The 27th annual International Mayors Conference brings decision-makers from six continents for a first-hand look at life and innovation in Israel.
By Avigayil Kadesh
More than two dozen mayors from six continents came to Israel in June for the 27th annual International Mayors Conference, gathering to discuss mutual cooperation in areas such as high-tech, clean-tech and education.
Over the course of two days, mayors from 26 countries – among them the United States, Canada, Australia, Philippines, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Hungary, Greece, Kenya, Tanzania, El Salvador, Uruguay, Malta, Cape Verde, Peru, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kazakhstan – met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, non-profit and private industry experts and the mayors of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, Israel’s three largest cities.
"This gathering allows municipal leaders from around the world – often tomorrow’s national leaders – to learn from Israel’s successes and exchange ideas and know-how that will improve the lives of people across the globe," said New York businessman Jack Rosen, chairman of the American Council for World Jewry, which sponsors the annual event in cooperation with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Masham, the Union of Local Authorities in Israel.
Rosen says he founded the annual conference as a vehicle to showcase Israel to the rest of world. “When it started, we had a whole different political environment. Israel needed to tell the world of its capabilities and technologies, originally in agriculture,” says Rosen.
“Now, given the current political environment, I think it takes on a different bent. In addition to showcasing Israel’s capabilities in technology, it also shows the world what the reality is on the ground here with regard to Palestinian issues. The mayors see firsthand that it’s much different than how the situation is portrayed in the media in their own countries. It hits you a lot differently when you see for yourself Arabs, Jews and Christians living together as citizens of Israel and Arabs serving in the Knesset,” says Rosen.
Sixteen of the 26 cities represented this year are capital cities, including Lagos, Athens and Melbourne. “These mayors go back with an understanding of what life is really like here, and often become national leaders in their countries who get to have a say in policy toward Israel,” adds Rosen.
Participants from previous years have included Lech Aleksander Kaczyński, then mayor of Warsaw and later president of Poland, and two American mayors who came to the conference became United States senators. Others have become foreign ministers of their nations.
“We have created a network of leaders in countries around the world who have a voice in political and investment decisions,” says Rosen. “We often maintain a good relationship over the years after the conference. They have an open-door ability to reach out to Israel, which most of them want to do because of what Israel can export to them.”
Scouting out investments and ideas
Many of the mayors who come to the conference have large Jewish constituencies, while others have a personal desire to visit the holy sites in Israel. Hand in hand with those considerations, they come to seek out Israeli investment opportunities in technology and other fields for their countries.
“Africa and Latin America, for example, have problems with water and education, and these mayors want to meet [Israeli] leaders who can touch on things they need at home,” says Rosen.
Participants talked to Dr. Yossi Ben Dov, CEO of the digital teaching platform Time To Know; met with officials of diverse industries, including Better Place Israel, world pioneers in sustainable transportation; and toured the mixed-race Bialik-Rogozin School in Tel Aviv that was featured in the 2011 Academy Award-winning documentary "Strangers No More".
This was the first time the conference branched out from Jerusalem, offering the visitors a chance to speak (mostly in English, and with the help of translators) with Mayor Ron Huldai of Tel Aviv and Mayor Yona Yahav of Haifa, in addition to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. They also had audiences with governmental officials such as opposition leader Tzipi Livni and Education Minister Gideon Sar.
While in Haifa, they toured the neighborhood of Kababir hosted by the unique Ahmadiyya Muslim sect, and got a briefing at Rambam Health Care Campus, which has an underground parking garage that can be converted into a missile-proof, state-of-the-art emergency room in less than three hours.
“Here, in a few days, potential national leaders get to see and learn more than they could talking to ambassadors in their home countries,” says Rosen. “As we are losing the support of the international community because of the conflict in Israel, one of the things we need to do is reach out to areas where we are losing ground, like Latin America — especially countries now emerging as independent players, such as Brazil. We must take our strengths and put them to use in gaining international support.”