As anyone who follows my Twitter feed would know, I travelled up to Jerusalem three times last week to attend the Israeli President’s conference. This was the first time I’ve attended and this is the fourth time it’s been organised.
It’s a big conference with a ₪10 million budget ($2.5m) and, while attendence is free, you have to be invited. The organisers, however, are very forward thinking inviting many bloggers and giving us basically the same access as the regular press. A huge thank you goes to Elie Klein for setting this up.
Something that jumped out at me during the first plenary session on Tuesday evening was a complete lack of Israeli branding. There were no Israeli flags. I started tweeting about this under the #noflags and ended up photographing a range of flags worn as lapel pins by attendees. There were two official flags in a flag stand that seemed to be carried around and planted wherever Shimon Peres was due to speak. Other than that, no official flags.
In an email the organisers confirmed their thinking. The conference receives no money from the State of Israel, it is funded by the larger philanthropic Jewish organisations. So the lack of flags is highly revealing of their mindset. Crisis in Zionism? Perhaps but only in the minds of Peter Beinart and the organisations that paid for this shindig.
I do want to highlight something that is the KEY distinction between a free society and a closed, repressive one. This is from the organiser’s email that explained all this:
I thought this kind of information might come in handy while you form your opinions about the conference. Again, feel free to speak from the heart – blog about your actual experiences and how they made you feel, not what you think we want you to write.
And don’t worry – you will all be invited back next year no matter what.
I am critical of many of the speakers and the flag absence aspect of the organisation, but this statement is a sign that here in Israel we don’t just think democracy is a vote: it’s all the other stuff like freedom of conscience and speech that are MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than the last little act of voting.
A special shout goes out to Miriam Young and her flag wearing!
— Miriam (@Miriam_Young) June 21, 2012
I won’t write much about the presentations. There are many, many good blog posts from the others who were there. In my mind Ayan Hirsi Ali stood head and shoulders above most by critically speaking about Islam’s absolute authority and it’s inability to compromise. Most ignore this and carry on offering compromises that will be taken but never reciprocated. This is the erroneous thinking that lead to Oslo and upon which the ridiculous notion that Jihad will ever be satisfied with a second state, alongside a Jewish state.