Israeli President Says He Never Called for Public Protests Against Netanyahu

Reuven Rivlin clarifies that his comments Tuesday in support of demonstrations as part of healthy democracy were taken out of context

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin speaking at the Dov Lautman Conference on Education Policy, December 26, 2017.
Mark Neiman/GPO

President Reuven Rivlin clarified Wednesday that he had not called on the public to demonstrate against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The denial followed criticism of his remarks Tuesday in which he spoke in favor of public protest, citing various social media campaigns.

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Among other things, Rivlin spoke approvingly of the ongoing protest against government corruption, in which demonstrators have targeted Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit for his perceived tardiness in deciding whether Netanyahu should be indicted over several corruption cases, and also the premier for his alleged actions.

“To remove any doubt – and I say this in my own voice as clearly as possible – I did not call, and it would not occur to me to call, on the citizens of Israel to join any particular demonstration. It would be unthinkable,” Rivlin said on Wednesday. “It is regrettable that at this sensitive time, my comments were taken out of context in order to fan the flames.”

Rivlin added that at sensitive times such as these, it is incumbent on everybody, especially leaders, to choose their words carefully, lest they be misconstrued or cause harm. Rivlin explained this was why he deemed it necessary “to clarify what I said, and to regret the misimpression that arose from my comments.”

Speaking at the Dov Lautman Conference on Education Policy on Tuesday, Rivlin said recent years have brought several “wonderful examples” of the influence of social media on reality, citing the wide-scale protest against the cost of living in the summer of 2011; the protests (and counterprotests) against corruption, which have moved from Petah Tikva to Tel Aviv and other public spaces; and the #MeToo campaign against sexual harassment.

“Note that all these cases moved from words to deeds,” Rivlin said, adding that people didn’t stay online but took to the streets. “There is no replacement for the real town square,” the president added.

Rivlin has been a surprisingly vocal critic of the Netanyahu government in recent months. For example, speaking at the launch of the Knesset fall session in October, he accused the government of encroaching on the work of the Supreme Court. “We are witnesses today to the spirit of the revolution or the counterrevolution. This time, majority rule is the sole ruler,” he noted.

Relations between the prime minister and president have been famously strained since Netanyahu tried to find a candidate to run against his fellow Likudnik in the 2014 presidential election.