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A Clash of Generations

Shimon Peres Speaks at CCSU

Two-time Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, the architect of the Oslo Process, delivered the 2003 Robert C. Vance Distinguished Lecture at Central Connecticut State University April 14, 2003. His speech is reviewed by PRIMER-Connecticut Board member Alan Stein

Flanked by American and Israeli flags in front of a large crowd at Welte Hall, Peres expressed the need to teach less history but more about the future, as "at the end of the Twentieth Century, the world has changed forever." During a twenty minute address, followed by forty minutes of questions and answers, Mr. Peres kept looking towards a peaceful future while masterfully explaining the past in response to a number of hostile questions.

The Nobel Laureate explained that the wars of the Twentieth Century, particularly the two World Wars, each had a beginning and an end, but the reasons for past wars no longer existed. In the past, existence and prosperity depended on territory and resources, but now prosperity depends on science and technology. Only 12% of the labor force in the United States is involved in production today and companies are judged on their capacity to innovate.

As an example of the importance of technology and innovation, he explained that when the Soviet Union reinstated trade relations with Israel, the first item they bought from Israel was cows, since Israeli cows produced three times as much milk as Russian cows. However, the difference was not in the cows; the cows were the same. The difference was the technology. (In Connecticut's Afula/Gilboa Partnership 2000 community, there is a kibbutz where, using technology, cows milk themselves without human intervention.)

Peres made a strong case for freedom and democracy being the wave of the future, averring that investment goes "where books are open," where the finances are "transparent." It doesn't go to dictators, who base their regimes on lies, since one can't combine lies and science and "science is stronger than ideology." He gave China as an example, implying that the need to progress technologically is transforming the Chinese political system.

Turning to the current conflicted world, Mr. Peres said that at the end of the Twentieth Century we learned the other side of globalization--"not only the economy became global, also terrorism became global."

He views terrorism not as part of a clash of civilizations, but as part of a clash of generations. The octogenarian insisted the terrorists are really trying to stop modernization. Religion isn't really the issue, since "you can be modern and religious; there's no contradiction."

We are now involved in dealing with the melding of terrorists, weapons of mass destruction and dictators and the United States is meeting the challenge. According to Peres, "it is not the United States which declared war on terrorists; it's terrorists who declared war on the United States."

Peres clearly feels America is fully justified in its war in Iraq. "Iraq and Saddam Hussein already used chemical bombs." Iraq declared war against Iran and a million people were killed. It invaded Kuwait and a hundred thousand were killed. It massacred the Kurds and ten thousand were killed. Yet the "streets were quiet ... [there were] no demonstrations."

We can't "live in a world where flying a plane is a danger, living on the twentieth floor is a risk and drinking water is a question mark." According to Mr. Peres, the war on Iraq will serve not just the United States, but also the interests of the Arabs. He argued dictatorships are more dangerous and more expensive than wars. In one of his rare forays into humor, he spoke of the Soviet Union, saying "never before in history did such an unintellignt government produce such intelligent people ... who then overthrew the government!"

The war on terror is "not an easy fight, not a simple one," but "the operation [the war in Iraq] will raise new hopes and opportunities."

Turning at last to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Peres passionately exclaimed "we don't want to rule the Palestinians ... would like to see on our side a Palestinian state, free and flourishing. ... We can live together."

The former prime minister closed his formal remarks relating a story told by a South African, not a Jew but a Black who happened to be a Muslim. This gentleman told a story of a rabbi who asked his students the question "when is the night over? When does the day begin?"

One student answered "when you can distinguish between a fig tree and an olive tree."

A second student answered "when you can distinguish between a goat and a cow."

The students then asked the rabbi the same question and he said "When you will meet a woman, whether White or Black, and you will say 'you are my sister.' When you will meet a man, rich or poor, and you say 'you are my brother.' Then the night is over and the day has begun."

By the time the applause died down and CCSU President Richard Judd said Mr. Peres would answer questions, a line had already been formed by a group of people who had clearly prepared hostile questions in advance.

Central Connecticut State University is one of the more active fronts in Connecticut in the public relations war against Israel. It hosted an unbalanced workshop last summer, nominally designed to educate teachers about the Middle East, prompting numerous complaints and investigations. On the day Peres spoke, the "CCSU Peace Studies Committee" sponsored what they called a "Teach-In Exposing the Hypocracy of Shimon Peres," comprising seven different events featuring anti-Israel activists.

The first question came from Liz Aaronsohn, who earlier had been protesting outside and identified herself as the daughter of a rabbi. Like most of the hostile questioners, she began with a prepared statement before getting to a question, in this case, "How do you justify the killing of Palestinians?" Peres began his reply by saying "We don't do what we want to do; we do what we are forced to do."

Perese then gave a brief lesson in the history of the conflict, describing how the United Nations gave most of the land to the Arabs, who still attacked Israel, and yet nobody came to help Israel when it was attacked. Israel was "attacked five times" and "every time offered peace."

For peace, Israel gave back all the land, water and oil it had captured to Egypt.

For peace, Israel gave back all it had captured to Jordan.

It did not get the peace it paid for, but Israel is still ready to do the same for the Palestinians.

Peres completed his response with the reminder the Lord said "If someone comes to kill you, you have the right to defend yourself."

The next questioner asked what "will you do to lower the level of hatred between Israelis and Palestinians?" Peres said "We are trying to lower the level of hatred ... We went a long way to meet Palestinians' expectations ... the problem is whereas Arafat was an impressive leader, ... the minute he went from the head of a movement to a head of state, he failed." He added "Nobody hurt the Palestinians more than Hamas and Islamic Jihad," a theme he repeated several times when responding to other questions, and asserted "Hatred is the result of minorities who throw bombs."

The next question was asked by Mazin Qumsiyeh, one of the leading anti-Israel activists in Connecticut and a co-founder of Al-Awda, the Palestinian "Right-to-Return" Coalition.

(Qumsiyeh, an associate professor of genetics at Yale, is an extremist who rejects a two-state solution and considers Yassir Arafat far too accomodating. Information about Al-Awda is available from its web site, www.al-awda.org.)

Qumsiyeh began with a soliloquy, claiming there was a basic flaw in the "peace process" in ignoring justice, bringing up alleged human rights violations by Israel and the accidental shelling of a United Nations Observer post in Lebanon, before asking the rhetorical question "How can we talk about peace when even before 1948 half of the Palestinians were already ethnically cleansed?"

Peres began with the comment "In my judgment, human rights begin with the first human right -- and that is to remain alive."

He continued and described what happened when he became prime minister after the Rabin assassination, explaining how large amounts of territory and power were handed over to the Palestinians -- "and then a wave of terror started."

He also put the accidental shelling of the UN post in context: Terrorists were shelling Israelis from just a few hundred yards away from the UN post and Israel had to defend itself. As we have seen so many times with friendly fire incidents in Iraq, in a war accidents and tragedies are unavoidable.

Another questioner, a young Jewish student, asked whether it would be possible to hold a period of reflection, to have a cease fire and to have the parties look among themselves and examine what they could do to improve the situation.

Mr. Peres pointed out "It's possible -- we've had many cease fires, but they're [always] broken. ... Hamas and Islamic Jihad don't listen to leaders. ... Unless they [the Palestinans] will control their own armed groups, they are hurting themselves. ... The choice should be clear to all nations: either you control terror or you use terror -- you can't have both at the same time."

A questioner asked Peres for his definition of the "root cause of terrorism" and what the Israeli government needs to do. He replied that "unfortunately, terrorism is not logical." In order to stop terrorism, one must fight terror and also address the reasons for terror. He felt it was necessary to give hope to the Palestinians, but also pointed out that Israel had done that and, once again, commented that a "nation must choose."

He pointed out that in Israel "even the Right is for partition, for a Palestinian state -- why fight?" Directly addressing the Arabs in the audience, he pleaded "For the sake of the Palestinians, get rid of the Hamas and the Jihad, who are killing your future."

The last questioner brought up the possibility of America "going after" Syria and asked about what sort of climate that might create.

Without giving any indication of whether he would endorse going after Syria, Peres returned to the theme of freedom and democracy, saying "Get rid of the dictators in the world and you'll have a more peaceful world, whether they're in Syria or Iraq." He said "Syrians have to make a choice." There are "ten headquarters of terror in Damascus." Syria could remain a sponsor of terrorism or "join in the modern age and live and let live."

Peres again talked about the war today being one between generations rather than civilizations and ended on a hopeful note, "The Arabs have had a great past; why don't they build a great future?"

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