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Peres Praises Obama, Paints No-Daylight Picture

Israeli president addresses AIPAC Conference

Marc Tracy
March 04, 2012
President Peres earlier y=this year.(Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images)
President Peres earlier y=this year.(Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images)

Shimon Peres entered to biographical video with testimonies from Prime Minister Netanyahu, Secretary of State Clinton, and Henry Kissinger. There was a dark moment as he reflected on losing this “partner” Yitzhak Rabin. But the darkest moment came when Peres spoke of his grandfather, who told him, before he boarded a train in Trieste bound for Palestine, “Stay Jewish.” Peres described his grandfather’s death at the hands of the Nazis, who herded him and others inside a building and burned it. “As the president of the state of Israel,” he began, “first and foremost I say on behalf of my people: todah rabah.” And he quickly added: “Thank you President Obama for being such a good friend. Thank you AIPAC for your dedication and excellence.”

The meatiest part of a decidedly low-fat speech (remember, the Israeli president serves a primarily ceremonial function) was an implicit repudiation of what had just come before, in Liz Cheney’s explicit partisan language regarding U.S. politics and Israel.

“America is, and will remain, the indispensable leader of the free world, the indispensable friend of our people,” he said. “Today, more than ever, the world needs America. I have had the privilege to meet all American presidents in the last 50 years, Democrats and Republicans. I was always impressed by their deep commitment, their real care for Israel. That commitment was and is bipartisan.”

Later, he recalled, “I first met President Barack Obama, our great friend, when he was a senator from Illinois. I saw before me a born leader. His care for Israel’s security was already evident to me. Mr. President, I know your commitment to Israel is deep and profound.

“We have a friend in the White House,” he added. “He reflects the values that made America great and make Israel secure. Thank you, President Obama, on behalf of my people.”

He painted the United States and Israel as being on the same page regarding Iran, which, well, isn’t exactly the case. “There is no space between us!” he declared. “President Obama made it clear that the United States of America would never permit Iran to become nuclear. He made it clear that containment is not a viable option. And he made it clear that all options are on the table.”

And he clarified, “Iran’s ambition is to control the Middle East so it can control a major part of the world economy. It must be stopped and it will be stopped! Israel experienced the horror of war. It does not seek it. Peace is always our first option. But if we are forced to fight, trust me: We shall prevail.”

On the Palestinians, his case that the United States and Israel were unified was more persuasive, at least if you’re referring to the past nine months or so. “The Palestinians are our neighbors for life. Peace must and can be achieved with them,” he said to tepid applause. “A peace based on two-state solutions: a Jewish state, Yisrael, an Arab state, Palestine. It was accepted by past and present Israeli prime ministers and American presidents: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama. All of them.”

Other highlights:

“I stand before you as a hopeful man.”

“Israel like America was conceived as an idea.”

“Children are speaking the language of our prophets.”

“Not because we’ve had thousands of guns, but because we’ve had Ten Commandments.”

“I admire the courage of the Syrian people, and I wish them peace and freedom.”

“We want to preserve an Israel that is Jewish, democratic, and attractive at the same time.”

“I believe Jews are never satisfied because they are always seeking new answers.”

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.