Greetings from the President’s conference


President Shimon Peres opens his conference Tuesday in Jerusalem

I’m in Israel for “Facing Tomorrow,” a conference hosted by President Shimon Peres on the future of Israel and the Jewish people.

3,500 attendees from around the world have gathered at Jerusalem’s International Convention Center for three days of panel discussions on subjects ranging from Jewish literature to the impact of globalization on Israel’s economy.

Guests include dignitaries representing 15 nations, among them the U.S., the U.K., Spain, and the former Soviet Union; Jewish business and organizational leaders, such as Google CEO Sergey Brin, News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch, and World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder; as well as Jewish cultural figures, such as philosopher Bernard Henri Levy and author Nathan Englander.

The event kicked off yesterday with a panel discussion moderated by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who wished Israel “mazal tov” on the occasion of its 60th birthday, and who addressed the concept of justice in the era of globalization.

Foreign British PM Tony Blair among other world leaders

“Justice is about opportunity not restricted to a small number of people, but given to all,” said Blair. “It’s justice that makes us want a secure state of Israel and it’s justice that makes us make two states here, one in Israel, one in Palestine, living side by side in peace.”

Unfortunately, due to space constraints, many attendees, including members of the press, were forced to sit outside watching the event on a projection screen without the use of assistive translation devices that were available to those inside. I was thus unable to make out the statements of the panelists who spoke in a dozen different languages.

Sheldon Adelson, Shimon Peres, Ehud Olmert and Dalia Itzik

A gala event followed the evening’s dinner reception, with speeches by Mr. Peres, Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski, embattled Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (who received some boos upon his entry into the event hall), and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, each of whom remarked on the miracle of Israel’s success as a nation. The event, which was conducted almost entirely in Hebrew (disadvantaging international guests), was sprinkled with a number of short film screenings as well as musical performances and a questionable dance performance which raised some eyebrows for what some saw as it lascivious nature.

One of the racier moments from last night’s dance performance

This morning began with a panel discussion moderated by former U.S. ambassador to Israel Dennis Ross, featuring former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Bernard Henri Levy, author Amos Oz and economist Abby Joseph Cohen.

Henry Kissinger

Kissinger focused a great deal on Iran, claiming that nation’s nuclear ambitions should not be perceived as merely a threat to Israel, but as a threat to the international system itself; Oz said that any agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians could not be implemented without an international resolution to the Palestinian refugee problem; Levy imagined the invention of a Muslim Talmud (a democratic theological document) as a counterpoint to Islamic fundamentalism; and Cohen encouraged Israel to focus on developing skilled labor and investment in the ‘green’ sector.

Bernard Henri Levy

Some panel discussions later in the day were plagued by power failures, forcing sessions to resume in the dark without microphones or the benefit of air conditioning.

More to come, including audio…

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