A gala dinner scheduled for June 17 at the Peres Academic Center in Rehovot, in honor of the 90th birthday of the institution’s namesake, President Shimon Peres, has become a cause for embarrassment at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem and the Jewish National Fund, which is donating $500,000 to fund the event’s keynote speaker, former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
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The idea began a year ago. The JNF sought to generate positive PR for itself abroad − where pro-Palestinian activists have been attacking the agency − by inviting Clinton to speak on sustainability at its annual conference, while at the same time introducing some of its biggest donors to Clinton. This was in the hope of facilitating the JNF’s long-term fund-raising goals.
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 JNF’s financial position is good, mainly on account of the estimated NIS 8 billion value of its assets. Until two years ago, the agency’s annual budget was NIS 650 million, 70 percent of which was earmarked for expenses. JNF officials say the bill for the banquet is being footed by the donors who attend the annual conference.
The gala’s guest list also includes local personalities. In Friday’s Haaretz (“While Bibi destroys, Peres distracts”), Yossi Sarid revealed 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.