Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, had his 90th birthday bash on Tuesday evening, a star-studded affair that featured some of the world’s leading politicians, celebrities, and public figures, according to Israel National News.
Among the dignitaries present at the affair was former U.S. president Bill Clinton, former British premier Tony Blair, Prince Albert II of Monaco, and Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, according to the aforementioned report.
Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone were among the celebrities who attended the birthday celebration, which also began the fifth Presidential Conference in Jerusalem. The Presidential Conference brings leaders from all over the world to Jerusalem to discuss “weighty issues such as leadership in tomorrow’s world,” according to The Guardian.
Around 5,000 politicians, academics, and other leading figures were expected to attend the three-day conference.
The reason why Peres’s birthday was celebrated early—rather than in August, when it actually is—was because organizers felt it would be difficult to assemble such a diverse crowd of celebrities and public leaders a second time; those present at the bash had arrived for the aforementioned presidential conference, the Washington Post reported.
And, ahead of the presidential conference, the officials decided to relax a bit. Bill Clinton quipped, while at the affair, that Peres was “the last living Israeli who knew King David,” according to the Post.
“Shimon, you prove that it is possible to be curious at any age and young at any age,” added Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to JTA.
But Netanyahu also took the opportunity to affirm Israel’s national stance.
“We extend our hand in peace to our neighbors but we are always ready to defend ourselves,” he said, according to Ha’aretz. “This is what I’ve learned from Shimon Peres: look to the future, remember the past, and be prepared to defend yourself.”
Others continued to offer comical praise.
“We have our queen, and you have your Shimon,” joked former British premier Tony Blair, according to the aforementioned report.
Barbra Streisand, fresh off a European tour and a ceremony in which she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem on Monday, sang her hit “People” along with the Hebrew prayer “Avinu Malkenu,” Israel National News further reported.
Streisand’s son, Jason Gould, and her sister, Roslyn Kind, joined her onstage, The Guardian further reported.
Many were upset that Peres was holding such extravagant celebrations—rumored to have cost millions of dollars—at a time when the Knesset is considering harsh austerity budget issues, according to Israel National News.
“His extravagant birthday conveys contempt to the people, condescension,” columnist Amnon Lord reportedly wrote in Maariv Tuesday.
Peres served twice as Israel’s prime minister and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his efforts to secure peace between Israelis and Palestinians, according to the Washington Post.
He stressed his hopes for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his address at the celebration.
“We long for peace with our neighbors,” he said, according to the Post. “The yesterday between us and the Palestinians is full of sadness. I believe that the Israel of tomorrow and the Palestine of tomorrow can offer our children a ray of hope.”
But he spoke more generally of his long career with the Jewish State.
“On this occasion, I feel grateful, because the chapters of my life are entwined with the story of the birth and the development of the State of Israel,” he said, according to JTA. “Because I have been given the wonderful privilege to serve my country. To take part in the building of its strength. To pursue peace, our heart’s truest desire.”
He also praised the Israeli personality.
“I am in love with my people who can be passionate and even short-tempered,” Peres said, according to the Jerusalem Post. “Their language is sometimes less than diplomatic but at the same time their understanding, their creativity, their courage and the goodness of their heart, their generosity and the warmth which they exude—can melt hearts.”
“The same Israeli who will curse a driver who unfairly overtook him on the road will willingly give up his life on the battlefield for the sake of his country or to save the life of a brother,” he added.