President Reuven Rivlin – Israel’s 10th President

Binyamin Netanyahu, Reuven Rivlin, Yuli Edelstein

From left to right, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President-elect Reuven Rivlin and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein raise a toast after Rivlin is elected to the presidency Tuesday. (photo credit: Knesset Spokesperson)

As the end of President Shimon Peres’s 7-year term approached, a nasty dirty battle was  waged in recent weeks in the Knesset over who Israel’s next President was to be.  Binyamin Netanyahu mystifyingly opposed Rivlin’s candidacy until the very last minute when it became obvious that he was “the people’s choice”. Judge Dalia Dorner was a center-left choice and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik the left’s choice. A dark horse entered the ring in the form of Nobel Prize-winner Prof. Dan Shechtman, and Meir Sheetrit was a centrist candidate. MK Binyamin Ben Eliezer was another center-left candidate, who had to drop out because of a financial scandal. He claimed that the timing of the scandal’s exposure was suspiciously close to the presidential election (he’s right) but no one can deny that there is some truth to the rumours.

To get a clearer picture of these confusing facts, read the Times of Israel’s backgrounder and their live-blog of the election and the reactions of the various candidates.  Here’s just the beginning:

After a campaign dogged by multiple scandals, with front-running candidates Silvan Shalom and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer dropping out amid police investigations, the Knesset vote is about to kick off.

The five contenders vying to replace the venerable Shimon Peres as Israel’s president, a largely ceremonial position, are former justice Dalia Dorner, Nobel Prize laureate Dr. Dan Shechtman, former MK Dalia Itzik, Hatnua party MK Meir Sheetrit and veteran Likud MK Reuven Rivlin.

Reuven Rivlin

Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s 10th President

As we all now have heard, despite initial rumours that Meir Sheetrit had won the day,  the election has in fact brought in former Knesset Speaker and Likud member Reuven Rivlin as our 10th President and I for one welcome his election.  Lahav Harkov in the JPost describes Rivlin as “loving Jerusalem and Jabotinsky and opposing a Palestinian State”:

Reuven “Rubi” Rivlin, who is soon to become Israel’s 10th president, usually describes himself in two ways: A man of Jerusalem and a student of Likud ideological forebear Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

Rivlin was born 74 years ago in Jerusalem, to a family descended from students of the Vilna Gaon, who lived in the city since the 19th century. His father, Yosef Yoel Rivlin, ran for president of Israel in 1952 as Likud predecessor Herut’s candidate.

The president-elect often talks about being a son of Herut, with classic liberal values of democracy and freedom, together with a commitment to strong defense and the Land of Israel. Rivlin opposes the formation of a Palestinian state and advocates giving Israeli citizenship to Palestinians.

[…]

Rivlin was known as a Knesset Speaker who was not afraid to make his views known, while being fair to those who disagree with him.

He spoke out against former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to disengage from Gaza and the Supreme Court’s rulings to cancel legislation in his first term.

In his second term as Speaker, Rivlin courted controversy from some and brought praise from others after openly opposing bills that he felt would limit rights of minorities. He also refused to remove MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) from the Knesset following her participation in the violent Gaza flotilla in 2010.

Rivlin has known Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu since childhood; in fact, he attended the now-prime minister’s Brit. Their relationship “has had its ups and downs,” as Netanyahu put it when he reluctantly endorsed the Likud candidate for president in this year’s race.

The most recent “down” came as a result of Rivlin’s outspoken criticism of coalition bills in the previous Knesset, and, some say, to a quip Rivlin made in a Likud faction meeting about Netanyahu’s wife Sarah making political appointments, which led the prime minister not to back him for another term as Knesset Speaker.

As a result, Netanyahu was concerned that Rivlin’s tendencies to make his views known and their contentious relationship would make Rivlin a difficult president for him to work with.

However, Rivlin said that as president he plans to remove himself from politics and work on promoting unity in Israel and coexistence of its many diverse population groups.

Raphael Ahren in The Times of Israel wonders whether having a President who opposes a Palestinian State will be bad for Israel. I wonder whether those who suggest this are living in cloud-cuckoo land:

Shimon Peres, by repeating in every meeting with world leaders over the last few years that “there is no other game in town than the two-state solution,” somewhat counterbalanced the hawkish policies of the two last Netanyahu governments. Now that that the popular Nobel peace laureate is being replaced by someone who rejects that two-state solution, how will Israel fare in a world that wants to see the creation of a Palestinian state, and overwhelmingly blames Jerusalem for the current stalemate in the peace process?

For the head of state to espouse views so radically different from those of the head of government could spell serious trouble for Israel, some analysts fear. Others, however, point out that the president has limited powers to intervene in policy issues and that, more importantly, Rivlin is unlikely to publicly oppose positions adopted by the government.

“Ruby Rivlin can do a lot more harm than Peres did good,” said Prof. Gadi Wolfsfeld, an expert on political communications, using Rivlin’s nickname. A president who speaks continually about the need for peace hardly raises an eyebrow abroad, “but a president who talks about opposing two states and in favor of settlements — that would certainly make huge headlines.”

Bad news spreads more quickly – and widely — than good news, he said, and statements undermining Israel’s image as a state interested in reaching a fair peace agreement with the Palestinians will certainly be seen as bad news in the international media and capitals around the world.

“Ninety percent of Israel’s problems with the international community have to do with the perception that the government is not doing enough for peace,” Wolfsfeld said. “If Rivlin says provocative things, then we’re in trouble even more. If he avoids slips of the tongue of the kind we know he is sometimes prone to make, we should be alright. But he could certainly say things at some point that could embarrass the government.”

It’s funny how rightist slips of the tongue are problematic, but leftist slips are taken as fact. However Rivlin is a more complex character than mere left-right politics:

“He has an opinion on the two-state solution, but he is not widely seen as an ultra-nationalist,” said Mitchell Barak, a pollster and political analyst. “He’s one of voices of reason in Likud; he’s not a hothead like Danny Danon.” The president-elect’s views on the peace process are not born of hatred for Arabs, as his voting record and his statements as Knesset speaker attest, and the Arabs and the world at large know that, he said.

Even the editorial board at Haaretz has sympathies for Rivlin. It endorsed him for president before Tuesday’s election, together with former Supreme Court judge Dalia Dorner. “For years, Rivlin has preached the need for cooperation between Jews and Arabs. And as Knesset speaker, he extended a hand to the Arab factions, in sharp contrast to his colleagues on the right,” an editorial read last week. “He opposed the wave of nationalist legislation in the previous Knesset, and paid for this stance in the Likud party primary. He has always maintained independent views.”

I am just surprised that people might think being opposed to a Palestinian state could be bad for Israel.  Sure, it’s bad for Israel’s image abroad because the international community has become fixated on “the two-state solution” and “the peace process”: two things that have worked consistently against Israel’s best interests. Furthermore, Shimon Peres, despite the apolitical nature of his presidential title, was not backwards in coming forward to meddle in Israel’s politics, criticise the Prime Minister  and go behind Netanyahu’s back in talking to Palestinian officials. He also actively and aggressively promoted the two-state solution even when it became clear that it had dropped off the table altogether and talking about it was doing Israel more damage than good. In which case why are people so concerned about President Rivlin interfering in politics? If they didn’t object when Peres did so, they have no cause to object if Rivlin should do so.

However, a message of thanks is due to President Peres who I concede, despite his vastly different politics to mine, did sterling work in representing Israel in international forums, and most importantly, in restoring some much-needed dignity and grace to Israel’s Presidency after the scandal-torn terms of Ezer Weizman and Moshe Katzav.

And now Mazal Tov to President-elect Reuven Rivlin! We look forward to 7 very interesting and fruitful years ahead.

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5 Responses to President Reuven Rivlin – Israel’s 10th President

  1. Joe in Australia says:

    If he was born in Jerusalem 74 years ago it means he was born before the establishment of the State, and was probably among the people evicted from Jerusalem when Jordan conquered it. In other words, a Palestinian refugee has become the tenth President of Israel.

    • Earl says:

      Heh. Very deft.

      Next, you’ll be suggesting the plight of the Sudeten Germans deserves the same level of examination/excoriation by the BDS nutters as they spend on this idiotic “two state” solution…

  2. Reality says:

    i’m delighted that Ruby Rivlin won. For once we have a solidly right wing nationalist government & representation.It’s interesting that a lot of leftists also voted for him.A main reason being I think is that he’s honest(I hope we won’t be proven wrong) ,hardworking & has always let others state their views whether or not he agreed with them,to the point that when MK’s wanted to throw out Zoabi from the knesset he allowed her to stay(I still cannot fathom why as she acted as a traitor).On the other hand he cannot anymore be a right wing voice or vote . He cannot sway the likud to avoid any land swaps. I hope there’ll be someone like him to take his place.
    I wish him luck with the likes of Obama.He will also have to deal with Peres who is going to carry on being feted by the world with his views & their views may not neccessarily be the same. This could land him in hot water. Peres will have to be careful too(ha ha )..

  3. Andrea says:

    Mr. Rivlin is well known for his deep respect of institutions. He blocked the resolution to revoke Zoabi’s parliamentary immunity in spite of strong initiative from his own party and is well known as a strong supporter of minority rights.
    He supports one state solution but he would accept Palestinians as citizens (with full rights ?). This point is somehow impressing me since it is not far from my personal and utopian view from a very different perspective of course . Similarities stop at surface I am afraid but this does not really accounts.
    Bibi disappointed me . He turned all into a farce when he proposed American Citizen – albeit Nobel awarded – to become President ! Attraction for Nobel it is not only a leftist problem it seem. The proposal to abolish the Presidency of Republic was simply insane…..

    • anneinpt says:

      I too am very happy about Mr. Rivlin’s election for all the reasons you mention and more.

      I was also extremely upset at Netanyahu for his stupid behaviour with Rivlin and the elections. But this is typical of Bibi. He may talk a fine talk, but on the domestic front he makes mistake after mistake. He misreads situations and lets the personal take precedence over the national. It is a very bad trait for a politician.

      But if he were to fall and we had new elections, who would come in his place? Is anyone else any better? I hardly think so. Yes, there are better people but they don’t stand a chance unfortunately of being elected.

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