Rivlin: Demographic Changes Have Created a 'New Israeli Order'

Speaking at annual Herzliya Conference, Israeli president called on Israel to 'balance State of Israel's secular-liberal character and Zionist enterprise.'

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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President Reuven Rivlin speaks at the Herzliya Conference, June 7, 2015.
President Reuven Rivlin speaks at the Herzliya Conference, June 7, 2015.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin marked the first year of his presidency at the annual Herzliya Conference on Sunday, calling on Israelis to confront their shifting identities.

"Israeli society is changing its face, changes that will reshape our identities as Israelis," Rivlin said.

"The current changes in Israeli society will have a profound impact on the way we understand ourselves and our national home. Whether we like it or not the ‘structural ownership’ of Israeli society and the State of Israel is changing before our eyes," the president added.

"First-grade classes are composed of about 38% secular Jews, about 15% national-religious, about one-quarter Arabs, and close to a quarter ultra-Orthodox," Rivlin said, adding that the demographic changes within Israel have "created a 'new Israeli' order...there is no longer a clear majority nor clear minority groups."

Rivlin called on the country to "balance the secular-liberal character of the State of Israel and the Zionist enterprise," posing the question: "Are we able to accept that two major groups which will make up half of Israel's future population don't define themselves as Zionists?"

In his remarks to the conference, opposition chief Isaac Herzog warned that the creation of a binational state would endanger Israel and the continued existence of a national home for the Jewish people.

"There are currently 6.1 million Arabs and 6.5 million Jews between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Within the decade, the Arabs will be the majority between the Jordan and the sea: 52% Arab and 48% Jewish."

"I do not want 61 Palestinian members in Knesset. I do not want my country to be called 'Israstin," Herzog added.

Joint Arab List head Ayman Odeh responded to the earlier remarks by posing the question: "Do you want peace or do you want to separate? There is an important difference."

Odeh told the conference that his party is "in favor of an approach based on values that Jewish and Palestinian people have a right to self-determination."

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi, said that Israel may opt for an extensive operation in Gaza following the renewal of rocket fire over the past several days.

"Barring a sharp change in Hamas policy, we may again find oursevles in a reality where Hamas misreads the force of our determination to deal with the issue - this may lead to a campaign similar to Operation Defensive Shield," referring to the IDF's 2002 military operation in the West Bank.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett used his speech to call for the international community to recognize the annexation of the Golan Heights.

"Stand with us, recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights now. Borders are changing daily. Syria, as a state, no longer exists. So this is the time for initiative."

"It's clear that had we listened to the world and given up the Golan, ISIS would be swimming in the Galilee," Bennett added. "Enough with the hypocrisy, already."

Bennett also called on Yair Lapid to unite around the Golan Heights issue. "We will continue to argue over the West Bank and Hamas, let's not argue about ISIS."

Meretz chief Zehava Galon criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in her remarks to the conference. "We are against [the BDS movement] but we should not be asked to share in the responsibility that the Netanyahu government created," Galon said.

Galon added that the "two-state solution is becoming endangered, and the two-state solution is the only solution."

The Herzliya Conference, one of Israel's main global policy gatherings, draws big-name Israeli and international participants every year.

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