Looking back to the future with Shimon Peres

A little known side to Shimon Peres.

SHIMON PERES smiles during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos in 2013. (photo credit: REUTERS)
SHIMON PERES smiles during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos in 2013.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Shimon Peres. I was fortunate to have served as president Peres’s international media adviser in 2010-2011 and found the experience both memorable and profound. Well into his late 80s at the time, he invested considerable effort in working toward a future he would not be part of. He regularly dealt with issues that would only become relevant years after his death. Whether it was nanotechnology, brain science, electric cars, agro-technology, science, or low-tech issues like finding a better way for Israelis to get along with their neighbors and the rest of the world, Peres was in a race against time to leave a mark which would only be revealed in the future.
What I found most fascinating was his ability to utter these brilliant sentences which simplified complex issues into a few words. In addition to his various impressive titles and accolades, he was a mesmerizing, hypnotic wordsmith. When he spoke, it was as a wise old sage looking toward the future while keeping the past in mind.
I carried around a notebook to transcribe some of these “Peresisms,” many of which are extremely relevant today.
“People have the impression that leaders are running reality. The truth is that reality is running leaders.”
He often stressed that the world is moving quite fast and is out of control of governments and more in the hands of the private sector. While he may have thought differently earlier in his political career, he was convinced that political leaders were more of a hindrance to change than a catalyst. He often added: “Leaders cannot stop change from happening. They can either facilitate it or get out of the way.”
“The greatest contribution of Jews to the world is ‘dissatisfaction’ because it is the source of creativity. Jews are never satisfied and always in search of more perfection, which leads to creativity.”
He was delighted with the developments in technology, medicine and especially agriculture, having lived on a kibbutz for several years. He was never satisfied and always looking for a better, more efficient way.
Even as someone who came from a socialist background he was in awe of the way the working world had changed to a non-exploitive capitalism in technology companies.
“The two boys from Google and the young man that started Facebook created world-class companies worth billions and employing thousands of people. They help make our lives better, easier and improve the flow of information and communication. They didn’t exploit anyone, they didn’t steal from anyone, and everyone who works for them is paid well, motivated and satisfied.
Their working conditions and compensation are better than any trade union could have achieved.”
For Peres, reading was paramount. “Reading is most important,” he said. “Eating three times a day can make you fat, while reading three times a day can make you wise.” He also added that “Armies cannot conquer wisdom.”
“The danger is not in the bomb but in the person,” he said. “One can take nuclear material and make a bomb to destroy things and people, or one can take nuclear material and use it for nuclear medicine to save people and heal them.”
“Governments have budget but no money. The private sector has money.”
After a lifetime of service in government he realized that the private sector could move quicker and more effectively in developing industries, jobs and businesses.
He often mentioned the example of the failed Better Place car, which he played a part in launching.
He used his position as president to meet with government officials and others to move the project forward.
In one year he accomplished what would have taken him eight years as a minister.
“Economies are more important than land. Economies are not just good products but good relations too. There are no national economies anymore, they are worldwide and global. Countries and people must move toward a high-tech economy, away from landbased ones.”
He desired to achieve a lasting agreement with the Palestinians and felt it was a vital strategic interest of Israel. When speaking of failures of past agreements, including the Oslo Accords, of which he was one of the architects, he said: “In business one has to take risks in order to make money. Without risks there are no rewards. Similarly, without taking political, diplomatic and military risks there can be no reward of peace. Politicians are afraid to take risks where business leaders are not.”
Sometimes when talking about his frustrations in achieving peace with the Palestinians, he drew inspiration from the example of America.
“When I traveled to America in the 1950s I could not believe the relations between Whites and Blacks and thought there was no way that America will ever solve this problem. It’s too complicated. Today, race relations in America are not perfect but who could have imagined that there would be equality, and even that a black man would be elected president.”
Finally, Peres loved America, as a friend, a global leader and Israel’s most important ally.
“America is the greatest empire to have ever existed.
It achieved its greatness by giving and not taking, by defending others and not conquering them. The United States gives to other nations and helps them build their countries. The United States goes to war to defend the freedom and lives of other nations and people, never asking for anything in return.”
Looking back on some of the words of Shimon Peres is looking forward toward the future in a way that only he could articulate and dream.
The author is an American-Israeli pollster and communications professional based in Jerusalem. He served as a speechwriter to president Shimon Peres and prime minister Ariel Sharon, and as an aide to then deputy minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the tenure of prime minister Yitzhak Shamir. He is CEO of KEEVOON Global Research and has polled 5,276,382 million mobile phone users in 135 countries in the past three years. @uberpollster.