Peres praises South American students who came during war

Demonstrators call on president to return his 1994 Nobel Peace Prize.

Peres europeans 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Peres europeans 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Demonstrators stood opposite Beit Hanassi on Sunday evening, demanding the IDF leave Gaza and labeling President Shimon Peres a war monger, calling on him to return his 1994 Nobel Peace Prize. Inside, a South American high school student asked Peres what he felt when he received the award. "It was less important than making peace," Peres told the teenager, one of 27 youngsters who came last week from Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala and Venezuela under the auspices of the Na'aleh youth aliya organization. They have joined other Latin Americans on the Na'aleh program who are housed at Kibbutz Kfar Ruppin, near Beit She'an, and are studying at the Geon Hayarden kibbutz high school. "Jewish tradition," Peres continued, "promotes the performance of good deeds for the sake of doing them, and not for the reward." Na'aleh is a Hebrew acronym for Noar Oleh Lifnei Horim (Youth immigrates before parents). There are currently 1,200 students, 70 percent of them from the former Soviet Union, participating in the program, Na'aleh director Yeshayahu Yechieli told Peres. Since the founding of Na'aleh in 1991, some 11,000 participants - approximately 90% of the total, chose to remain in Israel, and many went to the army. Some distinguished themselves as officers and as combat soldiers. Several are currently inside Gaza, and one is a pilot. Yechieli was pleased to note that two members of the Beit Hanassi staff are Na'aleh alumni. Although it was not explicitly stated that Na'aleh is in danger of falling victim to the Jewish Agency's budget cuts, it was implied when Yechieli said that generally organizations approach Beit Hanassi to ask if the president can receive them, but this time he received a call from Peres's point man Joseef Avi-Yair Engel, better known as Jucha, who asked him what Beit Hanassi could do for Na'aleh. Yechieli took the opportunity to tell Peres that he hoped Na'aleh could open its 18th anniversary year at Beit Hanassi. Eighteen in gematria is hai, meaning life, and the message was not lost on either Peres or Engel. Peres asked the high school students to introduce themselves and to tell him about Jewish life in their countries. Some said it was close knit. Others said it was deteriorating and there was no rabbi, while others spoke openly of trenchant anti-Semitism. To a student who asked about how to repair Israel's negative image in the world, Peres said he wasn't worried about it because Israel had fought in Gaza not against people but against terror. Those who sought to criticize Israel should look in a mirror, he suggested as he cited horrible carnage that had taken place in South American countries, Europe and Africa.