Following the annual theme "What the World Needs Now," Burda's innovation conference is launching a new online format in February with prominent speakers.
My personal encounters with Shimon Peres taught me that if you want to be a realist, you must never stop aiming to make things better. His was a vision of a new Middle East, in which the Arabic states and Israel would evolve into a peaceful region of technical innovation and social equilibrium.
The peace process of the early 90s and the many subsequent disappointments never knocked him off course. Solving the water problem in the Middle East, effecting social change in the region through technological inventions, laying the foundations for a democratic society in the occupied territories and Gaza: This man, born in Vishnyeva, Belarus in 1923, believed in “progress” as preached in the Enlightenment – in a region whose modern conflicts are reminiscent of the religious wars in 17th-century Europe.
At our meetings in the 1990s in Jerusalem, at the World Economic Forum in Davos or in Munich, I loved to listen to his velvet voice paint an impressive picture of the opportunities for Middle Eastern peace and progress. This belief became a certainty immune to any doubt. Peres, an educated man in the European sense who appreciated literature, recognised the importance of “high tech” – computer sciences, even the digital revolution – at an early stage. In 1999, I therefore got involved in the project to set up a Center for Innovative Communication at Ben-Gurion University in Beer-Sheva, a cause particularly dear to Peres’ heart.
It was always clear to me that while the dramatic nature of German-Jewish history must not be downplayed, the important thing is to dedicate oneself to seminal projects to stabilise Israel and drive it forward. In 2000, at the “Cool People in the Hot Desert” conference, I met my friend Yossi Vardi, a digital entrepreneur favoured by Shimon Peres. Contacts were made that led to the foundation of DLD in 2005, perhaps the most internationally renowned forum for debates on the digital revolution. Without Peres, there would be no Yossi Vardi and no DLD, which Steffi Czerny and I have spent more than ten years promoting. Aside from his many merits, it is probably his courage to innovate that has done the most for the state of Israel.
I bow to his achievements, and mourn a most extraordinary politician.
By Dr Hubert Burda