The Annual INTA Meeting – All that’s Right with Multiculturalism

A moment before returning to the frenetic activities of business as usual, it is worthwhile considering an aspect of the annual INTA meeting that is so much more important, in my opinion, than all of the IP-related activities pursued during this year’s annual meeting in the beautiful city of Barcelona.

When asked to describe the INTA meeting, my tongue in cheek description of this annual event is that is “an opportunity to spend a few days of quality time with 10,000 of my closest friends.”

On reflection, this may not be so far from the truth.  I am an Israeli and a traditional Jew, and as on all my international travels, proudly wear our traditional head covering, the “kipa” or “yarmulke”. For some of my friends and colleagues attending the conference, it has become an advertisement of my Israeli/Jewish identity; and for others, I suspect that is somewhat bemuses them, as I stop and talk to them to have a brief conversation that perhaps they were not expecting. Yet others look right through it, it being no different to the gallabiyah worn by a few, or the lederhosen worn by one of my German friends, and being irrelevant to conducting civilized discourse, as it should be.

One morning during the conference, I was discussing Brexit with a good friend from Dublin, when he informed me about the horrendous Manchester bombing the night before. This led me to wonder: was this attack yet a further, horribly warped symptom of the very opposite of successful multiculturalism? And is there another way? As I reflect  on my many conversations during the INTA meeting (as well as those from many previous years), I believe very strongly that the answer is yes. There is another way.

Among the snippets of conversations that I had which, quite frankly, I am sure I shall remember long after I forget much of the business that I conducted during the conference, I cannot help but think of the gentleman from Riyadh whose hand I shook, noting that we made a positive connection, if only by the first direct flight from Riyadh to Tel Aviv having occurred just a day or two before, as President Trump made diplomatic history.

I recall my conversation with an attorney from Indonesia, asking me about the difference between food that is ‘Kosher’ (acceptable to those of the Jewish faith) and food that is ‘Halal’ (acceptable to those of the Muslim faith). And the questions that I was asked enthusiastically by an attorney from Nigeria, as to whether, during a much hoped for future pilgrimage to Israel, he will be able to see remnants of King David and Jesus, and, by the way, how are Judaism, Christianity and Islam related?

The question of an attorney from Beijing about the significance of my ‘kipa’ was followed by the enthusiastic description by a young Turkish attorney of her father’s description of the wonderful warmth he felt from Israelis when visiting Israel several years ago.

As I walked along the beautiful sands of the Barceloneta beach during the early summer twilight of the ‘grand finale’ on the last night of the conference, having feasted on delicious, strictly kosher food laid on by INTA in one of the restaurants lining the beach, I bumped into a young Indian attorney, next to where some of his colleagues and friends were playing beach volleyball. I met the 10 year old son of one of his colleagues, intelligent and aspiring “to be an architect when I grow up. But maybe an archeologist. But maybe after I do something with French, which I love to learn.” This was followed by my playing photographer to two German women celebrating the last night of INTA, followed up by a group photograph of 5 young attorneys from one of the Gulf states. When I saw them trying to take a group selfie, I approached and offered my services as a photographer, and I had the impression that this was the first time that they had ever spoken to an Israeli. With some of the group coming from Jordan, we were happy to agree that we were neighbors, living on opposite sides of the Jordan river, running down Israel’s eastern border and Jordan’s western border before discharging into the Dead Sea.

So, as I left the beach and the conference, I was left to ponder about all of these snippets of interpersonal connection afforded by the cocooned atmosphere of the INTA meeting; these moments of connection resembling small but bright pinpoints of light much like the twinkling lights of the boats in the marina of the Barceloneta. Maybe, as explained to me by my German supper colleague as we shared kosher cuisine, it was the “vortex” effect, taken to mean those small meetings and connections that, no matter what we do, are destined to happen by dint of a series of apparently unconnected events. Some call it destiny or fate, and others may call it serendipity.

There are different ways to view all of these small moments of connection that most, if not all of the conference attendees experienced. But surely the most valuable lesson from this wonderful event is that there is a form of multiculturalism that can work successfully. Namely, multiculturalism which is based on genuine respect of and interest in the many cultural identities of humanity, and unsullied by artificial considerations of politics and political correctness for their own sake.

Thank you to INTA for providing this wonderful setting where people can be their genuine selves, a safe haven from prejudice. In the words of Neil Armstrong, “that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Now back to business…..