There’s a sort of detached, surreal feeling one gets upon entering the President’s Conference on ‘Facing Tomorrow.’ The men in expensive suits and ties, and the women wearing fancy dresses; the rich and powerful hobnobbing alongside the young and energetic; people of all types, from all over the world gathering together; and the amount of staff seems endless.
It was like walking into a fantasy wonderland. And perhaps it was, in more than one way.
Two themes dominated the evening, peace and technology.
I enjoyed the speeches on technology, or more accurately, the vision of where technology is taking us. Eric Schmidt of Google stood out in particular. His vision was plausible and very much grounded in reality.
On the other hand, when the speakers spoke of peace, we entered the fantasy aspect of the conference.
It began with Professor Daniel Kahneman’s lecture.
Kahneman spoke of Hawks and Doves, the long time and extremely controversial theory he propounds regarding why nations go to war. His conclusions were that while the positions and analyses of the Hawks often seem to be correct, it is only seems so because people are internally biased and prejudiced to sooner believe and/or follow those positions and observations for a variety of cognitively distorted reasons or personal benefit (such as not looking stupid historically after they leave political office). And while the position of Doves seem too often to prove to be wrong, in reality they aren’t. The speech and theory was obviously far more complex than that, but I think that sums it up succinctly enough.
As an example, he spoke of the Egyptian peace treaty that has lasted 30 years. When he mentioned that example, I couldn’t help but think of the recent terror attacks emanating from Egypt, the massive weapons smuggling operations running from Egypt to Gaza, the hatred of Egyptians for the Jewish state – which never subsided in those 30 years, and the strong likelihood the treaty will soon be history. And then my thoughts went on to Oslo…
Kahneman would presumably say all these thoughts were examples of bias and cognitive dissonance.
Following the reception, we saw Henry Kissinger receive the President’s medal from President Peres to a standing ovation, and somehow Kissinger was transformed into the greatest and most unwavering friend Israel ever had. I admit, his speech was indeed emotionally compelling.
But I have to say that the biggest irony of the evening was hearing the orchestra begin to play “Imagine” by John Lennon, as an ever-smiling Tony Blair got up to speak (and what an incredible speaker he is).
The irony was not that Blair spoke about open immigration – tempered with some regulation – and how wonderful it has been for Europe. It wasn’t that Blair spoke incidentally of the terror attacks that began after Oslo (I imagined some people cringing as that deeply buried memory was dug up).
The irony was that as the orchestra began playing ‘Imagine’, I started getting alerts about rockets from Gaza hitting buildings (and eventually people) down South.
There’s no doubt that the President’s Conference is a beautiful and exciting affair. I look forward to the panel with Caroline Glick and Naftali Bennett on Thursday – the only political panel that appears to be actually balanced between left and right.
The visions and displays of the future of technology are certainly inspiring.
At base, one gets the distinct impression that the conference has a very left-leaning bias, which makes sense since it is our President’s conference.
But having lived through the dystopian “Tomorrow” that Oslo (and Peres) dragged Israel into, it’s simply not a “Tomorrow” I’d like to go through again.Stephen Leavitt