Opinion

Rivlin, President of the Jews – Not Israelis

President Reuven Rivlin speaking to the press at the President's Residence, September 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

Unfortunately, President Reuven Rivlin’s conduct has been very far from, even the antithesis of, the statesmanlike nature his position requires – being the president of all Israelis, Arabs and Jews alike.

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Right now, our president, i.e., the president of all the people, is behaving more like the Jewish Agency chairman than the president of the State of Israel with its two million Arab citizens. To put it more bluntly: Rivlin is only the president of the Jews, and acting as though you're president of one ethnic group, even if it is the majority, is not the same as acting as the president of a country. Even after 70 years and all the gray hairs that have come with it, Israel is still behaving like the state of the (Jewish, of course) Yishuv, as if we’re still stuck in 1948.

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By inviting just the heads of the two largest parties, Kahol Lavan and Likud to sit down and pow-wow about the composition of the next government, Rivlin has essentially ostracized two million Arabs.

Yes, this initiative of yours, Mr. President, is very grave indeed! You are dividing the country on an ethnic basis, you are placing one people above another, one public above another, one group above another, when your job is to say loud and clear: They are all my sons. And for this you do not have a mandate. You do not have a mandate to divide the country between Jews and Arabs. You do not have a mandate to exclude a fifth of the population.

One of your predecessors, Ezer Weizman, sought to call the president’s official residence Beit Hanassi, “the President’s Home,” aiming to lend it something of the warmth and welcoming nature connoted by the word “home.” This house is supposed to be the home of all the country’s citizens. But the president has invited into this home only the representatives of the two largest parties, even when the third largest party, the Joint List, represents two million equal (officially, at least) citizens.

What you are doing right now, Mr. President, is being the best man for the unity of the “unique race.” Reconcile Benjamin Netanyahu and Benjamin Gantz, who served under Netanyahu as IDF chief of staff just a few years ago; bring under the wedding canopy Moshe Ya’alon, too, who was a minister in Netanyahu’s government, and Gabi Ashkenazi, who also served as chief of staff under him, and Yoaz Hendel, who was the head of Netanyahu’s hasbara bureau, and last but not least – Zvi Hauser, who was his cabinet secretary.

You are ready to embrace the man who still labels the Arab parties enemies of the state and accused them of massive election fraud, which the chair of the election committee, Justice Hanan Melcer, said was “absolutely untrue.”

How sickening is this “unity,” which excludes the Arab citizens. How can you stand yourselves, really – sitting there all self-satisfied and all closed off from life outside, all isolated from the Arabs. My suggestion to you, Mr. President, is that you convene – even if symbolically – the heads of the three largest parties to discuss how to get out of the current stalemate. And if Netanyahu doesn’t agree to such a meeting – then there is your answer. Tell him: Anyone who disqualifies two million citizens cannot be prime minister. What’s so hard about saying that?

And people ask why there is racism in Israel. Yes, there is racism because the person who holds the country’s loftiest position doesn’t take the Arab citizens into account and ostracizes them and then dares to call the result “unity.” Unity between the Jews and themselves. How shameless can you get?