Facing Tomorrow (Extract)

A mega-conference in Jerusalem celebrates the U.S.-Israel relationship and provides moments for reflection

04bushperes88 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Extract from an article in Issue 4, June 10, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. "Facing Tomorrow" was the aptly named theme of the high-profile Presidential Conference 2008, organized by President Shimon Peres and the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, held in Jerusalem in mid-May. And indeed, the mega-bash celebrating Israel's 60th anniversary, focused on the future, praised the past and paid scant attention to any of the unpleasant issues presently facing Israel and the United States. Peres has a unique ability to bring together hundreds of key people in a variety of fields, creating a heady, rarified atmosphere, and more than one participant quipped that this was the "Israeli Davos," referring to the annual meeting of political and business leaders at the World Economic Forum. Davos-style, led by U.S. President George Bush, the impressive array of current and former world leaders included Mikhail Gorbachev, Tony Blair, Henry Kissinger, Joschka Fischer, Vaclav Havel, and Condoleezza Rice, as well as leaders from China, Mongolia, Uganda and Kazakhstan. They mingled with moguls like Sergey Brin of Google, Terry Semel of Yahoo and press baron Rupert Murdoch as well as Buddhist monks, rabbis and novelists, Jewish communal and political leaders from abroad and some 150 prominent Israelis from business, politics and the media. Surrounded by assertive security and plentiful hors d'oeuvres, the organizers made sure that none of Israel's current pressing problems were allowed to penetrate the two-day conference, held in Jerusalem's International Convention Center. At this carefully choreographed event, there was no mention of the criminal investigations against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert or Bush's extreme unpopularity at home. There was no crisis in Lebanon and no warfare in Gaza. Even the Grad rocket attack, which ripped through the roof of a busy mall in Ashkelon, wounding 15, three seriously, including a mother and her infant daughter, did not disrupt the proceedings or dampen the effusive praise that Peres, Olmert and Bush heaped on each other at the gala held only a few hours later. The event was billed as a salute to Israel and to the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Peres and his organizers made every attempt to showcase the best of Israel and especially Israel's accomplishments in science and technology, a favorite Peres topic. Speakers from other lands seemed to compete over who could be the most effusive in their appreciation of the achievements of the Jewish State, but Bush outdid himself, praising Olmert's leadership, vision and courage, and more than once seemed moved to tears as Israeli leaders praised him in return. This was Bush's second visit to Israel this year. Although working meetings were part of Bush's schedule, the visit was meant primarily as a symbolic gesture, long on declarations and short on practical suggestions. Speaking at the Knesset, Bush spoke glowingly of the past and described an idyllic future, 60 years from now. "Israel will be celebrating its 120th anniversary as one of the world's great democracies, a secure and flourishing homeland for the Jewish people," Bush declared. "The Palestinian people will have the homeland they have long dreamed of and deserved - a democratic state that is governed by law, respects human rights and rejects terror." True to the theme of tomorrow, Bush promised a better future, but neglected to say how to get there. In fact, perhaps aware of his administration's lack of any real achievements in the Middle East and of his own lame-duck status (at one point, Bush jokingly asked the pantheon of past leaders in attendance to save a place for him, for this "soon-to-be-a-member" of their club), Bush seemed determined to at least go down in history as the greatest friend an Israeli administration ever had. Bush, Olmert and Peres emphasized the threat that Iran poses to world peace, and Bush emphatically promised that the United States stands with Israel in opposing efforts by Tehran to obtain nuclear weapons. "Permitting the world's leading sponsor of terror to possess the world's deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations," Bush repeated. "For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon." Although Bush's comments on Iran caused a stir in the United States, where his analogy between Americans who support an attempt at negotiations with Iran and attempts at appeasement of Nazi Germany was interpreted by Democratic candidate-hopeful Barack Obama as directed against him - in Israel, where Ahmadinejad's threats are taken seriously and literally, his statements were greeted enthusiastically. Bush also focused on Israel and America as allies in the holy war against terror. "Some people suggest that if the United States would just break ties with Israel, all our problems in the Middle East would go away," Bush said. "This is a tired argument that buys into the propaganda of our enemies, and America rejects it utterly. Israel's population may be just over 7 million. But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong, because America stands with you." Extract from an article in Issue 4, June 10, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. 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