For JN December 2020
The young Albert Dadon, he admits, believed he could only really follow one career path.
But today he can easily be described as an Australian businessman, a philanthropist, and an accomplished musician who has made 14 popular albums. And next week he is presiding over the latest version of the event which he founded in 2009, in order to encourage dialogue between Australia and Israel. Now it’s Britain, too, which takes part in this annual conference, under the auspices of Dadon’s International Institute for Strategic Leadership Dialogue.
The three-country dialogue, running from December 7-10, consists of 12 separate panel discussions which are described as “a private diplomatic channel”. In previous years, Dadon says, “there were always policy deals taking place in the corridor”, but this year, due to the global pandemic, it will be a virtual conference taking place on screen.
But the dialogue is an opportunity for those who might not have previously met to discuss issues of importance to their own countries and to the rest of the world. This year, for the first time, senior officials from the United Arab Emirates will join the conversation, as the recently-signed Abraham Accords “redefine the world we live in”.
Albert Dadon was born in Morocco and then lived in Israel until he was 10, thereafter moving to France. He moved to Melbourne in 1983 and quickly became a sparky and innovative figure, launching, among other ventures, an Australian wine competition, chairing the French Chamber of Commerce in Australia, and the Victoria branch of the United Israel Appeal.
Almost in tandem he was pursuing his great love of music, first chairing the Melbourne Jazz Festival and then in 2015 opening a jazz club in the city. He received the prestigious Order of Australia (AM) in 2008 for his services to culture and arts.
Over the years, since establishing the dialogues, there have been occasional invitations to other countries such as Canada and America. But on the whole Dadon believes that “there are so many platforms for America and Israel to get together, that there is no need for us to add an American voice”. There are a couple of Americans set to speak in this year’s event but the time zone difference means a punishingly early hour for them, as panels take place at civilised hours for Australians, Britons and Israelis sitting at their computer screens.
This year’s programme shows a marked absence of women — just six, including Britain’s Joan Ryan, Theresa Villiers and Baroness Meta Ramsay, are taking part. Dadon is aware of the imbalance, but says his first conference in 2009 included one of the best-known women on the world stage, Julia Gillard, Australia’s prime minister until 2013 and deputy prime minister in 2009.
Indeed, there have been some starry names taking part in the Dadon dialogues. It was an approach by Labour’s John Spellar that brought Britain into the circle, and in 2011 Tony Blair took part. The dialogues were held in London in 2012. This year, had it not been for Covid, there was to have been a partnership with the Israeli TV station i24. “It broadcasts in French and Arabic and we were going to organise a couple of debates in those languages, it would have been very interesting. Maybe next year”.
Big names this year include former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott and former Israeli premier Ehud Olmert: and the ultimate cross-over participant, Australian-Israeli diplomat Mark Regev, now back in Jerusalem after four years as Israel’s ambassador to the UK.
For the first few years the dialogues took place under Chatham House rules, but these days — largely due to the influence of social media — the discussions are recorded and will be available on YouTube. Just the same, Dadon is reluctant to say whether the “backchannel for private diplomacy” has led to any policy decisions which became public, choosing to remain discreet about any success stories.
Lucky participants at previous dialogues have sometimes been treated to entertainment in the evenings from Dadon himself, whose musical career is conducted under the single name “Albare”. He says: “I started playing guitar when I was eight years old. My mother enrolled me in the conservatoire (music academy) in Dimona and I always have my guitar with me.” He’s now recorded 14 albums and is currently working on a trilogy, his musical tribute to the Brazilian performer Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Dadon makes no distinction between Dialogue Dadon, Business Dadon, or Music Dadon. “I’m the same guy, no matter what”, he says. “I don’t even try to compartmentalise. I discovered in my 20s that I can be everything at once, and that I shouldn’t limit myself.”