rivlin - Archive: Daniel Bar-On / JINI - December 9 2010
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin: "I believe these people do the most damage to the state of Israel.” Photo by Archive: Daniel Bar-On / JINI
Text size

A group of 39 rabbis on municipal payrolls issued a religious ruling yesterday calling on Israelis to not rent apartments to Arabs or to foreigners.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, how serious is the rabbis' letter?

In my opinion, their statement shames the Jewish people. If such a thing were said in relation to Jews anywhere on the globe, a hue and cry would be raised in Israel on the need to stand up against anti-Semitism. My view is unequivocal: The attorney general must determine if this is considered incitement; and the interpretation that something is permissible according to Jewish law does not stand in the way of putting people on trial for incitement.

This is what I think, but the attorney general makes the decision, not me. I see this general statement as an embarrassment to the Jewish people, and another nail in the coffin of Israeli democracy. Let me make this absolutely clear: I believe these people do the most damage to the state of Israel.

Israel can justify its faith in itself as a Jewish state only if it wields its democratic powers totally and unreservedly. This moral right will be taken from us if we prove to the world that, when it comes to democracy, we deny anything which does not suit us from a Jewish point of view.

And so [the rabbis'] statement, which may be thought of as [in accordance with] Jewish law by some, damages the foundations of the State of Israel. A person cannot say that, in the name of the Jewish state, he is permitted to discriminate or set up a dividing line between one citizen and another, or between a citizen and a resident, or even between a citizen and a guest.

We must use the full extent of the law with these people, to set boundaries between the expression of opinion and incitement. There is no doubt - and I am speaking at a public level - that we are dealing with incitement here, which is damaging to the State of Israel and the Jewish people more than anything else.

The attorney general must decide once and for all, and offer a practical interpretation, so that no one can claim that incitement according to [civil] law is acceptable because it is Jewish law. While the Jewish state is linked to Jewish law, it nonetheless cannot allow it to contradict the laws of the state. Jews all over the world, who have been in the Diaspora for 2,000 years, have accepted local, civil law. Some said this only related to laws regarding administration. But they accepted local laws everywhere. Is the law of the land rejected only in the State of Israel?

The Knesset is currently legislating a slew of racist laws that differentiate between people and discriminate. "If the mighty have succumbed, how shall the weak emerge unscathed?"

My dear, the people are the Knesset and the Knesset is the people. But I heard the prime minister yesterday and I stood up and applauded.

He spoke, but he didn't do anything.

Of course we have to give him a chance. If the rabbis think the criticism you are hearing from me right now won't stop them from issuing such a letter in the future, they should know that, in the best case, they can be fired - and in the worst case, stand trial for incitement.

You mentioned a nail in the coffin of democracy. Where does democracy in Israel stand today?

Everything that seeks solutions outside of legislation puts a nail in that coffin. If people say that the Jewish state is a place where Jews can discriminate against the rest of the citizens who are not Jews - that is, Arabs - or if the society decides it can remove people it does not accept, it is a society that in effect is absolutely not a democracy.

How bad is the situation?

As long as fundamentalism continues to develop - Islamic on the one hand, and Jewish on the other - this will not bring about an apocalyptic war or the coming of the Messiah, it will merely dig the hole in which we bury ourselves. This hole has already been dug, it is always in the process of being dug.

You have protested the part the government has played in this process, for example, through the so-called Arrangements Law.

Of course, it has also shrunk. The government thought it could pass a loyalty oath law as part of the Arrangements Law.

I have said that the relevant Knesset meetings have devoted only four hours a week to this, and that's a pity, because today every Knesset member and minister who thinks he's a politician - whether average or admired - doesn't even show up on Tuesdays.

Until the Arrangements Law, the Knesset knew that to pass a law you had to have at least three readings, but the parliamentary tradition of the past two decades has become such that you can skip over it many times.

Apropos the government's functioning, we have to discuss the Carmel fire.

The fire has been written on the wall since the days of Daniel, warnings to all the departments were detailed in the state comptroller's reports and discussed in many meetings.

If they had given the state comptroller the means to enforce the law, the situation would be better. The comptroller's reports can't be written on the wall - they must blaze out of the wall and consume everyone who does not see them.

Are you leading a legislative effort in this direction?

If the government [allows] it, it may very well happen that one of the MKs will propose a law to make the comptroller's office the long arm of the Knesset.

An international human rights march is set to take place tomorrow. How do you feel about the detention center for refugees to be built in the south of the country?

As a democrat and a Jew, I have a hard time with concentration camps, where people are warehoused. [They are] not camps in the sense of extermination. But every camp where people are warehoused is difficult. The logical solution is to construct a high wall [along the border with Egypt], about which there is much talk, and then Israel won't have to deal with a problem it has already prevented.