My jet lag and laptop are giving me fits in Jerusalem, where I have arrived to attend the Fourth Israeli Presidential Conference. Tonight’s opening ceremonies featured the awarding of Israel’s Presidential Medal of Merit to Henry Kissinger by President Peres himself. Peres gave a moving tribute to Kissinger in Hebrew followed by an equally good but different one in English. Kissinger opened his remarks with the observation (I am quoting from imperfect memory): “It isn’t often that an 89-year-old accepts an award saying, if only my parents were here.” He said that of all the awards he has received, this one would have made them the proudest. Kissinger described the signing of the Egypt-Israel agreement in 1973 as the greatest moment of his professional career.
The award ceremony was followed with a keynote speech by Tony Blair. Blair’s speech was mostly great, with a slight admixture of nonsense. But his central point was excellent and maybe even brave. He held Israel up as an example for the countries of the region to emulate. He cited democratic institutions. He cited freedom of speech. He cited freedom of religion. He asserted the insufficiency of elections. I thought for a man in his position, it was a remarkable speech.
This is the the fourth annual Presidential Conference. In a short time it has become something of an event. There are 4,000 guests in attendance from more than 40 countries and just about every continent. It is a privilege to be here. The theme of the conference this year is “Tomorrow.”
While I have achieved a rare moment of connectivity at the end of a long day, let me ask you to take note of the following. All plenaries and panels held in the auditorium (Schwartz Hall) of the conference site will be broadcast live on the conference Web site. The broadcasted sessions will be archived and available for later viewing in the video on demand section of the site. Press releases and summaries will also be posted on the site.
The official conference Twitter feed is @PresidentConf, and the official conference hashtag is #Tomorrow12. Also be sure to check out the conference Facebook page. The conference comes complete with a networking app. Download the app here. One of its purposes is to facilitate communication with those in attendance.
NOTE: Power Line was invited to send a representative to the conference and the conference has partially defrayed my travel expenses. Ed Morrissey covered the conference for Hot Air last year and generously shared his advice about how to make the most of the experience. Ed did an outstanding job covering the conference. His first post from the 2011 conference, for example, is here.
UPDATE: The conference has emailed a press release regarding this evening’s session. The release carries some of the quotes I sought to capture or paraphrase above:
In an emotional ceremony, Israeli President Shimon Peres awarded fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger with Israel’s first Presidential Award of Distinction, for Kissinger’s lifetime of contribution to the Jewish State. The ceremony took place as part of the evening session which closed the opening day of Facing Tomorrow 2012.
Joining Peres and Kissinger in offering his perspective on The Compass that Navigates the Future, as the session was entitled, was former British prime minister, and current Quartet envoy Tony Blair. Also in attendance were the President of Albania, the President of Croatia and the President of the Ivory Coast, as well as Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman and many other dignitaries.
In conferring the award, Peres said, “This award while being delivered from my hands, comes from the hearts of my (the Israeli) people. I feel that I am handing it not to a friend, but to a brother.”
Kissinger, who first met Peres in 1962, then joined Peres on-stage and the two long-time statesmen embraced before Kissinger spoke.
“Shimon and friends,” began Kissinger, “it is unusual for an 89-year old man to say that I wish my parents (with whom Kissinger fled from the Nazi-dominated Germany in 1938) could be here. They would be more proud of this distinction than any of the other honors that have come my way.”
Blair addressed the massive upheaval in the Middle East over the past 12 months, saying, “We (the international community, led by the Quartet) have no option but to stay engaged in this part of the world. Democracy is not just a way of voting. It’s a way of thinking. It’s about freedom of expression, freedom of the media and freedom of religion.”
He also said about Iran, “We must have the will to prevent it (Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons) and when we say it, we must mean it.”
This release accurately conveys the key quotes and some of the emotions of the evening’s session.
I sat this evening with Israeli blogger Paula Stern, of A Soldier’s Mother. My struggles with the computer have caused me to give short shrift to the opening session this afternoon. Paula summarizes the highlight of that session in “Tomorrow 2012 — Inspiration.” Paula also graciously translated the Hebrew portion of Peres’s tribute to Kissinger for me.