Shimon Peres, President of Israel Speaks with Charlie Rose at 92 Street Y
by Shellie Burgman, Assistant in the Communications Department
Earlier this spring, I was lucky enough to get to see the President of Israel, Shimon Peres, speak at the 92 Street Y in New York City. This captivating event gave everyone in the room that “insider-perspective” feeling you get when you listen closely to a Charlie Rose interview with a major decision maker, and feel as though you’re on the verge of a major breakthrough. Only this time you were right there in the same room with two of the world’s most recognized voices in politics and current events. Growing up in Israel, I can’t remember a time Shimon Peres was anything short of a revered figure, for everything he has done for the country and the people and the integrity he represents. Getting an opportunity to hear him speak in greater detail about his life and his work, made me admire and respect him that much more. Not only for the monumental accomplishments he helped secure, like the 1993 Oslo Accords, for which he won a Nobel Peace Prize, but for being a living testament to the strength of one’s convictions as well as his belief in Israel’s power to regenerate and innovate.
Peres touched on the current state of affairs with Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, and internal political challenges in the Israeli political system. Yet that was not the overarching message of his conversation with Charlie Rose. The on-going theme and response to Rose’s questions was, “How can you measure?” He would ask (on matters like the borders and dividing up land between Israelis and Palestinians). He stressed that it is impossible to judge fairness and accuse a country of “occupying” by “measuring” land or criticizing a singled-out political decision. The broader theme of this conversation was not to glorify Israel to its U.S. supporters or even its adversaries, but to stress the country’s on-going commitment to create peace and equality within its own borders, which in time, would benefit the Middle East and the world as a whole. He stressed that Israeli-Palestinian relations are much more dynamic than how they are portrayed in the media, “It is not lost. We are in agreement much more than people think. We already agreed on a two-state solution.”
On the questions of how to guarantee security while implementinga two-state solution, Peres offered an interesting take on the social and economic forces that are fueling the conflict and delaying the peace process. First, it’s not about the size of the land, it’s about poverty. He emphasized the importance of scientific and economic development to guaranteeing security, “Israel has shown how to overcome poverty.” He was even unexpectedly funny: “Israel has two lakes: one dead, one dying. But ten times the agricultural yield of the world!” He also cited that the real conflict in the Middle East is between the young, progressive generation, with degrees and are on Facebook, and the older, more conservative generation.”
He stressed that there must be a “new agenda for the Jewish people” specifying three pillars that must inform and guide all Jews: A Moral Code: The 10 commandments, Request for knowledge and Peace —Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). Finally, when Rose asked how he would like his legacy to be remembered, Peres scoffed: “It’s too early to think about that!” At 89 years old, Peres calmly recounted the events of the past and predictions for the future with an untainted optimism and steadfast conviction that Tikkun Olam is not only possible but is the inevitable path to peace we will all follow.