The Israeli Presidential Conference “Facing Tomorrow” is an annual conference run by Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, which brings together some of the biggest names in politics, technology, and… sex therapy. The conference discusses what the future holds for the world, and specifically for Israel. At the age of 89, you gotta give Peres credit for still having game and putting on a great show. As Tony Blair, who spoke at the conference, said “I did the the math and it seems you were a minister (of Knesset) before I was even born!” and as Dennis Ross said “In 20-30 years, many of us won’t be around anymore, but you Shimon, will definitely still be here!”.
I feel honored and privileged to be able to attend such an extraordinary conference that has the potential to inspire the world and bring the Jewish people together, and therefore hesitate writing anything negative since I know first-hand how hard it is to organize a large event. Having said that, I would like to give you a real sneak peek as to what it’s like to be at the conference and what the future has to offer, for better or for worse.
Here is a preview of how the future would look, based on my experiences at the Israeli presidential conference:
- Hot, messy, long lines: For those of you familiar with Israel’s line culture (which is to say, a long, rich history of being… culture-less), you may not be surprised that we were thrown into a hot mosh-pit of a registration area with no clear division of lines and little air-conditioning on a sweltering summer day, so we just picked a spot to stand and hoped for the best. Oh, how we pined for those ropes at the airport to restore order but the only remnant of airport life here was the tight security and the little scarves that the registration ladies wore. I guess I had my hopes high for an orderly line experience being that this is the conference about the future of Israel.
Lesson learned: The future of Israel may not contain enough ropes.
- Free wine and fancy bite-sized snacks: I am pleased to announce that the future of Israel will be overfloweth with half-full glasses of red and white wine, as well as adorable and tasty hoers d’ouerves such as, but not limited to: breadsticks with salmon, toasted bread with eggplant drizzled with honey, and my favorite, a vanilla ice cream with a chocolatey treasure at the bottom.
Lesson learned: I think once you have some wine in your system and some small treats in your belly, you can start to relax and fully appreciate the world and strive for peace. Or at least come to terms with the hot mess of a line you just had to stand in (see #1).
- Chaos and confusion: Once we arrived and enjoyed sipping our wine and nibbling on spinach something-or-other, we tried to get into the plenary session featuring Shimon Peres, Henry Kissinger, and Tony Blair.
But alas, you must have a ticket to enter the plenary session. A ticket? Even though you already have a badge and enjoyed some wine and are clearly “in”? Yes, you must still have a green paper ticket to enter the hall. Waaaaaah. Although crying didn’t work, divine intervention did. My friend spotted someone whispering “tickets.. does anyone want a ticket?”. “DID YOU SAY TICKETS?! YES!!” she screamed, and so we whisked ourselves up the 5 flights of stairs to the nosebleed section and sat down just as it began.
So you may be thinking, obviously when we came the next day, we knew to get tickets to all the plenaries and never go through the confusion again and live happily ever after. But no! We only got tickets for the morning plenary session and got an unclear answer of whether or not tickets were needed for the afternoon plenary session. SIGH.
Lesson learned: The future will be confusing. And ticket-based.
- Women relegated to the back of the bus, again: The conference deals with many social and economic Israeli issues, such as the tent protests and how to create a greener Israel. The conference could have dealt head-on with some major women’s issues in Israeli society such as women literally sitting in the back of the bus. And, at the conference itself, less than 10% of the speakers were women. I met a women from the NCJW who told me that statistic, so I hope she’s right.
Lesson learned: The future will tiptoe around women’s issues.
- Sex is still alive and well: You will have more energy as you age then ever before – just look at Shimon Peres, Henry Kissinger, and Dr. Ruth. Dr. Ruth, a psychosexual therapist, age 83, once again dazzled the crowd with her frank discussion on the importance of relationships, sex, and family life in the era of new media. She also managed to use her sexual references to compare the early exit of Israeli startups to premature ejaculation. Only Dr. Ruth could get away with making that comment on a stage in front of thousands of people, including many dignitaries, such as Peres and Kissinger.
- Ayaan Hirsi Ali will hopefully run the world: What an incredible woman. Author of “The Infidel“, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has had a crazy life. Born into a Muslim family in Somalia, her family moved to Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya. From Kenya, she escaped to The Netherlands and eventually became a member of Parliament. She spoke out freely against Islam and while working on a documentary film, “Submission”, her friend and producer, Theo Van Gogh, was murdered. Since then, she’s had to live under security watch to protect her against the many Muslims who want to silence her.
After reading her book and being her biggest fan, I was honored to see Ayaan in person, knowing the huge effort and security risks she must have taken to come to Israel. Ayaan was on the panel “The Strategic Look at Tomorrow” amidst American and Israeli Jews. However, I think that while the other members of the panel were trying to create checklists of what needs to be done to achieve peace in the Middle East, it was only Ayaan who really told it like it is. She said that there are 3 main values that must change before there is going to be peace in the Middle East:
1. Muslims’ belief in governments with absolute authority
2. To compromise in the Muslim world is to lose face
3. All answers can be found in the Koran
Ayaan said that until those fundamental beliefs change in the Muslim world, there might never be peace in the region. She is the only one willing to say that the Israelis and Palestinians have fundamentally different views of peace and what the region should look like. Here is a fitting analogy I came up with: If I say I’m fat, that’s ok, but if you tell me I’m fat, that is totally not ok. Because Ayaan was born Muslim, she feels like she can say anything she wants and is less afraid of offending Muslims. So, in the future, when you ask “Who run the world?” the answer should be Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
- Direct access to the President of Israel and other highly esteemed people: Last year, I had the privilege of meeting Shimon Peres, Natan Sharansky and Jimmy Wales with a group of Israeli bloggers. This year I had the chance to again be in a private blogger session with Shimon Peres as well as Yossi Vardi and Peter Bainert.
Lesson learned: The future holds the promise that ordinary people like me can have access to leaders of the country.
- Film, literary, and musical artists will be personal and lovable: I went to a session that hosted Etgar Keret, a great short story writer, Joseph Cedar, producer of Oscar-nominated films Beaufort and Footnote, and Achinoam Nini, a phenomenal singer. Each of these artists opened up about how they grew up with complex identities and how being Israeli is really special to them and definitely plays a role in what they create. I loved how down-to-earth each of them was and how approachable, and lovable each of them was. And Achinoam surprised us by singing just before the session ended.
- Lots of business casual attire: After 3 days of wearing business casual in Israel, which is a big deal considering the casual dress culture, I believe the future will require you to dress up and look nice. As for the present, I’m just glad the conference was only 3 days since I ran out of fancy things to wear!
- Major FOMO: As Deena and Miriam pointed out, this conference relies heavily on FOMO(fear of missing out) to entice people to come. And even once you’re at the conference, there is still major FOMO since you can only attend one of the 4 or 5 sessions happening simultaneously. Obviously you’re going to think you picked the wrong session and then feel left out when everyone else has inside jokes about it later. If you think FOMO is something made up, I assure you that it is not and a whole FOMO science complete with statistics is starting to develop. Needless to say, the future will be full of FOMO.
I know this was a long post, so high five if you read it all, but it was a really long event so it’s only fitting. Once again, thank you (you know who you are) for letting me attend this conference and giving me some major food for thought as well as for my belly. Whether or not there will be peace in the region is debatable, but at least there will be hope for another fancy conference next year!