Random Thoughts from Jerusalem

The first session of the Shimon Peres Presidential conference I am attending began strangely with a session featuring Dan Ariely, Sir Martin Sorrell, Jimmy Wales, Shakira and Sarah Silverman.

Ariely was fine, he gave his usual talk on self-control and temptation, cleverly labelled the “Adam and Eve” problem. Most interesting thing I had not heard. Just like people, rats and pigeons have a hard time resisting a short-term pleasure even at the expense of a much larger future pleasure. The interesting part is that just like people, rats and pigeons seem to know that they are making a mistake so they will pay to have the short-term choice taken away from them (like people locking their refrigerator.) Ariely,however, kept his insights on the “how to lose weight” level and didn’t attempt to address any larger issues.

Sorrell was a total bore.

Wales talked about Wikipedia, the power of voluntarism, and the Wikipedian assumption of good faith.

Shakira told us about the importance of early education. She was earnest and I’d rather hear it from her than Jim Heckman but it was still boring.

An incompetent interviewer tried to make jolly with Sarah Silverman. She was the only, however, to address real issues and was quite clever although she also told us that she really had to pee.

The opening acts over with, we then had Shimon Peres, Tony Blair, Bernard Henri-Levy and Amos Oz.

Peres at 87 is vigorous, optimistic and pro-science (“science cannot be contained by governments and flourishes most with peace.”) Impressive.

Tony Blair gave a very pro-Israel speech, even more than expected (“the model for the region”).

BHL said nothing wrong–indeed, he discussed a topic I would have discussed, democratic peace theory, albeit presented too strongly. He also noted that for decades the Libyans and Syrians have been taught that Israel is the great Satan but now the veil has been lifted and Satan is found closer to home. I find it difficult to take BHL seriously, however. No doubt the fault is mine.

The highlight of the evening was Israeli novelist Amos Oz. Oz gave a hard-hitting speech full of quotable moments (here are paraphrases but look for the speech online for a real sense). Many will disagree with the conclusions but it was still an excellent speech in delivery, allusion, and insight:

The suppression of the Palestinians is immoral and not in Israel’s genuine self-interest. The building of settlements is immoral and not in Israel’s genuine self-interest. The expansion into East Jerusalem is immoral and not in Israel’s genuine self-interest.

I love Israel even when I don’t like it.

I am not a hippy. I say make peace not love.

Why is it that the same Europeans who hate Hollywood treat the Israel/Palestine conflict with the subtlety of a Hollywood movie with bad guys and goods guys?

It’s going to be an amputation for both sides.

Oz’s speech was mostly well received by this audience of Israel’s secular/liberal elite but there was heckling especially when he said that there would have to be a two-state solution along the 67 lines (with modifications) and that Israel would have to give up biblical lands. Oddly Sarah Silverman had hit on this point earlier, “What do you want,” she asked, “acreage or values?”

Today we have Larry Summers, Dr. Ruth, and a course on game theory from Aumann. Strange but interesting.

P.S. The rugelah at the Marzipan bakery was excellent.


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