The present, not the future, belongs to the young: What Barack Obama learned from Shimon Peres

Obama presents Peres with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
Obama presents Peres with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
Image: Reuters/Jason Reed
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Former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres has died at the age of 93, his family said today (Sept. 28), after suffering a stroke two weeks age. Considered one of the founders of modern Israel, he served as prime minster twice, and won a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the Oslo Accords. He was also instrumental in developing Israel’s nuclear weapons program, and was considered a polarizing figure in Israeli politics.

Among the tributes that poured in after his death was a statement from US president Barack Obama, who described some counter-intuitive advice Peres had given him:

I first visited him in Jerusalem when I was a senator, and when I asked for his advice, he told me that while people often say that the future belongs to the young, it’s the present that really belongs to the young. “Leave the future to me,” he said, “I have time.”  And he was right.  Whether it was during our conversations in the Oval Office, walking together through Yad Vashem, or when I presented him with America’s highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, Shimon always looked to the future. He was guided by a vision of the human dignity and progress that he knew people of goodwill could advance together. He brought young people from around the world together because he knew they could carry us closer to our ideals of justice and equality.

Obama is expected to attend Peres’s funeral on Friday.