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Netanyahu and Rivlin. Who will win this time? Photo: Alex Kolomoisky
Netanyahu and Rivlin. Who will win this time? Photo: Alex Kolomoisky
 
 
Eitan Haber  

 

Netanyahu vs. Rivlin: Likud 'princes' war

Analysis: Battle over Israel's presidency reflects past political rivalry between Revisionists, Irgun members.

Published: 05.21.14, 15:46 / Israel Opinion

I beg poet Shaul Tchernichovsky's forgiveness for adding, in light of the recent developments in the Israeli presidential elections, a few words to his famous statement: "A person is formed as a pattern of his homeland's landscape." I would like to add the words "and his childhood" or "and his youth" or "and his father's home."

 

 

Even if they are unaware of it, and even if they deny it twice a day, Benjamin Netanyahu and Reuven Rivlin bring the battles from their fathers' homes to the war over the presidency. Even if today's battle has a current, immediate and newsworthy touch, the baggage they "carry" on their backs from the distant past burden the daily life.

 

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In the past, Likudniks – members of Beitar and the Herut movement – had no time to fight. They had an external enemy: The left, David Ben-Gurion. Now, when it seems that there is no enemy, and they have been in power for at least 30 years, they have time, and mainly a long memory, to "settle the score."

 

Reuven Rivlin was once one of Benjamin Netanyahu's biggest supporters. Politics creates remarkable matches. That was one of them.

 

It seems strange and troubling: Netanyahu comes from the Likud party. Rivlin comes from the Likud. So what's the problem?

 

The problem is that it's not the same Likud. These two have brought to the wrestling ring over the presidency the bitter battles between the Revisionists (Netanyahu) and the Irgun members (Rivlin); between the very, very deprived on the right and the less deprived; between those who gave up and left the country, like Netanyahu's father, and those who stayed to fight for their place; between the small and closed rightist Jerusalem group and the person who arrived like a meteor and snatched the inheritance from their hands; between the "princes" (a miserable name I came up with, which has been adopted by the public opinion) and those who wanted to be princes but were rejected.

 

The two camps disregarded each other, and this was reflected in practice in the first Knesset elections. The Irgun members, led by Menachem Begin, founded the Herut movement and about 49,000 people voted for them. The Revisionists, with Dr. Aryeh Altman, gained the modest support of a little more than 2,000 voters.

 

Over the years, Menachem Begin managed to ignore the future, and even turn some of the Revisionist heads into leaders – always second-class – in the Herut movement, but the divisiveness was strictly maintained. The animosity between them was as strong as the one in Mapai, the eternal rival. It was even as strong as in the relationship between Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.

 

This political rivalry was joined by the animosity between academics at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the only academic institution (apart from Haifa's Technion) where Netanyahu Sr. and Rivlin Sr. worked – and Rivlin Sr. gained more academic acclaim. And here you have it: A verified recipe for bad relations between Bibi Netanyahu and Rubi Rivlin, even if on the surface their mouths were filled with sweet talk.

 

The mid 1980s saw the formation of the group of "princes," who saw themselves as the potential successors of the aging Likud leaders. They included Rubi Rivlin, Ehud Olmert, Dan and Sallai Meridor, Roni Milo, Tzipi Livni, Limor Livnat, Yair Stern, Natan Baron, Arye Naor, Yaakov and Yossi Ahimeir and others. And then, out of nowhere, from his position as deputy chief of mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, came the person the "princes" never took seriously: Benjamin Netanyahu.

 

In the middle of the one-time conference the "princes" held in Jerusalem at the time, in the mid 1980s, Netanyahu turned to one of the members of the organizing committee and asked for permission to speak. They refused firmly, and he marched towards the podium, grabbed the microphone and delivered a long speech about Ze'ev Jabotinsky's doctrine.

 

That's how he defeated Rubi Rivlin and his friends. That's how he defeated them down the road too. Until he reached the presidential elections these days.

 

Netanyahu will not smile in this bloody round, because then the knife will fall out from between his teeth. Rivlin will fight "till the end" because he know that the prime minister will favor Mickey Mouse as president. Just not him.

 

Who will win now?

 

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