Big names share big ideas at Milken Conference
In his final appearance at the prestigious Milken Institute Global Conference as consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, David Siegel focused on the big picture — the really big picture.
Like how Israel has entered into agreements with state and local officials in the United States to help them save water, enhance cybersecurity and fight HIV/AIDS.
“If you take this vision globally, this is about Israel providing solutions to the world,” Siegel said, referring to Israeli water-saving technologies, including desalination and drip irrigation during an invitation-only May 4 panel titled “California-Israel Global Innovation Partnership.”
Siegel was joined on the panel at the Beverly Hilton by the likes of L.A. City Councilman Bob Blumenfield and Glenn Yago, the senior director of the Milken Innovation Center at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, which seeks to find market-based solutions to the greatest challenges facing Israel.
“This is pretty much what the consulate is doing today,” Siegel said, referring to recent partnerships that include a 2014 memorandum of understanding signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to fight water scarcity and more; a 2015 agreement between Israel and L.A. County focused on taking on their respective water crises; a 2014 agreement between Israel and the City of West Hollywood that resulted in the forming an HIV/AIDS Task Force; and a 2015 agreement between Israel and the City of Beverly Hills centered on issues like water and cyber-security.
“We believe this is where we need to be,” Siegel said.
He also drew a connection between these agreements and the current California state legislation that would, if passed, prohibit the state from entering into contracts with companies that participate in a boycott against Israel.
“What we’re also showing through these platforms of engagement is that these also become the partners that help us fight that phenomenon in city halls, in state governments,” Siegel said. “California is in the process of looking at passing an anti-BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] resolution. It would be the first of its kind coming from a progressive coalition in the United States, and I think that says a lot about the value of these partnerships and what we’ve all brought to the table.”
The May 1-4 conference organized by the Milken Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank, featured high-ranking politicians, past and present (Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, former Vice President Al Gore and retired U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal) and high-powered celebrities (Tom Hanks, Russell Simmons, Jessica Alba, Goldie Hawn, Cher and Seth Rogen) discussing Hollywood, geopolitics and other large-scale topics.
The overarching theme of the conference this year — which featured 700 speakers in 200 sessions — was “The Future of Humankind.”
Gore discussed how Florida, Spain and other regions are suffering due to climate change. He praised countries like Chile, which has had exponential growth in the solar power market. He said humans need to continue to show commitment to coming up with solutions to the climate crisis.
“The will to change, the will to act, the will to survive is itself a renewable resource,” Gore said during a presentation titled “Investing in the Sustainable Economy.”
Lew spoke with Jared Bernstein, economic policy fellow at the Milken Institute, regarding the financial collapse of 2008 and the need for tax reform and infrastructure development.
“You go back to those days and you look at what the mood in the global financial marketplace was, it was high anxiety,” he said of the period after the Great Recession. “There is an expectation in the United States that it will govern itself in an orderly way. When that expectation is unsettled, it causes a great deal of nervousness.
“Now, I think we’ve done quite a bit better in the last few years,” Lew said.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair talked about “ISIS and Global Terrorism: What It Will Take to Defeat Them,” alongside U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
“Until you defeat the ideology, you will never defeat the violence,” Blair said.
Closer to home, Graham criticized presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s rhetoric in denouncing U.S. activity in regions such as Iraq and Libya.
“You want to be leader of the freaking free world and you’re yearning for dictators to come back? You reject democracy as a good thing? I’m a Republican. My party has lost its way in terms of ‘The Donald,’ ” Graham said.
Retired Navy admiral and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen said he supported the Iranian nuclear deal, which lifted sanctions against Iran in exchange for that country curbing its nuclear program for 10-15 years, but that he mistrusts Iran in general.
“There is a path there possibly for a peaceful outcome in Iran and in that part of the world, [but it is a] very, very difficult path and it is a tough issue,” he said, appearing on a panel with McChrystal.
The conference drew more than 3,000 attendees, including Milken Institute associate members, contributing members and council members, who pay $12,500, $15,000 and $25,000 for membership, respectively, as well as members of the Milken Institute Young Leaders Circle.
Daniel Hakimi, a member of the Young Leaders Circle, head of operations at telecommunications company CyberNet Communications and a 2003 graduate of Milken Community Schools, was among those who turned out.
“Learning from all these great panelists will help me become a decent businessman,” he said, speaking in between panel discussions in the lobby of the hotel.
Meanwhile, Milken Community Schools students Ashley Yeshoua and Elliot Sina also attended, with the latter saying the conference was an opportunity to learn about a lot of subjects.
“Anything we can pick up I feel is valuable,” Sina said.