Oh and President of Israel, Shimon Peres…

I just returned from day one of the 3rd annual Presidential Conference in Jerusalem. The first day certainly had its fair share of notable names at the event – pop Diva and child education activist Shakira, Jewish comedian Sarah Silverman, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, French Philosopher Bernard Henri Levi and Israeli author Amos Oz.

The event began with a press conference with Shakira and Israel’s President Shimon Peres. The theme of the conference is a better tomorrow and Shakira described her advocacy on behalf of improved education for children. Some may not know this but Shakira, who hails from Colombia, is a a Unicef ambassador, a philanthropist and the founder of the Barefoot Foundation, which promotes the right to a quality education for children worldwide. In that capacity she has helped establish a network of schools for children in remote and impoverished parts of Colombia. She found that children who were in school were less likely to get involved in the drug trade or to join street gangs, and she was an able and articulate advocate, both charming and impressing the press gallery. She appeared later at a plenary session and acquitted herself quite well there too: “Kids in countries like mine or this one, in conflict, need a voice,” Shakira said. “They need to be put at the top of political agendas, so I knew I had to be here.” The day before the conference she had visited the Kotel with her boyfriend, Spanish soccer star Gerard Piqué. She also visited visited the Hand in Hand Max Rayne Bilingual School, where Israeli and Palestinian children study together in Hebrew and Arabic. She described Jerusalem as “the city of cities, the cradle of civilization. It was there at the beginning of mankind’s efforts and it should remain at the forefront of social development and human innovation.” She also added: “I’m here for the Israeli kids and the Palestinian kids and kids in every region of the world where there is not enough quality education.”

Jimmy Wales also addressed the plenary session, and talked about the transparency and access to knowledge that Wikipedia represents. He stated that “moving society forward takes a lot of dialogue and debate.”

Later Sarah Silverman spoke. Silverman’s participation in the Presidential conference was an inspired choice, but her initial introduction was a bit of a mess. The combination of faulty monitors and an interviewer who was clearly unprepared and knew nothing created an interaction that was quite awkward. But Silverman did the best she could under the circumstances:

Space Monsters! That’s what we need for that all important kumbaya moment! I love Sarah Silverman…

The evening ended with speeches by Tony Blair, Bernard Henri Levy and Amos Oz. Blair came out very positive about Israel on this, his 66th (!!) trip to Israel. Levi asked the audience to embrace the Arab spring, confident in the historical precedent of democracies not attacking other democracies. I guess he forgot that Hamas was democratically elected – although I guess they’re not quite a democracy at present. Amos Oz played his part to perfection, criticizing the occupation, the settlements and the demolition of illegally built Palestinian homes in Eastern Jerusalem. I don’t share his sentiments but I’m glad I live in a country that gives dissenting voices a podium.

So yeah. Oof. What a day. The crowd was friendly and there was a lot of shmoozing. Organizational leaders and politicians were everywhere, as were all the usual suspects. I look forward to the less hectic pace tomorrow!! Stay tuned for more…

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About the author


Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.


  • I randomly clicked on this site to look at reviews of the Presidential Conference, and I can’t tell you how happy I am to see someone who, despite disagreeing with Amos Oz on his rhetoric, supports the notion of a forum of debate and ideas. Too often I feel in America as though we move between extremes in terms of support of Israel – you hate it or you love it. I really appreciate your willingness to give Amos Oz a platform, even though you don’t agree with what he says.

  • 1. <3 Sarah Silverman, she looked gorgeous and poised… Old dude looked awkward. Unfortunately witnessed a similar interview-disaster at the International Book Fair last year with Jonathan Safran Foer, the guy who interviewed him hadn't even read his books! and JSF had no idea who this random guy was… Hilarious (and painful).

    2. I don't know about Shakira… I guess I have residual ill sentiments from having heard that she's antisemitic… was there ever any truth in that? Also, her words just sound so cliched, disingenuous (then again, she's a UNICEF ambassador, what could I expect). Am I the only one?

    • Hey!

      RE: #2

      I’ve heard that, too, and was curious about whether her appearance was a PR cleanup and/or if it was a genuine compilation of her thoughts. Some good things were stated, but it’s one of those toss ups in life that I’m unsure of!

  • I was at the conference…

    Shakira recited a speech written for her which was way over her head. It was on a good topic though – funding education in poor areas, because educated people resort to violence much less often.

    Sarah Silverman, though, I was disappointed with. You would expect that some so famous as a comedian would be able to think of SOME worthwhile joke in 15 minutes that didn’t involve her need to go pee.

  • Any chance Bernard Henri-Levi defended rapists during his speech? I missed it.