I was privileged to hear President Shimon Peres speak today at the annual reception for Christian leaders in Israel at his presidential residence in Jerusalem, an event that I attend every year.
During the presidency of Mr. Moshe Katzav, the previous president, it was an embarrasment and a disgrace to hear him berate Christian leaders again and again for promoting terrorism. One year, there was shouting and screaming–rightly so–after Katzav’s address, which was humiliating and insulting.
During the presidency of Shimon Peres, the situation is completely different. Mr. Peres speaks eloquently and in a dignified and respectful manner to all the Christian leadership, and you can see how much they appreciate this. Today he said: “We are proud of our relations with the Christian communities in Israel… Each religion should be free to pray the way it wants and to have equal rights and opportunities… as a Jew, I respect other religions. All of us are created in the image of God…”
When talking about peace, Mr. Peres remains optimistic, as always: “I believe we can make peace with the Palestinians… There are doubts but we have to overcome them… And religious leaders need to reach out to the souls of their people… we can all try to bring hope, stability and Peace.” To this I say, “Amen!”
Even Minister of Interior Eli Yishai, who spoke in Hebrew, was politically correct today. He said, “Jews are commanded to love peace and pursue it all over the world… we are also commanded to respect and love all human beings.”
After the speeches, I spoke to some Christians whom I know, and I was told that they liked the speeches but are waiting for them to be concretized by more action. In particular, I heard whispers that Minister Yishai should give his speech to some of the bureaucrats in his ministry who are famous–or infamous–for neither responding positively to requests of Christian institutions for visas for their volunteers nor to requests of some Christians from abroad to become citizens of Israel.
Nevertheless, it was an uplifting morning at the President’s residence. The current president of Israel–who is a symbol of the search for peace–sends the right messages to Christians at this time of year.
Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish