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What to expect at the World Economic Forum in Davos

A delegation of returned hostages and the families of remaining hostages will be present at the annual confab

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

Participants of the World Economic Forum (WEF) are seen in silhouette in the congress center on the opening of the annual meeting in Davos on January 15, 2024.

Top world leaders are descending on Davos, Switzerland, this week for the World Economic Forum amid a backdrop of two wars, high-stakes presidential primaries in the U.S. and increasing concerns over the impact of military confrontation in the Gulf of Oman on the world economy. 

Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani is slated to take the stage on Tuesday morning, just hours before a conversation on “Securing an Insecure World” with Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) and the foreign ministers of Germany and Saudi Arabia.

Secretary of State Tony Blinken, who last week wrapped his fourth trip to the Middle East since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, will participate in a conversation with World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab and The New York Times’ Tom Friedman on Wednesday morning, and will be followed by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.

In addition to Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is addressing the gathering on Tuesday evening.

Others in the U.S. delegation include Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, former Vice President Al Gore and U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine’s Economic Recovery Penny Pritzker. Legislators joining the delegation include Coons and Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD); Reps. Seth Moulton (D-MA), Stephen Lynch (D-MA) and Vern Buchanan (R-FL); Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog is making his second trip outside of the Jewish state — and first outside the Middle East — since the Oct. 7 terror attacks. Also attending the conference are Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron and former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. 

Herzog’s speech, slated for Thursday morning, is expected to touch on the ongoing efforts to free the remaining hostages in captivity in Gaza — a cause being pushed by the broader Israeli delegation. The Hostages and Missing Families Forum is sending relatives of Israelis held in Gaza, as well as a released hostage, to speak at a dedicated event and to meet with business and political leaders.

On the first night of the WEF, the Israeli delegation is holding a screening of the 47-minute compilation of raw footage of the Oct. 7 terror attacks. Tech entrepreneur Eyal Waldman, whose daughter Danielle was killed at the Nova music festival site, is expected to attend.

“It’s a private, closed screening for influential figures,” Adi Farjon, Israel’s deputy permanent representative to U.N. institutions in Geneva, told Jewish Insider. The invitation list, Farjon said, includes “CEOs and presidents of international companies, as well as government officials from some countries.”

Linor Abargil, a prominent Israeli activist against sexual violence, is also expected to speak on a panel. Abargil, who won the Miss World pageant in 1998 and filmed a documentary about her own story of rape, spoke at the U.N. in December about Hamas’ sexual violence against Israelis on Oct. 7.

The returned hostages and the families of those who remain in captivity are slated to appear on Wednesday at an event held by Palantir. The tech giant recently held its first board meeting of the year in Israel, and agreed to a new strategic partnership with Israel’s Defense Ministry to aid in the country’s war effort.

The families will also be on hand on Thursday for a panel on the unintended consequences of war.

A session dedicated to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, titled “Israeli-Palestinian Peace: Illusive Regional Leadership” is being held on Wednesday afternoon and includes Israeli and Arab technology sector leaders, as well as former House Speaker Eric Cantor, now the vice chair of Moelis & Company.

But for many, including Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, the networking that happens on the sidelines of the annual confab is the main event. “The amount of serendipity that happens is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” Benioff told The Wall Street Journal of his plans to park himself in a heavily trafficked area of the conference.

For others, connections will be forged at the annual Shabbat dinner held at the conclusion of the weeklong event. Held for the last 26 years in conjunction with the WEF, the dinner is a notoriously hot ticket, with the attendee list kept under wraps. Schwab, who once said the dinner is his favorite part of the gathering, is expected to attend with his wife, Hilde.

JI’s senior political correspondent Lahav Harkov contributed reporting.

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