It took me a while to put my impressions from the Peres extravaganza into perspective. I refer to the presidential conference, not the birthday party. While walking around at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem it didn’t take me too long to become aware of the overwhelming predominance of the white tribe. Although our brain tells us to be at ease when we are around people who look like us, I personally find it disconcerting since in my reality I am usually exposed to more variety. And I like variety, a lot. And I look for it. And there, at the conference, it was difficult to find.
Listening to what was said and particularly what was not, I became painfully aware that we are on an island. An island that is floating away from where everybody else is. An island accessible only to people who make a special, directed effort. Buy a ticket. Accessible only to people who love us, who are willing to pay a price, may it be a spiritual price or a material price. Those that are neutral, critical, or don’t want to pay a price need not even try.
Unlike most other nations today we are not accessible through a free gradual multi-directional exchange of whatever people and nations exchange. Money still flows. Both ways. Ideas? Export only. We don’t listen. Curiously enough, the fact that we don’t listen is one of the reasons we are so good at what we do: Nobody can tell us it won’t work. We don’t even know it’s been tried before. We are impervious to what others tell us. We know better, after all. Damn you all, we’ll make it work.
In technology, that mindset is a huge asset. Don’t confuse us with facts. We know we can do anything. And we prove it, from Start-Up to Start-Up, from exit to exit. Nothing succeeds like success. More than 700 Start-Ups in Tel-Aviv alone. A Billion Dollars plus for Waze. Money talks.
At the same time as this mindset has brought us tremendous economic and technological success it has contributed to our spiritual isolation from the world. With people, it’s another story altogether. Other than tourists who come here for the vistas they are shown, people come here often for one purpose only: To look for new ideas and technologies. And they don’t see all the other stuff. They mostly don’t want to. It’s a little distracting. It can even be unpleasant. Scary at times. Better not look. In and out, buy the company, buy the shares, take the ideas. And run. You know what I mean, don’t you ? It’s the occupation, stupid.
In politics and statesmanship, the very “we don’t listen” mindset which made us into a technological superpower is a clear and unmitigated recipe for disaster. People need to be listened to to stay with you. If you don’t listen, they go away. Physically and spiritually.
Our spiritual disconnect from the world which, by and large is flowing, ever so slowly, towards more democracy and human rights was described very aptly by history professor Yuval Noah Harari: Israel is stuck revolving in a vortex at the side of a large river which is proceeding into one direction only. The world flows like the river does and we are stuck at the banks of the river. I know, there are other nations stuck in similar vortices, North Korea, Cuba, Syria and Iran. The latter was stuck, at least until a few days ago.
At every event I attended at the conference, regardless of what it was, a speech or a panel, regardless who spoke and about what there was a very loud and clear subtext: Why for crying out loud, isn’t Israel making peace with the Palestinians? Not only at the occasions where peace was actually part of the matter to be discussed (a select few), it was in the air everywhere else. And the absence of a noticeable Arab or Palestinian presence at the event made it even more ominous. It seemed to me that everybody was a little bit subdued, everybody thought about it, while doing something else to keep their minds occupied. And the conference was indeed a pleasant event to occupy your mind with, to avoid thinking about the occupation. But, how is that possible ? After all, the one thing that Shimon Peres is identified with more than any of his other achievements, are his efforts to end the occupation.
We should be aware that as long as we continue on our very own “March of Folly”, the disconnect from the world will only increase, will only become more obvious, will only do more harm to us, to our economy and to our spirits. And as Shimon Peres’ life is drawing to a close (solely based on statistics, Peres will probably prove to us otherwise) we as a community, better come up with something or somebody who can not only produce similar optimism as our President, but also more tangible results with regard to our real problem: How to end the occupation and make peace with the Palestinians.