President Rivlin's 'Sin' Is His Being a True Democrat

On the face of it, the loathing for Reuven Rivlin alongside the approval for Netanyahu seems inexplicable. But the explanation is simple.

Uzi Baram
Uzi Baram
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Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the HaaretzQ conference in New York, December 13, 2015.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the HaaretzQ conference in New York, December 13, 2015.Credit: Erica Gannett for IRL Productions
Uzi Baram
Uzi Baram

I have known Reuven Rivlin since he was in the Masada scout troop. There were times when we had good feelings for each other and there were times when we were mutually antagonistic, but I always knew that Rivlin was a real opponent to any political plan based on a two-state solution. He was utterly unambiguous in this matter. He, “Reuven Rivlin from Jerusalem,” would hear no compromise that would damage the unity of the city. More than once he teased me that a Jerusalemite like me was willing to betray his city.

This uncompromising devotion to his worldview also manifested itself during the disengagement from Gaza, for example. Unlike Benjamin Netanyahu, who wavered, Rivlin came out against Ariel Sharon. He is a hawk. He is right wing. He does not believe in compromise, because we have returned to the “land of our fathers.” He did not make a “Bar-Ilan” speech, he did not declare in the United Nations that he was in favor of two states, he did not release terrorists, he did not sign the Wye Plantation agreement.

And lo and behold, tricky Netanyahu, who zigzags, whose entire being conveys double messages, whose only constancy is his fear of making a real diplomatic move, the one who promises “there will be no terror on my watch” – remains in the favor of a good part of the right-wing public, and many others, even if they don’t like him, believe there is no alternative.

In contrast, the honest, Beitar-supporting Rivlin, who never abandoned the vision of the Greater Land of Israel, became the punching bag of the right. Some announced that they were “ashamed” of him and some call for his resignation. Ostensibly, he should be the darling of TV Channel 20, the Jewish heritage channel – because who more than he represents the stand-tall Zionist heritage? But after he took part in the HaaretzQ conference in New York alongside the left-wing NGO Breaking the Silence, Channel 20 launched a campaign against him, which included slander and mudslinging.

On the face of it, the loathing for Rivlin as opposed to the sympathy for Netanyahu seems inexplicable, as if the right wingers “delighted in heaping scorn,” to quote from the Bible. But unfortunately the explanation for all this is much simpler. The litmus test of the strident rabble is not the diplomatic positions of a public figure, but rather that figure’s positions on one question only: “Do you hate Arabs?” Yisrael Beiteinu chairman MK Avigdor Lieberman realized this years ago. Netanyahu made clear how much he understands it in his “the Arabs are streaming to the polls in droves” speech, while President Rivlin speaks of civil equality, the rights of the minority and tolerance. For that sin – being a true democrat – Channel 20 and the professional social media commentators are not willing to forgive him.

Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid is wasting his time aiming at the Zionist left and media-blitzing his anxiety at the sound of the name “Breaking the Silence.” Lapid is a smart man and he should understand that if Rivlin is considered a left-winger beyond the pale, he, Lapid, will be considered a communist, because after all, he is also a pluralist and a democrat. Why does he think his political fate will be different?

The secular and traditional public that is still committed to democracy must wake up. In a place where people menace the president only because he bears a democratic message of brotherhood and equality, a mass protest must be raised that will reach every corner.

Fascism is creeping slowly to our door, disguised as patriotism that loves the people of Israel and hates all the rest. It must not be allowed to pass.

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