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World Experts Gather at Israeli Presidential Conference

May 26, 2011
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“He had a vision of bringing Jews from all over the world to connect them to Israel and to their identity,” says Israel Maimon, an Israeli lawyer, author and former Cabinet Secretary who heads the initiative. “He came to me and said he knew I and others could fulfill this dream.”

While the first conference did include mainly Jewish speakers, its mandate has broadened. “We also want to attract non-Jews to see the innovation in Israel in entrepreneurship,” Maimon tells ISRAEL21c. “Once they see the atmosphere here, they will fall in love with Israel.”

Planners start by pinpointing the issues to be discussed, and then identify relevant experts likely to attract participants. High-profile “messengers” such as venture capitalist Yossi Vardi and Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer talk up the conference with colleagues abroad, building enthusiasm among potential speakers.

“We simply approach people and invite them,” says Maimon. The positive response has been extremely encouraging.

“To see the best speakers coming to Israel, and to see so many people coming from the outside to hear those speakers, even in times of political isolation for Israel, means we are successful. We have the same mission as ISRAEL21c, to show Israel in a light you don’t see in classical media. When participants write about being inspired by the content and atmosphere and networking done at the conference, this is also a sign of success.”

Half the scheduled speakers are from Israel and half from abroad, including North America, South America, Europe, Pakistan and China.

A few of the names on this year’s lineup include: former White House Adviser Elliott Abrams, Palestine-Israel Journal founder/editor Ziad Abu Zayyad, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Procter & Gamble-Israel CEO Sophie Blum, IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Harvard Medical School Professor of Pediatrics Dr. Judy Lieberman, UK Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and architect Moshe Safdie.

“None of the speakers gets a fee for the lecture, which is unusual,” says Maimon. “For some, we pay for their flight and accommodations.”

A conference of this caliber is quite expensive to pull off, even without honorariums. Maimon estimates the budget at $3.2 million, financed by contributors who believe in the event’s potential to boost Israel’s image to the outside world.

To make things more interesting, this year’s conference offers a variety of forums, such as one-on-one presentations and round tables.

In addition to plenary sessions on energy, marketing, new media and global economy, the Presidential Conference will explore the future of such topics as Middle East extremism; nuclear proliferation; world hunger; alternative energy; space exploration; US-Israel relations; brain research; economics; Israel and the Diaspora; Jewish philanthropy; European Jewry; religion, politics and international relations; Israel’s economy; and, of course, peace prospects.

If concrete solutions come out of the conference, that would be icing on the cake. “Our goal is more modest than at Davos,” says Maimon. “We try to stay in the field of giving a platform to raise and discuss issues. Our ultimate goal is to… discuss openly in Israel issues that are challenging not only Israelis and Jewish people but also the world.”

Posted on May 26, 2011

Source: (Excerpts of an article by Abigail Klein Leichman, ISRAEL21c, May 23, 2011)

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