HowTony helped Shi­mon schmooze the world

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY DAVID ROWAN

YOU ARE Shi­mon Peres, the world’s best-net­worked politi­cian, and you are hav­ing a dozen or two of your clos­est head-of-state friends over to stay.

So how do you make each of th­ese na­tional heads (cur­rent or re­cent) feel that “he” is your spe­cial friend, smooth­ing over ex­plo­sively clashing egos and de­fus­ing diplo­matic mine­fields while pay­ing just enough at­ten­tion to the other 3,500 guests you are hav­ing round?

Sim­ple: you call in your bestest-ofall states­man friend, Tony Blair, and anoint him your very own Sch­mooze­mas­ter Gen­eral.

They trooped into the ex­hi­bi­tion hall of Jerusalem’s In­ter­na­tional Con­ven­tion Cen­tre on Tues­day night: the lead­ers of Poland, Latvia and Mon­go­lia, Ser­bia, Croa­tia and Slove­nia, Rwanda, Uganda and Burk­ina Faso — and not for­get­ting the 21,000-pop­u­la­tion Pa­cific is­land of Palau, a gen­tle­man whose name alone, Tommy E Re­menge­sau Ju­nior, was caus­ing ev­i­dent kvetch­ing among the si­mul­ta­ne­ous trans­la­tors.

As the Pres­i­dent of Is­rael led them all on to the stage, the first po­ten­tial broiges was im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent: how would the great Mikhail Gor­bachev, who only 90 min­utes ear­lier was hug­ging Henry Kissinger in the lobby of the In­bal Ho­tel, re­spond to the slight of be­ing placed at the ex­treme far end of the ta­ble?

But Mr Blair, beam­ing the re­lieved grin of a newly his­toric fig­ure whose suc­ces­sor has un­ex­pect­edly made his coun­try­men nos­tal­gic for him, quickly turned game-show host to dis­si­pate any pos­si­ble bad feel­ing. “To­day is the first time we’ve met each other,” he con­fessed as he bigged up the last Soviet pres­i­dent to the au­di­ence. “I wasn’t sure whether to shake your hand, Mikhail, or ask for an au­to­graph.”

The na­tional lead­ers — men (and men alone) who com­bine “the high­est re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and the most pro­found wis­dom”, as their hu­man-Face­book host, Mr Peres, an­nounced af­ter a scrum of pho­tog­ra­phers had to be shooed away — were here for a se­ries of panel dis­cus­sions, private meet­ings, and end­less gush­ing tributes to Is­rael.

Pres­i­dent Peres de­vised this week’s three-day “Fac­ing To­mor­row” con­fer­ence as his very own an­nual Davos — and al­though his of­fice re­cently took of­fence at the JC’s pho­to­graphic mon­tage of him hug­ging end­less num­bers of show­busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal fig­ures, the Is­raeli pres­i­dent was in his el­e­ment as 500 jour­nal­ists and TV crews from Al Jazeera to ZDF, came to see him wel- come a promised 15 sit­ting pres­i­dents, in­clud­ing Ge­orge Bush, and 27 other na­tional lead­ers. The event cost a re­ported $21 mil­lion (£10.5m) to put on, $3m (£1.5m) of it do­nated by Shel­don Adel­son, the world’s wealth­i­est Jew and hence a co-chair­man of the event.

Tony Blair — “one of the most suc­cess­ful prime min­is­ters of the past”, as Mr Peres in­tro­duced him — was lead­ing a dis­cus­sion about “the world of to­mor­row”.

“Mazeltov to the State of Is­rael on its 60th birth­day,” he de­clared, be­fore re­cip­ro­cat­ing the mu­tual flat­tery. “Can I also say what an im­mense plea­sure it is to be…sat along­side Pres­i­dent Peres, who is some­one I ad­mire im­mensely and is a great states­man.”

Apart from a Freudian ref­er­ence to his “stud-stud­ded cast” — Mr Blair did not elu­ci­date as to which pan­el­lists’ viril­ity he meant — the ex-Bri­tish leader proved de­lighted to be talk­ing not about Iraqi pol­icy or NHS wait­ing lists, but about the blander glades of “glob­ali- sa­tion break­ing down bar­ri­ers”, and the need to “ex­pand free­dom and democ­racy [so that] our chil­dren will grow up in a more peace­ful and just planet”.

He also of­fered the pan­el­lists the flat­tery they so clearly ex­pected: Al­ba­nia’s pres­i­dent, Bamir Topi, cared less about the au­di­ence ap­plause than the Sh­mooze­mas­ter’s re­ac­tion of: “That was a bril­liant anal­y­sis!”

It did not mat­ter much that the world lead­ers had lit­tle of sub­stance to say, just that Mr Peres had got them here. So when Danilo Turk of Slove­nia poured homage on “Jerusalem, the place of an­cient civil­i­sa­tions and great moder­nity”, or Latvia’s Valdis Zatlers boasted that “Latvia has given the world many fa­mous Jews” —Mark Rothko and Sergei Eisen­stein, ap­par­ently — the au­di­ence dis­played a po­lite ap­plause un­til now never ex­pe­ri­enced in the Is­raeli cap­i­tal.

Only oc­ca­sion­ally did pol­i­tics threaten to in­ter­vene: Mr Re­menge­sau of Palau be­moan­ing the need for ac­tion on sus­tain­able en­ergy use and cli­mate change, and Uganda’s Yoveri Mu­sev­eni’s in­sis­tence that “the idea of geno­cide is a Euro­pean im­port”. But Mr Blair was quick to move things on.

Af­ter all, there were other states­men await­ing Mr Peres’s hugs and hand­shakes a short while later. In an up­stairs hall for a gala con­fer­ence-open­ing show was Va­clav Havel, last leader of Cze­choslo­vakia, ex-pres­i­dent Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine, Jose Maria Az­nar of Spain, as well as ac­tor Jon Voight, and bil­lion­aires such as Shel­don Adel­son.

The Google co-founder Sergey Brin was stand­ing pa­tiently out­side the hall, per­haps to Google us­ing the free wifi the var­i­ous na­tional lead­ers he had just been in­tro­duced to.

Fi­nally, Ehud Olmert took to the stage to cel­e­brate his coun­try’s glo­ri­ous achieve­ments and to threaten its prospec­tive en­e­mies that it would never be cowed. As we went to press, Mr Olmert, too, still of­fi­cially counted as a states­man.


Help­ing hand: Tony Blair threw his weight be­hind Pres­i­dent Peres at the Jerusalem Con­ven­tion Cen­tre

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