Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Looking to tomorrow: Leaders and stars honour Peres at his 90th birthday gala

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Israeli President Shimon Peres celebrated his 90th birthday at a gala held in Jerusalem on Sunday. The gala kicked off Israel's annual Presidential Conference, "Facing Tomorrow," which was attended by 5000 political leaders, diplomats, academics, and cultural figures.

Those in attendance at his esteemed birthday celebration included former world leaders US President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, as well as presidents from Albania, Rwanda, and the prince of Monaco; Hollywood stars Barbara Streisand, Sharon Stone, and Robert de Niro; and performances and speeches by children, singers, comedians, and even Peres' youngest granddaughter. Others sent video messages wishing Peres a happy birthday, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, US President Barack Obama, and U2's lead singer, Bono.

During the celebration, Clinton memorably described Peres as "the world's social Einstein," citing his determination to always think about the future. Others praised him for his curiosity, devotion, and leadership. During her visit, Streisand, who sang "People" and "Avinu Malkeinu" at the gala ceremony, called Israel "a shining beacon of hope in the world."

The day before the conference, Peres and Streisand met 20 children and teenagers coping with life-threatening illnesses at the president's house, an event coordinated by Make-A-Wish Israel. Streisand was awarded an honorary doctorate from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which she praised for its inclusion and integration of both Jewish and Arab students.

Peres, who won the Nobel Peace Prize with Rabin and Arafat in 1993, is the oldest head of state in the world. Famous for his optimism, Peres escaped from Poland to British-controlled Palestine on a boat in 1934, before the start of World War II. Peres took on leadership roles in the Haganah and IDF that led to the founding and survival of the State of Israel in its earliest years. He has since served as Minister of Defence, Finance Minister, Prime Minister, and now President of the State of Israel.

The 5th annual Israeli Presidential Conference, is a free event consisting of plenary sessions, panels, and master classes that discussed how to solve the most pressing issues of tomorrow. Topics ranging from education to geopolitics to economics were debated and discussed by world-renowned experts in each field.

Jeni Willenzik

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