Sunday, June 29, 2014 | 2:01 a.m.
This past Thursday I had the great honor of being able to attend the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony for Israeli President Shimon Peres in the beautiful Rotunda of the United States Capitol. It was a most prestigious event, in part because the medal, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is the highest civilian award in the United States. Another part is that it takes an actual act of Congress to get one of these things done!
In fact, there is probably not a leader on the world stage today who is more deserving of being recognized for a lifetime of commitment to the cause of peace and freedom, not just in the Middle East but around the world, than Peres.
While he always defers credit for the good things that he does, Nevada’s Sen. Harry Reid deserves to be singled out for this very special tribute to one of the world’s most enduring and significant leaders.
The proof of that statement is the speed with which this gold medal ceremony came together and the people who drew near to participate.
Normally, this process takes years. It requires an overwhelming amount of support in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. And, then, it takes the cooperation of multiple bureaucracies asked to do everything from preparing the artwork for the medal, to striking it and then to planning the presentation ceremony.
Like I said — years!
Reid, I believe, determined that Peres, a man he has known and greatly respected for many decades, was the most worthy person on the planet to be so recognized by the United States. It took virtually no time at all for his colleagues — Republican and Democrat, congressmen and senators — to agree wholeheartedly.
Hence, what normally takes years and might not have been done at all in today’s climate of extreme distrust and dysfunction, happened in mere months!
I mention this because there is a glaring lesson to be learned. I was able to join Reid and some of his colleagues prior to the ceremony to visit with Peres. I saw the way leaders from both parties and both houses greeted their friend and the man who has done so much to help his friend and ally, the United States. And I saw the respect and friendship with which he greeted his congressional friends and allies, without regard for political parties and affiliations.
These were people who have battled together in the trenches for world peace and understanding and, when need be, for mutual security and survival in the face of some very serious challenges. Their respect for one another was deep felt and sincere.
So when Speaker of the House John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi shared a stage with Senate Majority Leader Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell all for the purpose of expressing respect, admiration and gratitude for Peres’ steadfast friendship with the American people, it brought home the fact that for the right person, for the right reason, for the right purpose, all of those people we watch fighting with each other on our TV sets all day can actually come together to get something good done.
And that leads to this question: What is stopping these American political leaders from coming together more often on matters that don’t involve gold medals but do involve doing the public’s business pursuant to a golden rule?
The answer to that question remains most elusive. But, perhaps, we can take some wisdom from Perez’s words and his example of never giving up on the good fight regardless of the obstacles in the way or the bad faith of others that continually puts them there.
I have known Perez since I was a young man. My father knew him when they worked together even before Israel became a state in 1948. He is the real deal. And so is his indefatigable optimism. It keeps him young at 90 and it keeps him looking forward — never back — as he continues to push for peace between Israel and her neighbors.
He has said often that “an optimist and a pessimist die exactly the same way. It is how they live that makes the difference. I choose to live as an optimist.”
That explains why he also says that he has lived long enough to know what is possible and what is impossible. As for peace in the Middle East, “it is the most possible of that which others say is impossible.”
Shimon Peres has set the gold bar for optimism. The rest of us would do well to try to live up to it.
Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.