Organizers hope Olmert probe won't cast shadow on Peres conference
Facing Tomorrow, Israel's largest conference ever, will host 2,000 guests, including 13 heads of states.
The organizers of the international conference hosted by President Shimon Peres in mid-May, in honor of Israel's 60th anniversary, are hoping that Peres' stature will not be overshadowed by the investigation against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
The conference, to be held on May 13-15 and entitled Facing Tomorrow, will be the largest ever held in Israel. Thirteen heads of state, including U.S. President George W. Bush, and 2,000 official invitees are expected to attend. Position papers, prepared by working groups, are to be presented afterward to the government and major Jewish organizations worldwide for implementation.
Avi Gil, head of content for the conference and a former Foreign Ministry director general, said the event would be followed by "other annual conferences and smaller meetings during the year." He said a special team would work with the government secretariat to see that the recommendations reach the relevant ministries and are implemented.
"This does something for the legitimization of Israel as a democratic country, that so many high-level people are coming here close to the 60th Independence Day," said Avinoam Bar-Yosef, head of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, which is organizing the conference.
Bar-Yosef also said that people who have expressed disappointment with Israel in recent years are also coming to the conference, "for a joint effort to fix what needs fixing and return to the high road."
Peres first began planning a conference of this type when he expected to defeat Moshe Katsav in 2000. During Katsav's term, plans were made for a small conference, but they were shelved after the former president came under investigation for sexual misconduct.
The conference will bring together people from vastly different fields at the capital's International Convention Center, in what Gil calls "a celebration of Jewish intellect." Discussion subjects in panels and workshops are to range from medical ethics to "Why the New Middle East is Not Yet Here."
Along with Bush, other famous non-Jewish faces at the conference will include former Soviet Union president Michael Gorbachev, and newspaper mogul Rupert Murdoch.
The conference budget, $21 million, comes entirely from Jewish donors from Israel and elsewhere. U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who is close to MK Benjamin Netanyahu, contributed $3 million and was named honorary conference president.
Olmert is scheduled to speak to the conference twice. It is not clear whether the publication of the suspicions against Olmert will mean a change of plans.