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Israeli President Shimon Peres looks to Facebook to promote peace

March 06, 2012|By Jessica Guynn
  • A Facebook employee at the social networking giant's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.
A Facebook employee at the social networking giant's headquarters… (Paul Sakuma / Associated…)

Israeli President Shimon Peres praised Facebook as a vehicle for social change during a visit to the social networking company’s Menlo Park, Calif., campus.

Peres, 88, came to Facebook on Tuesday to launch his official personal page on the site that he hopes will open a dialogue with Arabs throughout the world and to meet with Facebook founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg.

"The matter of peace is no longer the business of governments but the business of people,” Peres told Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, in an interview streamed live on Facebook. "Today the people are governing the governments. And when they begin to talk to each other, they are surprised. We should be friends."

Asked by a Facebook engineer what Facebook could do to promote peace in the Middle East, Peres said: "What you are doing is convincing people they don't have reason to hate.”

Peres’ visit followed a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama this week. The two disagree about an Israeli military strike against Iran.

Even as Obama called for more time to allow sanctions and diplomacy to work, Peres, who twice served as Israel’s prime minister, condemned the Iranian government.

“The combination of viciousness and nuclear weapons is a real catastrophe, a real danger," he said.

Peres is on a four-day tour of Silicon Valley to tout Israel’s technology industry and strengthen ties between the two high-tech hotspots during stops at IBM and Google and a meeting with venture capitalists.

Silicon Valley in recent years has become a magnet for politicians and celebrities. There is no bigger attraction in Silicon Valley now than Facebook, which has 845 million users around the world and is on the verge of an initial public offering that could value the company at $100 billion or more.

Asked how Israel evolved into a flourishing technology center, Peres said: "This is a case where the people enriched the land more than the land enriched the people," he said.

Obama was the first sitting head of state to visit Facebook's headquarters last year for an interview with Zuckerberg. Facebook held a town hall meeting at its former campus in Palo Alto. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, also paid a visit there.

Peres was the first sitting Israeli president to visit Silicon Valley. He joked that he no longer has the same kind of sway he had as prime minister.

"When I was prime minister I gave orders," Peres said. "Now I must look for volunteers."

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