Analysis |

President Tries to Save Israel From Pyromaniac Netanyahu's anti-Democratic Revolution

Reuven Rivlin sees his role as keeping Israel from descending into an abyss, led down by a PM plagued by graft investigations ■ Netanyahu wants an election, but doesn't yet have the power to get it done

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Reuven Rivlin speaking at the opening of the Knesset's winter session, October 23, 2017.
Reuven Rivlin speaking at the opening of the Knesset's winter session, October 23, 2017. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the opening of the Knesset winter session was more of the same, only turbocharged. He didn’t say anything new, so the address will be remembered as a somewhat macabre exclamation point punctuating the rebuke that President Reuven Rivlin delivered in his own speech.

To a certain degree, Netanyahu is right when he scorns anyone complaining about the way things are going in Israel. The polls that came out for the Jewish New Year last month showed that most people are satisfied with life in Israel. In his speech, Netanyahu plugged into this mood.

But all this was washed away like murky water by Rivlin’s words. The president has already made controversial statements, and none of them have cheered the right. Now that he’s approaching the middle of his term, he’s letting himself say things he didn’t say before about the government, the governing coalition and the right wing from where he came.

FILE - In this April 20, 2015 file photo, Israel's President Reuven Rivlin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk following a ceremony at the President's residence in Jerusalem.Credit: Abir Sultan/AP

Anyone familiar with Rivlin knows how much he fears for the country’s fate in the age of Netanyahu, Culture Minister Miri Regev, Coalition Chairman David Bitan and all the rest. He has problems falling asleep at night. His speech was tame compared to what he says in private.

On Monday, Netanyahu was once again reminded why he and his wife went insane trying to torpedo Rivlin’s election in June 2014, to the point that Bibi schemed to do away with the institution. Luckily for us, the plan failed. Rivlin’s speech, written from the heart, proves how much the institution of the presidency depends on the person filling the position.

No doubt Netanyahu longed to take the podium after the president’s speech and ask the Knesset to vote to get rid of Rivlin. Chances are the divisive prime minister, the chief pyromaniac who’s trying to evade the claws of the law, will go home before the president finishes his term.

On Monday, Rivlin sounded like the opposition leader. While the official holder of that title delivered a good speech, he looked as if a burden had been lifted from his shoulders when he lost his party’s leadership election in July. But there’s no comparison to the dramatic effect that Rivlin left.

When Rivlin calls the doings of Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition, which acts according to the commander’s evil spirit, a revolution against democracy, he’s basically making it clear that during the three and a half years he has left he has no intention of turning a blind eye.

Participating in ceremonies is good. Approving ambassadorial credentials is important. But Rivlin sees his role as keeping the country from descending into an abyss.

Anyway, in light of Regev’s crass assault on him (and there’s no doubt who she was talking about), we have to assume that Netanyahu also treats Rivlin like an opposition leader. When you hear the pale statements of politicians, for example Labor chief Avi Gabbay, you can definitely award that title to Rivlin.

The speeches filled the screen time, but Coalition Chairman David Bitan provided the headlines. In his typically brutal style, he didn’t hesitate to threaten, during a live broadcast, coalition MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu). If she thwarts the approval of the law shielding prime ministers from corruption investigations, which is nothing but the Bibi law, Likud will topple the government.

The twisted political scene of Israel 2017 makes us aware once again of the strategy of Netanyahu and his cronies – to threaten coalition partners by saying they’ll topple the government. It works the opposite way in normal countries, but Netanyahu did it already in 2014, and it’s probably turning into a bad habit.

The wind blowing in the Knesset on Monday was the wind of an election. Netanyahu wants one, most probably because he hopes to improve his legal situation in the maze of the corruption investigations against him. The prevailing belief among politicians is that Netanyahu is indeed striving to dissolve the Knesset, but he doesn’t have the power yet or the tools to get it done.

The attempt by him and Bitan to compel the coalition to approve a bill that in any event will never survive, a bill that would shield a suspect from a verdict, is liable to serve Netanyahu even if the coalition partners don’t cooperate. If there’s no legislation, at least there’ll be a crisis. In the end, an excuse will be found to dissolve the coalition.

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