Peres and Perez seal Israel-Latino friendship

Israel’s President Shimon Peres wound up a week-long visit to California Sunday morning with a wide-ranging discussion with Latino (Hispanic) leaders on American exceptionalism, global generation gaps, and the correct spelling of his last name.

The event at a Beverly Hills hotel drew some 120 invited guests, predominantly Latino community and religious leaders, their Jewish counterparts, a smattering of Hollywood personalities, and numerous politicians eager to reach out to Latino and Jewish constituencies at the same time.

Peres was introduced by John A. Perez, Speaker and legislative leader of the California Assembly, which led to some banter about the correct spelling and pronunciation of their respective last names.

An audience question about the influence of the Latino electoral vote triggered a fervent declaration by Peres on American exceptionalism, a catchword of the current Republican presidential primary campaign.

“The United States is the only country with global responsibilities and there are some things only America can do,” Peres said. “When you [Americans] vote, you vote for the future of your own children, but also for the children of other nations.”

One of the more emotional moments came during a question-and-answer period in a one-sentence statement by Pastor Carlos Ortiz, director of Hispanic outreach for Christians United For Israel (CUFI).

Following up on an earlier Peres literary allusion of “I am alone, you are alone, let’s be alone together,” Ortiz declared, “There are 80 million Christians here that say Israel is not alone.”

The 88-year old Peres showed his familiarity with Latin American literature and politics, but no sign of fatigue after a packed seven-day schedule that included visits to San Francisco and the Silicon Valley, and in Los Angeles a mass Jewish community meeting and a trip to the DreamWorks Animation studios.

Israeli deputy consul general Gil Artzyeli, a fluent Spanish speaker who organized the Sunday event, also noted that the evening before Hollywood had assembled the largest gathering of stars and studio heads to ever meet an Israeli dignitary.

During the Silicon Valley tour, Peres talked at length with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Sergei Brin, co-founder of Google, and was apparently impressed and invigorated by the encounters.

Commenting on the global impact of the social media, Peres said, “The world’s major divisions are not among nations, but between generations. Whether in the Arab world or in Russia, the young are saying to their elders, ‘Don’t impose your past on us.’”

The Sunday event was well covered by the media, especially by reporters and television crews from Univision Communications. The Spanish-language network is owned by Israeli-American mogul Haim Saban, who participated in the discussion.