Peres To Convene Confab on Israeli and Jewish Future

By Nathan Guttman

Published April 03, 2008, issue of April 11, 2008.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Jerusalem — More than a thousand leading politicians, scholars and scientists from around the world are set to convene in Jerusalem next month with the lofty goal of outlining a blueprint for the future of Israel and the Jewish people.

The global leaders will gather in the Jewish state May 13 for “Facing Tomorrow,” a three-day conference convened by Israeli President Shimon Peres to coincide with the country’s 60th anniversary celebrations. The list of scheduled participants boasts an impressive variety of figures, from politicians like President Bush, Tony Blair and Mikhail Gorbachev, to business moguls such as Google’s Sergey Brinn and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, to entertainment stars such as Barbra Streisand.

Against the backdrop of what are viewed by many in Israel as dull and ordinary events celebrating Israel’s 60th, the conference stands out for its ambitious goals and its A-list invitees. The gathering is the brainchild of Peres, the last remaining leader from the generation that founded the state.

Peres has been ridiculed in the past for his grand visions of a new Middle East, but he is now setting out to take on nothing less than the future of the Jewish people. And in typical Peres fashion, he wants to redefine the basic structure of relations among Israel, the Jewish people and the world.

“It is time to change the nature of the partnership between the various parts of the Jewish people,” Peres told the Forward. “It needs to be less materialistic and more intellectual.” Israel, he argued, should aspire to become a “leading world laboratory” for thought, technology and science.

The idea for the conference, dubbed a “Jewish Davos,” after the famed annual meeting of world leaders at the eponymous Swiss ski resort, came from Peres himself shortly after he took office last year. The gathering’s agenda will be set by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, a Jerusalem-based think tank that for the past several years has brought together Jewish scholars and leaders to discuss the future of the Jewish people.

“We are trying to look at the possible tomorrows through three lenses: leadership, morals and ethics, and creativity,” said Avinoam Bar-Yosef, director general of JPPPI.

Organizers say the three-day conference will produce several projects that will bring Israel closer to realizing Peres’s vision. Among the ideas being discussed are founding an academy for Jewish leadership in Israel and taking on at least one technological project of unprecedented magnitude in the Jewish state.

“I want us to be as ancient as the Ten Commandments and as young as nanotechnology,” Peres told the Forward in describing his vision for the future of the country.

The 84-year-old Nobel laureate was sworn in as president this past July. Over the course of six decades, he has served in numerous senior positions, from assistant to David Ben-Gurion to two terms as prime minister. The gravitas attached to his name goes a long way toward explaining why Peres was able to convene such a conference when a similar effort by his predecessor, Moshe Katzav, made little headway.

According to Peres, what makes his conference different from past efforts to bring together Israelis and Diaspora Jews to discuss the future of the Jewish people is the breaking of old patterns. The conference, he notes, will focus on individuals rather than on the communal organizations that have traditionally been viewed as representing the Jewish people.

“Today there are many Jews in the world who don’t have a checkbook but are not any less important,” Peres said. “The world today is much more intellectual. One person can create a revolution; you don’t need an organization for that.”

The Israeli president also hopes to steer Israel-Diaspora relations away from the cause that for decades has united the far-flung Jewish people: the fight against antisemitism.

“The Jews spend too much time being apologetic,” Peres said. “They spend too much time on issues like fighting antisemitism. Antisemitism is not a Jewish disease, so let the non-Jews treat it. It is their disease.”






Find us on Facebook!
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.