Peretz's English in Athens is not Greek to them [p. 3]

The slow sputtering pronunciation 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 address 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 on his suitability to be 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 added that Peretz's aides had printed the speech in small letters, which made it difficult to read. An American aide close to Peretz said that in her experience, Peretz has been able to communicate freely in meetings with English-speaking nationals. "I have been with him in numerous meetings, and he has always been able to convey himself in English," she said. Still, Peretz's English became a national joke, spawning numerous skits on the hit 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 council head George Papandreou and ended with an analogy on security and the state.