'Israelis must rediscover Jewish values'

President Peres to 'The Jerusalem Post': Everyone here begrudges everyone else.

Peres 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Peres 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
President Shimon Peres says he is greatly concerned about the demoralization of the nation and the loss of traditional Jewish values. He is not trying to dictate to Israelis how they should live their lives, he told The Jerusalem Post in an interview that will be published in full in the Independence Day edition next Wednesday. But it is vital, he said, that the different segments of Israel's society learn to understand and respect one another. In America, said Peres, people do not begrudge each other in the way they do in Israel. "Here, everyone begrudges everyone else." It bothered him deeply, Peres said, that Orthodox Jews are intolerant of secular Jews here and vice versa; that Jews have problems understanding Arabs, and Arabs have problems understanding Jews; that Ashkenazim find fault with Sephardim and vice versa. Peres stressed he was not suggesting the need for a homogeneous society. In fact, he said, he is a great believer in the right to be different. What is needed, though, he said, is for the diverse elements in Israeli society, despite their differences, to find a way to harmonize rather than to keep on sowing discord and discontent. Peres said he is convinced that the nation is destined for far greater achievements in the years ahead, but worried that potential successes are being impeded by hostilities among the various groups that make up the mosaic of Israeli society. He said he intends to make these concerns known to the public in his Independence Day and post-Independence Day addresses. The president also expressed concern over foot-dragging in payments to Holocaust survivors, blaming a lack of goodwill on the part of a succession of governments. The amount of money involved is not all that great, he said; the crux of the matter in the past was whether the government wanted to do anything about it. He recalled going to first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, with a plan for something that Ben-Gurion wasn't really keen on. When Ben-Gurion asked how much it would cost and was quoted a sum of a million dollars, the prime minister retorted that this was too expensive. But when Peres came to him with another idea that Ben-Gurion supported but that cost around $50 million, Ben-Gurion said, "That's not much," Peres recalled. His point, said Peres: It's not the sum involved that counts, but rather the willingness. In this context, he observed that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had done more to benefit Holocaust survivors than any of his predecessors. Yet even what Olmert had done was not enough, he said. Aware that time was running out for elderly impoverished survivors, Peres said he would speak to both Olmert and Isaac Herzog, the minister for social affairs, about speeding up the welfare payments process and increasing the sums allocated.