עינב שיף
Einav Shiff
Photo: Nimrod Saunders
President Reuven Rivlin attends a conference on education at his Jerusalem residence last year

A president defined by his prime minister

Opinion: Reuven Rivlin's seven years in office have been colored by his contentious relationship with Netanyahu that led to accusations of treason by his own political camp; and despite him excellently articulating Israel's fractured societal woes, he ultimately offered no solution

Einav Schiff |
Published: 07.05.21, 23:30
The final days of a president's term is marked by sentimental farewells and tributes in the media. The same will be true when Israel bids an emotional goodbye to President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday, as he ends seven complex years in office.
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  • Rivlin's term was primarily colored by his contentious relationship with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who failed to thwart his election by the Knesset in 2014.
    4 צפייה בגלריה
    הנשיא ריבלין ושר החינוך גלנט בועידת חינוך בבית הנשיא
    הנשיא ריבלין ושר החינוך גלנט בועידת חינוך בבית הנשיא
    President Reuven Rivlin attends a conference on education at his Jerusalem residence last year
    (Photo: Alex Kolomoisky)
    Despite being a lifelong rightist, Rivlin was popular among Netanyahu critics for his own distaste for the man who was prime minister during his entire term bar one month. His own camp branded him a traitor and accused him of favoring the warm embrace of the "leftist elite."
    Though formerly an outspoken critic of Israel's legal system, the president locked horns with Netanyahu over the latter's claims that his indictment on charges of corruption was politically motivated.
    Beyond the constant mud-slinging between Rivlin and the former prime minister's inner circle, the president's clear reluctance to task Netanyahu with forming a government four times in two years, and his obvious discomfort when forced to be in his presence, there may not be much else that is memorable about his term.
    4 צפייה בגלריה
    הפגנות חרדים בבני ברק
    הפגנות חרדים בבני ברק
    Police use water cannons on Haredi protesters during a demonstration against ultra-Orthodox men being drafted into the IDF
    (Photo: Reuters)
    In a speech given in 2015, Rivlin described Israeli society as an amalgamation of separate tribes: Secular and Religious, Jewish and Arab, which he called the "new Israeli order," voicing concern over the economic and social deterioration of Israeli society wrought by burgeoning Arab and Haredi birthrates.
    “Will this be a secular, liberal state, Jewish and democratic? Will it be a state based on Jewish religious law? Or a religious democratic state? Will it be a state of all its citizens, of all its national ethnic groups?” he said.
    “We must not allow the ‘new Israeli order’ to cajole us into sectarianism and separation. We must not give up on the concept of ‘Israeliness',’” he said.
    Rivlin must be keenly aware that even after the formation of the new government, a self-proclaimed coalition for change, this already daunting task of uniting Israel's fractured society has become virtually impossible in the years since he made that speech.
    4 צפייה בגלריה
    הפגנת תמיכה מחוץ לבית המשפט
    הפגנת תמיכה מחוץ לבית המשפט
    Netanyahu supporters rallying outside Jerusalem District Court, where the former prime minister is on trial for corruption
    (Photo: AFP)
    There is a valid argument to made about Netanyahu's divisiveness and the harm he caused to Israel's society, but other processes that also played a part.
    The former prime minister may have only been a symptom of underlying problems, including the global rise of populism, the erosion of political discourse and a failure of existing economic systems.
    Whether Rivlin is missed or his departure is welcomed, depending on one's political predisposition, his time in office will be viewed as irrelevant. Though he was a patron of the arts, a promoter of social advocacy and an accomplished emissary abroad, he left little impact on the country itself.
    4 צפייה בגלריה
    ראובן ריבלין ופרנק וולטר שטיינמאייר
    ראובן ריבלין ופרנק וולטר שטיינמאייר
    President Reuven Rivlin with his German counterpart Frank--Walter Steinmeier during the latter's visit to Jerusalem last week
    (Photo: GPO)
    Rivlin stuck to protocol and fulfilled the position according to legal and public expectations, despite being accused of undermining Netanyahu in an effort to see him removed from office.
    With no real political power attached to the role, Rivlin leaves the president's Jerusalem residence with one important question left unanswered: "In the end, was the point?"
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