Mark Zuckerberg’s deft denial during an Internet forum in Paris last month that Facebook was not responsible for the Arab Spring protests sweeping across the Middle East was somewhat disingenuous. In almost the same breath, Zuckerberg acknowledged that Facebook had performed a key role in the regional revolts from Tunisia to Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria. “It’s not a Facebook thing, it’s an Internet thing,” he said in response to a question about the Arab Spring. “I think Facebook was neither necessary nor sufficient for any of those things to happen. If it weren’t Facebook, it would be something else.”Most accounts from rights activists themselves as well as journalists on the scene and sociologists analyzing the situation, however, clearly show that Facebook had an enormous influence on the start and spread of the uprisings, as well as their apparent domino effect. It served a primary means of communication.
Take Egypt, for example, where one of the most prominent leaders of the revolution, Wael Ghonim, squarely credited Facebook with its success in an interview shortly after president Hosni Mubarak stepped down in early April.Ghonim, a marketing manager for Google, helped organize the massive January 25 demonstration in Tahrir Square by reaching out to Egyptian youths on Facebook, and was arrested and imprisoned for 12 days after the protest.“I want to meet Mark Zuckerberg one day and thank him,” Ghonim told CNN. “This revolution started online. This revolution started on Facebook.” If you accept that the story of the year so far has been the blossoming of the Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East, and the thesis that Facebook at the very least enabled and encouraged, if not empowered, the protests by advertising them on the Internet, then its boss, Mark Zuckerberg, should be given his fair share of credit, whether he accepts it or not.When it comes to influencing international events, therefore, it is Zuckerberg who takes first place in our list as the most influential Jew in today’s world.In third place, in this subjective listing, we decided to acknowledge the Jewish woman behind the scenes at Facebook, its chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg. She is responsible for expanding Facebook’s operations globally, and was dubbed by Radio Islam as the “Jewish second-in-command of Facebook.”On a related issue, Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein sent a personal letter in March to Zuckerberg asking him to shut down a page calling for a third Palestinian intifada, which had attracted some 230,000 supporters in the wake of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.“On this Facebook page there are posted many remarks and movie clips which call for the killing of Israelis and Jews and the ‘liberating’ of Jerusalem and of Palestine through acts of violence,” Edelstein wrote. “I turn to you with the request that you order the immediate removal of this Facebook page. I am sure that you too hold fast to these values and would prefer that all of the pages on your site operate according to them.”A short time later, the page was removed, but reappeared in a similar form in just a few weeks. This time, Facebook let it be, taking no action to close it.Edelstein, who holds the tough job of promoting Israel’s case to the world, is our primary interview in this supplement, and features in 10th place on our list.LAST SHAVUOT, The Jerusalem Post published its first-ever list of the 50 most influential Jews in the world, from all walks of life. We wrote then that the candidates were chosen from all walks of life “for their ability to fashion the face of the future.” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was top of our list last year. This year, he is in second place, still high on the list, based on his leadership of Israel and ability to shape the future of the Jewish people. His recent speech to the US Congress was his most eloquent policy address to date, and while vague on specifics, strongly signals his continued desire to make history by forging a peace agreement with the Palestinians in particular, and the Arab world in general. Following Netanyahu are Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, new military chief, Lt.- Gen. Benny Gantz, and Meir Dagan, the former chief of the Mossad, all of whom may play a key security role in the coming year.Rounding off our top 10 are Dennis Ross, a key adviser to US President Barack Obama on the Middle East, Ben Bernanke, the powerful chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Stanley Fischer, the internationally respected governor of the Bank of Israel, and Edelstein.Others who are expected to play an important part in advocating for Israel in the coming year (and hence feature fairly high on the list) are Ron Prosor, who takes up the prestigious position of ambassador to the United Nations in July, ahead of the much-anticipated Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN General Assembly in September, as well as Israel’s articulate ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, and Eric Cantor, the astute majority leader of the US House of Representatives.After publication of our last list, we received a torrent of responses, both in letters to the editor and talkbacks on the Internet. We carefully noted our readers’ criticism, sometimes scathing, and suggestions, many of which were helpful. This year’s list contains many new names, including respected rabbis, Diaspora leaders and wonderful women, some of whom readers charged had been unfairly downplayed.We have endeavored to correct that oversight by including a few of the world’s most revered religious leaders, headed by the great Jerusalem-based Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, who last year concluded his monumental translation and commentary of the Talmud.Also in the list are Rabbi Yitzhak David Grossman, the founder of Migdal Ohr, which cares for impoverished children throughout Israel, Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel, and Rabbi Menachem Froman, the chief rabbi of the settlement of Tekoa, known for his peacemaking efforts with Muslim religious leaders.Among the prominent women are Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the US congresswoman who serves as head of the Democratic National Committee, US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt earlier this year and was named by Time as one of the world’s most influential people, and Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who was named by Newsweek as one of the world’s most powerful women.We also feature an interview with Ester Levanon, the savvy managing director of the resilient Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.Toward the bottom of our list are Israeli-born American actress Natalie Portman and Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli, who may be more familiar to citizens of the world than most of the other names mentioned – and their movements are covered by the media just as much if not more than some of the political and business leaders higher up on the list.Coinciding with Jerusalem Day, which was celebrated last week, we have honored Jerusalem’s popular mayor, Nir Barkat, this year. And as we celebrate Shavuot, the giving of the Torah, we also chose Joseph Cedar, who recently won the best screenplay prize at the Cannes Film Festival for his new movie, Footnote, which addresses the relationship between a father and son who are rival researchers of Talmud.As a new addition this year, our Jewish world correspondent, Gil Shefler, has compiled a list of relatively young people who show signs of becoming future movers and shakers.I would like to thank my assistant editor, Joshua Hamerman, as well as our team of contributing reporters – Herb Keinon, Gil Shefler, Nadav Shemer, Sharon Udasin, Jonah Mandel, Yaakov Katz, Gil Hoffman, Hilary Leila Krieger, Melanie Lidman, Greer Fay Cashman and Tovah Lazaroff – and our meticulous chief copy editor, Sybil Ehrlich, assisted by Rachel Beitsch-Feldman, for helping to put together this special supplement.To our readers, a message of encouragement: Enjoy reading about the interesting people our list comprises! Remember that no such list can be all-inclusive, and every year important people are inevitably left out.Hopefully, this year’s list will spark as strong a reaction as last year, when we received dozens of letters of kudos and condemnation.We welcome your feedback, comments and criticism, and look forward to reading them in our talkbacks on our Internet site (jpost.com) and in our letters to the editor (firstname.lastname@example.org).Hag Sameah!