When one walks down Tel Aviv streets in mid-August dressed in a suit with a starched shirt and a tie, people tend to cast strange looks. Naturally, this is no wonder in a country where summer temperatures rise to 40 degrees Celsius with most people dressed rather casually. Clothed formally in blazing sun may sound as a joke or lunacy to you as a reader, but the author of this short article may be less prone of thinking so after having experienced that specific sensation of being caught in a ‘déjà vu’ in the boiling heat of Tel Aviv. There must have been people, I reckon, who thought of my outfit as simply being ‘crazy.’ Others may have, for that matter, pondered over my strange taste in picking out appropriate summer clothing and lastly, surely there were ones who dismissed me for yet another confused, overdressed foreigner whose basic knowledge of the target country was disproportionate to layers of his clothes. And so, while bustling streets of ‘Israeli New York’ were directing strange glances usually followed by some incomprehensible muttering, I spent 9 days treading one and the same route: down from Ben Yehuda street where my cozy hostel was located, past two bistros with excellent shawarma, all the way to Opera Tower, some 400 meters away, where a bus waited for a smartly dressed group of individuals, all participants on an international conference Model United Nations ISRAMUN 2010 - New Battlefields, New Dilemmas!
When I applied for this conference, and I will be quite frank, I was principally attracted by a possibility of visiting Israel and much less by attending yet another international gathering. I do understand, quite well for that matter, that honesty is often far from the best policy, and especially so if one’s attendance on a conference was paid by one’s academic institution, however my blog would lose its subjective appeal if I was insincere. The country whose history and culture came to be associated with a crossroad of civilizations and religions, whose people came to a very brink of existence through centuries of expulsion and pursuit, and whose national survival is even at this moment threatened by several state and non-state actors, was definitely a place to visit! Ironically enough, a state repeatedly ‘betrayed’ by the UN, or this is what one (considerable) part of Israeli public feels like, was hosting an international conference simulating UN sessions. Well, was it successful? No, it was more than that- it was groundbreaking!What separated ISRAMUN from all other MUNs can be summed up in only four letters: ISRA. These four letters made all the difference, and I believe most of my colleagues from the conference would agree on this issue. Yes, ISRAMUN was, like many other MUNs before it, dedicated to development of meaningful communication, skills in conducting multilateral diplomacy and exploration of current international problems. Yes, ISRAMUN was, again as many MUNs before, aimed at assigning its participants with roles of diplomats for a week by allocating them with representation of a respective country and inviting them to investigate/discuss/deliberate over various problems in foreign affairs and reach appropriate solutions. This was done in a rather pleasant, but quite formal atmosphere where one’s opinions on issues at hand were challenged by myriad of opposing options. Presenting one’s own case properly, successfully substantiating, arguing, defending and/or ultimately harmonizing it with attitudes of others, that is the trick of the trade of becoming the true MUN-er. However, what made ISRAMUN 2010 so special was, on the one hand, attitude and spirit of the people who organized it! Rarely have I seen such an enthusiastic group of young individuals who worked very hard to make the conference run smoothly. Organizers have put significant effort in making the participants of the conference feel like home, or at least this is how I felt. Except for inevitable changes in time schedule, and being late in Israel is not really considered a major issue at all, organizers have succeeded in providing the participants with a colorful and interesting 9-day program, in itself the other ISRAMUN specialty. The agenda covered conferencing from early mornings to late afternoons, visits to Jerusalem and northern Israel, as well as unavoidable social gatherings- joint meals and partying in the evenings. The tight schedule was obviously introduced as to exert maximum of the participants’ strength in both conferencing and social networking. Personally speaking, the most problematic part of the day were always mornings- excellent Tel Aviv clubs, and the author of this text is a devout clubber in his own right, drained maximum of one’s energy, however one always managed to compose oneself the next morning and continue as usual (which means that years of clubbing experience, on my behalf that is, in the end paid off!). ISRAMUN, moreover, was successful because it associated people from divergent academic backgrounds and united them in nine-day adventure that spanned from simulated UN sessions, over joint excursions, visit to Yad Vashem, kayaking down the Jordan tributaries, to the late-night parties. Finally, what separated ISRAMUN to the category of its own was securing a striking victory for Israel’s image and reputation in the world. The participants were hosted by their Israeli counterparts for a traditional Shabbat dinner, they discussed Israeli life-style and, most importantly, visited different parts of the country to familiarize with historical and cultural legacy. The project, so enthusiastically assisted by Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Tourism, The College of Management Academic Studies in Rishon LeZion (where the conference actually took place) and several other sponsors, has, in my view, fulfilled its purpose: it succeeded in ‘demystifying’ the country, its daily routine, its people, its customs and, above all, its core political values and attitudes. Last but not least, it managed to show to a future generation of politicians, analysts, policy-makers and leaders Israel’s true face and a long-standing Israeli commitment to peaceful regional coexistence.Now, to finish in a less formal tone and with some practical info added: to all you ladies and gents who are interested, taking into account of course that you come from a related academic background, I suggest participating on the conference (if you get accepted, that is!). You are most welcomed to apply on-line at www.isramun.org where you will find all necessary information concerning the procedures and costs. Please bear in mind that Call for Applications is announced some 3 months before the conference, thus you will have enough time to sort out all necessary details concerning your stay in Israel. I also kindly recommend being in one of the hostels (as the other participants have spoken highly of the said) suggested by ISRAMUN organizers, though you are always invited to search for your own accommodation, and this is what I usually do, at a price you consider appropriate. As for flights, I advise using EL Al Israel airline- if bought two months in advance, tickets can be found at an agreeable price, and moreover, the company serves REAL food (sandwiches that taste like a shoe and so fervently served by many other airlines are not included into this category!) during their flight to Tel Aviv. The only problem one can encounter is the security procedure before boarding that may take a while, however this is usually not a major issue at all.Lastly, to all those who simply wish to visit Israel, I advise go for it because it would turn out to be one of the most interesting places you have ever been to because, as the Israeli Ministry of Tourism vows, ISRAEL LOVES YOU! Besides that, I would also like to add that ISRAEL truly ROCKS!!!
Vladimir Đorđević is an assistant and Ph.D. researcher (US Foreign Policy in the Balkans in the 1990s) at The Department of International Relations and European Studies, Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic.