In the summer of 2000, half the country (including this writer) wept over Shimon Peres' loss to Moshe Katsav in the presidential election. In the summer of 2007, Reuven Rivlin wept over his loss to Peres. In the summer of 2011, it seems that Rivlin, now Knesset speaker, has taken on the role that should have been Peres'.
On Friday, Rivlin published a courageous article in Haaretz against the Boycott Law, while President Peres mumbled something about "waiting for the High Court to decide." Rivlin has been revealed as Israel's honorary president; Peres, as its shameful one. The man from the right wing dared do what the man supposedly from the left did not. In the test of courage and honesty, the highest test of any elected official, Rivlin defeated Peres by a resounding knock-out.
Peres and Rivlin both hold high office. Both must be "statesmanlike" and "unifying"; both can hide behind that attitude and take no controversial stand. Peres has held fast to it and says nothing; Rivlin, straightforward and brave, is prepared to speak his peace at almost any price. Peres is more beloved and admired than Rivlin, but the highest praise should go to the speaker of the Knesset.
Rivlin will pay the price for his sharply worded article. The Likud man who writes about the shameful law his party initiated, "woe betide the Jewish democratic state that turns freedom of expression into a civil offense," and, "I stand ashamed and mortified before my mentor, Jabotinsky," will pay the price at the polls in the primary. That did not deter him. Peres, who has far less to lose - neither a primary nor the Likud Central Committee - preferred to curl up in his silence, or, as some would say, his cowardice.
It is not difficult to guess what Peres thinks about this anti-democratic means of silencing people. One does not have to be a Peres-ologist to know what he will yet say behind tightly closed doors about this insane piece of legislation. But his heart is, as usual, just as tightly closed. Such remarks therefore have no significance at all. Peres is judged only by what he says publicly, and his public remarks are empty, despite all the "presidential conferences."
A president must indeed be above the people. He must not intervene in every single controversy. But the debate over the Boycott Law is not just any controversy. It has to do with the future of government and society in Israel. A president who has nothing to say about that is not a president. A president who is silent under such circumstances is collaborating with the bullies of the right-wing. If there is one law about which a president must, absolutely must, speak up, it is this one. If there is one matter over which he must not remain silent, it is this one.
If Peres still has a role left it is to try to stop the destruction of democracy. This is not even a fight for peace and against the occupation, about which Peres also whispers behind closed doors. This is the core of cores. But Peres is waiting for the High Court to decide. Perhaps there, the courage will be found that he lacks.
Rivlin is ashamed before his mentor, Jabotinsky; Peres should be much more ashamed before his mentor, Ben-Gurion. And definitely, publicly so.
In the winter of his life, Peres has become a walking legend. We may be happy for him. I saw him on Thursday at a reception in honor of Bastille Day at the home of the French ambassador to Israel, Christof Bigo; Peres was gracious as usual, eliciting waves of empathy and laughter, amazingly vital, flirting charmingly with his translator.
But that is not enough; certainly not in these dark days. It is precisely this later Peres, the beloved and the admired, who has endured so much shame and and humiliation in the past, precisely this Peres, who can finally emerge from his cowardice and speak his peace about what the right wing is doing to this country, which he helped establish. But no, Peres remains Peres: lofty in the office of president, he leaves this fateful work to Rivlin and the High Court, so as not, perish the thought, to anger MK Zeev Elkin, initiator of the Boycott Law. How did Rivlin put it? Woe betide us.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now