Peretz Stars in High School Civics Lesson

Yesterday morning Labor chair Amir Peretz's schedule included "teaching civics at Leyada High School." The prestigious Jerusalem school is a far cry from the educational institutions Peretz knew in his youth, and Peretz took preparing for the lesson very seriously.

He wrote talking points and consulted with friends in civics and education, he even prepared a handout for the students. "Forget the handout," his friends told him. "Make it easy for them."

The 250 high school seniors in the school auditorium finished their civics studies last year, although some of them will face their final exam this year, at the polling station.

The Jerusalem students waited with surprising patience. At 8:30, the Labor delegation entered. Peretz was backed up by three academics, Professor Yuli Tamir, attorney Yuval Elbashan and Dr. Haim Iluz, a native of the capital's Musrara neighborhood, who attended Leyada (officially the Hebrew University High School) in the early '70s under a special program.

Peretz may have prepared to teach a civics class, but he was given a microphone and small bottle of mineral water on the table and after he was introduced, the students clapped, just like any other campaign stop. After a brief introduction though, Peretz brought his speech back to the civics lesson he prepared.

"Good people say they don't want to get into politics. 'Why should I get dirty?' and it's really not simple. Look at the goldfish. As long as he's swimming in clear, fresh aquarium water, he swims really well. Put it in a swamp - its gills get gummed up and it flops around. But if you put a frog in a swamp, it swims with confidence. People think it is an evolutionary process: to swim in a swamp you need that kind of gill. But I am here to tell you, anyone who thinks that way shouldn't complain about the harsh reality."

Peretz had long since abandoned his notes and spoke spontaneously, like a fish in water. "Do not fear politics. It is the art of the impossible. It is the place where answers no university can come up with are created."

"Unfortunately," he adds, "most public figures avoid creating policy to shape reality. Most take the easy road and create policy that is shaped by reality."

At this point, Peretz felt comfortable enough to use biographical details to illustrate his worldview - choosing moshav life over a gas station "because I didn't want to become a landlord;" refusing a farm in the Yamit region "because I didn't want to sow a single seed beyond the Green Line," insistence on a socioeconomic left in a country where right and left are delineated according to foreign policy and the struggle against settlement.

"Their leadership sowed the literal seed, and cannot control its plantage."

"What is plantage?" one student asked mockingly. "I don't know that word."

Peretz ignored the tone and explained at length how those who sow the verbal seeds of racism, sow rocks thrown at police officers. His aides passed him notes, telling him to leave time for questions.

"You're talking about the lawbreakers in Amona, but what about the lawbreakers in the Negev?" the same student asked. "Oof," one girl moaned. "that guy again."

Peretz enjoyed the debate. Two detailed questions came from students well-versed in socioeconomic theory, one clearly a member of a socialist youth movement, the other a supporter of free market economics. Peretz came to life. He loves these small details: embroidering the stories of former U.S. president Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who raised minimum wage and boosted economic growth, demonstrating how raising wages improves consumer power and upgrades technology, and happily answering the perennial question "where will the money come from?"

The teachers checked their watches, but the students finally looked interested. The speaker was sorry to leave. How often does a politician meet people who actually want to know what he thinks?