Monday April 21, 2014
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21.04.2014
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David M. Weinberg

Facing the real tomorrow?

"Facing Tomorrow," the fifth Israeli Presidential Conference under the auspices of President Shimon Peres, running this week in Jerusalem, is a wondrous event. It's so nice.

The conference's raison d'etre is explained by Peres in this misty quote that headlines all conference materials: “My experience has taught me that people tend to underestimate the tremendous ability within them, and yet mankind has the power to make a difference to ensure the betterment of our collective tomorrow. The test of leaders lies in understanding this truth. Their role is to set the goals and pave the routes to free the power and wisdom within all of us. Leaders should govern less and serve more.”

Who can disagree with such pleasant platitudes?

Now understand: I'm all for nice conferences in Jerusalem that position Israel as a thought leader, and help brand Israel as a creative font.

I'm happy when such a conference brings to Israel "world leaders, international scholars, activists, poets and scientists, artists and clergy, entrepreneurs, economists and industrialists, as well as representatives of the next generation of leaders; promising young individuals who radiate innovation and creativity" -- as the conference promotional material boasts.

I'm even happier when Hollywood actresses and singers, and European princesses and dukes hike up to Jerusalem to sing Israel's praises, instead of succumbing to Arab demands that they boycott Israel.

I'm happier yet still when young Jews from around the world come to such a conference and connect to Israel though the California kumbaya atmosphere that prevails at the gathering. If this is what it takes to make Israel hip, then it's okay by me.

And of course, who doesn't love a big birthday bash? Peres is very good at throwing big birthday parties for himself, full of hope and good feelings.

Having said all that, I have a problem with the "Facing Tomorrow" conference. It doesn't really face Israel's tomorrow. It doesn't face Israel's real future.

While the conference helps everybody dream of perfect futures, it doesn't prepare any of the participating poets, scientists, artists and entrepreneurs for dealing with the difficult stuff about Israel.

The conference, you see, is filled with hopeful, dreamy sessions on the "betterment of our collective tomorrow," on "paving the routes to free the power and wisdom within all of us," on "the desired dynamic in relationships between people and leaders in the face of powerful processes of change," and on "our ability to find happiness, and meaning in life."

You can go to classes that ask "Is there hope for a green tomorrow?" or "Is the new media still renewing?" You can study "Art, culture, and sport: the bridges to tomorrow's world," or "When technology, creativity and DIY come together." You can plumb "Brain research -- the wondrous voyage into ourselves."

And best of all, you can take a "master class" with Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

Yes, there are two secondary sessions at this conference on political Islam and the changing Middle East. But overall, no participant in this gigantic conference is going leave Jerusalem better equipped with the knowledge necessary to tackle any of the diplomatic and defense threats that Israel faces in the coming years and decades.

None of the professors or princesses will get much from this conference that helps them square dream with reality when Israel next militarily confronts Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran. Nobody attending this conference is going to better understand why peace with the Palestinians isn't a simple matter of dividing the West Bank, or why Israel might strike again at any moment in Syria. Nobody will know why Israel insists on sovereignty in the Old City of Jerusalem. In fact, nobody will learn anything about Israel's ancient and historical rights to the land of Israel, or much about Jewish faith and practice either.

In short, nobody attending this conference is going to be truly fortified with intellectual value that helps him or her defend Israel when the chips are down.

Instead, the Israeli Presidential Conference on Facing Tomorrow focuses nebulously on "the quality of leadership in all realms of human activity" and on "the courage to create something new." It offers gobbledygook: a foggy, fuzzy brand of "imagination, vision and a considerable amount of defiance." It promises obscure "new opportunities ready to reveal themselves to those that have a loving heart and an optimistic spirit."

In selling an indistinct muddle of good cheer and opaque aspiration without providing concrete understanding of Israel's troubling realities, the conference is sinning against the Jewish future. It is missing an opportunity to make a difference where it is really needed: in providing Israel with a shield of well-informed, passionately committed, and combat-ready leaders who can advocate for troubled Israel, not just salivate over an imagined, perfected Israel.

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