There may be no direct flights from Tel Aviv, Israel, to Hamilton, New York. But that didn’t prevent Shimon Peres, former president and prime minister of Israel, from logging thousands of air miles to engage in conversation with Bob Woodruff ’83, P’13 during the Kerschner Family Series Global Leaders at Colgate.

Shimon Peres and Bob Woodruff '83 talk on stage at Sanford Field House. (Photo by Andy Daddio)

Shimon Peres and Bob Woodruff ’83, P’13 talk on stage at Sanford Field House. (Photo by Andy Daddio)

More than 4,000 students, parents, alumni, and community members watched the discussion tonight in Sanford Field House. A standing ovation greeted Peres and Woodruff as they climbed the stage, and the responses that Peres supplied to Woodruff’s wide-ranging questions drew further applause from the crowd.

While Peres spoke on topics from the development of the Kibbutz movement to the threat posed by ISIS and Hamas, his answers all revolved around a common theme: technology and science have changed the dynamic of societies. Peaceful cultural revolutions brought about by Facebook and Microsoft have circled the globe, but not all citizens have been able to reap the benefit.


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Barred from this new world by a lack of economic opportunity, young men and women in the Middle East are taken instead by what Peres called “the excitement of extremism.” They swell the ranks of ISIS and Hamas. “They say they have the answers to the problems of the world,” he said. “But there is no one total answer to the questions we are having. We have to be more sophisticated.”

Peres outlined his own sophisticated solution to extremism. “We cannot face them just militarily,” Peres said. “We have to fight the reasons, not just the people.” Those reasons include poverty, but also a mistaken interpretation of religion.

“They speak as though they had permission from the Lord to cut the heads off of people,” he said. “This is not the call of religion. It is not the call of the Lord. It’s a sin. It’s a mistake.”

Peres described the kind of modern democracy into which he would welcome the world’s citizens. “Democracy is not just the right of free expression, but the right of self expression,” he said. “It’s not just the right to be equal, but equal right to be different.”

Colgate President Jeffrey Herbst introduces Shimon Peres and talks about a new series of gifts that will power the university’s commitment to international engagement.

Colgate President Jeffrey Herbst introduces Shimon Peres and talks about a new series of gifts that will power the university’s commitment to international engagement.

The terrain on the way to peace has changed during Peres’s seven decades in public life. He noted that, in his early years, during and even after World War II, there were typically two sides to any conflict. Today, there are 100 sides, and building broad coalitions has trumped unilateral action.

And though he supported his country’s use of military force in Gaza last summer, he repeatedly stressed the utility of coalition-backed economic sanctions in response to the nuclear threat in Iran or the tyranny of the Assad regime in Syria. “Better a bank than a tank,” he said.

After answering questions about his own past and his hopes for the future of the Middle East, Peres turned from Woodruff to address Colgate students directly.

“Each of you possess more potential than you think. You have to invest in it — it doesn’t fall from heaven,” he said. “You can make the world a better place but you have to have the courage to dream. Use your imagination. Use your brains. Use your talents. Learn.”

This kind of direct address sparked the creation of the Kerschner Family Series. Peres is the tenth global leader to visit with the Colgate community since the series began in 2007. Other guests have included former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson.

More Global Leaders Who Have Visited Colgate

Joseph "Joe" Biden Jr. speaks in front of a Colgate backdrop

Joseph "Joe" Biden, Jr.

Former Vice President of the United States, 2017

Joseph "Joe" Biden Jr. speaks in front of a Colgate backdrop
Aretha Franklin on stage during Global Leaders 2016

Aretha Franklin

Queen of Soul, 2016

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Aretha Franklin on stage during Global Leaders 2016
Shimon Peres, former prime minister of Isreal, speaking at Global Leaders 2014

Shimon Peres

Former President and Prime Minister of Israel, 2014

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Shimon Peres, former prime minister of Isreal, speaking at Global Leaders 2014
Hillary Clinton speaking at Global Leaders 2013

Hillary Clinton

Former Secretary of State, 2013

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Hillary Clinton speaking at Global Leaders 2013
Felipe Calderon speaking at Global Leaders 2013

Felipe Calderón

Former President of Mexico, 2013

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Felipe Calderon speaking at Global Leaders 2013
Sir Richard Branson runs through the crowd of students performing a Flash Mob, making a grand entrance to his talk at Colgate University, as part of the Global Leaders Lecture Series 2013.

Sir Richard Branson

Entrepreneur and philanthropist, 2012

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Sir Richard Branson runs through the crowd of students performing a Flash Mob, making a grand entrance to his talk at Colgate University, as part of the Global Leaders Lecture Series 2013.
Bill Clinton speaking during Global Leaders 2010.

Bill Clinton

42nd President of the United States, 2010

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Bill Clinton speaking during Global Leaders 2010.
Garry Kasparov speaking to students during Global Leaders 2010.

Garry Kasparov

Chess champion and political activist, 2010

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Garry Kasparov speaking to students during Global Leaders 2010.
Former Prime Minister of Britain, Tony Blair, speaking at Global Leaders 2009.

Tony Blair

Former Prime Minister of Britain, 2009

More on his visit 

Former Prime Minister of Britain, Tony Blair, speaking at Global Leaders 2009.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell speaking during Global Leaders 2009.

General Colin Powell

Former U.S. Secretary of State, 2009

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Former Secretary of State Colin Powell speaking during Global Leaders 2009.
The Dalai Lama speaking during Global Leaders 2008.

His Holiness - The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet

Spiritual leader of Tibet, 2008

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The Dalai Lama speaking during Global Leaders 2008.

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