President Shimon Peres visited two superpowers last week – the United States of
America, with 320 million inhabitants, led by Barack Obama; and Facebook, with
800 million active users around the world, led by the young Mark Zuckerberg.
Nothing could have better depicted the transformation in today’s world than the
almost equal media attention paid to Peres’s Washington visit, on the one hand,
and the launch of his Facebook page on the other.
In Washington, Peres
gave a remarkably patriotic speech, highlighting our alliance with the United
States and with President Obama. At Palo Alto’s Facebook headquarters, he asked
people from around the world to join him for peace, starting with Zuckerberg
In Palo Alto, Peres also held a “Facebook Live” newmedia event,
where he spoke of the new world, also transformed by the Facebook phenomena, in
which people possess a greater sense of empowerment, and are therefore less
governable; a world that is more transparent, with fewer borders, creating new
ambitions among the underprivileged, who thus become rebellious; a world in
which dictatorial regimes lose control over their people; a world in which
technological development and science are more important than territories and
military might. This is, to a large degree, a world that belongs to the
All this, in Peres’s young mind, goes for Israel as well, and for
the Middle East as a whole. In Silicon Valley, Peres expressed great pride in
our technological achievements and creativity. He actually offered a new scale
with which to measure our national power; science, technology and education are
now more relevant than territory and military victories.
He referred to
the situation in the Arab world, saying that he does not recommend to anyone to
become a dictator, as they have no future, and expressed his appreciation for
the “Tahrir generation,” even calling on young Iranians and Syrians to join him
Peres was greeted with the highest respect by the champions
of the hi-tech revolution, be it at Facebook or Google. He is, among Israeli
leaders, the most modern expression, and unlike our other leaders, is a bridge
to the world. No wonder that last week’s public opinion polls show him to be by
far our most popular leader.
What Peres points to, is a fundamental
transformation of the international social-economic and political system,
brought about by a new climax in the information and technology
Individuals on Facebook define themselves on their
“timeline” or “profile,” and express their views and values.
especially true for the young.
They communicate with one another, almost
on an hourly basis, on a variety of topics of common interest.
express themselves on issues of concern and create communities of content,
sometimes even of rebellion – be it “Occupy Wall Street,” Tahrir Square or
Rothschild Boulevard. Thus, governments and leaders must seek legitimacy today
not just every four years, but on an ongoing basis. The democratization of
information is leading to a further democratization of societies and
decisionmaking processes. Regionally and internationally, communities of common
values are being created, as “groups” or in “events” on Facebook.
in the process politicians have become more lonely, their constituencies enjoy
greater local and global company.
As a result, the whole equation of
“citizen vs government” has changed.
People’s desires and values are made
obvious and are less easily manipulated by political leaders through traditional
media. The name of the political game is no longer merely election victories,
Decisions of leaders in democratic societies, and also in
nondemocratic societies, have to be legitimated by the people in most cases. It
is therefore no wonder that dark totalitarian regimes, like the Iranian and
Syrian regimes, ban and censor social networking the best they can; yet it is
only a matter of time before they too will succumb to technological advance and
the will of their people.
The No. 1 world leader who understands this is
Barack Obama. He was elected as the first “Facebook generation” president, with
a massive campaign on social networks, and he maintains an ongoing dialogue with
the American people on his Facebook page – Obama 2012. The Facebook dialogue, in
most cases, helps to keep leaders more honest – Obama spoke last week with
candor about his efforts to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, about
crippling sanctions and about a military attack as a last resort, but also
admitted, unlike the Republican candidates, that war with Iran would carry a
heavy cost for the United States and Israel.
Obama’s other White House
guest, Binyamin Netanyahu, also keeps an active Facebook page. He too
understands the need to dialogue with his constituency.
Yet, unlike Obama
and Peres, Bibi has not entered the real Facebook world, which is a borderless
one, but communicates mainly inside Israel’s borders.
When Peres spoke on
his Facebook page to the women of the world on International Women’s Day, Bibi
spoke of Purim and its lessons for the Iran situation. Yet, even Bibi
understands that he needs to seek not only election victories, but also ongoing
legitimacy for his policies.
Therefore it is unlikely that he will wage
war on Iran when only 20 percent of Israelis favor such
While Facebook pages for Middle Eastern leaders are not yet
that prevalent, they understand the power of social networks, that was itself so
present in the Arab Spring.
The Arab leaders after Yasmin and Tahrir
understand they need the legitimacy of the streets and the squares. We will
witness an expression of this during the upcoming Egyptian presidential
elections, as we did during the Tunisian elections. Arab leaders will need to
learn to listen to the vox populi as their people tweet it, if they do not want
to follow in the footsteps of Hosni Mubarak, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Muammar
Shimon Peres spoke 20 years ago of a New Middle East, more open,
developed and peaceful. We are not there yet, but with the information
revolution, the potential for it exists. If the leaderships in the Middle East
will heed to the voices of their young constituencies, who aspire to freedom,
economic development and the avoidance of costly war, as can be witnessed in the
“YaLa – Young Leaders” Facebook movement, we may see a gradual progress in these
directions, despite the energetic forces of yesterday and fundamentalism.
Israel, even under Netanyahu, needs to understand that we live in a transformed
world, and a region in transition.
A region in which young people both
matter and have much in common, as well as express themselves without fear. In
this manner, the information revolution can lead to a political and economic
transformation. It is insufficient for leaders to be “Liked,” they need to
listen.The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served
as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
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