Bill Clinton
JNF was to transfer $500,000 to the William J. Clinton Foundation, whose goals include improving global health and protecting the environment. Photo by AP
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The Jewish National Fund announced Friday that it is backing out of an upcoming gala event in honor of President Shimon Peres and will not fund the $500,000 speaking fee of the keynote speaker, former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Earlier this week, outcries were heard in Israel and abroad after it was reported that the JNF will be donating the large sum to fund Clinton's speech at the gala dinner in honor of Peres' 90th birthday, which is scheduled for June17 at the Peres Academic Center in Rehovot.

As a result of the criticism, the JNF withdrew its participation on Friday and said it will take back all the funds it has donated to the Peres Academic Center for the event.

The speaker’s fee is destined not for Clinton’s pocket, but rather for the William J. Clinton Foundation, whose goals include improving global health and protecting the environment.

The gala’s guest list also includes local personalities. Yossi Sarid revealed in Haaretz that each invitee had been asked to pay NIS 3,000 for his or her ticket, to fund need-based scholarships at PAC. Sarid describes a conversation he had with JNF chairman Efi Stenzler, who admitted not knowing the cost of the gala event.

But after learning of the event’s fund-raising ambitions, the chief of staff of the President’s Residence, Efrat Duvdevani, sent a letter to the heads of the Peres Academic Center in which she made it clear that Peres would not attend the dinner if donations were solicited during the event.

The PAC declined the offer by the president’s staff to cancel Peres’ attendance to enable the fund-raising to go ahead; instead, the institution would waive the ticket fee.

Officially, there is no connection between the PAC, which has 3,500 students, and Peres himself. But the college was founded by Ofra Elul, who is married to former Labor Party MK Rafi Elul, one the president’s closest friends.

The Peres Academic Center said in response that Clinton is the guest of honor at the event honoring Peres. “No fund-raising will take place that evening, and no payment will be requested from any of its participants,” the statement emphasized.