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Peres’ 90th birthday celebration draws celebrities

Israeli President Shimon Peres bestowing the Presidential Medal of Distinction upon former US President Bill Clinton. (Getty)JERUSALEM — World leaders praised and serenaded Israeli President Shimon Peres in honor of his upcoming 90th birthday.

The prime-time birthday celebration on June 18 marked the start of the fifth annual Israeli Presidential Conference.

Two of every three Israeli television viewers tuned in to the ceremony, which was broadcast on four Israeli television networks, according to Globes.

Peres was serenaded by Barbra Steisand with the traditional “Avinu Malkeinu” and by her signature “People.” She was preceded in song by popular Israeli singers Eyal Golan and Shlomo Artzi

“We have our queen and you have your Shimon,” said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who started off the evening.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recalled meeting Peres for the first time at the funeral of his brother, Yoni, who was killed while rescuing Israeli hostages in Entebbe, Uganda.

He said he will never forget the words of comfort offered by Peres when he came to sit shiva with the family.

He also discussed the president’s contributions to the state.

“Shimon Peres has devoted his life to building Israel and building peace. A strong Israel creates the conditions for peace,” Netanyahu said.

“We extend our hand in peace to our neighbors, but we are always ready to defend ourselves. This is what I’ve learned from Shimon Peres: Look to the future, remember the past and be prepared to defend yourself.”

Former President Bill Clinton, who sat next to Peres in the front row of the ceremony, called Peres “the world’s social Einstein.”

“You have tried to put together a unified theory of meaning,” the ex-US president said. He recalled that the two men have “buried people we love together.”

“The thing that I love about you is the remarkable combination of mind and heart that allow you to always be big,” Clinton said.

Heads of state not in Israel for the ceremony offered recorded greetings and praise to Peres, including President Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Dozens of children participated in the program, including filling the stage and the aisles while singing John Lennon’s iconic “Give Peace a Chance.”

PERES spoke about how his life has dovetailed with the history of the State of Israel. “On this occasion, I feel grateful because the chapters of my life are entwined with the story of the birth and the development of the State of Israel. Because I have been given the wonderful privilege to serve my country. To take part in the building of its strength. To pursue peace, our heart’s truest desire,” he said.

On the topic of peace, he added, “I believe that Israel can go higher and higher, if we make the necessary decisions.

“We genuinely and truly strive to be a nation among nations, a nation that gives. We long for peace with our neighbors.”

Peres is the oldest sitting head of state; his birthday is on Aug. 2. The Presidential Conference, attended by nearly 5,000 world leaders and innovators, ended on June 20.

PRIME Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, interrupted by protesters, delivered more warnings on Iran as the Israeli Presidential Conference came to a close.

President Shimon Peres offered a message of hope as the two-day conference in Jerusalem ended on June 20.

Netanyahu, repeating his frequent call to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, said the international community must keep demanding that Iran halt its nuclear program despite the recent election of a new president seen as relatively moderate.

“We may be seeing a change in style but not a change in substance,” he said.

“The test is not what they say but what they do.”

As Netanyahu began his speech, protesters shouted inaudible slogans about his government’s recently formulated policy that would have Israel exporting 40% of its natural gas.

Security personnel removed the protesters and, except for one protest, Netanyahu spoke uninterrupted.

The prime minister in his address outlined his core policies and, playing off the conference’s name, “Facing Tomorrow,” said he wished for “a tomorrow of security, prosperity and peace.”

Netanyahu also praised the Israeli economy’s recent growth and repeated his desire to enter peace negotiations with the PA without preconditions.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas has called for Israel to freeze West Bank settlement construction before negotiations begin.

“We want to achieve peace,” Netanyahu said. “I want to achieve peace. The only way to achieve peace and to end the negotiations for peace is to begin the negotiations for peace. We’re ready to begin negotiations now, without preconditions.

“We hope the Palestinians are ready. We want to achieve peace.”

Peres, reflecting on the two-day confab of world leaders, celebrities and thinkers, said the conference “demonstrated the greatest things about Israel. Israel is small in size and great in hope,” he said.

“This is all a legitimization of Israel, to its strength and its path forward.

“It showed the strength of friendship for Israel.”

“THE yesterday between us and the Palestinians is full of sadness,” Peres said.

“I believe that the Israel of tomorrow and the Palestine of tomorrow can offer our children a ray of hope.

“The advancement of peace will complete the march of Israel towards the fulfillment of its founding vision.”

On June 19, Peres conferred Israel’s Presidential Medal of Distinction — the nation’s highest honor — on Bill Clinton.

The former US president, who worked closely with Peres on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the 1990s, also stressed the need for peace in his acceptance speech.

“There are no perfect solutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict,” Clinton said, adding,

“Somebody else’s idiotic, negative, crazy behavior should not” lead to a similarly negative response by Israel.



JTA

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