This is a concluding post on Israel’s Fourth Presidential Conference that ran from Tuesday afternoon through Thursday evening in Jerusalem. Previous posts deriving from my attendance at the conference are accessible here. In this concluding post I’ve included a few photos to document personal highlights.
In its four years of existence the conference has become an event. It attracts a field of distinguished speakers addressing matters of politics, public policy, business and the future. The theme of this year’s conference was Tomorrow. I believe the conference is open to the public; more than 4,000 members of the public attended. I would guess next year’s Fifth Presidential Conference will be one that is not to be missed.
The conference is deeply reflective of President Shimon Peres. President Peres has been active in Israel’s history and public life in one capacity or another roughly forever. In his remarks at the conference on Thursday morning President Peres referred to David Ben-Gurion as his mentor. He has even written a new biography of Ben-Gurion. Among the founding generation of Israel, President Peres must be the last still active in Israel’s public life. Despite his characteristic focus on Tomorrow, President Peres carries a lot of Israel’s history in his bones.
In the course of his long public life President Peres seems to have met and befriended just about everybody. See, for example, his memoir Battling For Peace. In any event, there can’t have been many invited speakers who declined the opportunity to appear at this year’s conference under President Peres’s auspices. Among the distinguished speakers at this year’s conference, for example, were Henry Kissinger, Tony Blair, Google’s Eric Schmidt, Cisco’s John Chambers, and the great Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Among the few members of the world community who might not have responded favorably to an invitation from President Peres is Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for whom Peres had a few choice words at Davos in 2009 in one of the transcendent moments of his career. Peres’s 2009 remarks are available on YouTube in three videos here, here, and here.
Many of the conference speakers seem to have been handpicked by President Peres. Here I am thinking of Princeton’s Nobel Prize-winning Daniel Kahneman, Harvard’s Michael Sandel, and others including the business leaders. The conference seems to me to reflect President Peres’s vision of Israel’s future in the Middle East. It is a somewhat utopian vision, as set forth in his 1993 book, The New Middle East.
Reflecting President Peres, the conference presents something of an intellectual feast. It tilts to the left. It envisions Israel as a model for the region. To speak colloquially, it is big into the peace process. It focuses on the future. It is celebratory of technology and entrepreneurship. It is an appealing vision, and in promoting it through the conference as Israel’s president (i.e., the country’s ceremonial head of state), he is doing so in a manner that brings distinction and honor to the country.
President Peres spoke at events throughout the conference. On Thursday morning he spoke at a plenary session panel on the subject of learning from mistakes. It was an interesting panel.
President Peres of course won a Nobel Peace Prize for his involvement in the Oslo Accords that resulted in the return of Yasser Arafat from his Tunisian exile to rule over the Arabs on the West Bank and Gaza. I think this was a profound mistake deriving from idealism and cynicism, but you can be sure that President Peres does not count it as such.
Indeed, President Peres glancingly reaffirmed it in his comment: “In order to make peace, you have to close your eyes. You cannot make love or peace with open eyes.” I am quite sure that this is a quote that will not bear comparison with: “At the summit true politics and strategy are one.” Ruthie Blum collects more quotes from President Peres’s Thursday morning remarks here.
English must be President Peres’s third language, after Polish and Hebrew, yet he is eloquent in English. He speaks without notes in thoughts stated in the form of aphorisms. His intellectual and verbal facility are staggering.
Speaking with Ayaan Hirsi Ali was the highest highlight among many at the conference. As I shot the videos of her, I had to think along parallel tracks, like a lawyer trying a lawsuit in front of a jury (which was one of my many thoughts): hold the phone steady; keep her face in the frame; listen to her answer; don’t embarrass yourself, like Chris Farley interviewing Paul McCartney. And don’t blurt out the question you really want to ask: HOW CAN YOU BE SO GREAT? I admire this lady.
On Thursday morning after he spoke at the plenary session, President Peres held a bloggers-only press conference. It was terrific. I was honored to be invited to ask the first question. I asked the gentleman sitting next to me if he would grab my phone and snap a photo of me asking the question. I didn’t realize until I got home and reviewed the photos on my phone that he had done so.
Many Israeli bloggers attended the conference. I didn’t know there were so many. Several blog under the umbrella of the Times of Israel. I was especially pleased to meet Carl of Israel Matzav at the conference. Carl is the one Israeli blogger whom I have regularly followed in the past.
My last few hours at the conference I was joined by Aussie Dave of IsraellyCool on a couch in the lobby of the conference center to chat while I worked on a post regarding President Peres’s bloggers-only press conference. We had a ball. Dave is a delightful guy.
And meeting Paula Stern on my way into the conference center on Tuesday afternoon was a great stroke of good fortune. Paula fluently translated speakers’ remarks from Hebrew into English for me throughout the conference. The mother of two sons who have served in the IDF, Paula blogs at A Soldier’s Mother. That’s Dave on the left and Paula on the right in the photo below.
Paula joined me for dinner just before I left for the airport on Thursday night. I gave her a hug and left her with a wish: “Next year in Jerusalem!”
Before the conference’s public relations team at Finn Partners invited someone from Power Line to attend this year’s conference, I had never heard of it. As it turns out, Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey had attended last year at the invitation of Finn Partners and provided his usual first-rate coverage.
I am a faithful reader of Hot Air. I don’t know how I missed Ed’s posts on the conference last year, including a terrific interview with Elliott Abrams. Before I left last week Ed generously provided advice to me regarding the conference. I am grateful.
Finally, I am most grateful to Finn Parnters for working to help make my time at the conference worthwhile and to the conference itself for partially defraying my travel expenses.