On June 4, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo delivered remarks at the Shimon Peres Day Breakfast in New York City. While in Jerusalem in March, Governor Cuomo proclaimed the first Sunday in June “Shimon Peres Day” as a tribute to his legacy of extraordinary leadership and dedication to promoting peace across the world.
A transcript of the governor’s remarks follows:
This past March when I was in Israel, I said unequivocally that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and the embassy should be in Jerusalem, period. Our support is strong and solid and it will not change. But today is not just the 53rd annual salute to Israel. It is also the first day proclaimed in the state of New York in honor of Shimon Peres. I met, in person, Shimon Peres when he was minister of regional coordination. I was the HUD secretary under the Clinton administration—Housing and Urban Development secretary. I was being sent to Israel because President Clinton wanted to set up a binational commission on housing and community development.
I was telling my father about it and he said, “Well, one person you have to see is Shimon Peres.” My father was governor; Shimon was prime minister. So my father said, “You have to see him. I’ll call.”
My father and I were a little competitive, not just on the basketball court. I said, “No, there’s no reason for you to call. I’m a Cabinet member; I’m going over; I’ll set up the meeting.”
He said, “He won’t meet with you.”
I said, “Why won’t he meet with me?”
He said, “He’s an important world leader. He’s not going to meet with you.”
I said, “No, he’ll meet with me. I’m coming over, the secretary to the president of the United States setting up the binational.”
We left the conversation like that. I called everybody I knew to call Shimon Peres to meet with me.
A couple of days before the trip, I’m about to leave, my father says to me, “So, are you meeting with Shimon Peres?”
I said, “Nobody can meet with him right now. He’s indisposed. He’s on a special mission for the prime minister. He’s under guard, secret….”
He said, “All right, I’ll call.”
Next day, he said, “Shimon Peres will meet you 10 o’clock at the office. Don’t be late.”
But I have worked with presidents, senators, world leaders all across the globe. When you were in the presence of Shimon Peres, you knew you were in the presence of greatness. I’ll never forget what he said to me that first meeting, which was about 20 years ago.
He said, “Right now, you think terrorism is Israel’s problem. Terrorism is not Israel’s problem. Terrorism is a global problem. It’s just that Israel is here; Israel is proximate. It is our location. But one day, they will be able to get to you and that day will come for you.”
That was 20 years ago. That was before 9/11, when it was unheard of, but talk about visionary. That is exactly what has happened. The world has gotten smaller. Travel is faster. The internet communication and terrorism has spread like wildfire.
Now, it’s almost so frequent that people aren’t even surprised. Just last night—an attack in London. Our brothers and sisters in London have our thoughts and prayers.
But that’s the first thing Mr. Peres said to me and he was so, so right. I had a number of opportunities to see him again on a number of different trips. We went again at the Second Intifada. We went on the last visit, was 2014, and we had gone at the discovery of the tunnels dug by Hamas.
We had a series of meetings and Mr. Peres said, “I want to show you the tunnels.”
And I thought he would arrange a trip that I would—he meant, I want to literally show you the tunnels. We went to the tunnels, right on the Gaza border. It must have been 100 degrees. It was in the middle of the desert. Your father was in a full suit [addressed to Peres’ son Chemi, who was in attendance]. Tie up tight, the tie tight—perfect gentleman. I’m perspiring. Everyone’s perspiring and he looked with such class and elegance, which is how he always represented himself and he wanted me to see the tunnels because he wanted me to understand how sophisticated the tunnels were. When you hear they dug a tunnel, you think of a prison escape movie. These were concrete tunnels with electrical conduit through them and it showed the intensity of the enemy that they would go through this much trouble just to get near one kibbutz because the tunnel came up a few hundred yards from a kibbutz. And Mr. Peres’ point was, this is how dedicated these people are to the destruction of Israel.
He was extraordinary and anyone in his presence knew that. I believe great leaders have an additional dimension to an afterlife. The strength of their character is so powerful, their voices are so resonant, their wisdom is so prophetic, that in many ways they never die and in many ways they are still with us and I believe that Mr. Peres is still with us and that’s why it is my honor to proclaim today, June 4, Shimon Peres Day in the state of New York.
Whereas, all New Yorkers are proud to join in honoring the life and legacy of president of Israel Shimon Peres, a leader and statesman of extraordinary caliber who inspired New York and the rest of the world with his lifetime commitment to engendering peace;
Whereas, President Peres dedicated his life to Israel and its people, serving in nearly every high office of government from prime minister to president, and during his more than 50 years in public service, he worked tirelessly to reaffirm citizens’ rights and freedoms, he promoted economic and social empowerment, and establish an independent Jewish state;
Whereas, President Peres has earned the lasting respect and admiration of countless others across the globe and inspired generation of politicians and statesmen, his critical role in negotiating the Oslo Accords earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 and confirmed his position as one of the world’s most important advocates for peace;
Whereas, New York is home to more than 1.7 million Jews—the largest Jewish community outside of Israel—and always had a special relationship with Israel. And President Peres served as a tremendous ally in promoting and strengthening this bond;
Whereas, all New Yorkers join in honoring and remembering President Peres’ indelible legacy of leadership, service and commitment to building a better future for Israel and the world;
Now, therefore, I, Andrew Cuomo, governor of the state of New York, do hereby proclaim the first Sunday of June, 2017, as Shimon Peres Day in New York State, as a fitting tribute to his legacy of extraordinary leadership and dedication to promoting peace across the world. Congratulations.