In the wake of the public outcry surrounding the payment for former U.S. President Bill Clinton's speech, which compelled the Jewish National Fund to withdraw its financial support for the lecture, the Peres Academic Center announced Sunday it would raise the requisite funds.
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Clinton is slated to deliver his speech, costing $500,000, at a gala evening at the Peres Academic Center in Rehovot next Monday, with President Shimon Peres in attendance. The JNF backed out of paying the sum after reports of the arrangement created a public stir.
"In the present public atmosphere it's preferable not to participate in the event," explained a JNF spokesman. The sum has already been transferred to the William J. Foundation via the Peres Academic Center, which was in charge of the contacts with Clinton. The JNF is now supposed to get its money back from the academic center, and the association of friends of the Peres Academic Center will raise money to cover the costs.
The chairwoman of the association of friends of the Peres Academic Center is Drorit Wertheim, daughter of businessman Mozi Wertheim, who owns the Central Bottling Company (Coca Cola Israel) and a is shareholder in Channel 2 franchisee Keshet. Among the members of the association of friends are Erez Meltzer, former CEO of Africa-Israel, and public relations expert Roni Rahav, who serves as the spokesman for the Peres Academic Center.
"The association of friends will get the money from foreign donors. Supporters of ours have already contacted us and said they would help," said an associate of the center. Clinton will be in Israel in honor of the Israeli Presidential Conference, which will begin on June 18, a day after his speech at the center.
The main celebration in honor of Peres' 90th birthday will be held on the first evening of the conference. The cooperation between the JNF and the Peres Academic Center began a year ago. The JNF wanted to take advantage of Clinton's lecture to improve the image of the organization worldwide, where it is the target of criticism from pro-Palestinian organizations. At this opportunity the JNF also wanted to introduce Clinton to the organization's donors, who are members of the JNF World Leadership Conference of Presidents. The members are the ones who funded the lecture.
This week it turned out that members of the JNF board of directors were not even aware of the payment for Clinton's speech. Some of them turned to JNF chairman Efi Stenzler for explanations. One of them said that "Stenzler told me that it was only an attempt to harness the organization's leadership to a preplanned event. He didn't quite understand what the fuss was all about."
In a letter sent this week to JNF employees, the administration tried to absolve itself of any connection with funding the lecture and explained that Clinton was contacted by the Peres Academic Center rather than the JNF.
The JNF commented: "The decision of the JNF World Leadership Conference of Presidents not to participate in the event at the PAC was made with the consent of the center, including a return of the money. Under the circumstances, the WLC decided it was preferable not to participate in the event, in light of the fact that the objectives for which the JNF had joined the event would not be achieved."
The JNF added: "The WLC and its representatives did not speak to President Clinton or invite him. They didn't sign with him and didn't pay him. The JNF leadership conference joined the event of the Peres Academic Center, which invited the president already a year ago."
The PAC commented: "The Peres Academic Center is pleased to announce that supporters of the center and members of its organization of friends are the ones who will host President Clinton during his upcoming visit to Israel and will pay the necessary sum to ensure the arrival of one of Israel's greatest friends."