Chilling with the presidents: Peres conference overview.

I was fortunate enough to score an invite to President Shimon Peres’ Facing Tomorrow: Israeli Presidential Conference, which went down over the last three days in the ICC.

It soon became clear that the opening panel of the first night was the crux of the event, at least for me, holding more importance than President Bush addressing the audience last night. It was a panel of over a dozen presidents or former leaders of nations from around the world. That list included the past or present leaders of Albania, Croatia, Latvia, Mongolia, Palau, Poland, Rwanda, Slovenia, Former Soviet Union, Uganda, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.

There are two incredible points I picked up from this opening ceremony:

As a colleague of mine pointed out, this was an amazing moment for recent history. Just twenty years ago, statesmen of this caliber and specifically of several of those nations would not have acknowledged the technological triumphs and creative spirit of Israel, never mind stepped foot on our soil to do so.

Yet here we were, me on one end of the room witnessing Mikhail Gorbachev and the presidents of Latvia, Poland, Slovenia and more singing the praises of the State of Israel. They expressed pride in the technological creativity of the young country, as well as pride at knowing there are citizens of their own countries living here and contributing to that spirit. I found that especially ironic, but let’s not dwell on the details.

This was a moment that our grandparents would never have dreamed of, and for better or worse, here I was sitting in that room, hearing it with my own ears (in Russian, at least).

It was also the first time I’ve been to a conference centered on Israel that did not focus on conflict, terrorism, Palestinians, peace processes – at least, solely. The aim Peres was going for was to celebrate the State of Israel in its sixtieth year.

Major PR stunt, yes, but why the hell not gloat about Israel’s amazing accomplishments with regards to science, technology, medicine, agriculture and more? Israel has contributed to the rest of the world over and over again and to focus on that for once made me incredibly proud to be in the audience.

In addition, conflict issues were mentioned plenty, enough to show that the peace process and two-state solution are something Israel is serious about, but not enough to overshadow and depress the goals of the conference.

I admire Shimon Peres’ worldliness and the way he is putting it to use in his presidency. The Israeli presidency is often compared to the British royalty, which I’ve always thought as unfair: it’s about the president and what s/he does with the position. Peres is clearly using it to build relationships as well as Israel’s modern, first-world image.

Presidents panel

The Presidential panel

Shimon Peres and Tony Blair catching up

Two old friends catching up?

Shimon Peres, President of Israel

Man of the hour


Miri Misika and the conference theme

Miri Misika and the conference theme

Hatikva, lead by Masa and Taglit participants


Whadya got: