President Peres' Evening of Lies

All you need are a few Hollywood movie stars and a few former world leaders, and voila! For one night it seemed as if Israel was not merely the most moral nation on earth, but also the most popular. But what about the truth?

Tuesday night’s celebration of President Shimon Peres’ birthday was an immoral event. Even if one ignores the flashiness, the lack of taste, the personality cult and the kitsch − all in measures that would have embarrassed even Nicolae Ceaucescu − it was a celebration of lies. The television channels that united to broadcast this fawning performance should have at least warned viewers that it wasn’t suitable for young people, lest their souls be corrupted.

The celebration was immoral because it contained everything except the truth. That was swept under the carpet at the Jerusalem International Convention Center. Lies upon lies, illusions upon illusions, wrapped in the rustling cellophane of Sharon Stone and Bill Clinton at half a million dollars.

We’ll start with the name of the presidential conference, the slogan under which the celebration took place: Facing Tomorrow. A country that has no clue where it’s headed, what will be with it in a decade, what it wants and how it plans to achieve its vague goals, convenes a presidential conference on tomorrow. The “tomorrow” of the conference, like that of its host, consists of nanotechnology, sustainability and brain research.

That’s nice, but before we get too moved by this brilliant vision, we have to remember the more disturbing, existential questions. There is no mention of those. Does this country, which is “facing tomorrow,” want to be religious or secular, Western or Middle Eastern, domineering or just, Jewish or democratic? Does it want to continue the occupation forever, and does it plan to grant civil rights to its subjects? Nobody has a clue. Barbra Streisand singing “People,” and the embarrassing salute by a female army officer, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, of course, are enough to make people forget all those things.

The birthday boy was presented as a man of peace and vision. That’s also nice, but what about the truth? The party thrown by the man of peace was attended by leaders from all over the world, including the presidents of Albania and Rwanda. But who wasn’t there? Not a single Arab statesman. There wasn’t even a single Palestinian, except for the token child who was successfully healed in an Israeli hospital, a generous gift to the thousands of Palestinian children who have been killed or injured by the State of Israel, which is also Peres’ Israel.

Peres said in his speech, “Let us pray together for tomorrow’s peace,” and for a moment actually spoke truth: His contribution to peace indeed consisted of prayers ‏(and speeches‏). He even sang the “Song for Peace” at the rally at which Yitzhak Rabin was murdered, and “Give Peace a Chance” at his birthday party. The man who was present at every decisive junction in the nation’s history bears a heavy responsibility for the state of the nation today. His talent for deception and his artful presentation of the state as seeking peace has been no less detrimental to Israel than the settlement enterprise, for whose launch he is also responsible.

It is those who recalled his longevity and endless tasks, who identified him with the state, saying he is the state, who ought to have taken him to account on the status of our state in its 66th year, when only North Korea and Iran are more hated by the world.

Herein lies another lie: For one night it seemed as if Israel was not merely the most moral nation on earth, but also the most popular. All you need are a few movie stars ‏(American, of course‏) and a few former world leaders to obscure the truth: that Israel is currently boycotted more than almost any other nation. This deception is immoral. So is presenting Peres as the nation’s beloved: Most of those now acting so impressed by his age and intelligence never voted for him in their lives. It’s unethical to lie in prime time.

At the end of the previous century, Peres’ friends convened to celebrate his 75th birthday. The modest party took place in the home of book-loving publisher Ohad Zmora. Peres’ “love of his life,” Sonia, didn’t come, as usual, and on the lawn of Moshav Nir Zvi sat a few intellectuals, writers, and a handful of politicians. Peres was portrayed at the time as a statesman at the end of his road. It remains an unforgettable evening. It was an evening of truth.