Politics low on list for UF visitor
Published: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 2:36 a.m.
Given his politically prominent name, the University of Florida's department of political science would have seemed a likely stop for Yonatan "Yoni" Peres.
But for the son of former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, UF's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital was, conveniently, all his schedule could handle.
"I stay away from politics, like from fire," said Peres, the former director of Israel's Koret School of Veterinary Medicine, in town Friday on his way to the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando. "I'd rather have animal dirt on my hands than political dirt."
Joined by Gainesville Mayor Tom Bussing, hospital staff and members of UF's Jewish student community, Peres perused the multimillion-dollar research facility, exploring cages of recovering terriers, experimental tortoises and sickly looking ferrets.
While a state-of-the-art show-and-tell was offered, questions were the name of the game.
"Do you have any bovine facilities?" the 50-year-old vet queried, having had his fill of thoroughbred horse stalls and the feline intensive care. "What's the fluid requirement for that little guy?"
Despite his stature as former director of the Koret school and current director of development for the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind in Beit Oved, Peres says he is often tapped for his views on Israeli-Palestinian affairs.
For the most part, Peres strays from the political limelight. For the past six months he has been living in California, raising money for the center's teaching and training efforts. In February, he plans to return to Israel to start a private veterinary clinic.
But Peres is more than a passing authority in Israeli politics. His father was twice the prime minister of Israel and, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, winner of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize.
On Friday, Peres couldn't help but weigh in on recent closures of two Palestinian universities in the West Bank town of Hebron, events which seemed to be highlighted with his visit to an American academic institution.
"It must be just a temporary situation," he said, referring to the shuttering of the Islamic University and the Polytechnic Institute.
Both universities were closed earlier this week after the Israeli army said some students belonged to militant groups and had used the facilities to plan terrorist attacks.
"For sure, it's not the Israeli government's policy" to permanently close Palestinian institutions, he said.
Still, the younger Peres' desire to remain out of the political fray seems fitting, if not ironic.
Peres' father was born Shimon Persky in 1923 in a region of Poland that is now part of Belarus. During a visit to the Negev Desert in Israel, Persky encountered a rare bearded vulture, known in Hebrew as a peres. A zoologist on the mission, who considered the encounter as a lucky coincidence, suggested Persky change his name to Peres.
Now, eight years after his father's Nobel recognition, Peres chuckles when he considers his family's transition from vultures to doves, and eventually, vets.
Greg Bruno can be reached at 374-5026 or greg.bruno@ gvillesun.com.
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