As the Knesset speaker read out the results of the runoff in the presidential election Tuesday, the TV cameras focused on the face of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and caught him sputtering in alarm: “Uh-oh, 63.”
Netanyahu quickly got up and left the Knesset plenum hall, pushing aside the Knesset members who came to console him, and nimbly evading the “threat” of a hug and kiss from president-elect Reuven (Rubi) Rivlin, whose face was wet with tears.
Had it been possible, the prime minister most probably would have fled home or to the airport, catching the first available flight out. But he was bound by protocol.
At the official ceremony, he congratulated Rivlin woodenly, with the driest words he could find. He began his congratulations with Nechama, Rivlin’s wife, who previously told reporters she “prefers not speak – I have a potty mouth.” One can imagine what she was thinking when Netanyahu wove into his speech bits of advice like “It is your task to unite the nation,” and so forth.
After the speech Rivlin surged toward him in the style of a judo fighter, for a second attempt at embraces. Netanyahu again came up dry.
Words were spoken during both men’s terms in office that Netanyahu cannot forget. [Rivlin was a two-time Knesset speaker.] For example, Rivlin’s remark that “In my home, the decision-making process is different.”
One MK said he would love to see Sara Netanyahu’s face when the phone rings in the middle of the night with the message: “The president wants to speak to your husband.”
Who knows, maybe Rivlin will hire the house manager who fell out with the Netanyahus to work at the President’s Residence? For Rivlin is a good soul, a kindly man. At that critical moment when suddenly it wasn’t clear he was going to win, he said, “I will say thank you to my true friends.”
The candidate who came second, MK Meir Sheetrit (Hatnuah), later confided that, in those moments, he didn’t have the heart to see Rivlin cry. Rivlin did not hate Sheetrit with his four apartments and his millionaire wife, but rather saw in his candidacy a typical attempt by the prime minister to subordinate the country’s interests to his own lust to stay in office.
It isn’t by chance that the defeated Sheetrit and the victorious Rivlin embraced enthusiastically.
The main loser was Netanyahu, who tried to set up a kind of “national unity government” with opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog (Labor), MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnuah), in order to thwart Rivlin at the ballot box.
We have always known that behind the rhetoric lurks a cowardly and vengeful soul. He tried to do what should not be done in a civilized society: Change the presidency law immediately, over fears that Rivlin will not recommend that he form the government after the next election.
Any smart person knows that legislating party laws with regard to a specific person, and not with regard to a substantive issue, is illegitimate. And the idea of enlisting the question of whether Israel even needs a president was truly pathetic.
The question arises as to the extent that a prime minister is able to change the face of the country. And all this, let us reiterate, is only because Rivlin fulfilled his role as Knesset speaker with integrity, even counter to the wishes of the prime minister.
It is not by chance that United States President Barack Obama immediately congratulated the new president with warm words. In Washington, they recognized he is a new breed of president.
Shimon Peres has been a representative and presentable president, a president of salons, who took care not to anger the prime minister. His speeches are studded with quotations and fine words, endlessly meaningful words in various languages – of the sort professional speechwriters employ – all with the aim of serving Netanyahu, not annoying him.
Rivlin’s basic approach, like that of Moshe Arens, is that of Ze’ev Jabotinsky; it upholds honor, integrity and fairness. Like Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and others of their ilk who were distanced from Likud at Netanyahu’s instigation, he believes that the Arabs must live in equality and as citizens of the country in every respect.
Rivlin will continue to follow his modest path. He intends to live in his current apartment and go to the President’s Office daily, the way every citizen goes to work.
But Rubi, remember that vengefulness is in Netanyahu’s blood. Take into account that he will try to take revenge on you by neutralizing you, and in any way he can. Please don’t cry, Rubi, the nation is with you.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now