Wednesday, March 5, 2014

When Israel’s high-tech guru turned the tables on me

When Israel’s high-tech guru turned the tables on me

How an AIPAC interview turned into a comedy improv, and a Times of Israel lovefest, in front of 14,000 people

Yossi Vardi and David Horovitz at AIPAC 2014 (photo credit: AIPAC video screenshot)

What you are about to see is unquestionably the funniest interview I’ve ever conducted or, more accurately, been involved in.

And that’s coming from someone who’s spent time with Jack Lemmon (for younger readers: peerless and brilliantly witty “Some Like it Hot” actor, who was starring in a play in Israel many years ago) and with Yuval HaMevulbal (for older readers: manic, gravel-voiced Israeli kids’ comedian).

At AIPAC’s annual conference in Washington this week, I was invited to publicly interview a series of prominent Israelis, including several politicians and nonpareil photographer David Rubinger. Some of the interviews took place in sessions attended by “just” a couple of thousand participants; others in the vast main hall, where all 14,000 AIPAC attendees gathered.

The last of these interviews, before the full AIPAC crowd on Monday night, was with Yossi Vardi, the guru of Israeli high-tech.

Yossi Vardi at AIPAC 2014 (photo credit: AIPAC video screenshot)

We’d chatted informally and briefly through a few questions beforehand, for what was intended to be a relatively short conversation, but the running order and timing of the carefully scheduled session was changing all the time. And once we got out on stage, the numbers on an electronic clock that only we could see, telling us how long we had left to talk, kept defying the natural order of things by going up instead of down.

David Horovitz at AIPAC 2014 (photo credit: AIPAC video screenshot)

So we kept talking, with me, the supposed host, torn between terror at what might happen if we ran out of things to discuss and fascination at what Yossi was saying. Increasingly, as you’ll see, I stuck to feeding Yossi lines for what became a (seated) stand-up comedy performance by a very smart, articulate, 
self-deprecating and likable man.

While I’d been watching the clock, however, I didn’t realize that Yossi had been too. So this gets really surreal 24 minutes in, when he turned the tables and started asking me questions. That’s also when it gets seriously lovely for The Times of Israel. Anyway, enjoy.