Israeli Presidential Conference 2013 Kicks Off With Star-studded Bash

Conference begins with an extravagant party meant to celebrate President Shimon Peres' 90th birthday, with former U.S. President Bill Clinton, singer Barbra Streisand and actress Sharon Stone in attendance.

President Shimon Peres' 90th birthday celebrations reached their pinnacle on Tuesday evening in Jerusalem with a massive, star studded party that coincided with the opening of the fifth annual Israeli Presidential Conference.

Many arrived in town to wish Peres "mazal tov," from former U.S. President Bill Clinton to actress Sharon Stone to sexologist Ruth Wertheimer to the prince of Monaco, Albert II. Hundreds of other politicians, diplomats, businesspeople, artists, royals, thinkers and Jewish figures were in attendance as well.

All told, some 24 Emmy, Grammy, Nobel and Oscar winners were, according to the event’s organizers, at International Conventions Center for the gala event.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair kicked off the event, wishing Peres a happy birthday. Addressing the crowd, Blair said: "We have our queen, and you have your Shimon."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also congratulated Peres saying, "you are the man of peace, the man of vision."

"We extend our hand in peace to our neighbors but we are always ready to defend ourselves," Netanyahu said. "This is what I've learned from Shimon Peres: look to the future, remember the past, and be prepared to defend yourself."

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton delivered his much awaited speech, telling Peres, "You are the world's social Einstein."

"You have tried to put together a unified theory of meaning to unite politics and philosophy and psychology and history and science and technology," he said. "Every one of us who has been blessed enough to know you… has been made a little bigger, a little stronger, and a little more optimistic that one day your theory will be real."

"On your 90th birthday, what we really celebrate, is your great gift to all of us. God bless you."

Peres' speech concluded the event, saying it was "worth waiting 90 years" to hear the voice of Barbra Streisand and the "speeches of these great leaders."

In his address, he stressed that the Israeli people "want peace with [their] neighbors."

"The past between us and the Palestinians is full of sorrow," he said. "I believe that the Israel and Palestine of tomorrow could grant our children hope."

High-profile well-wishers

Diva songstress Barbra Streisand, who arrived in Israel on Sunday to perfrom two sold-out concerts with a 145-strong entourage in tow, was not just a party guest on Tuesday evening; she was also billed as the entertainment, with Israeli popular singers Eyal Golan and Shlomo Artzi lined up as her opening acts.

Streisand sang two songs: “People,” from Funny Girl, and, at the request of Peres, also “Avinu Malkanu,” a song based on the Jewish prayer recited during services on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. “This is a song that asks God to have compassion for us and our children,” she explained.

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, actor Robert De Niro were among the many seen swaying to the tunes.

Dozens of well-wishers, including U.S. President Barack Obama, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, France’s Francois Hollande, Germany’s Angela Merkel and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Peres’ grandchildren and even Bono – appeared on screen with video messages. Obama called Peres a “living legend.”

The presidential conference, which will take place at Jerusalem's International Convention Center on Wednesday and Thursday, will, as in years previous, examine the subject of “tomorrow”– engaging in a host of issues that, it is believed, will influence the face of the future: geopolitics, economics, society, environment, culture, identity, education, new media, and more.

Some 4,500 people from all over the world are expected to participate in the conference, at which 200 speakers will appear on stage.

Clinton to get award

Ahead of the extravagant bash, Clinton stopped by the Western Wall and the Western Wall tunnels, accompanied by Kotel Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich.

Clinton placed a note in the historic wall and said he has a great affinity for the historic site, as it provides a window into what life was like in Jerusalem in different periods throughout history.

Clinton will be honored Wednesday morning with Israel's highest civil distinction, The President’s Award, at the opening plenary session of the presidential conference. 

Tomer Appelbaum