In 2012, Shimon Peres became hip.
The then-Israeli president was 88 years old at the time, but not too old to shoot this music video asking people around the world to friend him on Facebook:
The video is playful, but Peres was dead serious. With his signature stone-faced expression, he imparted his words of advice to young people.
“Peace is needed. For your future. For your future. For your future,” Peres said in the video, his words set to a dance beat.
Former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres died this week at the age of 93, following a stroke. In the last chapter of his life, the veteran statesman took on a new persona, embracing new technologies to bring his message of peace to the world.
Computers did not come naturally to Peres. His aides would print the news for him in headline size font, said Ron Shelly, PR consultant to Peres when he was Israel’s president. But he understood the power of social media to spread ideas and help create movements.
“He said change today can be achieved through the young generation thanks to social media, by giving a voice to his vision of peace,” Shelly said.
Peres launched his music video and international Facebook page with founder Mark Zuckerberg by his side.
“He became cool. But not for the sake of coolness,” Shelly said. “That cool vibe opened the door for him to engage with kids, teenagers, and had them listen to convince them to be more active to achieving peace or changing their lives.”
He hosted Facebook chats with youth from Israel and around the world, and people from Iran and Arab countries watched his YouTube videos.
On his 93rd birthday, just a month before he died, he opened a Snapchat account.
And on the day he died, he uploaded a video to Facebook imploring Israelis to buy locally grown fruits and vegetables.
“He had a special groove, you know what I mean?” said Ophir Tal, a 22-year-old Israeli eating at Babette, a funky Belgian waffle joint in Jerusalem. “The way he talked, the way he moved. He knew how to make people laugh and still be serious, you know what I mean?”
Did Peres convince him that peace with the Palestinians was realistic? Not for the time being.
“The situation in the territories is so complicated, with the settlements and Hamas in Gaza. If something dramatic won’t change, a two-state solution won’t happen,” Tal said. “With the people currently in office on both sides, I don’t see (that) anything changes.”
Behind the counter, waffle maker Shaked Carmel was also pessimistic about peace.
“I don’t see it happening in my lifetime,” the 23-year-old said. “I mean, I really want it. I’ll do a lot of things for it to happen, if it were in my hands. But it’s not.”
When it comes to believing in peace, Peres’ target audience happens to be one of Israel’s most pessimistic age demographics.
Young Israelis don’t remember a more optimistic time in their country, when Peres helped bring about the Oslo peace accords in the 1990s.
And still, they liked the guy.
“He was kind of cool because he tried very hard, so the very effort looked appetizing to certain young people,” said political scientist Tamar Hermann of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank. “In a way, it was – how should I put it – appreciation to the effort of your grandfather to text you.”
Recent polls, Hermann said, suggest 70 to 75 percent of Israelis around ages 18 to 25 do not believe peace with the Palestinians is possible in the foreseeable future.