English skills can help to end poverty, says Peres

Languages open doors to opportunity and progress, says Israeli president

Teaching young people English is the best way to end world poverty, Israeli president Shimon Peres has told World Economic Forum in Davos.

In a thoughtful morning session yesterday, the 80-year- old Israeli head of state said languages opened doors to opportunity and progress – not just in the Middle East but worldwide.

"Ask me what is the first step to escape poverty? Teach English," he said. "The minute someone speaks English is the beginning of the end of poverty."

Arab youth
Mr Peres brushed aside Davos tensions over the first appearance in a decade of an Iranian leader, president Hassan Rouhani.

Instead he said he believed that Arab youth would find a solution to the region’s problems. “And I think it will not take as much time as we estimate,” he said.


Mr Peres was sanguine about US and European involvement in the Middle East peace process.

Noting that their needs for oil from the region had diminished, he suggested this meant they were now engaged “not for self-interest but for values”.

“They want to offer peace and freedom and I would suggest being more pragmatic than cynical,” he said. “They want people to be free, to give people equal rights.”

In a nod to the Davos philosophy of "improving the state of the world", Mr Peres told leaders that the best global companies were based on goodwill, on contributing to poor societies rather than just making money from them.

'Kind and considerate'
"We are not just in business, we are in humanity," he said. "It is a good thing to be kind and considerate; to help is more satisfying than in life."

Asked about his plans for political retirement, he said the main problem was “not what to be but what to do”.

“All my life I’ve not looked for things that have happend, I am looking for things that may happen.”

Rather than a plaque, WEF founder Klaus Schwab presented the Israeli head of state with an honorary alpine bell for nearly seven decades in public life, "tolling the bell of peace and harmony".

“This bell is a product of all Israeli efforts, I am a humble recipient,” said the bemused octogenarian.

“We have to use it, not just keep it.”

Asked by Mr Schwab to name the Jewish people’s greatest contribution to humanity, Mr Peres joked: “My straightforward answer: dissatisfaction. I am a dissatisfied optimist.”

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin