Shimon Peres discusses the future of Israel

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Wikinews reporter David Shankbone with Shimon Peres.
Image: David Shankbone.

This year Israel turns sixty and it has embarked upon a campaign to celebrate its birthday. Along with technology writers for Slate, PC Magazine, USA Today, BusinessWeek, Aviation Weekly, Wikinews was invited by the America-Israel Friendship League and the Israeli Foreign Ministry to review Israel’s technology sector. It's part of an effort to 're-brand the country' to show America that there is more to Israel than the Palestinian conflict. On this trip we saw the people who gave us the Pentium processor and Instant Messaging. The schedule was hectic: 12-14 hours a day were spent doing everything from trips to the Weizmann Institute to dinner with Yossi Vardi.

On Thursday, the fifth day of the junket, David Saranga of the foreign ministry was able to arrange an exclusive interview for David Shankbone with the President of Israel, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Shimon Peres. For over an hour they spoke about Iranian politics, whether Israel is in danger of being side-lined in Middle Eastern importance because of Arab oil wealth, and his thoughts against those who say Israeli culture is in a state of decay.

Cquote1.svg "The only crime I committed was to be a little bit ahead of time. And if this is the reason for being controversial, maybe the reason is better than the result." Cquote2.svg

—Peres on the ebb and flow of his popularity.

Shimon Peres spent his early days on kibbutz, a bygone socialist era of Israel. In 1953, at the age of 29, Peres became the youngest ever Director General of the Ministry of Defense. Forty years later it was Peres who secretly gave the green light for dialogue with Yassir Arafat, of the verboten Palestine Liberation Organization. It was still official Israeli policy to not speak with the PLO. Peres shares a Nobel Peace Prize with Yitzak Rabin and Arafat for orchestrating what eventually became the Oslo Accords. The "roadmap" that came out of Oslo remains the official Israeli (and American) policy for peace in the Palestinian conflict. Although the majority of Israeli people supported the plans, land for peace was met with a small but fiery resistance in Israel. For negotiating with Arafat, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shouted at Peres, "You are worse than Chamberlain!" a reference to Hitler's British appeaser. It was during this time of heated exchanges in the 1990s that Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, a Jew who thought it against Halakhic law to give up land given by God (Hashem).

Peres is the elder statesman of Israeli politics, but he remembers that he has not always been as popular as he is today. "Popularity is like perfume: nice to smell, dangerous to drink," said Peres. "You don’t drink it." The search for popularity, he goes on to say, will kill a person who has an idea against the status quo.

Below is David Shankbone's interview with Shimon Peres, the President of Israel.

Israeli technology

Wikinews
This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.

David Shankbone: One of your big initiatives in technology has been nanotechnology.

President Shimon Peres: Yes.

DS: What made you focus on nanotechnology as a sector for Israeli investment?

SP: Well, nanotechnology is not a vocation but a dimension. It’s a new dimension and it concerns all walks of life, not limited to one, from the military to the civilian. Everywhere you turn around you can see the eventual effect of nano. It also raises some of the most complicated moral issues because until now the human race knew how to build. It didn’t know how to grow. What we did is collected wood and stones and steel and glass and we built from up to down. Structure. Now, what is common to both building a structure is the smallest particular, the nanometer. The minute you can manage it, you can begin to make things grow. And that’s a tremendous change; it is also a tremendous dilemma for humanity. Now actually, like on many other occasions, we discover the nano from the negative side. The bomb.

DS: The bomb?

The now disused Koffler particle accelerator at the Weitzmann Institute, one of Israel's most accomplished institutions of higher learning in the sciences.
Image: David Shankbone.
SP: Yes. The nuclear bomb. The nuclear bomb was to release the hidden powers of a combination or dispersion of nanostructures. The minute you dismantle an existing structure, then you create a lot of energy and you create new dimensions and new measurements. I mean the size has nothing to do with power. You can, say, take a nuclear bomb where the core is six or seven kilos of plutonium and you can destroy a city. Why can’t you build a city with the six kilos? Same story. And the answer is clear. It was easier to destroy because then you don’t have to control the nanostructure. It’s simple when you want explosions; then, fission or fusion does not matter. The minute you want to build, you have to control the nano, and for a very long time we couldn’t, we weren’t able to see the nano, it is so small. No microscope could grasp it. The size of a nano is like 1/100th of a single hair, which is unbelievable. Or if you want to, to compare the nanometer with the meter is to compare an orange to the globe. Same proportion. That’s nothing. And the minute they discovered the microscope, the electronic microscope that can see the nanostructure, we can begin to build. And to build with materials and powers and combinations that we weren’t aware of. And then you can create a lot of things, like I said, on the military side. But it doesn’t make sense to chase it in modern warfare. It’s not armies against armies. It’s strength against, the strength of a collective army against the strength of an individual terrorist. It does not make sense to take an F-16 that costs $40-50 million and chase a terrorist. Nano enables you to miniaturize everything.

DS: To miniaturize?

SP: Yes. And from the beginning you can create invisible sensors that will inform you about every movement in armies all over the world. Then you can hand over the soldier, a new uniform made of nano which is immune against cartridges, against biology and chemical warfare. It’s a strong material because the nano material is 100 times stronger than steel and it weighs only 1/6 of it. It can warm up the soldier in cold weather; cool him in the warm weather. It enhances his strength 3 times; he can lift 120 kilos with one hand. And then you can go on and say not only to protect the protector but as well to create robots as in planes without pilots and military units without soldiers. You don’t need a soldier; you can run it by proxy. Small weapons, small robots that can penetrate or perform in conditions that a human being cannot. He is too large, too inflexible.

DS: That’s amazing.

SP: Then take the nano in medicine. You can produce the smallest instruments that you don’t have to invade the body. You can do it from the outside control, with such tiny little instruments.

DS: Are you satisfied with the progress in the nanotechnology sector here in Israel?

SP: Look, I started it 5 or 6 years ago to explain to the people the importance of it, then I was instrumental in collecting several hundred million dollars that was given to the universities and the research institutes. As a result, we have a very good group of nano experts, you see, all of the best, and now they are working with me voluntarily. I have 30 top scientists in Israel who have developed different ideas in the domain. This type of research can be applied to whatever you want: Alternative energy, because if you want to have solar energy, you need very large equipment. With nano you can condense it. The same is true about desalinization. It can replace the uniform of humankind. In the future ladies will have a dress. You can press a button and it will change the color. The nano has what has been called the lotus effect. Lotus is a flower that keeps cleaning itself. And so is a nano so it doesn’t shrink, doesn’t get dirty.

The future of the peace process in Israel

"The future is only peace. The problem is how long will it take and how many victims will it call for." Shimon Peres
Image: David Shankbone.

DS: Mr. President, as a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and as one of the fathers of the modern peace process in Israel, do you still think that there is a future to the peace process?

SP: The future is only peace. The problem is how long will it take and how many victims will it call for. Why do I say peace? Because when you look historically, at the development of humanity, most of our lives we are living on the land. The history is written with red ink. The reason for it is because people were fighting for our land, either defending it or extending it, because that was the main source. The land, the natural resources, the markets, all these go together. The minute the land was replaced by science, what is there to fight about? Armies cannot conquer science. Customs cannot check what a scientist has in his mind, they can see what he has in his pocket but not what he has in his mind so it’s uncontrolled; it means that borders aren’t important and distances aren’t important.

DS: How do you approach the difficult challenge of talking to the Palestinians when, in the end, they don’t want Israel to exist. How do you come to an understanding to make peace possible?

SP: Well, what is the problem? I mean, is the problem national, say between Jews and Arabs; or is it a matter of generations between an old age and a new age? You see, the terrorists are protesting against modernity. They think that modernity may endanger their tradition. They are simply afraid and hate modernity. They consider modernity as their enemy, but then they have two problems. First of all, can they exist on tradition? They cannot. Sooner or later they will have to enter the new age. All the talks about nationalities, etcetera, well, the new age has very little patience for history. History is becoming more and more irrelevant.

DS: How do you feel about that?

SP: Well, I distinguish between two histories, the spiritual and the material. Or the history of events and the history of values. The history of values is okay because wisdom is ageless; it doesn’t grow old, like material.
But events are totally unimportant for 2 reasons. First, the event is unimportant. Tell me, what events is today important such as how many elephants Hannibal had on the Alps, when you can have helicopters? Why should I bother my children with all this nonsense? What sort of a nose did Cleopatra have? God, I don’t know! You can invite people to war over noses, but nobody will go to fight for noses any more. On the other hand, there are already machines that can replace our memory. Why should I bother my child with memory when he can buy a computer that will remember everything you asked him to remember?

The waning importance of history

DS: Isn’t the answer to that question that wise decisions are made with a basis from memory? Although a computer can have…

SP: No, no. Forget memory. Look, the new age is unprecedented. When something is unprecedented, it means it doesn’t have a past, doesn’t have a history. It’s totally oriented on the future. And whoever dwells in the past, doesn’t understand the future because the past is full of prejudices, of commitments. It arrests us. And then you say you won’t commit a mistake, so you’ll commit new mistakes. It doesn’t matter.

DS: What about the adage, “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it”?

Cquote1.svg I say brains is the greater producer of wealth, not oil. It’s limitless, and you’ll see that the GNP of Israel is very close to the Saudis’. So they are 3 times larger than us and they have all the oil in the world. We have brains. Cquote2.svg

—Peres, on whether the Arab states' oil wealth will eclipse Israel's prominence in the region.

SP: So they will make new mistakes. Mistake is inevitable as long as there are human beings. But you cannot repeat mistakes because the world is not built on repetition; it’s built on mutation.

DS: Don’t you think Darfur is repetition?

SP: I think Darfur is, again, the last, or among the last battles between old and new. What are they fighting for? What are they killing killing killing over? They don’t carry futures. It’s not a mistake. It belongs to a past. It doesn’t have a moment. I am sure that the reasons for war are over, even though still there are wars which are an inertia from the past, a continuation that doesn’t make sense. I’m answering your question. The problem is how to enable the whole world to enter the new future, including the Arabs. And there are already Arabs who did it. Look at Turkey, who is knocking on the doors of the united Europe. Why? It’s not a geographic endeavor, it is an intellectual endeavor. They say you can be Muslim and modern.

DS: Like Dubai?

SP: Dubai…you must be very careful because Dubai is a small people with a large service sector. The citizens of Dubai are almost unnoticed. The rest are hired people. Turkey is different. Take Dubai or Qatar; in Qatar you have 180,000 citizens with 700,000 foreign workers. That also belongs to the past, because you see what’s happening: they live on oil. Oil is not produced by human beings, the producer of oil is the land. It takes a million years to produce oil without any human interferences. The need for oil is growing, so the cost of oil goes up which is forcing people to go to alternative energies to balance it. Just because oil is discovered doesn’t mean every year more and more and more people will pay for the same discovery. To hell with you, I shall look for an alternative! Even for Israel. If you have to make a choice between Saudi Arabia and the sun, it should go to the sun.

DS: A criticism of the Arab states is that back in the 1990s they had squandered the wealth that they were making on the high oil price because they had not invested it wisely. It seems that that has changed, that the Arabs are creating these new wealth funds and that much of the money that is generated in the Middle East is now coming from Arab states. Are you worried that Israel will become increasingly marginalized in the Middle East? Right now it’s very Iraq War focused or Iran-focused or the Emirates around the Gulf with their money.

SP: Look, if you’ll ask me “What is the real wealth, money or brains?” I say brains is the greater producer of wealth, not oil. It’s limitless, and you’ll see that the GNP of Israel is very close to the Saudis’. So they are 3 times larger than us and they have all the oil in the world. We have brains. We have to develop it. And for that reason I say that whoever dwells in the past is ignoring the future. Modern society is not based on the experience of the past but on risk-taking for the future.

Is Israel a united society?

In 2006 the northern town of Kiryat Shmona came under heavy shelling during the Lebanese War. Norman Sandberg, (above, left), who is a Vice President at Meytav, Israel's largest technology incubator, said it has become difficult to find people willing to leave the bustle of Tel Aviv, the heart of Israel's business and technology sectors, to work in Kiryat Shmona, where Meytav is based.
Image: David Shankbone.

DS: As you know, I’m part of a group from a technology mission over here of journalists. We went to Meytav, your largest technology incubator, and spoke with their Vice President Norman Sandberg. One of the things that he raised as an issue is that Israeli society is becoming dichotomized between Tel Aviv and the rest of the country. How do you develop the brainpower without Israel becoming a city-state with Tel Aviv? Mr. Sandberg told us nobody wants to go to the North. They want to stay in Tel Aviv. They don’t want to actually spread out and work on developing the rest of the country and invest outside of there. Is that a problem that you foresee that this bubble is forming around Tel Aviv in terms of brainpower?

SP: The whole world is moving from rural to urban life. Now everybody is made up of city-states; they are not a state of cities but cities that are states on their own. First of all, Tel Aviv is becoming noisy like all cities. It has all the flaws of a city, the crime and drugs, and the pollution. Like in America, you see people and companies are leaving the cities. It will happen here, too. Secondly, it’s a matter of transportation. If we shall speed up transportation, it’s a small country, then people will move. In the United States, if you go half an hour, an hour, to work, it’s normal. Here, an hour is the other side of the moon. It’s nonsense. They’ll get used to it. And then, more and more people today are not working in the same building, but using the same computers. So you computerize from home, which is again a difference. Today, a young boy is attending three schools: the formal school in the morning,; the informal school—television—in the afternoon; and the new language, which is Internet. We talk all the time that education is in the school; the school is just a third of the education of the children. What keeps them up-to-date is more the television and now more the internet. They look upon their teachers as old-age and a little bit boring, because they already know more than the teachers do. They have a new language, they have a new mind, they have a new sensitivity. In my judgment, the greatest thing is to bring over people from the old past that was slow--the cultivation of land--to a new future, which is as quick as an Internet.
During lunch Yitzhak Apeloig, the President of Israel's renowned Technion, told David Shankbone that he noticed the quality of Hebrew spoken by the students at the Israeli M.I.T. had decreased, and that "some professors have difficulty understanding their students." Peres waived such concerns aside: "They think everything is being ruined and is decaying. It’s different! They would like that we shall still dance a hora."
Image: David Shankbone.
Eytan Fox's 2006 film The Bubble, so-named because of the mentality and sometime apathy of the peace of mind that exists in Tel Aviv, amid a tumultuous region.

DS: When you speak of language, Hebrew is very unique. At a time when languages are disappearing, Hebrew is the only example that I know of a language revived successfully. Although I don’t speak Hebrew, I understand that the quality of Hebrew spoken by the younger generations has decreased.

SP: Don’t listen to the old generation. They think everything is being ruined and is decaying. It’s different! They would like that we shall still dance a hora. And the boys and the girls want to have all the jumping stuff: They want to jump, let them jump, my God! They still want that they should sing Slavic melodies and they complain the dresses are becoming shorter. What do you care? Let them have their own taste. And by the way: they can have it! Why are the girls wearing such short skirts? Because they are not afraid to show their legs; they take care of themselves. In previous generations, the women were not as up to develop the lady, so she couldn’t show her legs. Today, on the contrary.

DS: You used to not want to see the legs. [Laughs]

SP: They didn’t show because you didn’t want to see! [Laughs] So every generation handles it, they have new advantages, they have new problems, and the older want that we shall obey older traditions, and that children will behave like their parents. But the children have their own culture so they say they are deteriorating. They are not deteriorating! They are stronger, they are better informed, they are full of energy, they have a strategy. They are ready-made persons at an early age—14, 15, 16—physically and mentally and we don’t give them a role in our society. So they go off on drugs. It’s crazy! Let them play a role. Let them introduce themselves in the new hierarchies of our life. I believe that an inventor, a researcher can be the age of 15, 16, 17. We spoke about languages. What is the best time to learn a language? At the age of 2, 3, then you are becoming tired. Maybe at the age of 15 or 16 you have talents which are disappearing. Let them work. In the past generations they would not let the children work because it was a physical effort. Today, to work is to think. Let them think; don’t send them to drugs. Let them have their own challenges, their own curiosities

DS: What informs the question I asked about Hebrew is that it seems to build such a cohesive society here in Israel. It’s one of the binding forces...

SP: You said culture as justifying history, because I don’t suggest to forget the language. No. I am also for having individuality for nations. That can be cultural. But otherwise, I mean, let science run, let values stay permanent. I’ll give you just one example. Take away the land, okay. Take away a dunam of land. But in our culture, the yield per dunam is 25 times higher than it used to be. So maybe you lost one dunam but you won 25 yields. On the other hand, take away the Ten Commandments and the world becomes all of a sudden poor. You don’t have anything to replace these 169 words. So that’s what I mean, the permanence of the values and the mobility of the assets.

DS: One value used to be military service. 20 years ago it was anathema to not serve in the military and that was another binding cohesive force in Israeli society and now it’s quite common....

SP: Go over to sport, fight without killing, what’s wrong? Go over to chess, go over to competition or a creativeness to sing, to create. I would like to see the democracy not just a matter of real expression but a matter of self-expression.

DS: Do you think Israel’s security is at a point where it can move from being concerned with military service to being unconcerned and moving more towards competition in sports or the creative elements?

SP: The minute we shall be free of danger, yes. Right now, no. as long as we have dangers, we must be prepared to face them. You cannot become all of a sudden a philosopher instead of a soldier. It doesn’t make sense. But you see there are two things which are really fascinating. What makes Israel greater than our size? And that is the size of our enemies. We are forced to organize our defense, which means our agenda, not with the size of the land but with the size of the enemies of the land. So all the time we have to be more tense, more alert, more developed. The minute this will disappear, we will have to compete with the world to find our way. I think there is something in Judaism, by the way, which makes us inclined to do so. The greatest thing about Judaism--you can take it as a joke, you can take it seriously--is that introduced to life is dissatisfaction. A Jewish person cannot be satisfied, cannot be satisfied. The minute he is satisfied he begins to be non-Jewish. Dissatisfaction is the source of creation. All the time, because we were oppressed, we were small, we couldn’t sit down and have a glass of wine. All through time we have had to try and struggle and invest and renew. That is the reason why the Jewish people, in a way, are the permanent revolutionaries of history.

Iran: will Israel strike first?

DS: With Iran, do you think that Israel would ever need to act unilaterally again, to make a strike, in response to their nuclear capabilities? The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, which is quite controversial, said that they’ve stopped their nuclear weapons program, yet there are many centrifuges in Natanz that are still producing material.

SP: First of all about intelligence. One must understand the nature of intelligence. Intelligence is an organization to report and not to prophesize. They are not prophets and they don’t claim to be. They are experts on what has happened; you can’t ask them to be expert on what may happen because the best intelligence person in America will never have a Persian mind. So how can you know how the mind acts? Don’t expect them. What will finally bring down the danger of Iran is the Iranians themselves; they are sick and tired. Ahmadinejad almost replaced Allah with enriched Uranium. It becomes a holy profession. “We are enriching uranium!” What are you enriching uranium, what for? If you try to use it, you will be hit.

DS: Are you saying the Iranian people will be the agents of change?

SP: Yes.

DS: But there was so much hope for Mohammad Khatami and yet his administration ended up a disappointment--

SP: Yes. There are hopes that become disappointments. It doesn’t mean you don’t have to try again.

DS: But the Iranian people seem to be rallying around their nuclear program.

Cquote1.svg With Iran, we shall do what we have to do in our own way. We don’t want to bother anybody because it’s a world problem. Until now, the problem was will the world stand on the side of Israel. Today, the question is will the world stand on the side of the world? Iran is a world danger. Cquote2.svg

—On the possibility of an Israeli strike against Iran.

SP: You’re only as great as your word, don’t forget. But the Iranian economy cannot hold it and they are mobilizing the world against them. Gradually. Every time more and more. The world is sick and tired. Finally, the world will have to decide if we live in a world with nuclear devices that can fall in the hands of terrorists or we are going to organize ourselves against this danger. So I will be very careful not to describe Iran as an Israeli problem. It’s a world problem and Israel must be sanguine about it. Keep cool.

DS: As part of a coalition?

SP: If they want us, yes. But we shall not insist. We are naturally in the coalition; I don’t know if we shall be formally.

DS: And you feel it would be a mistake for Israel to act unilaterally, or not?

SP: Yes. I don’t think Israel should say it; I don’t think Israel should talk about it. The minute we shall talk about it we shall be left alone. Israel is the only country that has never had a foreign army to defend it. All the European countries had foreign armies, most of the Asian countries. We don’t. And…

DS: You don’t feel America plays that role with Israel?

SP: America helps us a great deal. We are grateful. But we have never asked for American soldiers to defend Israel. And one of the popularities of Israel in the United States is that American mothers know that their children don’t face danger here.

DS: Although they face it quite often in Iraq and Afghanistan.

SP: But here we defend it ourselves. Even in the early times when the United States recognized us, they didn’t give us rifles to defend our lives. It’s only later that they gave us arms and we are very grateful. But with Iran, we shall do what we have to do in our own way. We don’t want to bother anybody because it’s a world problem. Until now, the problem was will the world stand on the side of Israel. Today, the question is will the world stand on the side of the world? Iran is a world danger.

The 2006 Lebanon War

'The Iron Dome': The Anti-Kassam rocket system, to be built by Israeli defense experts RAFAEL, is slated to be able to take its first battery in 2012. The missile shield is designed to prevent the problems encountered in Haifa during the war, when the city, including its oil refinery, came under heavy shelling from Hezbollah in Lebanon, just on the other side of the mountains (photo, above). The Dome is not without its questions and controversies, including whether the $207 million (£104 million) system will work.
Image: David Shankbone.

DS: How did the Lebanese War help Israel’s security?

SP: Look, Israel is almost 60 years old next year. In the 60 years we went through seven wars, two intifadas, all of them outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered. We didn’t lose a single one. So there were wars that were more successful, less successful, never a failure. Now about Lebanon, it became a question of did we do rightly or wrongly. But clearly it not wind up better for Hamas, not better for Hezbollah winning. They don’t know to answer, “Why did they go to the war?” Today, everybody recognizes that Hezbollah is a danger to Lebanon more than to Israel. Today when you speak to a Frenchman or to the United States, they are worried more about Lebanon and Hezbollah than about Hezbollah and Israel. So, we have learned our lessons too, and but I think by and large, some people say we could have saved the lives of 30 soldiers. Maybe.

DS: Do you think it’s hurt the peace process, the Lebanese War?

SP: I don’t think so. You know what is promoting the peace prospect more than losing it? That no one in the Middle East wants to fall under the spell of Iran. Iran today is a country with an appetite. An imperial appetite. They want an Iranian hegemony in the Middle East in the name of god and enriched uranium. And nobody wants it. So they attended Annapolis for the same reason. So everything, you know, it’s not a one-sided situation. It’s very dialectical, including Iran. So they think they won. What did they win? They are less accused; they are not less watched, not less disliked and not less suspected.

DS: Do you think there is still a strong peace movement in Israel?

SP: I think the situation is a peace movement because the more that the Arabs are learning, the more they are becoming peaceful. Look, we have in Israel 50,000 Arab citizens who are academicians. Ask where are they. Some of them are teachers who will remain in the vicinity of their university. Most of them are doctors. You won’t find in Israel today a hospital without Arab doctors and Arab nurses. Now an Israeli that goes to the hospital, maybe he would be reluctant to employ an Arab at his factory but he doesn’t hesitate to come to the hospital, lie on the bed and here comes an Arab doctor with a knife in his hand and operates on him. And he says thank you. So if you have healthy relations in hospitals, maybe it’s a cure for the others. The more people who become professional and modern from both sides, this is the peace movement! The peace movement is not an attempt to write more songs about peace. We have enough songs. What we need is the development and we have to be passionate.

On American politics

DS: How have you seen America’s role in the peace process change between Clinton to Bush?

SP: Look at America after the elections. In my journal, the two parties will come together and try to work up a bipartisan policy. You know somebody said that the difference between the Republicans and Democrats is the Democrats are reformers and the Republicans are maintainers. So they put in a little bit the Democrats to reform, then they put in the Republican to maintain. Then they change, but they keep basic on foreign affairs; America is revolutionary in technology, in economy, but very balanced in foreign policy and even when the United States commits mistakes in her foreign policy, a foreign policy without America would be the greatest mistake of our generation.

DS: You earlier spoke about modernity and the importance of science and how a lot of the terrorists are very scared of modernity and how it will affect their traditions yet one of Israel’s greatest supporters are the evangelicals in America, who are often seen in America as fighters of science and modernity.

SP: Look, I am not going here to make a license office. [Chuckles] I can judge on the general trend but I am not going to make any one remark. You know, one of the candidates is now Romney, who is a Mormon--

DS: Mitt Romney

SP: Yes, the Mormons too are becoming modern, and the evangelists they participate in all modernity. They are not terrorists. I mean, if you have an idea, you have an idea. The problem begins when you want to shoot when you have a different idea, to kill the future. You cannot kill it. Nobody can kill the future. Nobody can stop it. The terrorists will discover that they cannot live on their traditions. They will lose because they are not sustainable. Take a simple, single item: the attitude towards women. If they will not give equal rights to women, they will always be inferior because a nation that doesn’t give equality to women is half a nation. So by definition they are half of modern nations. You lose a lot. It’s not that you lose the women; you lose also the children because if the woman is uneducated, she cannot help the children to be educated. She doesn’t have to make a balance between the number of the children and the state of income of the family. This contradiction will grow and grow and grow and grow. It will take time, I don’t know, it will take 5 years or ten years or fifteen years… But it is so clear that they cannot make a living by killing others or by hanging on tradition.

Peres on his Presidency and learning from the future, not the past

DS: What do you hope to achieve with your presidency?

SP: In the long term I would like to help our people to live on two foundations: on the heritage of our spirit and our talent at modernity. That we should be as old spiritually as the Ten Commandments, and as new economically as the latest model of the Internet. It’s an educational process. Here the proportion between authority and freedom is in favor of freedom. Being free is the greatest, the best administration in life. Administrations are still becoming old, they are becoming bureaucracies. They represent a world that is disappearing. The modern economy is based on global companies that don’t have armies, don’t have police; that don’t have laws. They are based on good will, on inventions. So I don’t see any contradictions. Since we shall always remain a small land and a small people, we have all time to see how to reach the size that is necessary to exist, to defend ourselves, to offer a future to our children.
The office of the President of Israel in Jerusalem
Image: David Shankbone.

DS: Do you hope to have another term as president?

SP: Oh, maybe next time I shall go and be a shepherd or a poet. Why go back to government? [Laughs]

DS: [Laughs] I think you are already seen as both of those things.

SP: Yes, I’m not orthodox about it and I’m not particular. You know, once I was free of administration, I discovered the great advantage of being free. And I feel free. Most of my life, I was quite controversial. [Laughs] Now I know I am tremendously popular. I don’t know what is better, to be controversial and fight or to be popular and becoming a little bit…

DS: It is unique that when you look at your standing 20 years ago versus now, it’s so different--

SP: When was better? [Laughs]

DS: [Laughs] Well...

SP: I think 20 years ago when I was fighting. What do you need popularity? Popularity is like perfume: nice to smell, dangerous to drink. You don’t drink it. Why are people against you? Because you are against the status quo. Why was I unpopular? I didn’t commit any crime in my life. The only crime I committed was to be a little bit ahead of time. And if this is the reason for being controversial, maybe the reason is better than the result.

DS: What do you look at as your greatest legacy in your career?

SP: I am bored by it. My greatest legacy...

DS: What pops into your head right away when I asked that? [Laughs]

SP: [Laughs] It is what I’m going to do tomorrow. What I did yesterday, for me it’s boring and I’m very careful not to talk to my children about it because they will be bored. So why should I? My mind is set to see what will happen tomorrow.

DS: You don’t speak to your children about the things you’ve done in you life or your grandchildren?

SP: No I learn from them what they are doing. Why should I bore them? They know more about the computers and the internet and all; I am taking advantage.

DS: They probably know Wikipedia.

SP: My children are my parents because they teach me the future. Traditionally, I should have taught them, but I think it’s a waste of time. Why should I? Why should I load their minds with what I may think are heroic stories? They have their own heroism which is now giving birth to new possibilities, to a new age. So my time? They don’t ask and I don’t bother them. I imagine they know because [the press writes] about me negatively so much, that they can not escape. [Laughs] But they know one thing: I don’t complain. I generally never complain. They know we have an honest life. So whatever people are writing they do not care, because they know the truth.

DS: You’re very unique in your generation but also in Israel as someone who’s saying “Listen to the younger people.” Wikipedia is something that was basically built by people under 30 and it’s become perhaps the most influential media in the—

SP: Tell that to all those elder statesmen already. Go earlier and approach them. You know what is dying the fastest way? The daily newspaper. Tomorrow, it’s dead. Who remembers the newspaper of yesterday? Israel is not only quite technologically developed, but the revolutionary mind is also expressed in all forms of life. No country in the last a hundred years stayed at a kibbutz or a moshav. So it’s not only new forms of technology but new forms of life. Now let me tell you, the kibbutzim and the moshavim are, all told, today one-and-a-half percent of the Israeli population. Not much. But they are 8.5% of the Israeli production. Unbelievable. They are 20% of our pilots. They are a third of the soldiers that were decorated. What do I mean with this? They are not billionaires. Their capital is pioneering and not collecting. If I have to advise young people that enter politics these days I say don’t try for popularity; it will kill you. Because at the beginning you have an idea you want to make popular. But then you become so addicted to popularity that you forgot the idea that you wanted to sell. Better stick to your idea than to your popularity.

DS: Mr. President, I think that that is advice that many of our presidential candidates could heed as much as any young person. Thank you for your time.


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