Forward Thinking

Why Israeli Left Should Cheer Reuven Rivlin

By Anna Momigliano

  • Print
  • Share Share

Israel’s newly elected president Reuven Rivlin / Getty Images

For some reason, whenever a Palestinian (or an Arab American, for that matter) expresses one-state views, he’s accused of threatening Israel’s existence. When an Israeli voices the exact same view, he’s labeled a hawk, a Zionist hard-liner. That’s precisely what happened when Reuven Rivlin, the former speaker of the Knesset and a seasoned Likudnik politician, was elected on Tuesday as the new president of Israel.

Liberal Zionists and progressive commentators were quick to describe his election as bad news, a threat to the peace process and to Israeli-Palestinian relations. But if we take a closer look at Israeli politics and Rivlin’s personal views, we get a different picture.

Rivlin is definitely a vocal opponent of the Oslo accords. He rejects the very idea of giving the occupied territories away. But, on the other hand, he also proposed giving Palestinians Israeli citizenship, full civil rights and the right to vote in a much-discussed Haaretz interview back in 2010.

Just like Netanyahu, Rivlin would like Israel to keep the West Bank. But unlike Netanyahu — whose agenda works to maintain the status quo, making the occupation permanent — Rivlin suggests making the West Bank into part of Israel and its inhabitants into full Israeli citizens. That’s not a minor deviation.

It’s worth noting that Netanyahu reportedly opposed Rivlin’s election up until the very last minute. The prime minister sent messages to several Likud MKs urging them to vote for Hatnuah candidate Meir Sheetrit. Avigdor Lieberman, on the other hand, openly supported Sheetrit.

Israel National News, which leaked the information about Netanyahu’s messages, attributed this to Bibi’s “personal animosity” toward Rivlin, a long-time rival. But there’s more to the story. The “animosity” between Netanyahu and Rivlin actually underscores a deeper rift that has, over the past few years, been dividing the two “souls” inside the Likud.

As an Israeli columnist once explained to me, Israel’s largest conservative party is essentially divided between those who see Israeli democracy as something “expendable” and those who do not. Netanyahu clearly belongs to the first faction. He’s convinced that the birth of a Palestinian state would endanger Israel’s own survival; on the other hand, he’s not willing to give Palestinians voting rights, because he fears that will also endanger Israel’s existence. The result is that he sees permanent occupation as the only viable solution. This, incidentally, also means keeping more than two million Palestinians under the control of a government over which they have no voting power. And it means endangering Israel’s own democratic nature. It’s not that Bibi doesn’t value Israeli democracy — it’s just that he considers it an expendable asset.

But others inside the Likud do not share Netanyahu’s value system. Some Likudniks, like Rivlin, see democracy as a non-negotiable issue. They may share Bibi’s view that the birth of a Palestinian state is a danger to Israel, but they’re willing to pay the price of keeping the territories while protecting Israel’s democratic nature. This, as Rivlin candidly admitted in his Haaretz interview, means giving full rights to Palestinians under Israeli control.

Now, I’m not saying that Rivlin is beyond criticism. Personally, I find his statement equating Reform Judaism with “idol worship” revolting. Nor do I believe that the one-state solution is necessarily the best one.

But given the present circumstances, I consider it a positive thing that Israel has elected a man who recognizes that his country cannot keep millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control without civil rights.

The media loves to split Israeli politicians into “hawks” and “doves,” into those who support settlements and those who do not. But maybe the main distinction comes down to something else: There are those who see as acceptable the idea of keeping millions of people under Israeli control with no voting power, and those who do not. Some of the latter see the creation of a Palestinian state as the only solution, while others believe that giving them full rights would be a smarter idea — but at least they both recognize the basic moral truth of the situation.

Anna Momigliano is an Italian journalist currently based in Milan.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: president, Reuven Rivlin, Israel

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.