Shimon Peres Draws Oohs in La-La Land

Letter From Los Angeles

Beamin’ With Babs: What better way to wrap up a trip to Hollywood than by hanging out with Barbra Streisand?
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Beamin’ With Babs: What better way to wrap up a trip to Hollywood than by hanging out with Barbra Streisand?

By Rex Weiner

Published March 14, 2012, issue of March 23, 2012.
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If that left his audience dissatisfied, Peres was unperturbed. “Israel’s great gift to the world is dissatisfaction,” he told the Beverly Hilton crowd. “The minute you become satisfied with the world, you stop being a Jew.”

His arrival in Los Angeles coincided by chance with the opening of the Israeli movie “Footnote” in American theaters. The film, nominated for an Academy Award, is ostensibly about a talmudic scholar whose lifetime of diligent work earns him a coveted, long-sought prize — the Israel Prize — only to discover in the end that, to his chagrin, the prize is meaningless. The film’s last uttered word is “hatikvah,” an allusion to Israel’s national anthem, revealing in a bitter light the allegory’s actual subject: Israel itself.

If the Nobel laureate, a bookish intellectual descended from talmudic scholars, shares similar feelings in the twilight of his own career, he did not let on. The achievement of the 1993 Oslo Accords, for which his Nobel Prize was awarded, stands out in stark relief against all the troubles since then, and against the looming conflict with Tehran, rendering the prize, much like the one in “Footnote,” as a sad footnote in history.

Yet, Peres remained a study in clashing realities. The inevitable toll of age was clear in his diminished physical energy, his slow step and minimized scheduling. The man himself continued to look brightly forward. His outlook was manifest during an unusual series of stops along the West Coast. During a tour of Facebook’s headquarters in Northern California’s Menlo Park, guided by company founder Mark Zuckerberg, Peres’s own new Facebook page was unveiled. The page featured a Peres invitation seeking “friends” for Israel from around the world. It was the Internet world, one without borders, anti-terrorist barriers or checkpoints.

With Google’s billionaire co-founder Sergey Brin at his next stop, Peres peered via satellite at Eretz Yisrael, zooming in on the Western Wall and other landmarks in a virtual tour of places that in person would have required mobilization of the Jewish state’s security apparatus.

Peres showed a grandfatherly satisfaction in the Jewish ingenuity of Facebook and Google’s young founders. The Silicon Valley visit allowed Peres not only to profess his faith in high tech’s potential for transformative socio-political change, but also to bask in a reflection of Israel’s own high-tech reputation as Start-up Nation, a passionate pursuit for all of Peres’s life, and one indisputable victory, after all.

While pundits pondered the Iran crisis in the wake of Netanyahu’s weekend summit with Obama, Peres spent the second day of his Tinseltown tour visiting DreamWorks Animation, the house that Shrek built — but not exactly to pitch a sequel to “The Prince of Egypt,” the studio’s debut 1998 biblical epic. There was, instead, a subtly supportive, if indirect, friendly glance toward the president back east, counterbalancing Netanyahu’s sometimes tense relationship with him.

Peres’s lunch with DreamWorks SKG co-founders Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg in the studio commissary also included a top-rank cohort of studio execs and celebs, among them Billy Crystal and Barbra Streisand. The Hollywood royalty shmooze incidentally brought together an influential, high-profile cabal of Obama’s strongest show business supporters.

Peres’s L.A. visit concluded with a Sunday morning breakfast attended by leading members of the city’s Latino community and a smattering of local Democratic politicos. Hosted by the Israeli Consulate and media mogul Haim Saban, a generous supporter both of Israel and the Democratic Party, the crowd included such celebrities as actor Andy Garcia, producer Moctesuma Esparza, dueling Jewish Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, and mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel.

Peres was introduced by California State Assembly Speaker John Perez (“We still haven’t agreed as to who has it spelled right,” Peres kidded). A question from the audience about Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, an antagonist toward Israel, and Cuba’s Fidel Castro drew condemnation for the former (“Look what he is doing to the Venezuelan people,” Peres said.) and some faint praise for the latter, a man close to Peres in age. Castro was an “intellectual,” Peres said, and Castro’s recent comments criticizing Iranian leaders for anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial were “impressive.” Peres seemed to hint that perhaps the two longtime players on the world stage might have had something to say to each other. “But it’s too late,” he said. Too late to change anything now. What’s done is done.

With those pronouncements, the elder statesmen strode from the room amid a phalanx of security guards. In the spring he will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest American civilian honor, and something to look forward to.

Contact Rex Weiner at feedback@forward.com

View Shimon Peres’ Facebook page trailer:


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