Global Politics: Strategic summit in the city

Global leaders gather in Jerusalem to discuss shifting geopolitical challenges – and demonstrate support for the Jewish state.

Becky Norton Dunlop, vice president of the Heritage Foundation and cabinet director in the Reagan administration (photo credit: Courtesy)
Becky Norton Dunlop, vice president of the Heritage Foundation and cabinet director in the Reagan administration
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Jerusalem continues to rise as a global center for intellect and exchange of ideas – and such was the case last week, when the conservative group International Leaders Summit chose the city as its venue for a policy conference.
Joel Anand Samy, co-founder of the International Leaders Summit, discussed the impetus for the conference.
“For 10 years we have been discussing various issues related to security, defense and economics, and we began to realize that we are living in a very different world today. The 20th century’s challenges and threats were unique; 21st-century realities are very different. There are new actors and new threats, and there needs to be new thinking on how to address those issues,” he said.
With that in mind, the conference focused on four key themes: sovereignty, strengthening the rule of law, security and defense, and economic freedom. The organizing coalition included the Heritage Foundation, National Religious Broadcasters, Family Research Council and Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe.
Much of the discussion on sovereignty centered around the European Union. Some in the conference raised concerns not only about the degree of power that is ceded to the EU but also how such power is applied.
International Leaders Summit co-founder Natasha Srdoc said, “Brussels is pushing a narrative that everybody should think the same. Rather than that, let people think on their own and make up their own minds, not be dictated to.”
Paul Nuttall, a member of the European Parliament and deputy leader of the UK Independence Party, addressed this sentiment, expressing frustration as a British citizen: “Half of our laws are made in Brussels, and they are not made in a parliament that is elected by the people. They are made by the European Commission behind closed doors by unelected people. This is an affront to European democracy.”
Nuttall stressed how emotional this issue is.
“I think of those who fought in the Battle of Britain [in World War II], those who risked their lives and died for democracy, for sovereignty, for freedom.
How would they feel if they knew that half of the laws of their country are made in a foreign city by unelected bureaucrats? I think they would turn over in their graves,” he said.
Maurice McTigue, a former New Zealand cabinet minster and high commissioner to Canada, believes the shift of power is limited not only to Europe but is a broader global trend.
“For a long time I have been interested in the idea of how freedom flourishes. An essential part of that is what kind of institutions you have. If you strip back to the most fundamental of institutions, it is that we are ruled by laws, not by people,” he declared.
McTigue, who is vice president of the Mercatus Center at Virginia’s George Mason University, added, “Being ruled by laws guarantees our freedom because we get to choose who makes decisions. What we are seeing is that a lot of that is eroding; more and more, regulatory government is becoming the major player. Important laws are made by bureaucrats instead of by elected representatives. We have no control because we don’t get to fire the bureaucrats if we don’t like what they do.”
Underscoring the themes of rule of law and security, much of the conference discussion was about the wave of Israel- bashing that has engulfed Europe and is seeping into the US via college campuses and social media. Anand Samy has clear views on this: ”We are at a crucial crossroads; the actual decision is whether to engage or to remain silent.”
He asserted that such a decision is a key issue of our time: “The vast majority of the American people support Israel, driven by our shared principles and our shared values. But the other side, while smaller, is much more vocal. Therefore, in this choice between engaging or remaining silent, silence is not an option.”
One of the tools used by Israel bashers is the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which has infiltrated the EU. It is taking measures to require labeling of Israeli products produced in the West Bank and Golan Heights. The move, frightening to many Europeans, comes a mere 75 or so years after the last notorious measures requiring labeling of Jewish products in Europe. It also underscores the discriminatory nature of singling out Israel, as there are no EU measures to label products from other disputed areas (such as to mark Spanish goods made in Catalonia).
Srdoc points to a fundamental flaw in BDS methodology: “In the global economy, boycotting Israel is adversely affecting Palestinians. BDS cannot target one person without affecting the other; those boycotters are hurting everybody. The situations for Palestinians will deteriorate, leading to more conflict and dissatisfaction.”
This is viewed by some conference participants as a threat to Western values. McTigue reflected: “Israel is a testing ground of freedom. It has been living in freedom, but it is being assaulted from all sides.”
Mischael Mondrikamen, president of Belgium’s People’s Party, echoed that sentiment: “Israel is the first line of defense of democracy, of the West and Western values. If for some reason Israel were to fall, this would be the end of us very quickly.”
Support of Israel was the key reason for conference organizers to choose Jerusalem as the venue for the conference. As Anand Samy explained, “It would have been so easy to gather in Washington or Brussels, but we wanted to affirm and strengthen our ties with Israel.”
Becky Norton Dunlop, vice president of the Heritage Foundation and director of the White House Cabinet in the Reagan administration, reiterated that sentiment: “We are coming to Jerusalem not just to do a conference but to make a statement: We stand with Israel.”
Dunlop emphasized the significance of educating broad audiences about Israel-related issues: “There is a coalition of organizations that came together here. We each have networks; and those networks have their own networks. We are here to share the message with people who are interested but don’t have the knowledge. We are here to make it clear that we as Americans have shared values and shared commitments with Israel.”
IN PLANNING the conference, Srdoc stressed, it was also crucial to focus on the positive messages coming out of the Jewish state.
“We need to talk about the wonderful things Israel is contributing to the world. Israel does not need to be defensive; it has a lot to offer,” he said.
This was addressed in a keynote presentation by Jon Medved, founder and CEO of OurCrowd, a Jerusalem-based crowdfunding platform.
“The hi-tech sector in Israel is on fire,” he enthused. “In 2014 there were $3.5 billion of investments in hi-tech companies, and it is likely going to be $5b. in 2015. This is 25 times the size of investment in Australia, which is three times our size.”
Medved views this hi-tech success as a strategic line of defense against BDS.
“If you boycott Israel, you need to boycott the Internet. Google, Cisco, Facebook, Intel, Microsoft – they all depend on Israeli components and research & development. Israel’s role in the world as innovator is so solid that no matter what boycott people announce, everybody is coming to do business with us. This is simply an unstoppable wave,” he asserted.
He also spoke about the entrepreneurial spirit in Israel: “Many Israelis are serial entrepreneurs – on their fourth and fifth start-up.”
Connecting to the theme of economic freedom, Medved pointed to sources of such success: “When the government get out of our business, we unleash the entrepreneurial spirit, which then provides the engine for economic growth.”
Medved elaborated on Israeli hi-tech companies’ contribution to the US economy: “Recent research found that there are 200 Israeli companies active in the Boston area alone, producing $12b. of economic activity and 3 percent of Massachusetts’s GDP. This is happening all over America. Israeli hi-tech success means more American jobs. This partnership between our freedom-loving countries is an inspiration to the world.”
European Parliament member Roger Helmer of the UK agreed: “Israel is an oasis of stability and free-market economy in an area where this is in short supply. People have to deal with Israel; it now has technology that the rest of the world cannot do without. This is impressive.”
Leaders who came to Jerusalem for this conference, some for the first time, were left with a taste for more.
“We plan to make this an annual event,” Srdoc announced, bringing to mind the traditional Passover prayer “Next year in Jerusalem!”
The writer is chairman of the America-Israel Friendship League think tank.