Thursday, June 21, 2012 11:14 AM
“At a time like this... we must navigate our way with a single, sharp and clear compass and a vision for a better tomorrow...as human beings, as Jews, as Israelis.” - Shimon Peres
Shimon Peres. Photo: KKL- JNF Photo Archive
“At a time like this, when the world is in upheaval, and the present is foggy, we must navigate our way with a single, sharp and clear compass and a vision for a better tomorrow, a tomorrow toward which we can honorably march, as human beings, as Jews, as Israelis.” Thus spoke the President of the State of Israel, Shimon Peres
, at the opening of the Presidential Conference
The Fourth Presidential Conference, entitled Facing Tomorrow
, is a meeting place for world leaders, academics, scientists, artists, clergy, entrepreneurs and representatives of the younger generation
of leaders. The Conference includes plenary sessions as well as a variety of panels, roundtables and study forums dealing with a broad spectrum of topics, with the participation of the best minds in every field.
The Conference is addressing diverse questions such as: Where is the Middle East heading? Will the world economic crisis get worse? Where are the social protests in Israel and elsewhere leading us? How are scientific and technological developments affecting our lives? Also, of course: How will the destiny of the Jewish people and State of Israel be affected by the changing global trends?
The issues present a complicated leadership challenge. The Fourth Presidential Conference is addressing these issues not only in order to define the challenges but also in order to indicate solutions that can lead to a better tomorrow for Israel, for the Jewish people and for all of humanity. President Peres expressed his belief that “the insights and ideas that emerge from the Conference will help all of us create a better tomorrow.”
The first day of the Conference included a plenary session about The Compass Guiding us to Tomorrow, in which President Peres; Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of Britain; and Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State, took part. Among the people attending were KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler, co-Chairman Eli Aflalo, members of the board, and senior executives.
Another discussion entitled My Recipe for a Better Tomorrow presented the main opportunities and challenges of our era. Participants included Prof. Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate in economics; Keren Leibovitch, Paralympic swimming champion; Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google; Yuri Milner, hedge fund investor; Dr. Yossi Vardi, developer; and Dr. Ruth Westheimer, psychosexual therapist.
KKL-JNF Booth at Presidential Conference – Wishes for a Greener and Better Future
Efi Stenzler makes a wish. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Making a wish. Photo: KKL-JNF Archive
In the exhibition hall, where diverse organizations were showcasing their work, KKL-JNF set up a unique booth, where visitors were invited to write their wishes for a greener future. The visitors then hung their wishes on trees in the three colors of KKL-JNF—green, blue and brown
. Visitors to the booth included KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler, who expressed his wish for a greener future.
The tree filled up with wishes very quickly, with personal requests, wishes for Israel and prayers for a better world. Among the wishes expressed by visitors at the KKL-JNF booth were:
Alongside the personal wishes were KKL-JNF’s wishes for realizing its goals in the various fields of its work for the benefit of the citizens of Israel and mankind in general.
Strategic View to Tomorrow – to Initiate and to Act
The second day of the Conference began with a plenary session addressing the subject of A Strategic Vision for Tomorrow. The discussion dealt with coping with the crises and dilemmas that are so prevalent in our times, and their influence on the way tomorrow will look—for the world, for Jews, for Israel.
Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi
opened the session by saying, “The storm raging in the Arab world is a transition of the sort that occurs once in a hundred years.” He explained that the new situation presents Israel with opportunities as well as dangers. “Israel prefers stable regimes,” he said. “The processes in the Arab world are not finished, and they are likely to increase instability. Israel must strive for cooperation with all the moderate elements in the Arab countries.”
Ashkenazi also spoke about the challenge presented by Iranian policy toward the State of Israel and said that “using force is a means, not an end. Especially when you do not want to use it, you must keep it on the table as a realistic option.” Ashkenazi received enthusiastic applause from the audience, when he called for drafting all Israeli citizens for military service or civil service.
Well known author and former member of Dutch Parliament Ayan Hirsi Ali, who emigrated from Somalia to the Netherlands, made everyone laugh when she expressed how delighted she was to be visiting Israel, “which is not just the only free country in the region, but also the only functioning one.” She spoke about her childhood in a Muslim family in Somalia. “When the inhabitants of the Arab world will be able to question the absolute authority of their rulers,” she said, “then we will be on the way to a solution. When the Arab community understands that compromise is not shameful, it will have a positive effect on the relations between the Arab world and Israel.”
Ambassador Dennis Ross, who was involved for twenty years in US Middle East policy and in efforts to lead to a peace process, said, “For the first time in the Middle East, the people are seeing themselves as citizens with the right to make their voices heard, not just as obedient subjects of the regime.” On the changes in Egypt, he said, “We must send a message to the Muslim Brotherhood saying that if they want aid from outside—in order to build something in their country and not just blame others—then they have to play by the rules, and the rules include honoring the peace accord with Israel and protecting human rights.”
Photo: Yoav Devir
About Iran he said, “The best way to prevent a nuclear Iran is diplomacy. They have to understand that if diplomacy fails, Iran will suffer most of all. Use of force cannot prevent the nuclear program. If force will be used, it is important that it be understood that Iran brought it on itself.”
“The Israeli – Palestinian issue is not about to disappear,” said Ross. “In this time of change in the Arab world, it is important for Israel not to be perceived as a country that causes injustice. Peace is in Israel’s interest and not a favor it is doing for anyone else.” Ross emphasized the importance of direct negotiations between the parties and said, “The main problem today is that neither of the parties believes that the other party is committed to the idea of two states. The confidence that has been lost must be rebuilt.”
Author Leon Wieseltier began with a promise. “You will be glad to hear that I am not planning to speak about Iran,” he said. “Everyone is talking about it and seems anxious enough about it.” He did speak about peace, however, and said, “Everyone says there is no partner on the other side, and there are some people who say nothing but this. Even if it is the case, there is a lot that can be done. The Iranian problem must not serve as an alibi for ignoring the Palestinian question.”
When asked by the moderator, journalist Udi Segal, whether Israel should be active and initiate, or await developments in the Arab world, all participants agreed that Israel should initiate and act, and not sit on the sidelines.