We Don’t Need a Yes-man

It’s the president who invites an MK to assemble a governing coalition – Bibi fears that this is where Rivlin will be waiting to let the ax fall. But Rivlin and Netanyahu are cut from the same ideological cloth, so it likely won’t come to that.

Yoel Marcus
Yoel Marcus
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Benjamin Netanyahu and Reuven Rivlin, right, in 2012.
Benjamin Netanyahu and Reuven Rivlin, right, in 2012. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Yoel Marcus
Yoel Marcus

The presidency is clearly one of the best jobs in the country. Unlike in the state’s early days, the president needn’t live in a cabin to prove his humility. Nor does a president find himself, after leaving office, with no place to live. Nowadays the future is assured. There’s a good pension and guaranteed housing, and maybe even a little respect as a former president.

Although the presidency has certainly not been immune to legal investigations. Ezer Weizman was forced to resign when he was suspected of taking bribes. President Katsav was convicted of rape and is still in prison for it.

In the seventh year of his term, Shimon Peres enjoys his international standing and reputation as a professional peacenik. Exquisitely sensitive to how he is perceived, he once phoned me and called me a “bastard” just because I’d written that as defense minister, he built the first settlement in Samaria , Elon Moreh. "That’s what I’ve done?" he shouted. What about the nuclear plant? What about the arms from France? And then he hung up. That was classic Peres, focused on himself throughout his long career. Nonetheless, even his rivals of long standing will admit that he has been the best and most eminent of Israel’s presidents, in the eyes of Israelis and the world. And most important, he somehow managed not to fight with either Bibi or Sara. If it were up to them, he could stay in office for another seven years.

David Ben-Gurion saw to it that the presidency would be a toothless office. World Zionist Organization President Chaim Weizmann did not seem overjoyed to be appointed as the country’s first president. He once commented that the only place he could stick his nose in was in his handkerchief. Another time he remarked, “I am supposed to be a symbol, so I am symbolizing.”

Most of our presidents were akin to wax figures. Mapainiks and Labor members for the most part. Yitzhak Ben-Zvi who insisted on living in a cabin; Zalman Shazar who was legendary for his endless speeches; Ephraim Katzir, a Mapainik who was also a professor.

But it was Katzir who, following the Yom Kippur War, came up with the outrageous saying, “We are all to blame.” It took a great deal of inflexibility to divert responsibility for the debacle from the government to the public. In contrast, President Yitzhak Navon was the one who compelled Begin to establish a commission of inquiry into the Sabra and Chatila massacre in Lebanon, threatening that he would resign from the presidency otherwise.

Then came the era of the generals. Chaim Herzog, who gained much acclaim for “strengthening the people” in the face of the Egyptian threat, and then Ezer Weizman, considered the father of the victory in the Six-Day War, thanks to the air force he’d readied for overwhelming and decisive action. By the way, this is the time to mention that most of our presidents have belonged to the same ethnicity and the same political camp. Menachem Begin’s attempt to anoint Professor Yitzhak Shaveh, a nuclear expert, as president, failed completely. Who is this guy, what’s he worth (a play on the meaning of his name in Hebrew) was the disparaging response from the public, who rejected him outright. The politicization of the presidency is what led us to a president who is now a convicted rapist.

The most veteran politician in the country, Shimon Peres, fashioned a kind of living-room presidency, reading speeches which for the most part he had no hand in writing. He faithfully served Bibi’s inactivity on the peace front. In his relations with Bibi there was no trace of the “tireless schemer,” as Peres was once called.

Meanwhile, it’s not clear why, despite his endorsement, Bibi is so staunchly against Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin. After all, they come from the same political family. Because it’s the president who invites an MK to assemble a governing coalition – Bibi fears that this is where Rivlin will be waiting to let the ax fall. But Rivlin and Netanyahu are cut from the same ideological cloth, so it likely won’t come to that. Certainly not after Rivlin has received Bibi’s reluctant endorsement.

It’s too bad, because we don’t need a yes-man as president. We need a president who will strike fear into the prime minister.

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