Ayelet Frish kvells when talking about the biographical documentary on her legendary former boss, Shimon Peres, which was released on Netflix on July 13.
Frish, who today runs a successful company (Frish Strategic Consulting) focused on branding and strategy for leaders, countries and VIP clients (among them business executives, global companies and influential figures from around the world) and appears regularly as a commentator and analyst on Channel 12 television – played a key role in the making of Never Stop Dreaming: The Life and Legacy of Shimon Peres, a film by award-winning American director Richard Trank that runs just over two hours.
Trank’s team came to the Peres Center for Peace & Innovation seven years ago, with Simon Wiesenthal Center founder Rabbi Marvin Hier, to interview Peres for a film about his mentor David Ben-Gurion, Frish recalls.
‘Today, when I work with world leaders and international companies, I always come up with a new approach. There’s no gray area with me, only black and white. That’s what Peres taught me: If you want to leave a mark, dream big, and come up with the craziest idea’
“I called them aside, and suggested that as the sands of time run out, they use this opportunity to make a documentary about Peres and hear stories that he’s never told about the history of the State of Israel,” she said. “I was so happy when they agreed; I walked over to Peres and whispered it in his ear. He said, ‘If it will help to promote the story of Israel, I’ll do it.’” This was not long before the veteran politician passed away.
Frish says that in the first three days of its streaming, the film earned high ratings worldwide, making it into the top 10 most-viewed films on Netflix in North America and becoming one of the most viewed films on Netflix in Israel.
“The documentary, produced by Rabbi Marvin Hier’s Simon Wiesenthal Center, is being broadcast on Netflix in over 190 countries in multiple languages, providing viewers with incredible lessons from a beloved and respected global leader, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and one of Israel’s founding fathers,” she says. “The story of president Peres is in fact the story of the State of Israel.”
Frish worked with Peres, who died in 2016 at age 93, for 13 years – before, during and after his presidency from 2007 to 2014. She served as his chief strategic adviser as well as spokesperson of the President’s Office for seven years. She also gives credit to Peres’s team, comprising a majority of women, headed by Efrat Duvdevani, who served as general manager of the President’s Office and led the president’s major initiatives and is now director general of the Peres Center.
Peres served for two terms as prime minister, was a member of 12 cabinets, and represented five political parties in a political career that spanned seven decades. Trank began shooting the documentary while Peres was alive, completed the interviews with him, and continued after his death to update it with his funeral.
“Richard Trank is one of the world’s most talented documentary filmmakers and producers” says Frish. “Peres trusted him and opened up to him – Richard was able to extract extraordinary untold stories from the former president.
“As Peres’s strategy and media adviser, together with my colleague, Yael Pedatzur, I had the enormous privilege of accompanying him, along with Richard and the talented film crew, during his final days,” Frish says.
“He opened up a rare door to the audience and candidly reflected on the early days of the State of Israel; the establishment of the Dimona Nuclear Research Facility and Israel Aerospace Industries; how he led the world’s most successful counter-terrorist hostage-rescue mission, Operation Entebbe; his role in making Israel a Start-Up Nation and developing nanotechnology; and how he set the foundations for peace between the Israelis, the Palestinians and the entire Middle East,” she kvelled.
“Peres was the first to speak about and work for a new Middle East; nowadays, the entire world enjoys the fruits of this peace.”
Narrated by George Clooney with insights throughout from Peres biographer Prof. Michael Bar-Zohar, the documentary features archival foot- age and interviews with a dazzling array of dignitaries, including former US presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and former Israeli prime ministers David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as Peres himself.
“People said that I’m a dreamer – it’s true. But ask me this: What’s wrong? Who said people who don’t dream are right?” Peres asks. “I don’t want to watch; I want to be a participant clearly in the march to the future. I don’t like to sit on my chair and wait 10 years until something new will arrive. I prefer to run, to move, to think, to be surprised.”
The documentary, which has received rave reviews, explores how the Polish-born Peres, credited with being the father of Israel’s nuclear program, went on to pursue peace rather than power, becoming the architect of the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO, and his long-term involvement in the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. He shared the Nobel Prize that year with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat.
“The main message in the film is: Dream big, never stop dreaming,” Frish says. “Peres always said to me, ‘I know I accomplished a lot, but my dreams were too small: I could have done more. I want every young person to know that they can dream and fulfill their dreams.”
The 13 years Frish worked for Peres were both exhausting and exhilarating. “There was a price – I didn’t see my husband and children often and missed important things at home – but I always felt that I was working for a giant and a leader who devoted himself to the State of Israel, and that’s why it was worth it.”
Asked what she learned from her experience working with Peres, she says, “One of the things that I am still thankful for every morning is the structure of his thought process. Everyone who worked with him learned to think differently. He taught me to think out of the box, to be creative.
“Today, when I work with world leaders, international companies and business executives, I always come up with an approach that is different and new,” Frish says. “There’s no gray area with me, only black and white. That’s what Peres taught me: If you want to leave a mark, dream big – and come up with the craziest idea.”
She gives an example of when Peres decided to open a Facebook page, they came up with the idea of finding a popular rapper, recording a song titled “Be my friend for peace,” and then traveling to Silicon Valley to inaugurate the page in Facebook together with founder Mark Zuckerberg in his office “Everyone thought we were nuts and said there was no way this could happen. Two months later, we flew to California and did it. The rest is history.”
Another example Frish provides is the Prayer for Peace with Pope Francis, which Peres initiated in 2014.
“It was a difficult period. Israel and the Palestinians weren’t talking. [PA President] Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] was making threats. And Peres said we have to do something. So we came up with the idea of a Prayer for Peace with Christian and Muslim leaders, and as always – and this was part of his character – he said ‘yes.’”
At the age of 90, Peres flew to Rome as the head of a Jewish delegation. Abbas led a Muslim one and the pope a Christian one, and they gathered in the Vatican Gardens to pray for peace.
“Peace is Peres’s main brand,” Frish says. “Journalists from across the world covered the event, major international networks broadcasted it live and when Peres stood with the pontiff and Christian clergy and Abbas and the Muslim imams, it was difficult not to tear up.”
“I was honored to join Peres for a number of historic meetings over the years, and I used to pinch myself, saying ‘Ayelet, this is unreal.’ One of them was in 2009 with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in Sochi.
“It was at a time when Russia was set to sell Syria the S-300 missile system, which would have been a game-changer – and the prime minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] dispatched [then-president] Peres to Russia. A few months later we continued the negotiations at the Kremlin in Moscow with Vladimir Putin as he took over as president. It was like the leaders were playing chess. Two weeks later, we were informed that Peres had managed to postpone the sale.”
During Putin’s visit to Israel in 2012, the Russian leader told Peres that he considered him the smartest and wisest elder statesman in the world, Frish says, adding that if he had been alive today, Peres would definitely have tried to mediate a ceasefire between Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“I think Peres would have been very saddened by the situation in Ukraine,” she says. “I’m sure that if he were alive, even at the age of 99, he would have taken a plane and flown to Putin and Zelensky and urged them to find a compromise. Peres was a master when it came to negotiating a compromise. Regarding then-president Clinton, Frish was impressed by his “warmth, charm and ability to talk at eye level.”
“I believe that Saudi Arabia is the most important country in the Muslim world, and that with the right steps, MBS can turn into one of the most influential leaders in the world, who can lead significant global initiatives in the region and beyond, fostering long-term stability and tangible prosperity in the region for generations to come”
When Barack Obama first visited Israel as a senator and met with Peres before he became president, “Obama asked Peres to adopt him,” Frish says. “And he never forgot it. He always called Peres his ‘father figure’ and ‘mentor.’ When he and Peres sat down to talk, they often spoke about philosophical ideas and books.” She was also impressed by US President Joe Biden and his recent visit to Israel.
“As someone who met Joe Biden with Peres at least five times – at the President’s Residence, the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation and at the White House, I’d like to add that the president’s recent visit to Israel was really successful,” she says. “His sentence that ‘You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist’ touched us all, and brought home the fact that he’s a leader who cares about Israel, who loves Israel and is committed to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge.”
One of her favorite world leaders is former German chancellor Angela Merkel. “Merkel was so impressive at focusing on what was important and getting down to the nitty-gritty,” Frish says. “She always told Peres that after what happened in the Holocaust, ‘I am committed to the security of the State of Israel.’ And when Peres traveled to Germany, he stood under the eagle of the Bundestag with a kippah on his head and said kaddish for the six million. Merkel, who was an Iron Lady, sat in the front row and sobbed. That memory, which is surreal for the Jewish people and the State of Israel, still makes me cry.”
Asked what tips she would give world leaders today, she says that, “although Peres is no longer with us, there are leaders who can effect real change.”
Among others, Frish singles out Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (MBS), who she believes is capable of expanding the Abraham Accords to include Saudi Arabia, and Pope Francis, who she believes could take a more active role in ending the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
“I was really happy to see Biden fly to Jeddah and open a new page with Saudi Arabia,” she says. “I look at the reforms MBS is leading in Saudi Arabia, including the integration of women and young people, and his efforts to build strategic economic anchors based on hi-tech – lowering the kingdom’s dependency on oil – and I believe he has a real role to play in changing the future of the Middle East.”
“I believe that Saudi Arabia is the most important country in the Muslim world, and that with the right steps, MBS can turn into one of the most influential leaders in the world, who can lead significant global initiatives in the region and beyond, fostering long-term stability and tangible prosperity in the region for generations to come,” the former chief presidential strategic adviser says. “The fact that MBS is a young leader is an advantage and is key to the impact he can make among the youth and next generation of the Muslim world.”
Regarding Pope Francis, “I believe he has an important role in preventing wars and promoting peace around the world. He has a strong and positive personality and the moral power to lead humanity to a better world. I sincerely hope his voice will be heard and I believe his active presence is critical in the attempt to end the conflict in between Russia and Ukraine. The world needs brave leadership, and it’s needed now,” Frish says.
An expert in media strategy, communications and branding with more than 20 years of experience, Frish is one of Israel’s leading strategic advisers, advising leaders, companies and entrepreneurs. “When Peres stepped down as president, I asked permission from him to establish Frish Strategic Consulting,” she says. “He said I’d given him so many years and he couldn’t refuse me. But the condition was continuing to go to work every day as his strategic adviser.
“Since then, I have used what I learned from Peres and applied it to my clients – and I have some very important clients – to create and brand international events, work and forge relations with local and foreign governments, manage crises and brand leaders and countries. With the right strategy, I advise them to promote significant projects that change people’s lives; that change the world,” she says.
“And I tell young people, in the spirit of Peres, ‘Dream big, never stop dreaming. And think of ways you can contribute to your country and the world.’ That’s what I take away from Peres and from the film.”
Frish concluded, “I’d like to give a special thanks to Rick Trank and Rabbi Hier for chronicling Peres’s amazing life and doing a vital service – not only to Peres, but to Israel, the whole world and to future generations.”