Categorized | Middle East, San Diego County, USA

1,100 pay tribute to Peres at Jewish Federation event

1,100 San Diegans observed a standing moment of silence for  Israel's former president Shimon Peres

1,100 San Diegans observed a standing moment of silence for Israel’s former president Shimon Peres

Bret Stephens

Bret Stephens on megascreen

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO – With a 10-hour time difference between Jerusalem and this city, 1,100 San Diegans attending an annual Jewish Federation fundraiser known as the Men’s Event, observed a ceremonial silence for the former Israeli President Shimon Peres, whose burial was scheduled only a few hours later.

It was Thursday night at the San Diego Jewish Academy, and early Friday morning in Jerusalem as the event’s main speaker, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Bret Stephens, the foreign affairs columnist for the Wall Street Journal and former editor of the Jerusalem Post, honored Peres and also offered some policy advice for the next President of the United States – whoever she or he may be.

Stephens had interviewed Peres on several occasions—including on a nine-hour  flight from South Africa to Jerusalem 14 years ago,  when they sat next to each other.  At the time, Peres was 79 years old, and remarkably, according to Stephens “no part of his conversation was nostalgic;” it always was focused on the future.  This demonstrated Peres’ ability to be a dreamer, the journalist said.

In what might be called a behind-the-scenes work story, Stephens recalled once being telephoned by Peres and being bawled out for not including the Israeli leader’s quotes in his story.  Stephens responded that the quotes were there, but “after the jump”—that is, on the continuation page of the story that started on Page 1.  Peres said he would check this out, and after he did, he called Stephens back to apologize.  The lesson?  No matter how vaunted Peres’ position, he never felt himself above ordinary decency.

Peres also figured in a set of “rules” that Stephens offered for incoming Presidents who are dealing with the Middle East.  Peres, he said, was a “short term realist and a long-term optimist.”  Jews and other supporters of Israel who are outside Israel, reading stories in the western media, will feel better once they touch ground in Israel, Stephens suggested.   If they go to Tel Aviv, they will see a bustling city with tall buildings, all built by Jews on previously barren land.  If they go to Jerusalem and visit the City of David, they’ll be able to see foundations of Jewish cities, under centuries of stones, and realize that “no people are more rooted to the land” than are the Jews.  With modern Syria and Iraq seemingly being blown away, he added, one realizes that the one civilization that won’t be blown away is the Jewish one.

David Ellman, a leader in the San Diego Jewish community, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Bret Stephens, and Waxie Sanitary Supply owner Charles Wax visited prior to Stephens' speech.  Stephens was a guest at the Rancho Santa Fe home of Charles and Randi Wax.

David Ellman, a leader in the San Diego Jewish community, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Bret Stephens, and Waxie Sanitary Supply owner Charles Wax schmoozed with each other prior to Stephens’ speech. Stephens was an overnight guest at the Rancho Santa Fe home of Charles and Randi Wax.

In a witty presentation for a future U.S. president, Stephens said the Middle East is the opposite of Las Vegas, which has the advertising slogan “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”  It’s just the reverse with the Middle East.  What happens there, doesn’t stay there, but spreads to the rest of the word whether it be the refugees from Syria, or the violence of ISIS in Iraq.

Stephens also offered the “Larry David” rule, in reference to the star of the comedic television series “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”  Too many U.S. Presidents believed they could make their own dreams come true in the Middle East.  Bill Clinton, he said, thought he could put Israelis and Palestinians in the same room for many hours, and they would end up liking each other. George W. Bush believed if elections were held in Iraq, that country would adopt liberal democratic values.  Barack Obama believed if he gave an idealistic speech to Muslims, he could transform Egypt, but the so-called “Arab Spring” that followed his presentation in Cairo, soon turned into the “Arab winter” when various Arab states collapsed in non-democratic revolutions.

Rather than trying to make dreams come true, said Stephens, the next U.S. president should try to keep “nightmares at bay.”   He or she should think of three or four things that should not be allowed to happen and then make solid plans to prevent them.  For example, he said, Iran should not be allowed to get a nuclear bomb.  ISIS should not be allowed to have a caliphate, or to be fought only gradually.  Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan should not be permitted to crumble.  Syria must not be allowed to bleed forever.

Another “rule” was drawn from the old television series, “The Untouchables,” which lionized the work of FBI agent Elliot Ness against Chicago’s mobsters.  In that series a cop named Joe Malone told Ness that in Chicago, “if they pull a knife, you pull a gun.”  In other words, you don’t fight gangsters or terrorists with proportionate force.  You need disproportionate force, according to Stephens, whether you are combating Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon.  He said the U.S. and Israel should use their power to rid the world of people who want the destruction of civilization.

Another rule was the “Hillary rule,” in which Stephens paraphrased the former U.S. Secretary of State and current Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as saying that one must have empathy for people and governments in foreign lands.  For example, he said, the Egyptian strongman Abdel el-Fattah Sisi, while no democrat, stands between Egypt and the chaos that would be brought about by the Muslim Brotherhood.

And, he said, instead of scolding Israel, the next President of the United States should imagine what it would be like to be the leader of Israel, facing the “kleptocrats of Fatah” and the “theocrats of Hamas.”

The next president should know that Israel protects civilization from barbarism, he said.

The San Diego Jewish Men's Choir entertained during the outdoor barbecue dinner on the football field of San Diego Jewish Academy.

The San Diego Jewish Men’s Choir entertained during the outdoor barbecue dinner on the football field of San Diego Jewish Academy.

The “Charlie Hebdo” rule—in reference to the French satirical magazine, which was the subject of a deadly terrorist attack—explains that Muslim extremists are not simply opposed to the policies of the United States and Israel, they are opposed to the entire western way of life.  They oppose such western values as women being equal to men; separation of religion and state; freedom of speech; and the rights of minorities, said Stephens.

Another rule was formulaic, that “certain ideas vanish in the presence of thought.”  An example of this, said Stephens, is that the struggle between the Palestinians and Israel is territorial.  If peace really could be assured between the two people – such as between Canada and the U.S. – Israel would have no problem giving up territory.  The reality, however, is that the struggle is not about Israel’s 1967 lines (before the Six Day War), it is about 1948 (when Israel came into existence.).

What needs to change most is the mentality of too many Palestinians, the journalist declared.  Palestinians should be told “if you want a state, show the world that you deserve one.”

Stephens also that the next U.S. President should guard against being a “true believer” – a term popularized  in 1951 by social philosopher Eric Hoffer.  Israel, suggested Stephens, ironically is the only country “that is expected to behave like a Christian nation.”   If Israel should perish, Stephens warned, it would be the onset of a worldwide Holocaust.

Prior to Stephens’ speech, Jewish Federation speakers and a film clip publicized not only how donations to the Federation help Jews in San Diego—be they the elderly, or children, or the impoverished—but also how such donations  help to defend Israel – particularly Sha’ar Hanegev, which is the municipality of kibbutzim and a moshav surrounding the city of Sderot on the border with Gaza.  In the past the Federation has helped to finance a bomb-proof high school in Sha’ar Hanegev, and now is helping to build an indoor sports center for the beleaguered municipality.

Alon Schuster, the mayor of Sha’ar Hanegev, was acknowledged from the audience, as was outgoing San Diego City Council member Marti Emerald.  In a ceremony prior to the program, the two memorialized an agreement in which San Diego and Sha’ar Hanegev became “friendship cities,” it was announced.

Organizers of the free barbecue  dinner said they would be willing to match contributions from the attendees up to $100,000.  With 1,100 people in attendance, that goal seemed almost assured.

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted via [email protected].  Comments intended for publication in the space below MUST be accompanied by the letter writer’s first and last name and by his/ her city and state of residence (city and country for those outside the United States.)

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One Response to “1,100 pay tribute to Peres at Jewish Federation event”


  1. […] The keynote speaker at the event was Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal.  To read Don Harrison’s account of his speech, and the  evening, please click here. […]

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