There are many problems facing Israel from within: a growing disparity between the haves and have-nots; a failing educational system; lack of motivation to serve the country; bureaucracy that has spread to every layer of government; an election system that prevents stable governance; brain drain as researchers and scientists are attracted overseas; an overall feeling of good life going astray. These challenges exist at a time that Israel’s inner strength is crucial to its ability to deal with growing threats from the outside.
This week, the ninth annual Herzliya Conference is taking place in Israel. Its topic: The Balance of Israel’s National Security and Resilience. Last week another three day conference was held in Jerusalem; this week the sunny, warm weather of the beginning of February has attracted people closer to the Mediterranean. A multitude of other events are taking place contemporarily, everything is oversubscribed.
Israel is the front line of science, technology, thinking and research. This is felt via the conferences and their attendees. The top members of the academia in Israel participate in these conferences, empowering the events with their presence, allowing a discourse of minds, offering conflicting egos all gathered in one place. Imagine the intensity, the sparks in the air that are felt at times; other times a calm of respect or the anger of disagreement.
Particularly heartening is the international interest each of these conferences generates, contributing to Israel’s tourism and other services as a byproduct, providing a networking opportunity and a superficial glance at everything Israel has to offer – the plate is overflowing. When outsiders recognize the potential they can harvest, they forge relations, investment opportunities then form and later materialize, and the profits are harvested.
Of the many conferences, the Herzlia Conference is one of the most coveted. Twenty years ago I visited the very same location for a graduation ceremony. It was a military base then, part of the Air Force Missile Defense. Today it is a thriving campus, offering a Bachelor’s degree in English as well as year-long Master’s degree programs in Government and Business. There is still a lot of expansion space, surrounding agricultural fields awaiting conversion.
Nestled among the trees of the campus are statues, reminding me of the statue garden in UCLA’s North Campus or the Rodin sculptures at Stanford. For a minute I think of the following passage in Micha 4:3: And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
For a minute I feel an urge to go back to school, for another Master’s degree. To quench my thirst, I have dreamed in the past to attend the Kennedy School of Government, spending the years instead engaged in Israel’s Public Diplomacy. Here at the Herzelia Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), one hears primarily English spoken all around. The students look so young. I take a glossy magazine, The IDC Herzliyan, and another titled Academic Programs 2009-2010. I feel a pinch, thinking of my own years at UCLA and Stanford. What a wonderful time, I reminisce, and add to the students around – enjoy every minute!
The President of Israel, Shimon Peres, presented the formal opening speech. This was the first time during the past 18 weeks in Israel that I have seen the President. As President Peres walked into the overflowing hall, everyone stood out of respect. The President is the symbol of a nation reborn, of a generation almost gone. We stood in deference to Israel celebrating 3,060 years of existence and to its ancient and modern history.
It seems that every proud moment nowadays needs to be mingled with sorrow. President Peres was recently in the UK for a state visit during which he was bestowed knighthood. In one of his appearances, his talk was repeatedly interrupted in protest. More recently, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the Turkish Prime Minister accused President Peres of “killing children (in Gaza)” and stormed off the stage. Slowly the anti-Israel, anti-Semitic sentiment spreads, at times hardly noticeable as a singular occurrence, but the trend is evident.
President Peres opened his remarks talking about Davos. He said: “I felt the economic leaders of he world have decided that pessimism is the height of fashion. Considerations of the military operations in Gaza were a combination of false impressions from television, and a tendency to view things in a negative light.”
President Peres then turns darkness into light and says: “Operation Cast Lead proved that we are blessed with a generation of wonderful sons and daughters. This generation of youths was raised by a generation of parents who served their people, in the army and in settling the land, and provided their children with the spirit of volunteerism and a commendable sense of purpose. We have seen that these generations have hidden abilities that we had not known. We need to turn this potential into qualities in both civil and military life.”
President Peres continues: “Optimism is not necessarily naiveté. The economic crisis is hitting the world. But one must remember: The hour of crisis is also the moment of truth. A Time of crisis can be a time where hidden talents come to light. I have learned from experience that what our country lacks in size, it more than makes up for in ingenuity and resourcefulness.”
“I have learned that in the shadow of big problems, there can be unexpected solutions hiding. The great central problems would not have been solved without creativity. A creative approach will allow us to be freed from the current standstill. The world is not static. And the changes in the world call for changes also amongst us.”
As if awakening from a dream, I stood up with the rest of the guests, as the President departed at the end of his speech. Ingenuity, resourcefulness, the ability to rely only on ourselves, idles of yesteryears that are not forgotten, that resonate – once again – from the very top.
On Tuesday next week a new Prime Minister be elected and a new Government will then be formed in Israel. A new era may begin. Let us follow in the lighted path the President has laid before us, for Israel’s gifts to the world are enormous, Good will eventually overcome Evil, and Israel will continue being a beacon of light to the nations.