Peretz brushes up on his English

The slow sputtering English that launched a thousand imitations was gone Monday night when Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz spoke at the Socialist International Council in Athens in fluid, eloquent English. It was the first major public speech in English that Peretz has given since the incident in early November, which saw him stumble and skip over several parts of his speech at the opening of the Rabin Center in Tel Aviv. Peretz, who had been elected chairman less than three days before delivering that speech, received a barrage of criticism charging that his lack of English skills reflected his ineligibility as a leader. "The speech he gave at the Rabin memorial was always made too much of, his English was always more than reasonable," said Peretz spokesman, Tom Wagner. "He had been so overworked prior to that speech, that we should not have let him do it." Wagner defended Peretz's poor English at that speech, arguing that Peretz had been on his feet for 72 hours, and that his aides had printed the speech in small letters that Peretz had difficulty reading. "His English was really not as bad as people have made it out to be," said Wagner. An American aide close to Peretz added that in her experience, Peretz has been able to communicate freely in meetings with English-speaking nationals. "I have been with in numerous meetings, and he has always been able to convey himself in English," said the aide. Regardless, Peretz's English has become a national joke, spawning numerous skits in the hit Israeli TV show 'Eretz Nehederet', (It's a wonderful country). "Before his election as chairman, he did not have many opportunities to use his English," said Wagner. "Since then he has brushed up." That "brushing up," has apparently included weekly lessons with a private English tutor and practicing with his daughter around the house. Shani Peretz has been studying in the UK, but returned to Israel several months ago to help with her father's campaign. Peretz's speech Monday night opened by congratulating newly elected head of council George Papandreou, and ended with an analogy on security and the state.