“Greetz from US Peres! Good luck mr. president!” writes PivotStorm, a US bank clerk with a penchant for using the F-word. Kigbfre, a woman whose comment is accompanied by a picture of her showing cleavage, posts: “Hello, I like your video.” YouTube users have found what political lobbyists across Israel are dying for — a direct line to President Shimon Peres.
Peres, 86, launched his own YouTube channel this week. YouTube’s co-founder Chad Hurley joined him at the Presidential Residence for the occasion.
Peres is by no means the first world leader to take to YouTube. Other important subscribers include members of the British monarchy, who have their own channel. But there is something rather unique about Peres’ initiative. For many public figures, turning to technology is a means to an end, just a way of getting heard. But with Peres, it’s part of the message.
Judging by the title, sparks were going to fly. A much-anticipated session at the second annual Israeli Presidential Conference, today was called “Jerusalem, Washington, US Jewry — Is the Honeymoon Over?”
The honeymoon is over, implied Elliott Abrams, former policy advisor to President George W. Bush, saying that he “had a wonderful honeymoon with Sallai,” referring to fellow panelist Sallai Meridor, former Israeli ambassador to America.
But while panelists agreed that relations are being put to the test and should become more intimate, in the main they were circumspect, and at points upbeat. Meridor, who was ambassador when Obama took office, said that whatever the clashes between Obama and Netanyahu, both leaders’ desire to make history will keep them on track. They both “see things in a very strategic historic manner,” he said.
I think that Netanyahu looks at his term as a historic term more than a personal term and I think that President Obama looks at his presidency as an historic phenomenon.
I think that both individuals from my impression, beyond ideology, and both of them have a strong ideological basis, are strategic and are looking make major changes and if they are able and I hope they are to find the middle ground … the right thing for the world, for America, for Israel.
I think this would take precedence for them over political considerations.
Stanley Greenberg, former advisor to President Bill Clinton, cited another reason why ties are not in danger. He pointed to the “continuity and depth of support” between the two allies, saying the “bottom line” is that the US-Israel alliance “is grounded in real things, values, deep support on both sides.”
But when, in a later session, participants heard from one of the most powerful figures in the Israeli government, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, there was indication that a major fault line is already opening up.
The second annual Israeli Presidential Conference has the hopeful title “tomorrow.” But some of the speakers are painting a rather bleak picture of what the future heralds.
Discussions are focusing heavily on the global economic crisis and what it means to Israel and Jews worldwide. In a panel discussion on this topic, which brought together people involved in Jewish fundraising from around the world, Mort Zuckerman, editor-in-chief of the U.S. News & World Report, who is chairing the conference, spoke of the “permanent damage” of the crisis for the financial well being of Jewish organizations.
But according to another panelist, Maurice Levy, chairman and CEO of the management board of the French multinational advertising and communications company Publicis Groupe, there is worse news. He said: “I believe that there is a real danger which is more important than the money that we have lost and the stock that has depreciated and the charities that will not have the money for social welfare.” He said that danger is antisemitic fall-out of the crisis as a result of claims that it is the fault of Jews.
Jerusalem is buzzing with international visitors here for the second annual Israeli Presidential Conference, which began yesterday and finishes up today.
Israel’s President Shimon Peres has long been an enthusiast for the idea that Israel should be a meeting place for Jewish minds and that the Israel’s leaders should take time out of all the other challenges they face to facilitate this. The conference, his initiative, is intended as the embodiment of that principle and has drawn a crowd of 3,000 participants, many of them community leaders, politicians and academics.
Topics range from the global economic crisis to challenges in the world of art and science. The list of speakers is impressive. In addition to many of Israel’s leading public figures and thinkers it includes Quartet representative and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, China’s minister of information Chen Wang, Skype’s president Josh Silverman, and Wikipedia’s founder Jimmy Wales. However, the conference seems to have set itself too high a bar last year, leading some, including Haaretz, to claim that this year’s guests are small fry in comparison.
Before loading the buses en route to Capitol Hill, Aipac delegates got a dose of reality with Vice President Biden reminding the pro-Israel activists just what it is the administration believes in.
Biden, it turns out, doesn’t necessarily buy into the Peres–Netanyahu doctrine of moving forward with the peace process without mentioning the term “Palestinian state.” Speaking on the last day of the Aipac policy conference, Biden actually used the term “two-state solution” and went on to say: “You’re not going to like my saying this, but [do] not build more settlements.”
This message is coming not only from the administration. Senator John Kerry, speaking in advance of Biden’s address, made a similar point: “Settlements make it difficult for Israel to protect its own citizens,” said the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
But while differences might exist with the administration, one thing is clear: The Israelis felt perfectly at home. President Shimon Peres told the Israeli press that the atmosphere was so warm that “even all the refrigerators in the world could not chill it.”
Maybe it sounds better in Hebrew.
To watch video from the Aipac conference, or to read transcripts of the addresses given there, click here.
To commemorate the festival of Nowruz — marking the beginning of the Persian New Year — American President Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres have each recorded friendly messages, embedded with challenges, for the people of Iran.
Obama, in his statement, also available with Farsi subtitles, said:
The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right — but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create.
His comments can be seen in their entirety here:
Peres in his message, broadcast on Israel Radio’s Farsi channel, said:
With great pleasure, I offer you this blessing on your holiday, a day of renewal that brings with it happiness and hope of a new day, of better days and a blessed new year.
… Unfortunately, the relations between our two countries have hit a low point, stemming from ideas that compel your leaders to act in every possible way against the state of Israel and its people. But I am convinced that the day is not far off when our two nations will restore good neighborly relations and cooperation in thriving in every way.
… At the start of the New Year, I urge you, the noble Iranian people, on behalf of the ancient Jewish people, to reclaim your worthy place among the nations of the enlightened world, while contributing a worthy cultural contribution.
Israeli Arabs have never been so in demand, and they have the strong showing of the hard-line anti-Arab Yisrael Beiteinu party to thank. This is the thesis of the novelist and satiric columnist Sayed Kashua in Haaretz. Kashua, one of the country’s best-known Israeli Arab writers, has a knack of giving a great insight in to the complexities of Israeli-Arab identity, which he alludes to so entertainingly this essay.
Late last week when President Shimon Peres chose Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu to form the new government, every Israeli, whatever their political opinions, had reason to celebrate.
This is no endorsement of the hawkish Likud party. Rather, it is a simple observation that in the days between the election and Peres’ decision, newspapers here became as dull as dishwater.
For almost a fortnight, newspapers had nothing to say, except to speculate which party’s leader various factions would recommend to Peres. And it was hardly rocket science to predict that the right-wing parties, a majority, would endorse the right-wing option, Netanyahu.
There was even detailed coverage of Kadima going to tell Peres whom it favored for Prime Minister (amazingly its own Livni) and Likud going to make its nomination (yes, Netanyahu).
Every month, Tel Aviv University pollsters gauge Israeli public opinion. Here are the numbers, just in, from their latest poll:
• 17% of people are happy with the election results and 43% are disappointed.
• 90% of people would vote the same way if given the chance to vote again.
• Kadima is more popular than Likud, like it was in the election. If polls were held again, 30% of people would vote Kadima and 27% would vote Likud.
• Regarding their preference for Prime Minister, 37.5% of people want Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and 37.6% want Kadima leader Tzipi Livni.
• 36% of people want a unity government of Likud, Kadima and Labor. 22% want a Likud-led rightist coalition and 16% want a coalition of Likud, Kadima and Yisrael Beitenu.
• Some 77% of people think that the release of captured soldier Gilad Shalit should be a prerequisite to any Israel-Hamas ceasefire agreement.
• A third of people are content with the results of the recent Gaza operation (Operation Cast Lead); 36% are disappointed.
About to make the first visit of his presidency to Israel, Presdient Bush reportedly is already planning a second trip to the Jewish state.
Ha’aretz reports that Bush plans to visit again in May for a convention Israeli President Shimon Peres will hold to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish state.
Y-Net reports that she presented Peres with a copy of the “Book of Splendor” (i.e. the Zohar) with the dedication: “To Shimon Peres, the man I admire and love, Madonna.”
The Material Girl also proclaimed herself an “ambassador for Judaism” and beseeched Israel’s president: “Tell me what I should do, Mr Peres, because I am in love with Israel.”
Perhaps Peres could ask her to bottle her enthusiasm and give a little of it to young American Jews. Then again, cults and enthusiasm do tend to go hand in hand.
The Jerusalem Post reports (following up on an article in Yediot Aharonot) that a bevy of celebrities is headed for Israel for Rosh Hashanah. They’re all stars smitten by the voodoo that Kabbalah Centre does so well: Madonna, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher and Donna Karan.
The Post’s best tidbit, however, is the following:
Kutcher, best known for his work on That ’70s Show and MTV reality program Punk’d, had an even more direct encounter with the Israeli government last October, meeting with Shimon Peres briefly in Berlin.
In town to promote his latest movie, the Dude, Where’s My Car? star put in a hasty request for a meeting with Peres after learning that he, too, was in the German capital on business.
At their meeting, Peres fielded questions from Kutcher about Israel’s security situation, with Kutcher ending the conversation with a pledge to visit Israel someday with his wife.
Dude, didn’t Peres have anything better to do?
UPDATE: Reader “Harry” helpfully notes that the Post got some key details about the Kutcher-Peres pow-wow wrong. (See his comment to this post.) It turns out that Peres was also meeting with Kevin Costner, who, having starred in “Field of Dreams” and “Dances With Wolves,” undeniably has gravitas. (The Forward’s earlier account of the Kutcher-Costner-Peres meeting is here.)
By now you may have heard … I am leaving the Forward next month to become the managing editor of JTA.
This isn’t the time for any long goodbyes. I just wanted to say this: When I started working here nearly seven years ago, Reform Jews didn’t spend their conferences davening and trying on tefillin, Conservative rabbis were supposed to be straight and didn’t perform gay marriages, and Joe Lieberman was still a Democrat.
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