President Reuven Rivlin's speech at the beginning of the Knesset's winter session Monday, in which he criticized in no uncertain terms the conduct of both the government and its leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, created a political whirlwind lasting hours after the president left parliament.
In one of the more resounding speeches made during Tuesday's opening session, Rivlin accused the current government of stoking "winds of revolution" against all of Israel's symbol of sovereignty.
The central message of Rivlin's speech was what he could not help but describe as "a continuous attempt to weaken the gatekeepers of the Israeli democracy."
"We are witnessing the winds of change, or a second revolution. This time, the majority rule is the only ruler. The whole country and its institutions are full of politics. This revolution seeks to finally rip the mask of alleged hypocrisy off the gatekeepers. In this revolution, the ruler is also the victim. 'We'll show them' is the soundtrack of the revolution. The stateliness has gone from our country, after us the deluge," the president added.
Likud MKs were quick to be outraged at the president's speech. Tourism Minister Yariv Levin came out against Rivlin's speech, saying that he views it as extremely problematic.
"Attempts to delegitimize parliament, as seen in the president's speech, are in my opinion dangerous and anti-democratic, as well as a way to intimidate me and my colleagues from acting. They go against everything we believe in, and I will unequivocally fight them.
"I certainly think that the president's words are dangerous, in that they tow the line enacted by the heads of justice over the years, which tried to delegitimize anyone who criticizes them, while creating a reality where the court is allowed anything it wants, granting it the ability to blatantly interfere in the government and Knesset's job," said Levin.
Coalition Chairman David Bitan quickly clarified in an interview with Channel 10 News, "Rivlin has long since stopped being one of us. I'm neither surprised nor have any expectations of him. He'll always be against us because Netanyahu voted against and did not support his presidential bid. We were elected by the public, whereas he was elected by the MKs. We represent the public and the people of Israel."
Minister of Culture and Sports Miri Regev also went on the warpath. "A president who disrespects politicians disrespects the will of the people and strikes at the very heart of democracy," she attacked.
"President Rivlin harmed statism today as no president before him. It's the most un-statesman-like and undemocratic speech ever given by an Israeli president, and it's worth remembering this one was a politician for a long time and was voted president by other politicians. In his speech today, the president bit the hand that fed him,"
"Boundaries were blurred, barriers were broken. Unfortunately, the president of Israel, meant to serve as a model of statism, gives a political speech over the Knesset's podium whose sole purpose is settling scores, made all the more absurd by the fact he himself said 'stateliness has gone from our country.' He should stick to pardons and forego politics," said MK Nava Boker.
MK Oren Hazan commented as well, saying, "It's President Rivlin's prerogative to speak his mind, and his position commands respect. But from someone who came up with the term 'the rule of law gang,' I'd expect a little more humility."
Apparently unmoved by the festive airs put on by the Knesset for its return from recess, Rivlin used the platform provided him to blast Likud ministers for promoting legislation he perceived to be problematic.
Political and other figures who spoke with Rivlin Monday said the speech wasn't happenstance, or a last minute "shooting from the hip" decision.
"About a decade ago I stood before one of the giants of Israeli jurisprudence, (former Chief Justice) Aharon Barak, and cautioned his pronouncement of the constitutional revolution was effectively a declaration of a coup. I told him then, and I quote, 'Any definition interrupting the balance, each act encapsulating—or even only symbolizing—one branch of government's traipse into another's jurisdiction renders a reality of a 'chaotic democracy', or dangerous systemic chaos. This traipsing is often carried out with a thrust of the pen, sometimes with a declaration or unreasoned speech. What binds them all together is their conjoining into one destructive process some have termed a 'revolution' but I consider to be more of a 'coup', because—as I have said before—a revolution starts from the bottom up with a popular uprising finally reaching the ranks of government while in this instance, the top branches of government decided to meddle in each other's own affairs.'
"That was my stance at the time and that still is my position today as to the danger of the legislative branch's trespass into the domain of the judiciary," Rivlin said.
Rivlin, say those who have spoken with him recently, has been worriedly following Netanyahu and the other government ministers' conduct for a long time, and scathingly criticizing their attitude privately vis-à-vis their attitude towards the security establishment, including the police and Shin Bet, the judiciary and anti-constitutional legislation. His indignation now directed at Netanyahu has more to do with style and the discourse around these events rather than their essence, sources close to the president said.
The central theme of Rivlin's speech may be summed up in the line saying, "While in the past everything was deemed eligible for judicial review, now everything has been politicized", an issue that cuts to the heart of the problem, according to Rivlin.
Sources close to the president added the speech did not go through many drafts. Rivlin knew exactly what he was about to say and his words were not born of speechwriters dictating his direction. He also had no qualms about making the speech under the circumstances of the Knesset's opening session, as he assumed most of the speakers—especially Netanyahu—would tow exactly the line he was railing against, the sources said.
'The public is being sent the message there is no more statism, only governability'
Rivlin had harsh words for the current government. He spoke of a chasm "between the responsible attempt to the define, after many years, the breach in the relationship between the legislative and judicial branches; to delineate judicial criticism; to ask questions about the mechanism of appointing judges to reach a more varied and representative judges' panel, and between attempts to terrorize the court and weaken it, to actively invite the public to undermine its authorities and rulings. How can a threatened, conformist and toothless court be in the interest of the State of Israel? Of Israeli democracy?"
"The same goes for the media. Israeli media outlets may be criticized for a great many things. The media is sometimes at fault for superficiality, exclusion, overdone criticism and, yes, sometimes even slander. However, it's one thing to work on fixing what is broken in the media, to oblige it to become more varied, professional and topical, but it's quite another to seek to subjugate it. How can a weakened media, begging for its life, be an interest of the State of Israel or a democratic system, any system?" Rivlin wondered incredulously.
"The erosion does not stop at that. It continues with harsh statements made against senior professional ranks and the state comptroller, and goes so far as repeated public tongue-lashings of the IDF and its senior commanders. This phenomenon was said to be harming Israel's national security by the Minister of Defense himself Avigdor Lieberman. And I ask you, gentlemen, how far are we willing to go with this revolution, or should I say coup? Is this governance?" he said.