Jerusalemites participated in 250 community service projects on Monday, with the municipality honoring Good Deeds Day by dedicating a five-kilometer extension to the Rail Trail bike path.
Among the leaders whom Peres is scheduled to meet during his European tour are Belgian Prime Minister Elio de Rupo, French President Francois Hollande, Bulgarian President Rosen Plevniev, President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen and OECD secretary-general Angel Gurria among others.
Late on Tuesday, together with Crown Prince Philippe of Belgium and Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, Peres will participate in a ceremony honoring Righteous Among the Nations and will bestow decorations on eleven Belgian citizens who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
In the evening he will be hosted by the Jewish community of Brussels and will deliver an address on the need to upgrade the bonds between Diaspora Jewry and Israel.
The Holocaust will again figure into his visit on Tuesday when he attends the official opening of an exhibition in Brussels marking the 70th anniversary of the rescue of Bulgarian Jewry. Both Peres and Plevniev will deliver speeches at the event.
In the course of his many meetings and public addresses throughout the week, Peres will discuss economic policies and the manner in which global companies can take the people of the Middle East out of the cycle of poverty. He will also emphasize the seriousness of the Iranian nuclear threat, the killing spree in Syria and the instability that is plaguing Lebanon.
While in Paris, Peres will also visit the families of those killed in the terrorist attack in Toulouse last year.
Peres will not be the first Israeli president to address the European Parliament.
Chaim Herzog has that distinction, having done so 28 years ago. However, at the time, the EU only had ten member states, while today it comprises 27 nations.