Former Israeli President Shimon Peres, addressing the inaugural gala here Sunday evening of The Times of Israel, the popular Jerusalem-based news website, appeared to counter Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for large numbers of European Jews to make aliyah.
Peres, 91, in a public conversation with Times of Israel editor David Horovitz at the Waldorf-Astoria, said “come because you want to live in Israel. Jews can live all over the world. Just keep your children Jewish.”
Netanyahu has been criticized for what some consider a heavy-handed approach in urging European Jews to be part of “mass immigration from Europe,” particularly in the wake of the killing of Jews in terror incidents in Paris and, this past Saturday night, outside the central synagogue in Copenhagen.
Peres reinforced his image as an optimist on Mideast matters by predicting that Iran will change its radical ways — “they can’t have the ayatollah as eternal government” — and that the Arab world will resolve its differences with Israel, thanks in part to the barbarism of the Islamic State. The Arabs will come to realize that “terrorists are the greatest danger, not us,” Peres asserted.
The former president was the guest of honor at the program marking the third anniversary of the Times of Israel, a website funded in large part by Boston-based businessman and philanthropist Seth Klarman. More than 1,200 people filled the Waldorf’s grand ballroom and sat patiently, for the most part, during the long evening, which included tributes to and appearances from a number of Israeli — and a few American — headline makers. They included Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli, actress Gal Gadot, singer Miri Mesika, attorney Alan Dershowitz and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
Kraft helped honor Max Steinberg, the 24-year-old Los Angeles native who was killed in the Gaza war last summer while serving as a “lone soldier” in the Israeli Defense Forces. The football team owner said he first learned of Steinberg on seeing photos of him wearing a Patriots baseball cap in accounts of the soldier’s death. He called Steinberg “a real patriot,” and introduced Steinberg’s parents, who announced a scholarship in their son’s memory to be given to lone soldiers through a fund established at Ben-Gurion University.
Another moving tribute, which brought the audience to its feet, was held in memory of Zidan Saif, the young traffic policeman who was killed in the Har Nof synagogue terror attack in November that left four Jews dead as well. Saif, who was a Druze, was credited with preventing the tragedy from being even greater. His widow and other family members were on stage to accept the honor, noting the “unbreakable alliance” between Israeli Druze and Jews.
In addition, Alexander and Jennifer Chester, a Jewish couple from New York, told the crowd that they had named their infant son, born two weeks after the attack, after the slain hero. The child, who was on stage as well, is named Yaakov Zidan Chester.