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Rivlin's Seven Tough, Dangerous Years as President Draw to a Close

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Reuven Rivlin speaks at Isaac Herzog's wearing-in ceremony at the Knesset, Wednesday.
Reuven Rivlin speaks at Isaac Herzog's wearing-in ceremony at the Knesset, Wednesday.Credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Isaac Herzog was sworn in as president Wednesday, and will serve as the 11th president of the State of Israel. Herzog replaces Reuven Rivlin, who has concluded a seven-year term. These were seven tough and dangerous years under the lawless leadership of an incorrigible prime minister, who never stopped attacking government institutions and inciting the sectors of society against one another.

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The investigations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began during Rivlin’s tenure, and eventually the attorney general decided to indict him on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Towards the end of Rivlin’s term, Netanyahu’s trial began. Throughout the entire legal process Rivlin had to be on guard and defend the government institutions from the repeated attacks by the prime minister, who behaved like a career criminal, attacking the police, the police commissioner, the State Prosecutor’s Office, the attorney general, the courts and the media.

As though that were not sufficient, in the seven years of Rivlin’s term there were five election campaigns, four of them in a period of about two years, after Israel found itself at a political impasse. Rivlin, who by dint of his legal authority granted the mandate to form a government eight times, was required to give it to a candidate who was under indictment for criminal behavior. With a heavy heart, he chose to do so.

Rivlin was also the initiator of the idea of the parity government of Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, which will be etched in the public memory as a collective election fraud that caused many members of the public to lose confidence in the government entirely.

More than anything else, Rivlin will be remembered for his “four tribes speech,” in which he described Israeli society as split into four tribes of similar size – secular Jews, Haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews), national-religious Jews, and Arabs – who must invent a new Israeli order based on a shared ethos. But during the seven years of his tenure, the rift steadily deepened, and Israeli society became polarized politically, ethnically, religiously and nationally, on the verge of a civil war. Rivlin tried with all his might to stop the deterioration and to demonstrate statesmanship, but the forces against which he was fighting marked him as someone trying to restrict them, and aimed the weapon of incitement against him, too.

Herzog is taking charge of Israeli society at one of its low points, but with one significant difference: Netanyahu is not in power, and the new government that was formed – the government of change headed by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, which includes parties on the right and the left, Jews and Arabs – has set itself the goal of healing the wounds and repairing the damage left behind by Netanyahu. This is suitable ground for planting the seeds of “the new Israeli order” that Rivlin spoke about.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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