A state needs symbols. That is the way of the world; that is the way of a state. There is no state without a flag, an anthem and a local folklore show. There are no states without military ceremonies and overly festive orchestras. It's all unnecessary, and yet it stays.
There is a simple explanation for that: People need identity, and the symbols give them the feeling that they have such an identity. There isn't a drop of logic in symbols, but we can't do without them.
So is the presidency in the State of Israel: It's sometimes expensive, but it has been there since we can remember ourselves as Israelis.
When Theodor Herzl wrote his book "Altneuland" ("The Old New Land"), he imagined that the Jewish Congress would elect a president every seven years. A person who would rise above the disputes and parties, above the vexation and small politics. He was well aware of the Jewish character, and it's a wonder that he didn't realize that with or without a president – there is nothing new under the sun.
Herzl, who foresaw a state – and foresaw its citizens in a slightly less accurate manner – was the first Zionist to receive the title of president in the Zionist Congress, and he was followed by others. Most of them bore themselves with dignity, there were sometimes those who drove dignity away, but this institution stayed put.
A big house in a Jerusalem neighborhood, the president's sukkah, ceremonies for outstanding soldiers, and politicians singing off key on stage on Independence Day.
Sixty-six years after this State was established and the presidency is alive and kicking – and as a matter of fact, spending money as well – a phenomenon of symbol persecutors has been created in Israel. Each person has his own symbol, each for his own reason. There are Arab nationalists here who are against the flag and the anthem, a post-Zionist left which is against a Jewish nation state, and politicians who are against Reuven Rivlin. A partial list, not in order of importance, order of ideologies or order of objections.
Personally, I am against cancelling symbols. They are as important to me as laws defining the nature of the State of Israel. And yet, if most elected representatives think otherwise, it is their right and duty to engage in a public debate – and they have the seven good or bad years of the next president to do that. We can't cancel Herzl's vision and Shimon's residence a month before the elections. This is not the way a state is built and not the way its symbols are dismantled.
Benjamin Netanyahu lives history. He sees himself on the axis of generations. He has scores to settle with Herzl and David Ben-Gurion, with the Jews expelled from Spain and with those expelled from the Mapai party. Now he is opening a future score with Rubi Rivlin, for no fault of his own.
Rivlin has a national-liberal voice which has almost become extinct in the Likud, Netanyahu's voice. He knows how to fight like him, knows how to get along like him. Rivlin is an important politician, but he is not important enough to have a national institution canceled because of him.