On Thursday, the Israeli Knesset will convene a special session to swear in Reuven Rivlin as the president of the State of Israel.
Due to the ongoing war with Hamas terrorists, in which too many of our soldiers have lost their lives or been wounded, the prudent decision has been made for the inauguration ceremony to be more reserved than is usual, while still offering the honor and respect due to the office of the presidency.
Amid these very difficult times for our nation, I am filled with two overwhelming emotions as I prepare to witness this historic moment.
The first is of extreme happiness for a man I am pleased to call a dear friend and one of the most passionate and dignified public officials this country has ever known. From a somewhat selfish perspective, I must admit that I am sorry to see that he has vacated the seat to my immediate right in the Knesset plenum. We engaged in countless conversations on every issue possible and I learned so much from his experience and knowledge. But I couldn’t be happier that he will be fulfilling a dream that I know has been growing in his heart for decades.
The second emotion is a sense of intense pride that the spirit of Ze’ev Jabotinsky remains as alive today as ever. The fact that our Beit Hanassi (Prime Minister’s Residence) will be occupied by a committed disciple of the Betar legacy should be a source of pride for all Israelis – even those who don’t share that vision.
In the coming months and years the world will come to know Rivlin as our nation already does. I am confident that they will quickly grow to admire him as a passionate defender of Israel and also a brilliant and pragmatic thinker committed to a better future for all the peoples of this region.
Born in Jerusalem, Rivlin is the quintessential Jerusalemite and epitomizes everything good about this beloved city.
Despite his many accomplishments in both local and later national politics, Rivlin has always remained a true “man of the people.”
He wears his emotions on his sleeve, never shying away from publicly revealing his true feelings, and can coax a laugh out of pretty much anyone. He’s the type of public figure that anyone can grow to love in a matter of minutes and will thus be a perfect ambassador for Israel on the international stage.
But more than this, he has tremendous integrity. Even in the face of bitter criticism, he has never wavered from the philosophical roots which have guided him since his youth. Principally he maintains true to the understanding that the historic borders of Israel must always define our state. Territorial concessions are a non-starter and endanger our national security and our legitimate historical claims to this land. While cognizant to the challenges that this position presents on the international scene, I know that nothing will change in his mindset even as he takes on this new office.
Rivlin was elected specifically because he is stubborn in the best sense of the word. In recent years, numerous political developments could have swayed him away from the presidency. Infighting and ego clashes sought to deprive us of his leadership but he remained focused and kept his eyes on the prize. For this, his critics, even at the highest of levels, grew to appreciate that he was the best man for the job.
Over the past seven years, Israel has been rewarded with a new type of presidency under Shimon Peres’s leadership, and I am confident that Rivlin will continue to hone that model of international engagement.
Like his predecessor, Rivlin knows that in order for Israel to thrive, we need to command greater international legitimacy and work to interact with world leaders from all sectors.
Admittedly the Rivlin vision for Israel’s future is somewhat different from that of Peres, but there are enough commonalities between these two veterans of Israeli politics that I am confident the transition will not be a difficult one. As many around the world came to respect and even love president Peres as the ideal elder-statesman and diplomat, they will soon know that Rivlin is wholly deserving of those same sentiments.
I therefore welcome this chance to wish my friend the very best of luck in this new phase of life. I believe there is no cliché in saying that there is likely no more deserving person for the job. Throughout his life he has been a man guided by principles that were instilled in him as a child, that the love for his land and his people come before all. This is the type of leader that Israel needs today more than ever.
This is particularly true in these challenging times when our position as a just and moral nation committed to the interests of its citizens and peace for this region must be repeatedly reinforced to the international community.
So with these words, I invite you to join me as we together raise our virtual glasses and say “Long live Israel, long live the presidency, long live Reuven Rivlin!”
The author is a Knesset member, has served as Israel’s deputy defense minister and is current chairman of World Likud.