Peres to UK Jews: Instead of collecting checks, we'll share ideas

President speaks to representatives of the Board of Deputies of British Jews about upcoming Israel 60th anniversary conference.

Peres 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Peres 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel is poised to develop a new intellectual relationship with Diaspora Jewry, President Shimon Peres on Monday told a delegation of representatives of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. "Instead of collecting checks we'll share ideas," said Peres, referring to an Israel 60th anniversary conference planned for mid May. Some 3000 individuals have been invited to the gathering, including many non-Jewish dignitaries and intellectuals. When Board president Henry Grunwald observed that some of Peres's predecessors in office had sought to give Diaspora Jewry a large say on matters in Israel, and asked Peres whether he was like-minded, it was obvious to everyone in the room what he was referring to: an initiative pursued by Moshe Katsav, whereby he wanted to set up a world Jewish forum alongside the Knesset to debate issues such as conversion which were no less important to the Jewish Diaspora than to the citizens of the Jewish state. Peres did not quite dismiss the idea, but came perilously close. There had been some concept of a Jewish Senate, he said, "But who would listen to them? If we start with politics, we'll end up fighting each other." However, he was in favor of a cooperative effort on religious and cultural issues. Peres took Britain to task for not speaking out sufficiently on Iran's nuclear program, and warned that eventually Britain and all the countries of the European Union would be forced to do more to combat the Iranian threat, "because the combination of terror and enriched uranium makes the world ungovernable." Despite the oft-stated intent of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to erase Israel from the face of the earth, Peres continues to advocate economic sanctions rather than a military option. The real problem in this regard he said was that "we can't create a coalition between Europe and America. If there was a united and common policy, the situation would be different." Ahmadinejad could only benefit from a divided international community, said Peres. On the matter of the situation in Gaza, Peres expressed surprise that England could not in general show the same understanding as Germany, France and even Turkey. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister understand, he said, but not the academics and the media, both of whom are constantly critical of Israel. Peres could barely contain his anger when mentioning the boycott imposed by British academics, saying he'd never heard anything like it. "What do they want us to do?" he asked, implying that Israel was not about to turn the other cheek. When the delegation expressed excitement at what they thought would be Peres's forthcoming visit to London in April to participate in the gala 60th anniversary dinner at Windsor Castle, Peres told them that he was not sure that he would be going because he had so many commitments in Israel and abroad in the months ahead that he did not think that he could load the government with additional expenditures. "You could take the train from Paris to London," suggested one of the delegates, noting that Peres would be close by for an event in France. "It's not the cost of the travel," replied Peres. "It's the cost of the security."