President Bush giving a speech at the “Facing Tomorrow” Conference in Jerusalem.Some were calling it a mini-Davos, others the “conference of the century”, but no one who attended the three-day President’s Conference “Facing Tomorrow”, in Jerusalem last week, was in any doubt that this was one of the largest and most illustrious conferences in Israel’s history.
The city ground to a standstill, and 14,000 policemen were drafted in to the city as more than 3,000 delegates crowded into the Jerusalem Convention Center, which grew warmer and warmer as the halls, lobbies and convention rooms filled to overflowing with both the great and curious.
Invited by President Shimon Peres to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary, the glittering roster of attendees ranged from influential statesmen and dignitaries like US President George W. Bush, former British Prime Minister and Mideast envoy Tony Blair, and former Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, to nobel laureates and business leaders like Prof. Roger Kornberg, Rupert Murdoch, Sergey Brin, and Maurice Levy.
Aside from international leaders, the conference was also attended by Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, and Israeli leaders Ehud Barak, Tzippi Livni and Benjamin Netanyahu.
The focus of the conference’s many panels was on three tomorrows: the Israeli tomorrow, the Jewish tomorrow and the global tomorrow.
The conference opened with a public panel on “Presidents Discussing Tomorrow”, hosted by Peres and attended by Mikhail Gorbachev, and the presidents of Albania, Burkina-Faso, Croatia, Latvia, Mongolia, Palau, Poland, Rwanda, Slovenia, Ukraine and Uganda. The event was moderated by Tony Blair, who admitted to the audience enthusiastically that this was his first meeting with Gorbachev.
Globalization, both its positive and negative aspects, was the main theme discussed by the presidents. “We live today in a world that is marked by change and is becoming more interdependent.” noted Blair. He listed four values that, to his view, should govern this changing world: Openness, whether to trade or migration, freedom and democracy, justice, and development of individual human potential. “Globalization is a fact but the values that govern it are a choice.”
Other panels included a geopolitical discussion featuring Dennis Ross, former US Special Middle East Coordinator, and Stuart Eizenstadt, the former White House Chief Domestic Policy Adviser; and a session on the Internet and new media moderated by Yossi Vardi, whose speakers included Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corporation, Yahoo! President, Susan Decker, and Sergey Brin, co-founder and president, technology of Google.
Murdoch told conference delegates that promoting technology in the Middle East could help advance peace. “When people have the skills – to build better lives for themselves and their families, their societies become more peaceful and Israel will have better neighbors,” he said.
US President George W. Bush joined the celebration on its second day. In his address, at an event to celebrate the special friendship between Israel and the US, he told delegates that this was, “A great honor and a chance for me to express the enduring friendship of the American people with the Israeli people.”
He added that Israel and the US need to be “steadfast in the face of those who would murder the innocent in pursuit of their goals”, and said that the two countries share a “powerful” belief in “the cause of hope, freedom and liberty, as the great alternative to tyranny and terror.”
The US, he added, was “Israel’s oldest and best friend in the world” and the bonds between the two countries grew stronger “with every passing year.”
Out in the halls, discussion was even brisker as participants mingled freely, rubbing shoulders, drinking wine and doing business.
The conference also hosted an exhibition, “Tomorrow’s Spaces,” presenting 60 of Israel’s top start-up companies in medicine and biotechnology, cleantech, water and agriculture, transportation, IT, high-tech and communications, and social and community oriented projects.
“The panel of judges reviewed about 400 applications and was charged with the difficult task of selecting only 60 projects – symbolizing 60 years of independence,” Panel Chairman Prof. Yitzhak Peterburg said.
“Suitable projects were defined on the basis of their Israeli origin, technological innovation, stage of development and potential for impacting the Israeli and global tomorrow. We also decided to include several which contribute to shaping a viable, pluralistic and more welcoming Israeli society.” Peterburg added that it was unfortunate Israel wasn’t yet 200 years old, as there were so many qualified projects. “We have no doubt we will hear of them in the near future.”
Peres originally came up with the idea for the conference eight years ago, when he ran against Moshe Katsav for the presidency. He shelved the plan after he lost, but revived it in the wake of his 2007 election.