Political Adviser's Salon Draws Hollywood Execs, Israeli Journalist Ari Shavit

Donna Bojarsky
Donna Bojarsky
 Donna Bojarsky

Foreign Policy Roundtable, a salon founded by veteran political adviser Donna Bojarsky, has long been a touchstone for Hollywood activists looking for a sophisticated first-hand education on global issues.

On Friday, about 40 of them gathered at the Beverly Hills home of producer-director Tony Krantz and his wife, Kristin Dornig, co-founder of Prana Studios, to listen in on a conversation between former CNN White House correspondent Jessica Yellin and the distinguished Israeli journalist and author Ari Shavit.

Shavit -- a longtime columnist and editorial board member of the leading Israeli daily Haaretz -- has recently been acclaimed by some of the most prominent American intellectuals concerned with the Middle East for his historical account of his country, My Promised Land, a warts-and-all look at the Zionist state that comes down forcefully for the maintenance of democracy.

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In his review of the book for The New York Times, Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of New Republic, described Shavit's history as "powerful and important." Wieseltier wrote: "It is about the entirety of the Israeli experience. Shavit is immersed in all of the history of his country. While some of it offends him, none of it is alien to him. ... His straightforward honesty is itself evidence of the 'normalization' to which the founders of Zionism aspired for the Jews in their homeland."

It was precisely that sort of intellectual honesty that drew Friday's Beverly Hills audience, including Sony Pictures Television worldwide networks president Andy Kaplan, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures film division president Jonathan Glickman, Universal Cable Productions co-head and USA Network co-president Jeff Wachtel, veteran producer-executive Janet Yang, CAA's TV co-head Adam Berkowitz, Conaco president David Kissinger, former Democratic congressman Howard Berman and Tony Krantz's novelist mother Judith Krantz.

It was a sophisticated crowd, and the discussion turned almost immediately to the day's big news out of the Middle East, which was Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' decision to form a new government with Hamas. The United States regards that organization as a terrorist entity, and Israel refused to negotiate with it since Hamas does not accept the right of the Jewish state to exist.

Shavit described the development as "not the first piece of bad news in recent months" and described Secretary of State John Kerry's recent unsuccessful peace initiative as the work of a "courageous, noble person who really tried to do the impossible."

"To begin with," Shavit said, "I had serious doubts whether the [Kerry] concept was the right concept. … The question I ask myself is why do we keep going at this terrible issue, this big challenge with a 20-year-old concept that failed four times? Would anyone try to sell today a 1988 Chevy as a new car?"

"It is a new Middle East ... the result of the Arab chaos, frequently referred to in the American press as the Arab Spring. In my mind, no moderate Arab leader has enough legitimacy to sign a peace agreement," he said. "I think it's time for us, and I only have admiration for the [Kerry] attempt, but after four failures, it's time to think anew. I think it's time for a new peace approach. … The new concept has to be a concept of de facto peace rather than formal peace."

Shavit's remarks echoed a recent New Republic essay in which he wrote: "What is New Peace? It is an attempt to reconcile liberal-democratic values with the merciless Middle East. It is an enterprise designed to reach peace gradually rather than instantly. It is an endeavor that replaces the castle in the sky of formal peace with the tent on the ground of a de facto peace.

"New Peace will not alter the ultimate goal of Old Peace: a two-state solution. But it will not be obsessed with mutual recognition and the drafting of end-of-conflict documents. Rather, it will focus on fostering the conditions that will allow the two states to evolve and flourish side by side. New Peace will not forsake the hope that eventually a democratic Middle East will emerge. But it would acknowledge the political culture of the Arab world and the Palestinian people as they are now, and it would try to make the most out of it."

As Bojarsky describes it, the Foreign Policy Roundtable is "a salon series we started to really bring forth the issues of the day in foreign affairs. Sometimes we take for granted what we don't know on global issues. Hollywood is unique. We're storytellers. We're advocates. We know how to coordinate and mobilize people. We know how to draw attention. So that's why we decided that Hollywood is a great place to do this kind of education."

Previous Roundtable hosts have included Ken and Ellen Ziffren, Peter and Megan Chernin, and Katie McGrath and J.J. Abrams. Among the distinguished guests have been Bill Gates, Fareed Zakaria and Jordan's Queen Rania al Abdullah.

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