Those in attendance rose to their feet last Saturday night before Shimon Peres even uttered a word
. Typical of standing ovations– first a few stood and then it took several moments for the rest of the crowd to catch on and I’m assuming most didn’t even know what they were standing for. As often happens with me as I eyewitness the fawning ignorance of so many US citizens on this topic, words from my Catholic school upbringing rang in my ears…”Forgive them Father for they know not what they do”. The now agnostic/atheist me still cringes that in the halls of academia, this sentiment is as apropos as ever.
Newsman Bob Woodruff, Colgate Class of ’83, served as host, and it feels wrong for me to come down as hard as I’d like due to the severe head trauma he suffered in Iraq. But his oozing flattery of Israel’s ex-President and Prime Minister was hard to stomach. Unfortunately his style of journalism has become the norm here in the US where our media is complicit in the dumbing down of the public and playing Israel’s PR game to perfection. Self-describing as “your classic WASP” (which pretty much described the entire audience with few exceptions), Woodruff and Peres began by chatting about their experiences on Israeli kibbutzim and recalling their earlier, more carefree selves.
From there Woodruff asked his first question: Is ISIS the most dangerous terrorist organization? According to Peres, “there are more dangerous than ISIS. The most brutal, but not the most dangerous.” Explaining the motivations of the recruits to such organizations, they are “taken by the excitement…and the lack or respect for human life,” and the causes are “poverty and lack of hope”. He elaborated: “They speak in the name of religion and they have permission to chop off heads…Did the Lord ever permit anyone to kill young girls and young men?” Good question, in the wake of Gaza, when Israel killed 2100.
Humanist Peres went on to say we should “fight the causes of extremism, not the people.” This segued into a celebration of Israeli ingenuity. After 10,000 years of man relying on the land and needing to defend it, “the land is no longer the provider, science is”. Shimon explained that certain people have been able to capitalize on technology, while certain others “just don’t understand it…In the last 50 years the (Arab) population grew five times; the production did not.” Happily accordingly to Peres, “you’re becoming more strong by being more intelligent, more knowlegeable, more inventive.” (Anyone grasp the Israeli supremacy message?) Israeli technology “can now make from one drop of water, three drops”. (So why are Israelis hoarding it and its sources on the West Bank and depriving Gazans of potable water?)
Woodruff asked Shimon Peres, “What should the US do in Syria?” ( US taxpayers send close to $9 million to Israel every day, and Bob asks the wizened old man what the US should do?)
Peres: “The US should go to the United Nations and ask the Arab League to handle it.” (But Israel should not abide by the Arab Peace Initiative or any of numerous UN resolutions.) “If you go to war and then what? You occupy and stay? Better to use economic pressure”. ( I didn’t expect to hear Shimon Peres justify BDS.)
Then at last the hard hitting question from our brave journalist: “I want to talk about Gaza – you were in favor of withdrawing settlements.” And about what “Israel has had to do in Gaza.” (Has Had to Do: So by the simple phrasing of this question, a respected journalist justified the killing of hundreds of civilians). Peres relayed that by removing the settlers, Israel wanted to demonstrate to the Palestinians that it was willing to give back territory. “We had to force  settlers to leave.” (And go where? Many went to illegal West Bank settlements.)
SP: “We thought – now they will be quiet…but Hamas took the area by force. [No mention of the election] …Why are they shooting? What are they protesting about?”
BW: “Israel lost a lot of support due the bombing in Gaza. do you have any regrets. Do you think the world was correct in thinking you went over the top?”
SP: “I’ll give you an example: You sit on the balcony with your child on your knee and oppposite you sits somebody else also with a child on their knee and they start to shoot at you. What should you do. If the father and the mother hide themselves behind their child, what really can be done? It’s a dilemma. They use their children and grown up people as their shield. .. Before we bombed anyplace we sent a message, we are going to bomb you. Please leave the place children….Some of them left and they were saved. Some of them did not.”
Back to the softballs:
BW: “Did winning the Nobel Peace Prize change you?”
SP: “The real reward would be achieving peace…I’m not impatient for it.”
Well, of course you are not impatient. You live in relative luxury and safety while others live under occupation with no rights and under threat that more of their children will be buried alive under rubble of their homes.
Now it was time for Q & A. Oh great – this might get good! I thought. But no.
“We have a question from a student,” Woodruff said, and played a videotape of a young man named Max asking [at 1:08 in the video above], “Over the course of a career you’ve held a multitude of positions… Which position did you think was most influential and why?” A question with as much force and weight as “what did you do on your summer vacation?” I can’t even remember Peres’s response. Who cares?
Woodruff: We don’t have time for any more questions. (I guess I’m not really surprised)
Shimon Peres then sank further in his comfy armchair and in a very grandfatherly way, admonished the students to find their own voices and follow their dreams. Raucous applause exploded and this time everyone jumped to their feet, thanking the brilliant pursuer of peace. I turned to my daughter Ava and we both thought we’d lost our chance to ask a different sort of question. But as the applause subsided and the crowds sat, I seized the opportunity and stood, and from the middle of the room shouted, “What about the illegal settlements?” Thankfully my voice didn’t fail me and in the crowd of over 4000, it rang out loud and clear and Peres answered “That is why we need to dialogue”. I got in one last comment before the boo’s drowned me out. “Then why does Israel keep building settlements, uprooting trees, demolishing houses…?” A female cop approached us (my daughter had removed her kaffiyeh from her bag and now had it draped around her shoulders) “Are you finished?” she said in as menacing a way as her 5’2″ frame could muster. By then Peres had started a new round of Israeli hasbara regarding the settlements, and my daughter and I chose to walk out on him yelling “Free Palestine.”
In the aftermath of this trying evening, I watched the video just to witness my moment of infamy – or to some, my moment of glory. You can see the blip in the recording at 1:19:20. Colgate University, an esteemed institution of higher learning, deemed it appropriate to edit out the entire episode. No comment necessary.