The second annual Israeli Presidential Conference has the hopeful title “tomorrow.” But some of the speakers are painting a rather bleak picture of what the future heralds.
Discussions are focusing heavily on the global economic crisis and what it means to Israel and Jews worldwide. In a panel discussion on this topic, which brought together people involved in Jewish fundraising from around the world, Mort Zuckerman, editor-in-chief of the U.S. News & World Report, who is chairing the conference, spoke of the “permanent damage” of the crisis for the financial well being of Jewish organizations.
But according to another panelist, Maurice Levy, chairman and CEO of the management board of the French multinational advertising and communications company Publicis Groupe, there is worse news. He said: “I believe that there is a real danger which is more important than the money that we have lost and the stock that has depreciated and the charities that will not have the money for social welfare.” He said that danger is antisemitic fall-out of the crisis as a result of claims that it is the fault of Jews.
There was also gloomy analysis from Mexican businessman Daniel Liwerant, former chairman of the World board of trustees of Keren Hayesod. He said that economic downturn, both regional and global, is signaling the end to Jewish life in Latin America. “The type of rich Jewish life that was developed in Latin America will come to an end and it will be over and it will be called a very small and rich period of Jewish life in this continent through a very short history.”
Counter-intuitively, the light relief from this doom came in a session entitled “Will we ever see peace in our region?” In a monologue reminiscent of a Jackie Mason skit, Munther Dajani, dean of the arts faculty and professor of political science at the Palestinian Al Quds University, suggested that the key to Israeli-Palestinian peace could be to examine the relationships people have with their mothers-in-law. “Once you have made up your mind to live with your mother-in-law, you accept her… not love her,” he said, suggesting that Israelis and Palestinians take a similar leap in their relationship.
The other Palestinian panelist Ziad Abu Zayyad, former Palestinian government minister and negotiator, also came out with something unexpected — a call for Jews to heed to rabbinic wisdom. “My advice to you — listen to the intelligent rabbis in your history and take their advice,” he said. His plea wasn’t as strange as it seems; he was calling for Jews to keep away from Temple Mount, the Arab-controlled al-Aqsa compound, which many rabbis say it is forbidden to visit and which is a hotspot for Arab-Jewish tensions and the site of recent clashes.