In a special on-line Facebook session Wednesday night, President Shimon Peres – most likely with the help of his social media staff – answered dozens of questions posed by users from all over the world. It was a rare opportunity to hear what Israel’s longest-lived political leader thought about a range of issues, from security to the economy. But he also took on the deeper questions that man has long sought to answer – like whether the chicken preceded the egg.
For the price of a Facebook Like (Peres has 239,000 of them, making him Israel’s third most popular politician, behind Benjamin Netanyahu and Yair Lapid), Peres fans got the privilege of asking him a question in real time, and some of them even got an answer.
That Peres did not answer all the questions wasn’t his fault. Questions started pouring in hours before the official start time of the session (5:30 p.m. Israel time), and most people a third of Peres’s 90 years would probably find it difficult to handle the 500-plus questions that were posted. Still, Peres did his utmost during the hour session.
Amid the questions, there were many comments, nearly all positive – with no anti-Israel or anti-Peres comments to be found. Many wished the president a long life, and some hoped that he remain on the job for another year, another term, or the rest of his life (all three options were liberally represented). Peres’s term is up this July, and he cannot run for re-election. Asked by a student from the US what he saw himself doing in 10 years, Peres responded that, president or not, “I see myself still waking up every morning working for the country I love and trying to make the region we live in a better place.”
On the “big issues,” Peres reiterated themes that he often mentions in his speeches and meetings with foreign dignitaries. Asked by a California man about the key to Mideast coexistence, Peres said the answer lay in increasing science and technology cooperation by all countries in the region. “Science has no borders and no flags. Israel wishes to see a peaceful, prosperous and stable Middle East,” Peres wrote.
Technology includes the platform that Peres was using to reach out – Facebook. “Peace is not just between governments but also between people,” the president wrote. “Social platforms like Facebook can provide us with the opportunity to communicate directly and build bridges of peace.” Peres is a big fan of Facebook, as he told company CEO Mark Zuckerberg when the two met in Silicon Valley in 2012. And Peres has run a Facebook Q&A before, kicking off a major Facebook campaign with a session last October.
Peres also tackled some “hard” issues. Several Israelis writing in Hebrew asked what he was doing to free spy-for-Israel Jonathan Pollard, and in response Peres said that he had “presented a request to the US president to free Pollard on humanitarian grounds. We all want Pollard home. I will continue to present this request to the president and I hope we will see him home in Israel soon.”
Peres diplomatically handled a question posed by a member of the Foreign Service, now on strike over a long-standing contract dispute. “The State of Israel faces many challenges,” Peres responded to a writer who appealed for his help in resolving the strike. “I think the Foreign Ministry, and especially its staff, needs to be strengthened. I know the workers have been seeking an improvement in conditions for a long time, and I believe it will be possible to find a way to help them to continue to faithfully do their job, and to be rewarded commensurately.”
Peres also commented on the big news of the day – the capture by the Israeli Navy of a ship carrying Iranian missiles en route to Gaza via Sudan. “Iran must stop bluffing,” Peres wrote. The operation to interdict the ship “exposed the true face of Iran, which says one thing but does the opposite. They put on an innocent face and send the most dangerous missiles to a terror organization that kills innocent people, in violation of international law.”
But many of the questions Peres was asked had nothing to do with politics, the peace process, or the economy. Peres was repeatedly asked for advice on leadership and life in general. To a student from Europe who asked what he thought constituted “good leadership,” the president responded that it was “to serve, not to rule.” To a young man who asked for advice as he made aliyah and enlisted in the IDF, Peres said that “I see by your profile that you live in Sde Boker; you have in David Ben-Gurion a role model for Zionism.” And to a correspondent from Mexico who asked what his best and worst political decisions had been, the ever-diplomatic Peres answered, “I don’t look back; the past is dead and it cannot be changed. I only look forward to the future, I hope that the best decision I make will be the one I make tomorrow morning.”
But by far the most entertaining – and perhaps most instructive — part of the Facebook session was finally getting the answer to the question posed by a young Israeli man: “For once and for all, which came first – the chicken or the egg?” Without skipping a Facebook beat, Peres responded “the egg, without a doubt.”
How could he know? Peres did not elaborate, but according to one of the commenters on the subsequent chicken/egg thread, “He’s old enough that he was probably there when they were created.”