Video marketing: so you *can* teach an old man new tricks

I watched a lot of videos tonight. And they all made me happy. But none so happy as this: Ex-President of Israel (and ex-every other job) Shimon Peres goes job hunting.

I’m extra happy there are subtitles so you can enjoy if you’re not from around here.

#tomorrow13: The missing demographic; the outsiders left further out

Private propertyFrom the first couple hours I spent at the Israeli Presidential Conference on Wednesday, throughout the end of my attendance today, I had a nagging thought I couldn’t shake.

Someone was missing.

I had the same thought last year, when it was awkwardly clear there were barely any women speaking (though the ones who did were awesome).

But this week, it wasn’t just that there seemed to be no Israeli-Arab speakers – I could barely pick out any Israeli-Arab attendees.

Here, at an international discourse on tomorrow, Israel’s tomorrow, hosted by the man whose name makes-or-breaks the Peres Center for Peace, the outsiders were not even inside the building.

Actually, last year we did get an intro to Peres’ Ma’anTech efforts. And this year, a couple hi tech/media panelists mentioned hiring in Ramallah as well as Israel.

And plenty of speakers – including former world leaders and, oddly, Sharon Stone – had what to say about Israel trying harder for peace with the Palestinians.

But where were the Israeli-Arab perspectives on tomorrow? Were they invited? Where were the Israeli-Arab attendees, so that we could take some of the high-level intellectual stagetalk and apply it to building connections with the people who could have sat with us in the audience?

Before the morning plenary started, I sat down behind an Israeli woman who writes for a social change blog and we got to talking. She mentioned this was her first time at the conference. I asked her how it was going.

“I find it all very… high level,” she said. “Where’s the tachlis?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “I gotta admit… this whole thing seems to be catered to American/Anglo tastes.”

It was the other half of the nagging feeling I had had since the start. The taste for intellectual discourse on a weekday, for rubbing shoulders with high level politicians, former world leaders, celebrities and of course, the Israeli president – it all felt a bit university AIPAC road trip for me. American Jews tend to find this stuff dazzling.

Where was the tachlis?

Where were the Israeli Arabs?

Where are we Israelis headed tomorrow, if we’re not at all focused on the missing demographic today?


More #tomorrow13:


#tomorrow13: Bill Clinton on Israel, peace, and how to change Us vs Them

Another year, President Shimon Peres turns 90, and we join together for the fifth Israeli Presidential Conference.

I know there’s quite a bit of criticism and controversy when it comes to the event. It comes from a good place but there are also good questions to ask about who isn’t present and what isn’t said.

But as an exercise in thought, I like to engage. I like to remember that at one point, I was headed toward a career in conflict resolution.

Today President Peres granted former US president Bill Clinton the high Israeli honor of the Presidents Award. Looking for ‘the meaning in all of this’, here’s how Clinton took it:

Note: This is mainly transcription, but also shortened to large excerpts for the sake of keeping it readable.

Former United States President Bill Clinton addressing the Israeli Presidential Conference:

The search for peace and reconciliation and a shared future does not fit easily within the flow of life as normally we think of it. We like to think of political efforts  almost as if they are sporting events. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end. At the end, good guys triumph. It is much more than that. It’s a way of life. That’s why Shimon Peres has survived 90 years! He gets up today and imagines tomorrow. And focuses on today only insofar as it is relevant.

The wonderful Hebrew phrase, tikkun olam – to repair the breach – is a good and constant responsibility we all have. Truth is, in a world of increasing independence, we not only have to repair the breach in the fabric of our current community, but we have to push our imaginations to expand the definition of that community.

We are not truly independent; we can’t escape the consequences of what we do and what others do, not only in our own neighborhood but around the world. So there is today and the foreseeable future – a constant struggle to redefine those to whom we owe the definition of tikkun olam. Should we be trying to put everyone in our crowd?

I read an interesting quote this week by Rudyard Kipling; it went something like this: Whoever is in our group is us, everybody else is them.

In a funny way, most of the world’s struggles, since the first people showed up on the Eastern African savanna, emerging into tribes (and so on) – the whole of human history has been a constant battle to redefine who is us and who is them.

The imperatives of our ability to destroy each other have imposed on us a heavy responsibility to continually expand the definition of who is us, and to shrink that of who is them.

Sometimes the most shining examples of what has worked in this endeavor are found in small places. I think it is important to acknowledge that since everything that has been said here about the work I’ve tried to do is positive – a lot of it has been mistakes.

One of the best examples of overcoming past conflict towards unity is represented by the president and first lady of Rwanda. It’s also one of the greatest examples of my neglect as president. (We were so focused on Bosnia) and the people in Rwanda, through the genocide, were slaughtered so quickly – 10% of the people in 90 days – we literally never had a meeting on how to stop it in the White House.

I say this to make a larger point. Each and every one of us will face challenges in our lives.. We will not meet them all. A lesson from Shimon Peres: not to give up and give in, but to get up and go on. Keep the process going.

Later, I went to Rwanda and apologized for the neglect to help. In 2001 I saw a stunning example of the (reconciliation) work done to change the mindset of Rwandans – of who is us and who is them. And how important it is to let go of yesterday and embrace tomorrow.

The press with me (on that trip) wanted to find people who would say ‘what is President Clinton doing here, why wasn’t he here when we needed him before?’
One press member asked that to a cab driver. He answered, “No I’m glad he’s here.”

The journalist asked, “Why?”

The cab driver said, “Firstly, no one came to help us, and he’s the only one who came and said he’s sorry. Secondly, he didn’t make us kill each other. we have to take responsibility. And as he says, we need all the help we can get.”

No matter what anyone has done to us, or each other, the first step is to get rid of the things that divide us, including seeing ourselves as victims – we have to claim a future that we make. The great beauty of the state of Israel from its beginning that has allowed it to transform itself into what it is now commonly referred to, a start up nation, center of innovation for the whole world, is that it was seen as a safe place for the people of Israel to learn that they need no longer to be victims. That the beginning of freedom requires a responsibility.

What has that to do with today?

It is nice to receive a reward. It is nice for a country to have its monuments. But there are no final victories than tikkun olam. There are no perfect warriors for peace. No flawless leaders. Every day inside every person in the modern world where we are all crashing into each other and compelled to share the future, the battle begins as the morning breaks.

Everyone one of us, when we wake up in the morning, has inside, in our souls, a scale. You feel it every morning. On one side, all your hopes and dreams and best impulses. The world you want to make for your family, your community for people everywhere. On the other side, all those fears and resentments and disappointments, they are weighed too. Every day the balance between the bright side of the scale of our lives and the dark side, is a little different, isn’t it? Some days we get up full of hope – some days we get up and we’re just – can’t let go of anger and heartbreak.

We have to let go. For all of life is a constant struggle to expand the definition of who is us, and shrink the def of who is them.

The first time in Rwanda – the most amazing person I met was a lady – she seemed to have no visible marks (scars). She said she was attacked by her neighbors to find her husband and six children in a pool of blood around her.

“I screamed out at god – why was I spared?”

She started an orphanage with no regard for ethnic background and matched them with families with no regard for ethnic background.

Later on, I met a dashing young man, looked like he got an MBA at Harvard, who gave me a tour. I asked, “Did you lose anyone?” From his family, 73 people were killed.

“Isn’t this hard for you, taking me through here?”

“Oh no, it’s therapeutic. Our president tells us we have to face the past and let it go, and face the future.”

“You remind me of a lady I met the first time I was here.”

He smiled. “Well I should – she’s my aunt.”

Why do I tell you this?

Between the Israelis and Palestinians there are many reasons for distrust.
The one thing i know is – the lesson that had been driven home – and I could give a hundred examples of this that i have personally seen in tiny Rwanda – if you’re compelled to share the future, you have to decide what the future will be.

If the terms favor you more than them, there will always be us vs them. There is no perfect answer to any of this – there is simply the perfect obligation to expand the definition of us, and shrink the definition of them.

I ask you to think about that.

In one of the places I’ve been in the fundraising work, there’s a phrase of saying,
how are you? The answer in English is not translated into ‘I’m fine, how are you?’

It’s: I see you.

Think about that. There are people all over, serving nice food in rich countries, etc – who are not seen.

I’m honored to be here because I think President Peres always tries to see everyone.

All the people we sometimes don’t see are going to be part of the future. They have to be able to advance their dreams too. All our lives and our children’s and grandchildren’s will be determined by whether today we have succeeded in expanding the definition of us and shrinking the definition of them.

We have to say we see you – and stay on the path – and keep living and keep working.

More #tomorrow13:

#tomorrow12: Bloggers Q&A with Shimon Peres

I’m the one who videoed the entire Q&A session that President Shimon Peres gave us bloggers at the Israel Presidents Conference today.

Below is the whole uncut video, but below that are quotes from the topics discussed. (I’ll try and update when I splice it by topic.)

I was a bit disappointed the questions all seemed kind of obvious. Why didn’t anyone ask him what his funniest moment in Knesset was?

Here’s a quick review of the topics he was asked about:

  • Iran: “The real problem is… not that we don’t like the Iranians. The problem is the Iranian menace to the world. If they wouldn’t do it, I don’t think anyone would say a word against Iran.”
  • Lack of women in hi tech and government: “Men have to learn a little bit… I want to tell you, if you don’t mind, every woman is born like a mother. And every man passes away like a baby; he never matures. So better have a mother in management than a father in management… Every woman is a civilization in her own right.”
  • What would you ask from God?
  • Rocket-fire from Gaza: “What do they want? To run Gaza, or to run terror? We don’t want to see Gazan people suffer. The only ones who can make them suffer are the ones throwing rockets against us.”
  • Change in the government system: “The basic change of the system is not government, it’s the electoral system.”
  • Receiving the civilian honor by President Obama: “I felt that the real recipient of the prize was the Israeli people… I think this was a salute to Israel for showing that democracy can withstand shortages, difficulties, and walls, and never have a day of war postpone a day of freedom.”
  • On America: “As a student of history I think what is unique about America, is that it’s the only power in history that got its strengths not by taking, but by giving. American history is a history of generosity, and not a history of occupation.”
  • Future of Jewish people: “The Hebrew language is very impatient… what we have is two times: past and future. Everything either happened, or will happen. There’s nothing on the waiting list.”
  • Two-state solution; is time running out?: “You need patience in life… There are things that take time, setbacks, don’t lose your life. There is no better solution… than to have two states living in peace.”
  • Jonathan Pollard: “One thing I have authority… to forgive… I’m not above the courts. My consideration is not what’s written in books of law… but what is written in book of your heart. There are cases which are heartbreaking… so my consideration are purely humane.”
  • Syria’s inability to revolutionize: “A man that kills his own babies… is one of the most shocking things I’ve experienced in my life… is to see a small coffin and there is a baby who was killed, brutally… how can you stand it? But there is a dilemma on how to handle it…”
  • Birthday wishlist: “That all other people will have happy birthdays.”

Best of all, I got to shake his (88-year-old papery) hands and tell him what an inspiration he was. Don’t change, man. Don’t change.

Other Tomorrow 2012 coverage: 


#tomorrow12: Ayaan Hirsi-Ali speaks about the true Arab Muslim revolution.

Hello from the back of the plenary session on Day 2 of the Israel Presidents Conference, Tomorrow 2012, with our gracious and ever-activist host, Shimon Peres.

I’m huddled with (real) press members in the back after explaining sheepishly excitedly to a The Marker reporter that I’m a blogger (and, uh, former journalist).

The first perspective I’m thrilled to share is the talk by Ayaan Hirsi-Ali who I found wildly more fascinating than former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi AShkenazi (who by the way, made a great statement about the Tal Law and changing army model) or Ambassador Dennis Ross (loved your book, though).

Quick background on Hirsi-Ali:

  • Born in Somalia, Muslim, moved throughout Africa and Saudi Arabia.
  • In 1992 at around 20, came to Netherlands as a refugee.
  • Admired world figure after Islamist-related murder of her colleague.
  • Known for intellectual integrity and bravery.Critical view of Islam.
  • Lives in the United States.
Note: I attempted to transcribe her talk as best I could; it was worth getting every word I could. It’s not perfect, some of it shorthand, but it’s definitely most of what she said and certainly the spirit of her major points.

I have great admiration for what your nation, your country has achieved in a very short time.

It’s not only the only free country, but the only functioning country.

First two decades of my life versus the second half of my life since I came to the Netherlands – the first half of my life was categorized by three aspects.

First aspect is absolute authority. I grew up in a Muslim family, my father’s authority over our family was absolute. Couldn’t argue with him, didn’t discuss – we had to obey him. My relationship to my teachers was exactly the same. Students were expected to learn what they were taught. On a national level, authority was also absolute. If u disagreed with the policeman or the general or the president, then you ended up in jail. And you were lucky.

Second aspect that characterized first half of my life – I don’t know how to formulate it in English – but ‘to compromise is to suffer shame, lose face. If there was a conflict, you only had winners and losers. Makes settling a conflict, if you were clever, didn’t mean you compromised, but you bear a grudge and wait for the moment u can defeat your enemy.

In Koran school, when I got into fights, thats exactly how I behaved and how everyone else behaved.

The third aspect is that all problems from the micro problems of your life to the macro problems – national, international, global – you could find all the answers in the Koran or the Hadith example that Mohammad left.

This was all baked into me. When I left my country and came to Saudi Arabia, I recognized all these aspects. I didn’t feel they were that different.

When my family moved to Ethiopia and I associated for the first time with the non-Muslim community, I realized they were different. Kenya – I went to school in a multicultural society, I associated with children from Yemen, Pakistan, other Muslim countries. These were the three defining features we shared (the three aspects).

Fast forward: I came to the Netherlands and I find almost an exact opposite of that. I find that in the west, in fact, authority is not absolute. I know theres a long history before things came that way.

To compromise is one of the most honorable things you can do.,
and religion, the bible, whatever holy book – does not contain all the answers, there are other books, ways of teaching a solution.

If I extrapolate – and I know I’m being cheeky – from my early life to the issues facing your region, I see that in Israel, and indeed in America and other western countries, there is this disconnect, where you are dealing with a culture where you as a democracy have to negotiate with men who have absolute power and expect it. What I find optimistic about the events of last year and this year – Arab spring turning into Islamist winter – hopefully things will go in a different way – but what I find interesting, I find it thrilling, the first time Arab countries, Muslim countries, have questioned that absolute power. The masses have organized themselves and driven away the despot.

Can it translate into questioning, top down, the authority of the leader to the authority of the father, the teacher? That will be true revolution.

Principle of non-compromise: this region is a region governed by honor and shame. A true revolution will be once people move from this idea; to compromise is to suffer shame. If it can happen, it will impact the region and will have a fantastic impact on Islam and Arab world and indeed the Jewish people and Arab people.

Finally, religion – Islamists and Muslim brotherhood have won the hearts and minds of large Arab population because they offer religion Islam the Koran and the Hadith as the source that they will look into to resolve problems. Again, a true revolution is only likely if people put that aside.

Those three characteristics – absolute power, non compromise, fixation on religion – if all three change can we really speak of a revolution in the Arab world. And its impact on the whole world and the Jewish people, cannot be overstated.

Other Tomorrow 2012 coverage: 

Shimon Peres’ writing on the Wall.

Is there anything this cutie can’t do to make us smile?

Now that he’s Mr. President – and finally found a job he fits – Shimon Peres just keeps getting better and better.

Like when I watched him interviewed by Barbra Walters on The View last month… (?!)

Now he’s gone and seen the writing on the wall – Mark Zuckerberg’s actual wall – and he actually wrote it, too.

And so a homegrown Israeli meme was born…

(By the way, context).

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