Abigail Klein Leichman
May 23, 2011, Updated September 12, 2012

Nearly 200 top names in world politics, media, medicine and other fields will share their innovative ideas for a better tomorrow, at Jerusalem confab.

Shimon Peres President's conference

Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90
President Shimon Peres speaks at the closing ceremony of the 2009 Presidential Conference.

Close to 200 of the world’s most recognized names in fields from diplomacy to medicine will share their ideas at the Third Israeli Presidential Conference: Facing Tomorrow 2011, June 21-23 at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem.

Approximately 3,500 people are expected to attend plenary sessions dedicated to designing a better tomorrow for the world, the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

The conference was the brainchild of Israeli President Shimon Peres, who visualized it as a Jewish version of the major World Economic Forum at Davos, a yearly international gathering of leaders committed to improving the state of the world through global, regional and industry policymaking.

“He had a vision of bringing Jews from all over the world to connect them to Israel and to their identity,” says Israel Maimon, an Israeli lawyer, author and former Cabinet Secretary who heads the initiative. “He came to me and said he knew I and others could fulfill this dream.”

While the first conference did include mainly Jewish speakers, its mandate has broadened. “We also want to attract non-Jews to see the innovation in Israel in entrepreneurship,” Maimon tells ISRAEL21c. “Once they see the atmosphere here, they will fall in love with Israel.”

Showing a different side of Israel

Planners start by pinpointing the issues to be discussed, and then identify relevant experts likely to attract participants. High-profile “messengers” such as venture capitalist Yossi Vardi and Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer talk up the conference with colleagues abroad, building enthusiasm among potential speakers.

UK Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

UK Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is to be among this year’s speakers.

“We simply approach people and invite them,” says Maimon. The positive response has been extremely encouraging.

“To see the best speakers coming to Israel, and to see so many people coming from the outside to hear those speakers, even in times of political isolation for Israel, means we are successful. We have the same mission as ISRAEL21c, to show Israel in a light you don’t see in classical media. When participants write about being inspired by the content and atmosphere and networking done at the conference, this is also a sign of success.”

Half the scheduled speakers are from Israel and half from abroad, including North America, South America, Europe, Pakistan and China.

A few of the names on this year’s lineup include: former White House Adviser Elliott Abrams, Palestine-Israel Journal founder/editor Ziad Abu Zayyad, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Procter & Gamble-Israel CEO Sophie Blum, US economist Abby Joseph Cohen, Canadian parliamentarian Irwin Cotler, Abraham Fund co-executive director Mohammad Darawshe, IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Harvard Medical School Professor of Pediatrics Dr. Judy Lieberman, Rome Chief Rabbi Dr. Riccardo Shmuel Di Segni, UK Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and architect Moshe Safdie.

“None of the speakers gets a fee for the lecture, which is unusual,” says Maimon. “For some, we pay for their flight and accommodations.”

A conference of this caliber is quite expensive to pull off, even without honorariums. Maimon estimates the budget at $3.2 million, financed by contributors who believe in the event’s potential to boost Israel’s image to the outside world.

Six panels per time frame

The sheer number of speakers and topics makes it impossible for participants to attend all sessions. This is not an oversight, says Maimon.

“We want to face them with the dilemma of ‘Where am I going? What am I missing?’ With six panels going on in one time frame, they won’t be able to go to everything.”

To make things more interesting, this year’s conference offers a variety of forums, such as one-on-one presentations and round tables.

President Shimon Peres

In addition to plenary sessions on energy, marketing, new media and global economy, the Presidential Conference will explore the future of such topics as Middle East extremism; nuclear proliferation; world hunger; alternative energy; space exploration; US-Israel relations; brain research; economics; medical innovations and moral dilemmas; Israel and the Diaspora; Jewish philanthropy; European Jewry; religion, politics and international relations; Israel’s economy; and, of course, peace prospects.

If concrete solutions come out of the conference, that would be icing on the cake. “Our goal is more modest than at Davos,” says Maimon. “We try to stay in the field of giving a platform to raise and discuss issues. Our ultimate goal is to … discuss openly in Israel issues that are challenging not only Israelis and Jewish people but also the world.”

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