Israel’s President receives Jewish News Lifetime Achievement Award and talks exclusively to Justin Cohen.

Photography provided by Nir Keidar[divider]

Shimon Peres has been honoured with a lifetime achievement award from the Jewish News as he spoke about how he plans to continue serving Israel long after leaving office. The country’s ninth president received the accolade at a ceremony at his Jerusalem residence this week ahead of a special tribute to the 90-year-old statesman at Sunday’s Jewish Living Expo, which is expected to attract thousands of visitors of all ages to Wembley Stadium.

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President Peres sees the award as a tribute to Israel herself, describing himself only as ‘one of her servants’

Peres, who first entered the Knesset in 1959, has held almost every major government portfolio over the past five decades, including becoming the only person to serve as the country’s prime minister and president.

Playing a key role during almost every seminal moment in the state’s history, Belarus-born Peres initiated the operation to free hostages from Entebbe and, in 1984, led the covert Operation Moses to bring 8000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

In 1994, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Yitzchak Rabin and Yasser Arafat for his involvement in negotiations that led to the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians. Thanking the Jewish News for the honour – awarded in association with the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council – the world’s oldest serving head of state said he saw the accolade as a tribute to Israel’s lifetime of achievements, describing himself as “one of her servants”.

The tireless president also signalled his intention to continue serving his country well beyond the conclusion of his presidential term next summer. “This is a new world driven by science and technology and that’s enabled Israel to escape her size and limitations to become even more important and I’m going to continue to do whatever I can to promote science, technology and social justice to make Israel a country that may serve as an example to her own children and a tribute to her great parents.

“I was lucky to be able to serve my people. I’m hopeful I shall be able to continue to do so.”

Asked about his greatest achievement, however, he suggested that would only come on the day Israeli-Palestinian peace is achieved. “I’m sure it will happen because there is no other alternative that is worthwhile living for and struggling for,” he said. While acknowledging it’s impossible to forecast how the current track of negotiations will pan out, Peres added: “The mere fact it’s started is already a good omen.”

Britain’s Ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, hailed the “entirely fitting” tribute to a man who has made a remarkable contribution to the “direction, safety and prosperity” of Israel. He said: “There is nobody whose personal history is intertwined with the history of the state of Israel like Shimon Peres. There is nobody who has been a more tireless or braver advocate for peace than him.

“There’s nobody who has the admiration and affection of the whole country like its president. There are few people as good friends for Britain. He has consistently been a supporter of everything we’re trying to achieve between the countries. I wish him many more years of service to his country.”

Board President Vivian Wineman described Peres as a “true visionary,” adding: “He began his career as an aide to Ben Gurion when Israel’s first Prime Minister was building the state from the ashes of the Holocaust. Now Peres talks with accomplished ease of a future of social networking, high-tech and above all international cooperation in a world that has moved beyond the nation state. A full life indeed.”

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Justin Cohen in conversation with Shimon Peres

The Jewish Leadership Council’s interim chief executive, Simon Johnson, added that the organisation was delighted to be backing the award recognising Peres’ “formidable contribution to the state of Israel over many decades and his on-going commitment to strengthening the relationship between the UK Jewish community and the state of Israel”.

Thousands of community members of all ages are expected to descend on Wembley on Sunday for Expo,  a full day of entertainment, high-profile speakers and shopping. In this week’s interview, Israel’s president took the opportunity to hail British Jewry’s part in “making Israel what she is”, saying: “Zionism was born in Britain by a joint effort of the Jewish community and the British government. The Balfour Declaration was the real beginning of the implementation of the Zionist movement. It was a great beginning and it has a great future. British Jewry, from the very start to this day, participated in making Israel what she is.”

Asked what Ben Gurion – who Peres worked with to build-up Israel’s military might in its formative days – would have made of modern-day Israel, the president said: “I think he would say what he used to say: that Israel is a great achievement  but an in- complete one. We started to build our country, we didn’t conclude it yet.”

He added: “Israel has to become a land governed by a moral code, which makes a living on wisdom and which continues the search for peace. Our main task is to make the world a better world to live in – tikkun olam.”