Followers of Israeli politics are acquainted with the roller-coaster ride that comes with their system of many parties and the ultimate emergence of coalition governments. Prime Minister Netanyahu has taken the ride many times sitting in the front seat and last week experienced a sharp downhill drop that resulted in the emergence of a new President of Israel.
Shimon Peres from the Kadima Party became the 9th president in 2007. Peres had been involved in Israeli politics since the re-emergence of the nation in 1948 and had gained an international reputation for insight, persistence, and tenacity. The nastiness of the recent presidential campaign did not do justice to the standards that he set.
The president is elected by the Knesset, not the public. For many outsiders the name of Reuven “Ruby” Rivlin will be new. Actually the names of all of the candidates for the position would be a list of unknowns outside of Israel. Meir Sheetrit, Dalia Itzik, Dalia Dorner, and Dan Shechtman represented different fronts in national life. You might have heard of Shechtman because he was a Nobel prize winner. In the second round of voting Sheetrit trailed Rivlin 63-53.
The real loser in this rocky ride may have been Prime Minister Netanyahu. While he was eventually forced to support Rivlin publically, he did everything possible to both delay and cancel the election. Public exposure of these tactics during the campaign would have been humiliating for Netanyahu, but his actions were no secret. He tried to persuade a number of public figures to join the race, including Nathan Sharansky. No one picked up the baton and Netanyahu came up short. It is also a defeat because Rivlin’s campaign manager is second in the Likud party and increasingly critical of Netanyahu. Probably in the next leadership race, Netanyahu will be faced with this difficult challenge.
In his acceptance speech, Reuven Rivlin noted he was now leaving a political party behind to become the president of all the people – Jews, Arabs, rich and poor. Such is the proper role for the president.
The Hebrew term for the president “Nasi” come from the Bible. It was once used for the head of the Sanhedrin. Elected every seven years, the Nasi is to be above political strive and press for national unity. In many respects, the office is ceremonial.
Following his election, Rivlin went to the Western Wall to pray. Next, he traveled to the Mount of Olives where his parents and ideological father, former Prime Minister Menachem Begin are buried.
Rivlin opposes the formation of a Palestinian state and advocates giving Israeli citizenship to Palestinians. He and Netanyahu are definitely not in the same camp. The roller coaster ride goes on. Watch for the next sharp turn in the track.